Earlier this week Groupon posted an offer in which it described a pair of women’s moccasins as being available in “Nigger-Brown” (see the screenshot above). According to Cosmopolitan.com “the slur was used to describe not just one pair of boots, but several sold by ‘Groupon stores’ Kojwa and Margines among others. It featured on listings for ‘Women’s and Men’s Suede Leather Fur Boots’ and ‘Women’s Fringed Suede Moccasin Boots,’ for example — boots both being sold at a 46% discount but, you know, still with 100% racism.” The response on Twitter was swift. One user tweeted, “@Groupon what type of color is ‘nigger-brown?'”
Groupon responded, in part, by asserting that Kojwa and Margines are separate (independent of Groupon) Chinese-based companies and that a translation error may be at fault. “This is a known issue in the e-commerce space,” they continued. “We’re determining why the deal slipped past the controls we have in place (we flag literally hundreds of terms and various permutations) and will make the necessary improvements.” According to fact-checking site Snopes.com, this is something that has happened with some frequency and may be the result of outdated Chinese-language translation software.
In a statement a Groupon spokesman said “We are appalled that this language was displayed on our site. This product description was provided by a third-party seller via our self-service platform. Regardless, this is completely unacceptable and violates our policies — to say nothing of our values. When made aware of the issue, we immediately removed the deal — as well as the third-party seller — from our marketplace. Language like this has no place on Groupon, and we’re further strengthening our self-service controls to ensure it doesn’t happen again.” If that’s true, and if the term was the product of translation software, then shouldn’t companies that do business with Chinese firms put in place manual or automated controls to prevent such unfortunate incidents? If they “flag literally hundreds of terms and various permutations,” how did this one slip by? What do you think? Many thanks to #jmcawesome alum Maria Watson for the tip.