Pan-African Studies disappointed with campus bookstore’s joke on Obama



A.J. Atkinson

Dennis Wilson, a senior physical education major, was making a routine trip Monday around the Kent State Campus Bookstore to return a book for a class he dropped when a tiny box of mints in an Altoids-like tin that featured President Barack Obama on the front caught his eye.

“This is change? Disappoint MINTS,” the tin said.

“At first I read just it, and then it clicked,” Wilson said. “I couldn’t believe it. I took a picture and posted it on Twitter. I didn’t understand why our store had it there in the front. It’s like they wanted everyone to see it.”

Wilson, who took associate lecturer Traci Easley Williams’ Black Images course in the fall 2011, took a picture of the container and texted it to Williams, who is also an associate lecturer of the Department of Pan-African Culture.

When she saw it, Williams said she at first thought it was from an off-campus bookstore.

“When I found out it was the bookstore on campus, I was very shocked and disappointed,” Williams said.

Williams texted Wilson to buy her two packages of the mints, then went to Amoaba Gooden, interim director of the Department of Pan-African Studies, who called the bookstore to have the mints removed. The bookstore complied and promptly removed the mints from the shelves.

The mints are made by “The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild.” As noted by the humorous title, the company produces many satirical, creative jokes on more than just politics.

On its website, the company describes its Disappoint MINTS of President Obama with:

“From our Tough Love Department comes Disappointmints. Hey, we’ve been as big a fan of Barack Obama as anyone. But with each compromise for the sake of unity, “Yes we can” looks more like “No he can’t.” So in the name of Free Speech and Fresh Breath, we’re offering Disappointmints. They’re delicious little mints packed in a colorful tin that tells our President just how we feel. We’re pretty sure he shops here, so we expect he’ll get the message. And Big O — Nothing would make us happier than to take Disappointmints off the market!”

The controversial mints have been in the news before. They were removed from the University of Tennessee’s bookstore shelves in August of last year. The only difference between the University of Tennessee incident and this one at Kent State is the bookstore here at Kent is separate from the university.

Susan Aylward, manager of the Kent State University Bookstore, said in an email the bookstore and buying team determine what to buy to sell and where to display it in the store. However, she never answered who these people in the buying team are.

“Each election season brings new products to retail outlets nationwide (some serious, some funny) — at Follett and the Kent State Bookstore, we represent products on both sides of the political spectrum when available, as to not promote one view to the campus,” Aylward said through email.

The other political side presented was the After the Tea Party Mints, which were also removed from the front counter display when the Department of Pan-African Studies called.

Williams said though she would have liked to have seen the bookstore do a better job of equal representation by placing a joke on Romney on the front display, she said she still would have been upset about the one of Obama because she felt it was racist.

“We’re so desensitized to so many of the negative images we see within the media today,” Williams said. “I mean, you can go into the grocery store and see a lot of negative images of African-Americans. Just pick up a box of waffles — Aunt Jemima Waffles, or Uncle Ben’s rice. These are not really positive images for people of color. These are images that come directly out of slavery. If we’re still buying items like that that is in every grocery store, people aren’t going to get it when they see Obama’s picture on some mints. There’s not going to see anything wrong with this.”

As for the mints Williams had Wilson buy her while he was returning his book, Williams said she will donate them to the Jim Crowe Museum at Ferris University in Michigan. She hopes there will be a positive learning experience out of all of this.

“This incident is a learning moment for students and those people who made the decision to market this item, and it was a learning moment for those people who decided to put it in the store,” Williams said.

Contact A.J. Atkinson at [email protected].