[ politics Category ]
April 19, 2002

Two Wongs make it White?

A new clothing line by Abercrombie and Fitch has ignited the ire of some Asian-American advocacy groups because the shirts supposedly contain racist mottos.

Personally, I see nothing offensive in the shirts. Am I being callous? Insensitive? Or is this an aftereffect of living in Hawai'i, where racial humor isn't really frowned upon? Yes, I'm not Chinese, but I never found Frank deLima's portrayal of Imelda Marcos offensive either. Nor Rap Replinger's observations on Filipino names. Am I racist because I can laugh at everyone's differences, including my own?

Posted by Vivi at April 19, 2002 09:17 PM


Posted by Stella on April 19, 2002 10:36 PM:

Personally, I think it's a Mainland thing - not that I'm saying it's wrong or anything, but there's something about attitudes are where people are so sensitive to racial stereotypes that even caricatures are no longer something to laugh at. And it's not even confined to the Asian community as well; Lee Cataluna has constantly taken Frank DeLima up to task about his "Portagee" jokes, which only caused a certain backlash among locals who think that the Mainland influence has made her a tad too politically correct.

Me, I've been known to make a few tacky Filipino jokes myself, especially when it comes to dog meat and cockfighting (two things that my relatives have enjoyed but I cannot condone) - and yes, I do own the Official Lanai and Augie Jokebook. Basically that makes me anything but PC, and the only thing that annoys me a little more than racism is people who try way too hard to be PC. Like when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won the Oscars, and some of my friends were saying, "Hey, where's OURS?"...

Posted by Jen on April 20, 2002 7:07 AM:

The worst part about the t-shirt is not just that it portrays a crude, ignorant stereotype, (which I think it does, to a degree) but that it's just simply not funny. Oh, wrong songs like Wong. I get it. Ha ha. It's just such an old, dumb joke that the lameness kind of makes the racism worse.
My reactions to things like the t-shirt and to Frank DeLima are kind of extreme. I grew up in the deep south, where you get all that stuff and way, way worse. I determined as a teen that racism and ethnic jokes were evil and intolerable because of all the crap I grew up seeing and hearing. So now, Portagee jokes and the like are more likely to make me not like you than make me laugh. And I'm not even a member of a minority. I'm not Asian, and those stupid overpriced t-shirts are, to me, a symptom of a screwed-up world.
I agree on Lee Cataluna, though. I wish she'd put down the pen and go back to reading a teleprompter. She bugs me the way Tiny Tadani bugs Ryan.

Posted by Linkmeister on April 20, 2002 7:33 AM:

There are times I want to say to people "get a life!," and this is one. I've seen t-shirts from designers here which were equally as silly as those A&F just pulled, and I don't recall an outcry. Sure, we can all say "oh, that's Hawai'i. We're just more tolerant," but I sometimes think there's a semi-pro class of people who "like" seeing their own victimization everywhere, even in innocuous things.

Posted by Linkmeister on April 20, 2002 7:53 AM:

Now, if you want to offend people, as editorial cartoonists often do, this one probably succeeded. (yeah, yeah, we're way behind in reading the papers...I saw this last night).

Posted by Stella on April 20, 2002 10:21 AM:

Now that I think about it, the guy I dated who kept defending Eminem also kept bugging me for my favorite Portagee jokes, too, which also made me feel uncomfortable - not only because I didn't have any, but because I felt as if he was coercing me to come up with those jokes for him and his mates. Hmmm.

And my sister did manage to one-up Frank DeLima during one of his shows... well, let's just say that he was dressed up as a chihuahua when it happened and he had no idea that her last name was Japanese.

Posted by Bill on April 20, 2002 11:35 AM:

As with everything, I think it depends upon the context. Abercrombie & Fitch's catalogs and advertisements show their clothes being worn primarily by hunky corn-fed white teens. In that context, the ethnic slurs seem to stand out more. If similar shirts were created by a predominately Asian company, I don't think there'd be quite the fuss.

Posted by NemesisVex on April 20, 2002 8:18 PM:

When I make jokes about being the Filipino community in Austin, there's still a nugget of truth in the statement. I've met only two other Filipinos in the near five years I've lived here.

I didn't think I'd develop a sensitity to racial stereotypes, but I have. If I were still living in Hawai´i, I'd find the shirts tasteless but probably not offensive. But living in Texas and having few connections to an Asian support network, things like that shirt really do stand out.

And it's not just the blatantly ignorant people to worry about. My black friend and I really didn't understand what was so great about American Beauty because neither of us felt any compassion for all that white suburban angst. If we can't channel that aspect of, ahem, "white culture", how much more will a white person understand being a first generation son of Filipino immigrants?

Race relations is a very subtle thing around these parts. Even the most well-meaning, liberally-minded white person is sooner or later going to blurt something out unconsciously that will make your jaw drop. It's a fact of life.

Posted by NemesisVex on April 20, 2002 8:21 PM:

I should probably broaden that last post to include all the races. I've heard black and Latino people say some pretty stupid things as well. I single out whites because there are a lot of them here.

Posted by Ryan on April 22, 2002 2:57 PM:

Like Bill, I think context is key. (The Seinfeld Jewish comedian episode comes to mind.)

Lord knows, members of any particular group, ethnicity or class know their own tendencies and foibles well enough to write a dozen stand-up routines and print thirty shirts. In most cases, though, those jokes are told affectionately, and perhaps as a way to unite a group otherwise marginalized.

It's when jokes - and yes, terms - are used by others, or (if I might get a little simplistic, as I think it applies in A&F's case) by The Majority as a means of further separating out a group or Minority, that feathers will be ruffled.

Many complain it's a bit of a double standard, but to me, its existence makes sense. It's the cliché difference between "laughing with" and "laughing it."

A&F has already built a Tommy Hillfiger-like reputation of trumpeting the corn-fed, freckled and blonde ideal (perhaps with one token black or Asian, though it's always the same model). Given that, one can't really take the new line as being "all in good fun" - however it was intended.

And, given the above, yes: if Yolk Magazine or some hip, cutting-edge Asian-American enterprise did the same thing, they'd sell like gangbusters without anyone batting an eye.

I also agree with Stella that these issues are just simply different in Hawaii. We have a different overall take on race relations (as we should, since ethnically speaking, there's no hands-down majority), and probably don't take these things as seriously. (Jen couldn't believe how freely my own family used the term "Oriental" as an ethnic identifier.) The question is, should we?

I'm not even sure myself - I'm a skeptic, and tend to think people take some things too seriously, but I'm also an Asian who's never really lived life as a minority. I'd probably feel different if I were born Japanese in Kansas.

In Hawaii, we're more likely to accept living with other races (we have to), but I wouldn't be surprised if we're a little freer with our jokes and insults than others would be.

I still catch myself on the verge of making haole jokes, even after being married to one (a Caucasian, for clarification) for years. (She makes 'em all the time, of course, but not only is it okay, it's downright fashionable these days.)

Posted by NemesisVex on April 22, 2002 6:57 PM:

I was going to ask whether it's even possible to make haole jokes. Back in the 80s, KGMB produced this special about local stand-up comedians, and one of the comedians featured was a white guy. During his stand-up routine, he said you can't make jokes about white people because there's nothing funny about white people.

Posted by Tom on April 22, 2002 8:07 PM:

What about us Polaks (I'm only half)?

I always thought Polish people were funny... I mean white.

Posted by suki on July 13, 2002 11:32 AM:

i think a&f shirts are degrading..
wut if a t-shirt that had 2 white men whipping 2 black men working on a plantation?
would this be funni?

its degrading for white, it says they are still racist

and for black, they are still slaves in a white world

anytype of racist pictures or comments should not be allowed to be advertised

asians workin owning were degrading cause at that time it was the onli job they could get

Posted by NemesisVex on July 13, 2002 7:42 PM:


Posted by Ryan on July 13, 2002 9:16 PM:

God bless Google.

FYI, the "Wongs Make It White" is the 15th most common search term bringing folks here.

Wonder if I should start an occasional 'search term' meta post? Heh.

Posted by traresa on October 3, 2002 3:01 PM:

you what is funy,me!

Posted by theguywithabigangerterm on March 14, 2003 11:07 AM:

i think that a&f shirts arent too degrading for me cause i am a (part) phillipino and i think they are ok. it just ticks me off when a bunch of preppy white kids start calling people chinks or n*ggers or anything that is very appauling. and i think its true that there are no jokes for white people. i mean if i said something behind a cops back i would probebly get shot at, hit or heck even thrown in jail. but if a white kid did that the cop would just say what or something or even walking away. it just makes me full of anger that this this country is called the land of the free. pbbheh yeah i cant even walk 10 feet without gettin caled a dumb name. like today some fat kid came up to me and asked if his grandpa scalped my grandpa!! how dumb is that? then a whole bunch of people start in and it never stops. great land huh? i do admit tho that this is probebly the best place you can go anywhere, but still why cant anyone walk somewhere without getting called a stupid @ss name!??!? (excuse me for my language

Posted by Albert on March 14, 2003 12:14 PM:

"i think its true that there are no jokes for white people"

Now, you must be joking, as they say.

With Saint Patrick's Day coming up????

There are ENDLESS jokes about the Irish. :)

Posted by Rahul G on May 4, 2003 9:46 AM:

What is the shirt said,

"Two McGraws make it Black",

What that still me a pleasantly hilarious joke?

Posted by thinker on June 17, 2003 8:22 PM:

To asians:
If it was their intention to create this kind of rampage, then they are currently winning. The way i see history, those who blatantly fight for themselves produce results which aren't as great as those who stay quiet and prove themselves not by talking but by actually building themselves.

silence imposes superiority. let's look at japan. they are a proud people, and for valid reasons. there was a time when anything from japan is synonymous to trash. major cities were reduced to rubble by bombs. they talked, but not really much. why not much? because they focused on coming back up than complaining. and look at japan now. i don't think i have to say more.

i'm not saying that we shouldn't do anything about the racists. but rather, i'm saying, there already are enough people there to do the talking. you and i must do what we must. let us not be vindictive, 'cause though competing against an another will make us better, we can only improve so much. let us not be blinded with a wrong sort of pride. i see a lot of asians say, "asian pride." i say this not only to asians but to all ethnic/ racial groups out there. having pride in your people does not necessarily make you a better person. your culture may have some things to be proud of, but if you ask yourself as an individual what YOU, as a human being, have to be proud of, and you can't name one, then (forgive me for my choice of word) you're still a loser. If you can only name a few, then you're only "one of them."

Strive to become better not for the reason that you want to prove your superiority, not for the reason that you want revenge, but only for (the one single reason) just that: to become better. if you do this, then you have no limits. As you improve, admiration, respect, and everything else will fall into place.

To racists: complacency breeds mistakes.

Posted by caroline on September 21, 2003 9:59 AM:

WOW! Everyone calm down! I may just be saying his bc i am one of those "white preppy girls" but it's a shirt and nearly all of a&f's shirts contain a lousy message-oh well! I have shirts that say eveyrthing from get leid- guidance counselor-all with double meanings- sorry if im being insensitive- i just dont care!

Posted by Glen Miyashiro on September 22, 2003 2:48 PM:

Yes, obviously.

Posted by Andrew Taylor on December 21, 2003 7:39 PM:

The other day I was eating in an Italian restaurant when I accidentally spilled some spaghetti sauce on my favourite white sweater. I wasn't too distressed, though, because Mr. Wong down on the High Street has been doing my laundry for years and I knew that he could take just about any stain and get it out like it'd never been there.
So I took the sweater down to Wong's Laundry and dropped it off; Mr. Wong said he'd probably be able to have it cleaned by Thursday. So on Thursday afternoon after work I stopped by Wong's again. Mr. Wong looked quite distressed when he saw me. He brought out the sweater and, apologizing profusely, explained that somehow this stain was beyond even his power to expunge. And sure enough, though fainter than before, there was still a distinct red stain on the sweater.

In an attempt to make up for his failure, Mr. Wong offered to send the sweater to his brother across town, who had been in the laundry business for even longer, and might have a clue as to the method of removal of this extraordinarily persistent stain. The elder Wong brother would rush it through at no extra charge and should have it looking as white and clean as new by Friday.

So on Friday I went back to Wong's to pick up my sweater, but when I arrived, Mr. Wong regretfully informed me that his brother, too, had failed to remove the red blotch.

"No charge," said Wong, "But you must take sweater elsewhere to clean.

Two Wongs cannot make white."

Posted by Josclyn on March 22, 2004 4:54 PM:

Why are Polaks considered dumb? I really don't get it. You see, i'm doing a report on the topic, "Why Polaks aren't stupid", can any one help me out? FYI: I am half Polish. Thank you!

Posted by Josclyn on April 5, 2004 6:47 PM:

I think a&f t-shirts are quiet ridicoulous sometimes but you cannot compare them to two white people beating two black to the fucking ground.

Posted by jiggislin on April 5, 2004 6:52 PM:

Wrong JOsclyn, Abercrombie shirts are awesome those stupid asians deserve to be labeled that way. they have always been wierd and they run every damn laundry mat from San Fransico to New York. So Two wongs make a white. and Abercrombie should be appluaded for making fun of the asians. I have two of those abercrombie shirts by the way and they really piss of any asian in the hall that is an idiot.

Posted by a on April 7, 2004 10:47 PM:

in reply to a Post by Albert on March 14, 2003 12:14 PM: There are white people jokes... just not too many, like redneck jokes. I think the reason for this is they came up with most of those racist jokes.

Posted by eersa on May 1, 2004 7:59 PM:

im chinese, i want one of those shirts

Posted by mark fujiyama on June 26, 2004 10:17 PM:

art, even bad art, seeks to evoke a response from an audience, many times creating a chasm so divisive as to involve hatred and bigotry. the slogan in question is just a play on words, nothing more. if something is funny, even if it crosses the line i'll laugh about it. i don't need the PC police telling me what is or is not funny. who's ignorant now?

Posted by Donna on October 24, 2004 7:41 PM:

The Frank DeLima show is fantastic my husband and I went to see the show this past Friday night. We will return again with all our friends.

Posted by Eric on April 18, 2005 9:37 PM:

Some people FORGET we were attacked in 1941 by the Japanese! Its a free country, means if they don't like it here, THEY ARE FREE to go back home to Japan! We should have dropped 2 more A-Bombs on those S.O.B's.....

Posted by SJ on June 18, 2005 10:03 PM:

First of all Chinese people helped to build the railroads and then the only work allowed to them afterwards was to wash clothes..and Japanese people are different than Chinese people. And Eric, you need to shut the fuck up! You are probably think it was right to put Japanese people living in USA into those camps during the war, when they were American Citizens! Come on people get an education before you comment on things you don't about.

Posted by grenas on October 18, 2005 2:34 PM:

There were three men trying to get the same job. There was a black man, Mexican, and a white man. They had 3 days to sell as many toothbrushes they could. After the 1st Day, the black man had sold 20, Mexican 1, and the white guy 15. The Mexican said, "I'd try harder tommorrow." to the white guy. The next day the black man had sold 45, Mexican 8, and the white guy 25. The black man told the mexican guy, "Tommorrow's last day, you better do really good." The last day, the black guy sold 567, Mexican 1,594, and the white guy 495. The black man asked, "how'd you sell that many toothbrushes?" The mexican man replied, "Well, I put up a sign that said FREE PIE! Whenever someone would take a bite, they'd say, this tastes like shit. I'd reply. It is, want to by a toothbrush?"

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