Internet auction house eBay Inc. said Wednesday it would limit the use of racial slurs after urban officials complained the offensive terms were being used to advertise lawn jockeys and other antiques.
EBay customers will still be able to bid on figurines, post cards and other historical items that reflect an era when racial stereotypes were common, but they won't be able to find them by typing words such as "nigger" into the Web site's search engine.
Instead, they will have to use terms like "black Americana."
Officials with the National League of Cities asked eBay to make the change early this year after finding that sellers used offensive terms in their listings.
"I think it perpetuated racism because it said, 'This is how we view this piece,'" said Philadelphia city councilwoman Marian Tasco.
City officials said other online sellers should consider taking such steps as well.
Racially offensive material has been a sensitive subject for online sellers. A French judge in 2000 ordered Yahoo Inc. to block users in that country from accessing auctions for Nazi daggers and concentration-camp uniforms.
Yahoo pulled Nazi gear from its auction site but got a U.S. court ruling saying it did not have to obey a French court.
EBay prohibits the sale of Nazi uniforms and other items that "glorify hatred, violence, or racial intolerance."
But the auction site, where up to 5,000 new items are posted each minute, has allowed the sale of "lawn jockey" statues of smiling black men in livery outfits, "Tar Baby" soap and other historical items that portray racial stereotypes.
Some black Americans have taken an interest in these items as a sign of the progress they have made since the U.S. Civil War. Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby maintain collections.
The new policy bans offensive words and phrases and states that "sellers must ensure that the language in their listings shows appropriate sensitivity to those in the community that might view it."
It does not apply to items that have slurs in their titles, such as Richard Pryor's 1974 comedy album "That Nigger's Crazy."