A recent holiday decoration at LeRoux Gourmet on Main Street in Vineyard Haven was taken down after complaints that it was racially offensive.
The decoration — put up in the store’s front window display — consisted of several LeRoux olive oil bottles with red lips and googly eyes on the black bottletops and dressed in red and white gowns, resembling offensive blackface imagery.
A picture of the decoration was posted on Facebook on Dec. 14, and has received 200 comments from people, many of whom called the decoration racist, offensive, and ridiculous.
The decoration was taken down after a shopper requested it be immediately removed.
LeRoux co-owner April Levandowski told The Times the bottles were decorated as carolers, but came off as offensive. She said the decoration is uncharacteristic of LeRoux, and that it was isolated to the gourmet store and did not appear in its other Main Street location or any of its stores off-Island.
“Unfortunately, it was offensive and inappropriate. I will say it got by us, and we’ve taken steps to make sure it never happens again,” she said. “As soon as we found out about it, we removed it, and I hope we can be forgiven. We sincerely don’t want to offend our community. We want the Vineyard to be a welcoming place.”
Levandowski said LeRoux is implementing a centralized vetting process for all future displays, and all employees will be taking sensitivity and unconscious bias training. Unconscious bias is defined as “automatic, unintentional, deeply engrained” stereotypes. LeRoux is also working with the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP to address the issue. Levandowski posted an apology on Facebook and in both Island newspapers.
This was not the first time LeRoux decorated its olive oil bottles with eyes and lips. A similar setup was on display last year during the holiday season.
“We are horribly ashamed, embarrassed, and hope we can be forgiven,” Levandowski said. “We will be better, and we’ve taken steps to make sure this never happens again.”
“Racism is not unique to the corners of Martha’s Vineyard, nor the state, nor the nation. The important thing here is the willingness to speak up and then work to resolve the situation,” Martha’s Vineyard NAACP president Erik Blake wrote in a letter to The Times.
In a phone conversation with The Times, Martha’s Vineyard NAACP executive committee member Gretchen Tucker-Underwood said LeRoux’s owners have agreed to come to the next NAACP meeting and work on reconciliation with those affected by the decoration. “We are looking for anybody to join with us to resolve the injustices as they see them and as we see them on the Island. We are a collaborative organization. We want to work with the entire community to work on this issue,” Tucker-Underwood said.
In late October, a scarecrow placed outside the YMCA in Oak Bluffs was taken down after complaints that it was racially offensive. The scarecrow depicted tennis player Serena Williams with blackface, using a ski mask, hand and leg coloring, and large eyes and red lips.
The LeRoux decoration is another incident involving blackface, which continues to be an issue throughout the country. On Dec. 14, Prada, a fashion store, pulled a line of items in a New York City store that depicted monkey-like figurines with black faces and large red lips.
In October, former NBC host Megyn Kelly received harsh criticism and her show was canceled when she defended the use of blackface costume on Halloween on her television talk show.