The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, May 02, 2002  


Michelle Malkin, always reasonable and eminently readable [Ed.: We're joking!], comes through with the goods once again in her latest column, “White and Wong Profiteers.”

It has come to pass that Abercrombie & Fitch, the national apparel retailer whose merchandise is aimed at teenagers and twenty-somethings, recently was found to be hawking a collection of T-shirts festooned with Asian caricatures.

One T-shirt showed two Chinese men underscored by the phrase, “Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs Can Make It White.” The others read, “Dojo Pizza: Eat In or Wok Out,” “Buddha Bash: Get Your Buddha Off the Floor,” and “Wok-N-Bowl: Chinese Food and Bowling.”

Not our kind of thing, but as would be expected, not all of A&F’s customers, or potential customers, were pleased to see such juvenilia for sale. Or, as Malkin puts it, “Some very loud, wired, and whiny Asian-American kids didn’t like them. So the company pulled the clothes line and apologized profusely.”

As would be expected, given the times in which we are living, that wasn’t good enough.

“A group of 50 aggrieved young people protested at A&F’s Seattle store over the weekend,” Malkin reports. “‘Racism is not chic,’ their signs lectured. ‘Racist fashion has got to go!’ they shouted.”

Malkin’s retort: “Um, it already went.”

But wait, Ms. Malkin, the fun has just begun.

National Unified Demands

The protesters -- who are forming a nationwide coalition comprised largely of college students -- want A&F to do more than pull the shirts from its shelves. They said their boycott and protests will continue until A&F meets their “National Unified Demands.” NUDs lets call them.

The NUDs are as exacting as they are predictable.

According to information posted at the boycotters’ web site, there are, as of now, six NUDs, as follows.

First: “Permanently remove the entire line of offensive ‘Asian’ T-shirts.”

Second: “Publish a public apology from the [c]ompany’s [c]hief [e]xecutive [o]fficer, Michael S. Jeffries, in the form of an one-page advertisement in all major national newspapers.” The apology is to be displayed in all of A&F’s stores, at the company’s web site, and in the next issue of the A&F Quarterly.

Third: “Encourage consumers to return ‘Asian’ T-shirts by guaranteeing unconditional refunds and providing additional incentives (e.g. vouchers, discount coupons) for returned shirts.” [Ed.: Emphasis added.] This NUD is particularly clever. It enables the chain’s allegedly insensitive customers – those who bought the shirts – to be rewarded with discounts, freebies, and other fun stuff, too, we suppose.

Fourth: “Restore public image and mend relationships with minorities and consumers by increasing philanthropy for non-profit organizations which [sic] promote racial awareness and sensitivity.” Hands out, everyone! Grant applications to be included in the next issue of the A&F Quarterly. Or as Malkin observes: “They’ll never, ever wear another piece of Abercrombie & Fitch clothing as long as they live. But they’ll gladly take a hefty ‘philanthropic’ donation from the company -- or a few modeling jobs for the next skin-baring A&F catalogue.”

Fifth: “Increase diversity in the [c]ompany's catalogues, advertisements, and promotional materials. Develop an educational advertisement campaign which [sic] promotes the diversity of our nation and encourages understanding of diverse cultures and histories.” Don’t kids today get enough of that kind of thing in their classrooms already?

Sixth: “Work with the [c]ampaign in hiring [sic] a new consultant team to ensure company-wide sensitivity to minority issues, improve diversity training for all employees, and increase minority representation in all levels of the [c]ompany’s workforce.” This goes without saying, of course.

Naturally, the NUDs are a hodge-podge of banalities, absurdities, and contradictions. “Never mind that the Abercrombie & Fitch designer who conceived the shirts…was an Asian-American,” points out Malkin. “Can’t let facts get in the way of a shakedown.”

And sadly, the protesters, some of whom attend America’s most selective institutions of higher education, can barely express themselves on the subject about which they are so riled. “Why was I here -- why was I born here? Should I be back there in China or here? I was born here so I should have respect for that,” said one protester quoted in Malkin’s piece.

Another said, incredibly, “I don’t think I’ll ever shop here again because it hurts, it hurts, it cuts too deep. I don’t think the wound will ever heal.” [Ed.: Emphasis added.]

This young man’s sentiment is laughable on its face. Surely he jests.

No matter, we’re pleased that Malkin, who is herself Asian-American, is having none of it: “My, what a privileged life this fragile person must lead -- to have no bigger sources of emotional pain to dwell upon than a few overpriced T-shirts with stereotypical cartoon characters. If I reacted as [he] did to every ethnic slight ever uttered against me or to every loser who talked to me in pidgin English, I’d be on life support by now.”

Clearly, these students passed at least one course, the course Malkin calls “Ethnic Extortionism 101,” a course we know is part of the core curriculum at institutions of higher education from coast to coast, that along with “Ethnic Pain 201” and “Hypersensitivity 301.”

How to Put On a Protest

The plan of action outlined at the boycotters’ web site will sound familiar to anyone who has ever been in the presence of a college kid with a chip on his shoulder.

Under the heading, “Things to do at your own campus,” we read, “host an information table;” “write to/contact school and local newspapers;” “pass out flyers and/or half/quarter-sheets at various locations around your campus, complain to corporate [sic] (phone, email, fax, letters);” and “phone bank/email bank/letter writing campaign at student union or some convenient location (using cell phones and [E]thernet cards). Hey, protesting joins the 21st century! Hell, we’re not even sure what an Ethernet card is.

There’s more: “go into store [Ed.: Huh? Doesn’t this defeat the point of a boycott?], petition in front of store, boycott store, demonstrate in front of store;’” “sponsor fireside/discussion about the issue” [Ed.: Sounds cozy.]; “get Asian[-]American studies professors, students, and others on a panel event [and] get student government to pass a bill condemning Abercrombie;” make a webpage [sic]. Another example: a fellow webpage [sic] dedicated to the cause;” and, finally, “Protest!”

Be sure to stop by the site for helpful advice, including “Protest 101” (Hot tip: Bring a T-shirt as evidence, once again defeating the point of the boycott.) and “Some Sample Chants,” most of which are truly precious, especially, “Hell no, Hell no, racist fashion has to go.”

Wake us when it’s over. Or, better yet, wake us when Jesse Jackson shows up.

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