We’re fortunate that Kanye West can’t legally sell his controversial White Lives Matter T-shirts. But the reason why is pretty surprising. Turns out, there’s already a trademark on White Lives Matter – held by two Black men. And if you thought they acquired the trademark to stop anyone from profiting off the term, you’d be wrong. The copyright was anonymously donated to them.
Phoenix, Arizona radio hosts Ramses Ja and Quinton Ward host the nationally syndicated radio show Civic Cypher. A month ago, they were gifted the trademark to the term by an unidentified listener.
“So we have a listener who decided they wanted to own the right to create, produce, and sell shirts that say “White Lives Matter,” Ramses Ja told Capital B in a recent interview. “This individual didn’t want to produce those shirts, but rather it’s my understanding that they were doing it to ensure that the right people benefited from it. This person procured it but didn’t really love owning it, so they approached us to ensure that the right people benefit from it and that people aren’t hurt by it. They felt we were in a much more public position to use it to the advantage of Black folks.”
It seems poetic justice as Ja and Ward’s nationally syndicated show came about in 2020 after Ja left Phoenix’s 101.FM The Beat and Mega 104.3 after a pitch he made to do a show with Black voices was rejected.
“I cannot stand with a company that would not stand for me,” Ja told The Arizona Republic back then. “My sons are watching me, they’re not watching that station. The community is watching me, this community has watched me for 15 years.”
Ramses Ja believes that the trademark owner, who purchased it last month, was trying to be proactive, knowing the harm that could come if people with more divisive agendas owned the legal rights.
“We know that phrases like “White Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter,” and “Blue Lives Matter” continue to cause harm and to dilute the narrative that was intended to be established by Black Lives Matter,” Ja told Capital B. “Those phrases are all piggybacking off of Black people’s creativity and efforts, so we’re all for helping to use this as a measure to allow Black people to retain a little bit of ownership.”
Ja has not heard from anyone in Kanye’s camp. He and his radio partner secured the phrase from the quiet donor before West went viral with it by featuring the phrase on shirts in his recent fashion show in Paris. After that, West went on what appears to be a self-destructive tear, losing billions of dollars worth of deals in less than a week after making widely condemned antisemitic comments. Though West has since apologized, the damage is done. Ja says he’s not surprised.
“It’s hurtful, but it’s not something that was unexpected because I know that Kanye has been moving in this direction for some time. I do my best to try to remember the Kanye that I knew in ’04 and ’05. The Kanye that said George Bush doesn’t care about Black people. I have to focus on the fight at hand… I can’t spend all my time worrying about what Kanye is saying.”
Per Capital B, Ja and Ward have yet to entertain any offers from anyone interested in buying the phrase. But they recognize they may have an opportunity to do some good with it if anyone is interested. They say they don’t have the legal team to enforce trademark infringement though they fully expect it will be used somewhere. Selling the trademark may give them the ability to fund some initiatives that would be helpful in advancing social justice.
“Where we land on it is that somebody will own that trademark because it has fully entered into our popular vernacular,” Ja said. “So someone will own the right to produce and sell clothing with the phrase. Still, I would rather live in a world where the profits from those sales go back to help offset the pain it causes rather than live in a world where I have nothing to do with that.”
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