Swastikas, hatred, and tshirts.
The politics of reclamation are, in a word, difficult. Slurs can be transformed into in-words. Symbols can be given new meanings. Histories are re-wrought as communities find solidarity and purpose in items once used to oppress them. But not all reclamation is created equal.
KA Design, a previously little known tshirt company, is on a mission to “reclaim” the swastika. It’s a symbol of peace, they counter in a short animated video, and it’s time it becomes that again.
“[Nazis] stigmatized the swastika. They won,” KA Design says in their video. “They limited our freedom. Or maybe not? The swastika is coming back together with love, peace, respect and freedom.”
The swastika is a symbol stolen from Asiatic and Indigenous cultures by the Nazis and used against Jewish, Rroma, Catholic, LGBTQ people, and a range of others victimized during the Holocaust. Even if you belonged to one of these communities, you wouldn’t have the authority from the others to “reclaim” it. There are simply too many people for which the swastika is an open wound.
Besides the fact that it isn’t KA Design’s place to reclaim the swastika, they also are attempting to reclaim the wrong symbol. When Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime plucked the swastika out of its homelands to be used as the logo for his party, he turned the swastika 45 degrees. The swastika that is considered a symbol for peace and oneness, and which is still used in Hindu poojas and other ceremonies, looks like this:
KA Design is so misguided in their reclamation project, they are using the wrong symbol.
Inherent in their mission is monetization. For KA Design it’s not just about informing the public of the true meaning of the swastika, it’s about smacking it on a sweatshirt to sell. Simply, that’s not the way communities are empowered. A no-faced company making money off of drama, courting controversy, doesn’t give me back a symbol used by my ancestors for centuries. Ugly sweatshirts are not going to save anyone.
“We really like the symbol in its shape and aesthetics,” KA Design told Dazed, “and we would love to share the beauty of this symbol detached from the hatred associated with it.”
But you can’t just “detach” hatred. Rewriting history with one tacky design is impossible. KA Design is also a European company, though they decline to say where they’re operating out of. There is not detachment from hatred when Nazism is still a part of the European political makeup. We are living in a time of Alt-right neo-nazism and far-right leaning parties are taking over governments around the world. This is not a history we can leave in the past, it’s one that has never left.
The swastika itself is still used a symbol of hatred. We see it painted on the possessions of Jewish people or on the houses of Muslim families. It is used to scare and intimidate. It is not a symbol of love or peace or anything good yet.
This is purely a publicity stunt from an unknown design company trying to make their name on some truly ugly merchandise. The spotlight KA Design has won will be gone soon, and the tide of the internet will wash over their lazy discourse until there is nothing left in the sand to remember them.