Students say T-shirts derogatory to Asians

Marisa Maldonado

About 70 students attended a forum Thursday to express their views about a recently sold Abercrombie & Fitch shirt graphic that some called derogatory to Asian Americans because of slogans such as “two Wongs can make it white.”

Even though the students received word from an Associated Press article that Abercrombie had decided to pull the line from its shelves, some students still vowed to take action by writing letters, holding events during Asian-American Heritage Month and educating the campus.

“We want to make change, but we have people in our own backyard who don’t,” said Weinberg senior Marie Claire Tran, one of about 12 students who stayed after the forum to help organize action.

The four men’s shirts sold by Abercrombie all advertise different types of Asian-run businesses, such as restaurants or dry-cleaning services, by invoking phrases that could be seen as stereotypical to the Asian-American culture.

Not all students at the forum thought the graphics were racist. Andy Shin compared the designs to parody.

“It’s not supposed to be accurate,” said Shin, McCormick ’02. “It’s supposed to be light.”

Other students countered his argument by saying that Asian-American culture is not prevalent enough for other students to know the shirts’ true nature.

“They don’t know the culture enough at all to think it’s a parody, and I think that’s dangerous,” said Christine Byun, a Medill junior.

Education junior Emmy Hong said the slogan “Two Wongs can make it white” on the dry-cleaning shirt is racist on many levels, including the fact that the saying plays on the phrase “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” which would assume the Asians to be wrong and the whites correct.

The shirt also touches on 19th century Asian-American history, when many new Asian immigrants had to clean clothes to make money, forum attendees said.

“These weren’t even livable wages they were working for,” said Tedd Vanadilok, interim Asian-American student services coordinator.

The graphic for a Chinese restaurant that combined a Japanese word with a reference to a Vietnamese prostitute also offended students. The shirt misrepresents the different cultures it combines, Hong said.

Students at Stanford University started protesting the T-shirts on Monday, sending e-mails to universities across the country including Northwestern.

Speech sophomore Raymond Lee described the push for activism as a word-of-mouth movement.

“I’ve been (instant messaging) my friends from all over – at Harvard, Yale,” Lee said. “They were oblivious, but it’s cool because now they’re going to raise hell too.”

Many students at the forum said the discussion had helped them view the shirts in a different light. Lindsey Claar, an Education sophomore, said she didn’t notice the shirts were offensive until she talked to some of her Asian-American friends.

“Because they were offended, I was offended,” Claar said. “I must confess – I’m ignorant. I didn’t know there were different cultures on the shirt.”