Journalist and activist Shaun King on Wednesday announced his plans to start a new fashion company and offered his millions of Instagram followers the chance to buy exclusive merchandise when it officially launches next month.
But even though King said the fashion company had been something that had been in the works for a while now, the announcement was immediately met with skepticism as a chorus of people calling the endeavor a “scam” rippled across social media timelines.
“Instagram. This is just for you,” King wrote on his private Instagram account as shown in a screenshot of the announcement that was being shared widely. “Only selling them here to our private community.”
Without providing an image to show what the t-shirts and hoodies King was advertising might look like, he asked his nearly 4 million followers to also follow the new Instagram account of the new fashion company, A Real One, which is scheduled to debut on Sept. 8.
Instead, the former adviser on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign offered his followers a link that directed people who clicked to a Google document where they can provide their contact information in order to be “notified first” when the merchandise is available for sale.
Obviously, the entrepreneurial spirit is nothing to laugh about, especially as the U.S. tries to spark an economy that’s been decimated by the pandemic.
However, when cynics on social media learned of King’s upcoming venture into the fashion world, they were suspicious of the business venture for a number of reasons. Chief among them seemed to be the years of allegations and suspicions centered on King’s finances and accusations that he has repeatedly and shamelessly bilked people out of money for his own benefit.
The announcement from King on Wednesday came weeks after the New York Post — a right-wing tabloid whose motivations for reporting anything should always be scrutinized — revealed in a damning report that he was living in a home in suburban New Jersey that reportedly cost $842,000.
His critics immediately reacted with derision and scorn and suggested the home was financed with money he obtained through grifting and swindling from donations solicited for other causes.
Days later, King and his friends announced he had no other choice but to move from that “lavish” home over security concerns for him and his family and asked his followers for financial help to pay for his relocation.
It all was part of a larger pattern and grander scheme of King trying to scam his way into the pockets of his followers and others, his critics said.
People have receipts
Chief among those voices bringing attention to the combination of King and fundraising is Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was gunned down and killed by a Cleveland police officer in 2014 within seconds of being seen.
Samaria Rice, as sympathetic and genuine of a person as there ever was, recently called out King for “chasing clout” because he published the contents of what she said was an off-the-record conversation. She called King “a white man acting black” and revived criticism of his fundraising practices that first came under fire when a 2015 Washington Post article couldn’t account for $60,000 in missing online donations he solicited.
“Personally I don’t understand how you sleep at night,” Samaria Rice said in June. “I never gave you permission to raise nothing.”
To be sure, beyond the issues that arise every time King and fundraising are mentioned in the same sentence, there needs to be space for a conversation about reconciling the difference between being compensated for one’s labor and platform and when that line is crossed into personally profiting off justice work.
It’s impossible to ignore the demonization movement leaders decades ago faced by conservatives in efforts to discredit them under disingenuous pretenses. King, in his Instagram post on Sunday, drew the same parallels in 2021, suggesting he, too, was a political target.