A Los Angeles woman is handing out plain T-shirts to unhoused people to provide them with an alternative clothing option after boxes of excess T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase“White Lives Matter” were recently dropped off on skid row.
“I’m not gonna allow their desperation to lead to their harm because people want to dump stuff like that in our community,” said Shirley Raines, who runs the nonprofit Beauty 2 the Streetz, which provides services to homeless people in Los Angeles. “It’s not acceptable. It’s not OK.”
Raines — who through her nonprofit work brings meals, clothing and beauty services to unhoused people on skid row — said she was relaxing at home on her day off when one of her 4 million TikTok followers alerted her to a video posted online Sunday.
The video was posted to Twitter by an account that appears to be associated with stylist Ian Connor, who is an associate of rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West. It shows boxes of the shirts being handed out on a busy street. A voice in the video is heard saying, “Courtesy of Kanye West.” An Instagram account, DondasPlace, also shared an image of the shirt drop, with the caption "#WLM shirt activation today at Skid Row." Connor did not immediately respond to request for comment.
West, who legally changed his name to Ye, drew backlash after he wore a "White Lives Matter" shirt at his YZY SZN 9 show earlier this month during Paris Fashion Week. The Anti-Defamation League describes “White Lives Matter” as a “white supremacist phrase” and categorizes it as a “hate slogan.”
“The answer to why I wrote ‘White Lives Matter’ on a shirt is because they do,” Ye said during an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He said in a text conversation with his dad they had spoken about the phrase. “I said, ‘I thought the shirt was a funny shirt; I thought the idea of me wearing it was funny.’ And I said, ‘Dad, why did you think it was funny?’ He said, ‘Just a Black man stating the obvious.’”
In an interview with the “Drink Champs” podcast, Ye reportedly claimed that American Apparel founder Dov Charney had manufactured the shirts, which Ye designed, but then refused to sell them after the rapper made antisemitic remarks on social media (Ye was later suspended from Twitter and Instagram). The interview is no longer available online, but clips of it have circulated across Twitter.
A spokesperson for Ye did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Charney also did not immediately respond to request for comment.
To Raines, the people living on skid row are like family. So when she saw the video of "White Lives Matter" shirts being distributed there, her first thought was the potential threat they posed to those who might wear them.
“It’s not about 'Black Lives Matter' or 'White Lives Matter,'” Raines said. “It’s about safety.”
It’s not about 'Black Lives Matter' or 'White Lives Matter.' It’s about safety.
-Shirley Raines, who runs the nonprofit Beauty 2 the Streetz
Potential attacks are a daily reality for those who live on the streets. Many are already vulnerable to being raped or stabbed at random, Raines said, and wearing a shirt with an inflammatory statement such as "White Lives Matter" on their backs could easily invite more harm.
So she got in her car and drove to skid row to distribute the remaining stock of about 200 plain black T-shirts from her warehouse.
In a video posted to her TikTok on Thursday, Raines is seen handing out plain Black T-shirts in an attempt to offer people more options.
"If you guys get them and want them to turn them into us, we'll replace them for you," she says in the video. "So you guys have some options of what you get to wear, choices of what you put on your body."
One man in a blue sweater appeared to ask for clarification on whether Raines’ shirts were the same as the “white ones” before he nodded and took one.
"These are not the white ones, these are plain black, neutral shirts," she tells him. "An option for you to stay warm. ... They're not the ones that were given out last night."
As she looked around, Raines said, it seemed like hardly anyone felt comfortable wearing the white shirts they’d received.
Out of the hundreds of people Raines crossed paths with, she said she met only one woman walking around with the "White Lives Matter" shirt. When Raines offered to swap it out for a plain black shirt, she said the woman took her shirt off in the middle of the street and handed it over.
In another TikTok video, Raines said she took action because “people use skid row as a dumping ground for people, for pets, for trash and apparently for controversial apparel ... all I can do is just echo what you guys have said when you stand in protection of your neighborhoods: not in my backyard.”
Still, Raines said she was discouraged after realizing that the "White Lives Matter" shirts were seemingly distributed too widely for her to find and replace them all. But she’s been working with her social media followers who are inquiring about ways to help donate more shirts. She said she would also accept help from an apparel company if one wanted to donate T-shirts.
For people experiencing homelessness, choices around what to eat or what to wear are often limited. But choice, Raines said, is a form of empowerment essential to human dignity.
“These are real people with real lives, and I just don’t think people understand the depths of what they already have to deal with,” Raines said. “Housed or unhoused, you still deserve to feel protected and safe when wearing apparel. Even a 2-year-old gets the power of a choice.”