Media

How These Phoenix Radio Hosts Became Owners of White Lives Matter Trademark

Longtime Phoenix residents Ramses Ja (left) and Quinton Ward, hosts of the nationally syndicated Civic Cipher radio show, are now owners of the trademark "White Lives Matter."
Longtime Phoenix residents Ramses Ja (left) and Quinton Ward, hosts of the nationally syndicated Civic Cipher radio show, are now owners of the trademark "White Lives Matter." Eric LaRokk / Civic Cipher
As hosts of Civic Cipher, a nationally syndicated radio show dedicated to discussing issues of race and social justice, hosts Ramses Ja and Quinton Ward aren't afraid to engage with challenging topics and hard questions about what's going on in society.

But even they found themselves initially daunted by the prospect of owning the trademark for racist catchphrase White Lives Matter.

The phrase originated in 2015 as a white nationalist response to the anti-police-violence Black Lives Matter movement, according to the Anti-Defamation League. It had been skulking around in the nastier corners of society until last month, when Kanye West wore a shirt with the phrase on it to a show at Paris Fashion Week. He defended his actions to Tucker Carlson on Fox News, then doubled down a couple of weeks later by sending an associate to distribute White Lives Matter shirts to the denizens of Skid Row in Los Angeles — and film the whole thing.

But unbeknownst to West, after his October actions, someone in Phoenix purchased the trademark for the phrase. That person, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a Civic Cipher listener, and they gave the trademark to Civic Cipher LLC — effectively, to Ja and Ward.

The two hosts, who are longtime Phoenix residents, say that they knew the donor had good intentions.

"This listener was not trying to profit off of it or do anything with it, but was, in my belief, trying to sit on it so the wrong people wouldn’t make money off of it, and so the phrase wouldn’t be used to hurt Black and brown communities," Ja says. "They felt like we were in a much better position and had a much better perspective on Black issues and issues that are relevant to marginalized communities, and reached out to us to reassign that trademark.

"We accepted the stewardship and we are going to do our best to make sure that we do right by people and protect it from causing harm — certainly the type of harm that we've seen with recent folks wearing shirts with that printed on them. We don't like that at all."

And although the hosts are keeping the trademark for the right reasons, they say it takes a psychic toll to be the owner of something that is a conduit of hate. But they're hoping that people who know Civic Cipher and know their values will understand.

"Initially, it was kind of terrifying because there are a lot of people who won't ask why — they'll just see that I'm associated with it," Ward says. "So there’s definitely some uneasiness that came with someone charging us with the responsibility of overseeing this thing, but the opposite would be an already-billionaire or others making millions of dollars sowing more hate and division in our communities. ... Someone brought it to us, and once it was in front of us, we thought it'd be more irresponsible to walk away from it."

'The Best Possible Outcome'

Since taking ownership of the trademark, the hosts' lawyers started sending cease-and-desist letters to companies and individuals who are selling White Lives Matter merch. The point, Ja says, isn't to go after every random racist selling a couple dozen shirts, nor do they have the funds to do so. Rather, it's to dissuade large-scale efforts, such as West's, and send a message that the phrase won't be used to hurt people of color anymore.

"It's symbolic, and it's one of the things we’re able to do to bring a little bit of positivity to this ongoing show that we're all forced to endure in the media that has caused a lot of hurtful things to come to the surface and really embolden a facet of this country to say things that are very hurtful and very divisive," he says.

When media reports surfaced in late October that Ward and Ja now owned the trademark, the men found themselves in the middle of a media frenzy. BBC came calling, as did Complex Magazine, NPR, ABC Nightly News, and a flood of other outlets. Suddenly, the hosts of Civic Cipher were worldwide news.

"As you would imagine, there were mixed responses," Ward says. "Some people read that headline and see our faces and they're confused. They might even be hurt. They don't know yet. So they reach out and are like, 'Hey what's going on here?' That gives us the opportunity to have a conversation, so we don't mind those. I haven't gotten any extremist or radical responses from many people, which I'm very, very excited about. But I've also never had so many unread messages in my life."

The hosts believed that people in Phoenix who know them so well would understand.

"We've been broadcasters," Ja says. "I started on Power 92 when it was Power 92, in 2005. We're DJs, we're businessmen, we've done nonprofit work. We have a decade-long nonprofit where we feed homeless folks out of Monarch Theatre in downtown Phoenix. ... We have a long-standing relationship with this community and the people who are closest to us already know what we do and know what we stand for."

Ward agrees.

"There's a benefit of the doubt that comes with the work we've done in the community for over a decade now, where people just rightfully associate something good with what we're doing," he says. "I think as these stories come out, and people get to read these articles and hear our voices, they'll understand that the best possible outcome for us is that there aren't millions of people wearing a shirt that hurt a lot of communities in the name of fashion."

Civic Cipher airs at 7 a.m. each Saturday on KKFR/Power 98.3 in metro Phoenix. You can also listen to the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and on the show's website. To listen, buy merch, and donate, visit civiccipher.com.
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Jennifer Goldberg is the culture editor and Best of Phoenix editor for Phoenix New Times.

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