Asian American activism against Abercrombie & Fitch's line of
graphic T-shirts, which depicted Asian stereotypes, led to a tremendous
victory for the Asian American community. The controversial shirts,
presented in April of 2002, featured such slogans as "Wong Brothers
Laundry Service -- Two Wongs Can Make It White," "Abercrombie
and Fitch Buddha Bash -- Get Your Buddha on the Floor," and "Wok-N-Bowl
-- Let the Good Times Roll -- Chinese Food & Bowling."
Just days after the introduction of a t-shirt line, Asian American
students and community leaders whipped up a public outcry, demonstrated
in the streets of San Francisco, demanded an apology from the clothing
line, and ultimately secured a company recall of the shirts. Victory
for the Asian American community came through the use of the newest
weapon for activists - the internet. An onslaught of emails, a variety
of forums and up to date websites tracked the ongoing situation and
the Asian American community found empowerment through the dissemination
of electronic information.
The internet, a forwarded email to be exact, was the means through
which I found about the debate. From the composed messages of Stanford
University students, to inboxes of Asian Americans throughout the country,
to chatrooms and blogs, the Abercrombie incident was ubiquitous. The
use of the internet to promote community activism was quite impressive
as an affordable way to unite Asian Americans from both the West Coast
and East Coast, to provide a base for grassroots operations and serve
as a powerful medium for earning visibility and winning support.
The true victory in the Abercrombie & Fitch controversy lies in
built by the many Asian American groups in opposition. A common criticism
of the Asian American community is the tendency for each individual
ethnic group to identify with its own heritage rather than with a larger
Asian American consciousness. While the t-shirts generally took at
aim at Chinese stereotypes, all Asian Americans took offense at Abercrombie's
caricatures and slogans, and unified resistance crossed individual
ethnic lines. The college students and teenagers who organized the
protests and forwarded thousands of emails were Asians of all descents.
But most refreshing was the fact that Asian Americans even had the
ability to start a controversy and create an uproar. Burdened with
the model minority myth, of the silent, apolitical people too involved
with economic advancement and unwilling to whine about discrimination,
the Asian American community has been lacking in political prowess.
America is a pluralist nation in which a great many interests and
peoples compete to determine whose values will prevail in society.
By now choosing
to fully partake in this process, Asian Americans are gaining the
opportunity make gains on their concerns. The Asian American community's
in the Abercrombie & Fitch controversy breeds new opportunities,
visibility, and awareness.
Activism over more current controversies, hopefully reflective of
a continued trend, has also been rewarded with progressive results.
January of 2003, NBA superstar Shaquille O'neal's racially insensitive
comments about Chinese basketball player Yao Ming were brought to
public attention by pressure from Asianweek, a weekly magazine. Six
after the comments, radio stations, The LA Times, and ESPN took notice
of the controversy and ultimately O'neal apologized. The Asian American
community is making political gains and is no longer a pushover,
a model minority to be taken advantage of. Through the Abercrombie & Fitch
incidents and other controversies that lie ahead, maybe the Asian
American community will emerge as a new form of yellow power.
I. "ABERCROMBIE & GLITCH: Asian Americans rip retailer for
stereotypes on T-shirts." Chronicle (San Francisco), 18 April
2002, p. A1.
II. Tang, Irwin. APA Community Should Tell Shaquille O'Neal to 'Come
down to Chinatown (2003). Available at http://www.asianweek.com/2003_01_03/sports_yaoming.html(03