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CARELESS WORDS MATTER

Harley-Davidson and Polaris have both removed their franchises from a major dealership complex in the US State of Tennessee, after its owner posted racist comments on social media attacking the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’m sick of this black lives matter,” opined third-generation proprietor Russell “Tootie” Abernathy of Abernathy’s Cycles in Union City, Tennessee, on his personal Facebook page. He then proceeded to use an expletive while suggesting black people should go back to Africa. In addition, the Facebook page featured a photograph of Abernathy standing next to a motorcycle and pointing up at the Confederate flag.

Anti-racist activists then took the post viral and Polaris was first to respond by dismissing Abernathy as an off-road vehicle franchisee. Harley-Davidson sacked him a week later. He is a leading Honda motorcycle dealer as well. Honda subsequently condemned his remarks too but has yet to act.

Black Lives Matter is a sensitive issue for Polaris, the HQ of which is located in a suburb of Minneapolis, close to where unarmed black man George Floyd was allegedly murdered last month by a police officer kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes. Since then, Polaris has donated $250,000 to local charities supporting racial equality.

Harley-Davidson has also been assiduously distancing itself from an embarrassing past, given it was selling cruisers emblazoned with Confederate insignia as recently as the 1970s. These days, the company is eager to recruit riders from ethnic minorities, women and LGBTQ diversity, to replace its diminishing base of wrinkly old redneck white men. Licensees and franchised dealers for the brand are now strictly forbidden from juxtaposing the Confederate flag with any of its logos, merchandise or other products.

In a statement, following this latest scandal, Harley said: “Racism, hate or intolerance have no place in the Harley-Davidson community — employees, dealers, riders or enthusiasts.The dealer owner in question will no longer be part of our network.”

Abernathy’s Cycles is hardly a minor player hidden in some backwoods agrarian wilderness, though. Founded in 1955 by Tootie’s grandfather, it grew into one of Harley’s most successful domestic dealerships. His father, Russell Senior, added a Honda franchise in 1969. That became Honda’s largest US bike retailer for a time, and still ranks fourth nationwide. And until this month, Abernathy’s could claim status as the biggest Polaris ATV and UTV vendor by sales volume in the whole of North America. It is housed in a 20,000 sq-ft building and has more than 100 employees.   

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