Hallmark and Walgreens Pull "Swastika" Holiday Wrapping Paper from Shelves After Unfortunate Oversight

Just in time for the holidays, Hallmark is pulling "swastika" wrapping paper from shelves. A California woman shopping at Walgreens on December 6 discovered that a roll of blue and silver Hallmark wrapping paper (not the stuff pictured up top, though) appeared to be adorned with what looked like tiny little swastikas. As you might imagine, the woman, 63-year-old Cheryl Shapiro, was appalled — and even though the paper design’s resemblance to a bunch of swastikas was accidental, I can definitely understand why.

Basically, this story is the result of a lot of unfortunate coincidences all piling up on top of each other. I believe Hallmark spokesperson Julie Elliott when she told FOX4KC that Hallmark didn’t mean to cause offense; our brains have a tendency to form noise into recognizable patterns, and in this case, the negative space between the silver lines just happens to look like something resembling a swastika. The symbol itself also has a fraught history; if it weren’t for the appropriation of it by the Nazi party during the Second World War, its original meaning — “lucky or auspicious object” or “all is well,” from the Sanskrit word “svastika” — would be the one we associate with it. What’s more, technically the paper wasn’t even Hanukkah-specific; Hallmark has noted that it was just general holiday paper. The Walgreens in which Shapiro found it had put it in that particular store’s Hanukkah display, which made all of the other elements of the story a million times worse.

Here’s what the paper in question looks like. It took my brain a second to see it, so if you need a little help, here — I Photoshopped a little red circle around the offending image.

Yep. There it is.

But at least both Hallmark and Walgreens have responded swiftly and correctly. The manager of the store listened to Shapiro when she spoke to him, assuring her it would be removed from circulation across the country; and we can assume he followed up on the issue with the corporate higher-ups, as the offending giftwrap is indeed in the process of being pulled from shelves. Said Hallmark spokeswoman Linda Odell in an email to the Los Angeles Daily News, “As soon as we were made aware of the situation, we began taking steps to remove the gift wrap from all store shelves and we will ensure that the pattern is not used on any product formats going forward.”

The Kansas City Star pointed out that a lot of comments on one article about the story — ABC News’ — are criticizing Shapiro for making a proverbial mountain out of a molehill and calling the whole thing “much ado about nothing.” I kind of get where they’re coming from — but at the same time, I definitely don't think it’s just “much ado about nothing.” I’m not Jewish, but I can barely imagine what it must be like to get ambushed by something as innocuous as wrapping paper with an image that represents the wholesale murder of six million people of your belief system, many of whom were probably your relatives. It is appalling, and I think it’s a good thing that the wrapping paper has been pulled.

Again, although I’m positive Hallmark and Walgreens didn’t mean to release a wrapping paper design that resembled swastikas on the world, that still doesn't make it OK. It's more than a little wacky that the paper in question made it through quality assurance without anyone spotting it. As we’ve seen time and time again, racism, discrimination, and cultural appropriation are still huge problems in the U.S., and casual versions of all of these things show just how institutionalized they still are. Honestly, I still can’t get over the Zara debacle from August. Because seriously, you guys. WTF.

The lesson learned here? We all need to be far more aware of things like this. We need to call them out as we see them, and we need to pay attention enough to make them stop happening in the first place.

I think I’ll be sticking with non-printed holiday giftwrap this season.

Images: kevinthoule/Flickr; Los Angeles Daily News; MRWGif