Since Irish Central first published a story about Kevin Westley’s mission to buy up stereotyping Irish t-shirts from Walmart in the lead up to St. Patrick’s Day and return them March 18, the Long Island, NY Irish dance instructor and radio host has been overwhelmed by the response.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would get this big of a reaction,” he said during a catch up phone call.
The initial interview with Kevin, published on Thursday, has received almost 8,000 shares and over 200 comments. His story was picked up by ABC and FOX news, and a camera crew from CBS paid a visit to his home. He also has a series of interviews lined up with radio programs in Ireland for Monday morning.
This marks the second year that Westley has taken a stand against the sea of green t-shirts that appear in stores before St. Patrick’s Day, stereotyping the Irish as drunks and linking Irishness to alcoholism.
Fed up with a lack of response from the Walmart stores and the corporate channels he complained to, Westley decided to take matters into his own hands – buying as many of the t-shirts as he could carry, keeping them in boxes and the trunk of his car and, per Walmart’s exchange policy, returning them all on March 18.
He had two aims in sharing his story. “My first goal was to get the t-shirts off the shelves, the second was to get people talking about this.
“At least people can now read the story and make their own decision – is this guy just a retired nut who has too much time on his hands or is he concerned about stereotypes?”
Westley takes the issue very seriously, recalling an uncle who died of cirrhosis and the stories his grandfather told about the “No Irish Need Apply” signs he saw growing up in Boston. “It’s nothing to make fun of,” he said.
Unlike last year, Westley said, he has received a lot of positive feedback, with people from New York on down to Florida saying they're going to do the same thing.
But there have been naysayers and detractors, people saying things like “I hope they charge you for re-shelving” or “I hope they don’ t take [the t-shirts] back.”
“Why act like that about it?” Kevin asked. “Why can’t we just have an intelligent, polite conversation?."
He has also heard from the manager of a local Walmart in connection with one of the complaints he had lodged, though the phone call wasn’t entirely productive.
“When I stated to explain everything to his fellow he didn’t seem to have a clue what I was walking about. ‘What shirts do you mean?’ he asked, etc. I said ‘you may not see them there because I have them all in the trunk of my car but you'll see them on March 18 when I return them!’”
Westley said that he is unconcerned about Walmart changing its return policy in light of the publicity his campaign has received.
“They can't do it retroactively, they have the 90-day return policy printed on their receipts and on signs above the customer service desk,” he said. “The shorts have not been worn and the tags will be on them when I bring them back.”
Still, he added, “my wife keeps looking at me saying you're on the hook for $400 dollars if they don’t.”
My hat is off to this Brother Hibernian who has come up with this simple solution to a problem that has been a concern to us for years. There have been many brothers who have made attempts to solve this problem by writing threatening letters to business people who manufacture and sell these offensive items. This approach has met with limited success at best. Suggestions to boycott businesses that sell these items have also met with limited success. The reason is simple, as long as there is money to be made these methods simply don’t work. Congratulations to this Brother who has come up with this very simple, no cost, and very effective solution to a long standing problem.
Jack Meehan, National President Emeritus
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America