Asian Am Musicians, Asian in America

The Slants: Their Trademark Saga Continues

The Slants, The Slants trademark

It was nice to get an update from Simon of The Slants on their trademark filing. He’s the one in front.

This is Simon with The Slants. I just wanted to take a moment to give you an update on what’s been happening with our trademark filing.

First, I wanted to thank you again for your willingness to help in this matter. I can’t tell you enough how much this means to me as an Asian American who is fighting for equal rights. It’s been nearly two years but we are still continuing the fight. As I go through the Trademark Office’s records once more, it’s interesting to see that of the 50 trademark applications containing the term “slant,” ours is still the only one that they’ve raised the issue of it being a racial slur (every other applicant who was not of Asian descent experienced no questions or doubt at all).

In our most recent appeal, we sent over 700 pages of evidence. From expert testimony showing the history/use of the word to a national survey of Asian Americans, letters of support from respected API activists, support from API media, and much more, it was an unbelievable collection that reflected thousands of hours of work. However, the Trademark Office expressed no interest in seriously considering anything from the Asian American community but instead dismissed all of the evidence presented because they believed it would be more politically correct to do so. Because our band is associated with a proud form of Asian American activism, we were struck down.

Since then, we’ve teamed up with a new attorney to assist us. We have reapplied using a different tactic and are working our way through the system again. I believe that we have a long road ahead of us but it’s an important one for the community. Some day, all of us will be able to look back and see how this case contributed to changing history for all minorities who have suffered the inequities of outdated laws.

Thank you again, I hope to send you some good news soon.

Regards,

Simon Tam

 

The Slants are the only all-Asian American dance rock band in the world.

Kicking off the band’s career at a tiny dive bar in Portland, OR, The Slants soon found themselves on tour and in demand worldwide performing at music halls, colleges, and anime conventions. Within months, they released their debut album “Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts” winning multiple awards from the likes of Willamette Week, Rockwired, AsiaXpress, and the Portland Music Awards. Since that first iconic show in 2007, The Slants have been cited as the “Hardest Working Asian American Band” (slanteyefortheroundeye.com), toured North America ten times, rejected a million dollar recording contract, were the first and only Asian band to be a Fender Music artist, and according to U.S Congress, the first rock band to play inside a state library.

The Willamette Week, summarizes The Slants’ history perfectly: “It’s a great story: All-Asian synthcore troupe lands anime festival, achieves instantaneous notoriety from overpacked fireball-laden maelstrom, inspires John Woo and Dragon Ball Z fans toward aggro electro and—just months after its first practice—books gigs across the globe. As shadow-warriory as the Slants’ rise has been, it’s still all about the tunes, and the band’s debut—floor-filling synth pop bristling with all the menace and grandeur of its oft name-checked cultural icons—is propulsive, cinematic and impossible to ignore.”

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Tags: Asian American dance band, Asian American rock band, Asian culture, Simon Tan, The Slants, The Slants trademark, trademarking The Slants

44 Responses to “The Slants: Their Trademark Saga Continues”

  1. On May 1, 2012 at 11:21 am Simon Tam responded with... #

    Thank you for posting!

    And I’m actually the one to second from the left, in the red tie ^^

    The man in front is Aron, our lead singer.

    • On May 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm admin responded with... #

      Hi Simon,
      Sorry about that!

  2. On May 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm admin responded with... #

    Personally, these guys were innovative in the naming of their group. Slant to me refers not to Asians, but something that is not simply vertical or horizontal…something unique and different.

    Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

    From my LinkedIn group Asian American Leadership Network

  3. On May 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm admin responded with... #

    Good point. Perhaps the Trademark Commission is reading a racial bias into this case more than they should?

  4. On May 2, 2012 at 4:14 pm admin responded with... #

    Makes one wonder if this was a band that did not have any Asian members if it would be a trademark issue at all…

    Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

    • On May 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm Simon Tam responded with... #

      Yes, it was very likely that if this was an all-Caucasian band that there wouldn’t have been any issues at all (especially since “slant” could refer to so many different definitions). But we didn’t want to hide what we were doing because 1) we have nothing to be ashamed of, we proudly share our API heritage and 2) the Asian American community has demonstrated unequivocal support so there didn’t seem to be a need.

      Unfortunately, the decision was made without the consideration of Asian Americans ourselves.

      • On May 2, 2012 at 9:54 pm admin responded with... #

        Hi Simon,
        That doesn’t seem fair to me! How is your new attorney? This must be an expensive endeavor!

        • On May 3, 2012 at 1:12 am Simon responded with... #

          We’ve had a lot of help generously donated to the cause because people see how important it is to change the role of government from being to make decisions for a community group without the group’s consent or opinion! However, it’s the fee’s that the Trademark Office charges every time that we respond to them that are killing us. It almost makes one think that the simply continue the fight to make money off of this case.

  5. On May 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm admin responded with... #

    I was wondering the same thing. Something for Simon’s attorney to argue perhaps!

  6. On May 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm admin responded with... #

    Hi, thank you for sharing about our story.

    What’s interesting is that of the 60 or so filed trademarks for variations of “slant,” ours is the ONLY one that ever received a denial because it could possibly infer race. Every other applicant that had applied was Caucasian and had no issues at all. Because I have a Chinese name, it clued them in that we might be Asian. Sure enough, you can hardly find any connection with our band that doesn’t mention the fact that we pride ourselves in Asian American culture. Unfortunately, that was a huge no-no for the Trademark Office. If I had an “American” sounding name, this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

    Posted by Simon Tam

    From my LinkedIn Group Asian American Leadership Network

  7. On May 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm admin responded with... #

    I think it’s weird that they would let a Caucasian person/company use “slant” when it could confer racism but not an Asian when it’s a racist term about Asians. As if the Trademark office can prevent a race from using derogatory terms used against them in the past. It’s sort of ass backwards. And also, does this apply to all minorities? No one is allowed to use derogatory terms that were applied to them but anyone else can?

  8. On May 8, 2012 at 8:43 pm admin responded with... #

    One thing I learned from my years of being the “outspoken and agressive” oriental girl is that no matter what, I can’t change the way I look. However, during my years of being labeled in a negative connotative way, I noticed that women of Caucasian ethnicity are considered “Not afraid to voice their opinion, and ambitious”. Not allowing you to name your group a certain name because the Trademark Police consider it racist, is racist. Some music groups names could be considered inappropriate…like one of my favorite groups, “The Grateful Dead”, was it allowed because at the time the Trademark office considered them alive and not really Dead?

    Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

  9. On May 8, 2012 at 9:46 pm admin responded with... #

    Mia – It depends on the individual mark. The cases are kind of all over the place. For example, Heeb (a slang term for Jew) was approved for Heeb Magazine. When the same group applied to get a trademark, it was denied because it was disparaging towards the Jewish community. A non-Native American owns the trademark for “Redskins.” The controversial rap group NWA (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) have a trademark on theirs. But most of the time, applications with any reference to race/minority status get denied.

    Posted by Simon Tam

  10. On May 8, 2012 at 9:47 pm admin responded with... #

    Susan – I completely agree. They shouldn’t be in the business of dictating what is appropriate for our community or not. Why can a band trademark themselves as “Uncle Kracker” but we can’t use a re-appropriated term in a positive, self-referential manner? The problem is that the specific law preventing us from getting the trademark was written in 1942 and does not take situations like ours into account.

    Posted by Simon Tam

  11. On May 8, 2012 at 9:47 pm admin responded with... #

    Hmmm. How did Niggaz get their through? Seriously, if they can, you should be allowed!

  12. On May 29, 2012 at 9:34 am JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    Interesting to note that recently I found out that there is a place in NYC called “Japadog”. The owner is a Japanese National, now living in America, so to give the benefit of doubt to them, perhaps they are not aware of the negative connotation “Jap” has to Japanese Americans. Ironic, that the word “Slant” can not be used, but “Jap” seems acceptable.

    http://www.japadog.com/newyork_En.html

    Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

    From my LinkedIn Group Asian American Leadership Network

  13. On May 29, 2012 at 9:07 pm admin responded with... #

    Hi,
    It might be of further interested that someone holds the trademark for the term “Jap” itself (often used as slang for Jewish American Princess). There are also many instances of “oriental” being trademarked as well, a term that most Asian Americans find degrading.

    Posted by Simon Tam of The Slants

  14. On May 29, 2012 at 9:07 pm admin responded with... #

    Yes, very interesting Simon, maybe that’s why they had to add the “A” and make it Japadog…but when you listen to it being pronounced it sounds like “Japdog”. Makes one wonder if the people that make the decisions on trademarks are people who have no experience of being a person of color so they are clueless when it comes to what is offensive and what is not…hmmmmm

    Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

    • On May 29, 2012 at 9:09 pm admin responded with... #

      Simon,

      I wish more young professionals of this group would join the conversation, because I think you are bringing up an important issue. Perceptions of Asian Americans in America is outdated! From the HuffPost thinking we don’t need “Asian Voices” to what a trademark governing group considers offensive, we are all doing our fellow Asian Americans a disservice by being silent.

      Perhaps Asian Americans still think its an advantage to be the “Model Minority” and continue to behave in a passive-agressive manner. After all, we are the students of “The Art of War”.

      Unfortunately, growing up post WWII in America, I was called “Jap, Chink, Nip” and many other names I really did not even know what they meant. I have to admit I still find being called Jap or Nip offensive, but “Slant eyes” is cool, because my own race called me “round eyes”

      Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

    • On May 29, 2012 at 9:09 pm admin responded with... #

      Even growing up in San Diego (pretty well known for diversity) in the 1980′s, I was bullied and ridiculed by others for my ethnic heritage – I was called chink, jap, gook, etc. more times than I can remember, sometimes those insults would be accompanied by rocks or fists thrown at my face.

      To me, it is all about context. When a Caucasian uses the term “Oriental,” I do find it offensive because often times it comes from a position of privilege and ignorance. However, my own mom uses the term from time to time and I think it’s fine. Same with the term “slant” or “slant-eye.” It was kind of an an obscure insult to begin with (originating around WWII) but it was really inspiring to me to find other Asian American activists and pioneers who decided to use it as a self-referential term of empowerment.

      It is powerful and life-changing to be able to be proud of an inherited feature rather than being conditioned to be ashamed of it.

      Posted by Simon Tam of The Slants

    • On May 29, 2012 at 9:10 pm admin responded with... #

      It is empowering to be proud of who you are and what you are…I am encouraged to see that many Asian Americans making their own voices be heard when others do not give them the opportunity, they make it themselves. I hope “The Slants” much success.

      Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

    • On May 29, 2012 at 9:10 pm admin responded with... #

      What is the latest status with your trademark?

      • On May 31, 2012 at 9:58 am admin responded with... #

        We just filed our most recent response, it will probably be some time though before we can discuss some of the information there (though it becomes public record once uploaded by the Trademark Office)

        Posted by Simon Tam

      • On May 31, 2012 at 9:58 am admin responded with... #

        As an old professional I consider “slant” in reference to Asians very offensive. The trademark office has my support.

        Posted by John Nishio

        • On May 31, 2012 at 9:58 am admin responded with... #

          John – What about the 60 other trademarks issues by the Trademark Office that were approved without any problems? Don’t you find it problematic that the Trademark Office allows the trademark to approved in every case except when an Asian American applies?

          Posted by Simon Tam

          • On May 31, 2012 at 9:59 am admin responded with... #

            John, I’m an old professional too, but I consider slant not offensive. My first impression was that they are a group that offer music from a different angle, unique.

            We have to help pave the way for the younger generation of Asian Americans and become more open to their way of thinking and progressing away from the stereotypes. My volunteer work forces me to face these issues (I volunteer at our local cultural center), we just had a long discussion on the younger generation wanting to call the Japanese relocation camps, “concentration camps”…

            Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

        • On May 31, 2012 at 9:59 am admin responded with... #

          As Susan mentioned, the term “Slant” can mean a variety of things, including a varying perspective.

          There are a number of other terms that have a slang/offensive undertone (such as Apple and Bumblebee). Should those be outlawed as well since members of thsoe referenced groups could find the terms offensive? Or even the NFL team, the “Redskins” or baseball team the “Braves,” (both of which have a long history of community-wide rejection from the Native American communities), which have no other definition other than the reference to race.

          It’s a very complex issue when we give the government the power to regulate certain types of protected speech (such as the actions of the Westboro Church) but not others.

          Posted by Simon Tam

      • On May 31, 2012 at 10:00 am admin responded with... #

        I think this issue is a matter of freedom of speech and The Slants have the right to trademark their band’s name.

  15. On June 2, 2012 at 10:29 am admin responded with... #

    Simon, Slant is extremely offensive to me. I have been called that name. It is considered derogatory by most of my peers. It doesn’t mean that a picture on a wall can’t be slanted. It doesn’t mean that the path has a slant. It means that non-Asians, particularly Europeans-Americans in my experience, have used the word in a negative way, because your eyes are tilted (slanted) to a degree differently from Caucasians and other races. I do not support perpetuation of racist terms. (I agree that should be able to take a joke.)

    Freedom of speech? I support freedom of speech. I support the rights of the KKK to say what they please, but I don’t like it. I don’t support their right to spout hateful speech wherever they like, however. OK, so its an issue of freedom of speech? Please don’t complain about Jap Road, Abercrombie and Fitch T-Shirts, racist jokes like Sara Silverman likes to make, the antics of Fred Phelps, the rant of that guy who played Kramer on Seinfeld, and all the obnoxious stereotypes that are portrayed in the media–something with which I have direct experience. AND so on and so on and so on. Also, if one wants to use past usage as rationale, then there will never be change. If the 60 allowed trademarks to which you refer have nothing to do with Asians, then it is fine. When the term is applied to Asians, it is simply not cool, and it is hurtful. How many people don’t support gay marriage? Just because they don’t, doesn’t make it the “correct” perspective; and I wouldn’t use their perspective to argue that it is OK to be against gay rights. Do you truly believe that the majority of our citizens supported civil rights? It is not likely, given the continued racial tones we face today. It is by default that I support the trademark office. From my perspective, it is not about supporting precedent. It’s about changing precedent.

    Posted by John Nishio

    From my LinkedIn Group Asian American Leadership Network

  16. On June 2, 2012 at 10:30 am admin responded with... #

    My view is that our country is not adapting to the accelerating change in Asian Americans and are indirectly perpetuating the racism that exist for years. Being Asian American, you know that the stereotypes that exist no longer pertain to the new generations, however, the majority of Americans do not. Its difficult to get beyond the stereotypes if the government regulators continue to ban trademarks and take away our right as Americans to make the decision on our own whether we find it offensive or not.

    Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

    From my LinkedIn Group Asian American Leadership Network

  17. On June 2, 2012 at 10:33 am admin responded with... #

    This is a very good discussion and I appreciate hearing many points of view while still being respectful. (A discussion on such a heated topic usually dissolves into mud slinging in my experience). Thank you all for sharing your perspective.

  18. On June 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    Hi John,

    I completely understand your perspective on this, as someone who was bullied growing up and even had the term thrown at me a few times, I know how there can be pain associated with it. However, I believe that it can also be incredibly empowering to re-appropriate once offensive terms as well. That’s why many Asian Americans are embracing the term under a unifying idea that having Slanted eyes should not be something to be ashamed of but rather something we are proud of. That’s why we want to create positive associations of API identity with it rather than perpetuating a meaning that is filled with hate.

    Look at Slant TV, Slant Magazine, Slant Film Festival, even the wonderful documentary The Slanted Screen.

    The reality is that language and words change. Anyone can use any term in a disparaging manner (I hear many people, especially in politics, discuss “Chinese” like we are a dirty word). When people tell me that changing the re-appropriation isn’t a method for affecting social change, I’m reminded by the words of Frank Wu, acclaimed Asian American author and Dean of the Wayne State Law School in Michigan, who eloquently wrote that, “If we are to make genuine progress toward racial justice, as opposed to rhetorical changes that celebrate differences in a shallow sense and create an elaborate etiquette of false sensitivity, we must be willing to consider claims about discrimination one by one rather than with assumptions. Some allegations of intolerance turn out to be true, even if not all of them have a basis in fact.”

    Posted by Simon Tam

  19. On June 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    Let’s examine the idea that reclaiming a past racial slur can be harmful to the APA community. I can understand the rationale behind this: one might infer that individuals would feel justified in referring to Asian Americans as the “reclaimed term” and therefore disparage our community simply because they see Asian Americans using those terms themselves.

    First, if someone is going to be intentionally offensive, they are going to do it regardless of the labels at hand. If someone is going to be accidentally offensive (with no malicious feeling attached), it would be based on ignorance and not hate. Furthermore, wide exposure to a term when only used in a positive self-referential manner by members of our community is not going to propagate this, especially if the word was created without any racial meanings.

    The re-appropriated term “gay” is one example. Someone can use it in a harmful manner or they can use it as a casual description because there is no sting left in the term on its own. Exposure to the notion that “slant” can actually be used as a term of pride by Asian Americans doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to use it as a normative label (people are not forced to use the term). In fact, positive exposure helps the re-appropriation process because the way to fight ignorance is through education, not paying reverence to hate by fear of using the term.

    For my band, we are referring to our collected group as “The Slants.” It is ludicrous to believe that this would justify someone beginning to use the term in a hurtful manner as the common norm. A popular feminist magazine that also is named after a re-appropriated term, “Bitch,” isn’t supporting people to call all females bitches. When Chinese rap artist Jin refers to himself as “chink” or “slant eye” in his lyrics, people aren’t drawing the conclusion that they are justified in using the term. Constituents see that individuals directly tied to the referenced community are using it in a personal and positive manner. It is through positive exposure that we educate others on appropriate uses of a term as well as the necessity of bold acts of self-pride from members of under represented communities.

    The truth is that words and language can change throughout time (sometimes fairly quickly). A word on its own only contains as much power as we give it. The meaning can be positive and create a sense of pride or it can be negative, depending on how it is used or how it is received. What’s sad to me is when people believe that re-appropriation works for other communities but not their own.

    Often times, we are using re-appropriated terms themselves but not even realizing it. For example, in referring to homosexuality the terms “gay” and “queer” were once pejoratives but they are now socially acceptable terms to address the LGBTQ community. Other times we use terms that were once associated with race but since then have shed their associations with their original references (for example, “hooligan” was a disparaging term for the Irish; “hip hip hooray” used to be the rallying cry in 1819 Germany for killing Jews).

    Some have argued saying that “slant” is like the “n-word” of the Asian race. I would argue that it is not. For one, the word slant has multiple meanings and connotations. With regards to its connection with Asians, it is simply a physical description. There is no emotional connection, whether positive or negative. Whereas some people (including many blacks) dislike saying nigger and are often times uncomfortable with even reading or writing the term, the same is not true of slant.

    The term “slant eye” is a scientific description that comes from the term “palpebral slant” and can refer to any race because it describes the line from the inner eye to the outer. Often, it is associated with Asians since we generally have a more prominent palpebral slant than others.

    Posted by Simon Tam

  20. On June 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    Consider this: while the 2001 first edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary contained multiple definitions for “slant,” including stating it was a derogatory statement to refer to Asians, the 2010 edition removed any associations with pejorative use. Several dictionaries have followed suit and done the same.

    Signey Landau points out that “ How…dictionary editors decide what to label offensive or disparaging…is based on the editor’s judgment of society’s norms for the limits of reputable public behavior. He consults slang dictionaries and other written sources, including other general dictionaries.” [Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of Lexicography, 2d edition, 2001, p233]

    I’m not arguing that it is impossible to find examples of people using the term “slant” or other re-appropriated terms in an offensive manner. The reality is that any ethnic, religious, or societal label can be used in a derogatory manner if the offense is clearly conveyed. But, as one of the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary states “such a use is not evidence that the word itself is intrinsically disparaging or derogatory, or that the word itself will be received as offensive by the persons it is intended to describe.”

    When my mother refers to me as an “oriental” because that was the term she learned when she entered the United States, I don’t take offense to it. When someone blames the state of our economy on “the Orientals in China,” I do. I would feel flattered if someone said to me “I love the slant of your eyes” but I wouldn’t if they said “you slants all look the same.” I’ve even talked to some APA’s who can find the word “Asian” offensive because it is a blanket term that washes over hundreds of unique cultures, languages, histories, and ideas. There’s a difference and it is rooted in intention and context. This is why the photograph of Miley Cyrus posing in a slant eye gesture was offensive: it was encouraging and legitimizing the taunting of APA’s. There was no affection or pride contained within her actions.

    Context matters. Before we judge someone, we should attempt to understand the context first. This should be especially true when it comes to members of our own community. Re-appropriating hateful terms in relation to race, culture, or religion can be an important part of the healing process for communities that have been disparaged. Even if one does not believe that this process is helpful, how can they argue that it is actually damaging? Perpetuating a hateful meaning of a word is more hurtful towards the community than reclaiming it and injecting it with pride.

    Posted by Simon Tam

  21. On June 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    Consider this: while the 2001 first edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary contained multiple definitions for “slant,” including stating it was a derogatory statement to refer to Asians, the 2010 edition removed any associations with pejorative use. Several dictionaries have followed suit and done the same.

    Signey Landau points out that “ How…dictionary editors decide what to label offensive or disparaging…is based on the editor’s judgment of society’s norms for the limits of reputable public behavior. He consults slang dictionaries and other written sources, including other general dictionaries.” [Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of Lexicography, 2d edition, 2001, p233]

    I’m not arguing that it is impossible to find examples of people using the term “slant” or other re-appropriated terms in an offensive manner. The reality is that any ethnic, religious, or societal label can be used in a derogatory manner if the offense is clearly conveyed. But, as one of the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary states “such a use is not evidence that the word itself is intrinsically disparaging or derogatory, or that the word itself will be received as offensive by the persons it is intended to describe.”

    When my mother refers to me as an “oriental” because that was the term she learned when she entered the United States, I don’t take offense to it. When someone blames the state of our economy on “the Orientals in China,” I do. I would feel flattered if someone said to me “I love the slant of your eyes” but I wouldn’t if they said “you slants all look the same.” I’ve even talked to some APA’s who can find the word “Asian” offensive because it is a blanket term that washes over hundreds of unique cultures, languages, histories, and ideas. There’s a difference and it is rooted in intention and context. This is why the photograph of Miley Cyrus posing in a slant eye gesture was offensive: it was encouraging and legitimizing the taunting of APA’s. There was no affection or pride contained within her actions.

    Context matters. Before we judge someone, we should attempt to understand the context first. This should be especially true when it comes to members of our own community. Re-appropriating hateful terms in relation to race, culture, or religion can be an important part of the healing process for communities that have been disparaged. Even if one does not believe that this process is helpful, how can they argue that it is actually damaging? Perpetuating a hateful meaning of a word is more hurtful towards the community than reclaiming it and injecting it with pride.
    Posted by Simon Tam

  22. On June 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    Simon, “American” in reference to European-Americans perpetuates a perspective that many of us have fought throughout our lives.

    But on to the meat of your discussion.

    I would never want to be obstructionist in moving forward the diversity and tolerance message. Such efforts are part of my soul. Post WWII JA’s suffered from continued racial prejudice (the “great” generation is almost gone, and much of the harsh bitterness of European-Americans toward Pearl Harbor will die with them). [My dad served in Europe, my uncles were in the MIS, and one of them translated for MacArthur in Japan (that's a big deal).] But then there was Viet Nam, and another generation of European Americans experienced war against an Asian group. [My cousins served, as did my father in law, who was an army lifer (who faced prejudice from within). My draft number kept me out of that war.] Today the unfounded prejudice has shifted toward Muslims (and fortunately JA’s have come out strongly against the blatant racism). The volunteer army has change many social, political, and economical aspects of war for the US.

    During my generation, I had friends named Gay (still do). My non-European American friends threw racial names back and forth (and we still do). Of course we used Whitey, etc. with the European Americans. Funny thing is, I don’t hear words like Wop and Krout much these days, but I heard them a lot as a kid. Yes, time passes in the crooking of a finger, and time flies. I appreciate self-deprecation, and not letting words hurt me. How many times was that lesson thrown at me as a kid? My folks pounded that into me.

    Nonetheless, I will continue to cringe when I hear slant, gook, chink, jap, and so forth. I will continue to cringe when someone asks where I am from, or makes comment about my English. I will continue to cringe when someone makes a comment about my technical, scientific, and analytical skills being related to my race. I will continue to cringe when European Americans say that Asians Americans can’t lead or act or …. Much of the cringing from my generation will be all but gone in 30-40 years.

    As most of you are aware, history is a powerful thing, from which we have failed to learn. I believe that names mean a lot (even though they are meaningless), and that tribalism (including religion, and that includes Christianity) is the root of war, of which I am adamantly against. Unfortunately, much of the discussion is about dehumanization. We are humans. We are humanoids.

    And in the end, my real concern is for your generation. My generation and those pasts have believed in the myth of superabundance, and we have set a path of destruction for Earth. Cleaning up the environment, feeding the human population, decreasing poverty, spreading social justice, replacing fossil fuels, and so on, and so on–these are issues that must be solved. Yes, burning fossil fuels trumps many of our mundane problems.

    And one last thing, I am not proud of my slanted eyes. I am not proud of my nose or ears. The largest segment of the global population is of Asian descent. I appreciate that I had and have opportunities to contribute and have accomplishments, as meager as they may be. I am thankful that I was able to work hard and contribute as much as I can, and I will continue my efforts. (Judas Priest, I ain’t dead or nuttin’.)

    Posted by John Nishio

  23. On June 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    This is such a great and honest discussion that really helps to clarify what racism means from one generation to another. John Nishio’s generation had overt racism during a time when being Asian Americans were less financially successful as a whole combined two wars against Asian nations.

    For Simon Tan, he’s our twenty something, that is a beneficiary of the progress that Asia Americans have made a group … Model Minorities that have achieved financial and political clout thanks to the efforts and success of many, many individuals like John Nishio.

    With Asian nations no longer the enemy at war, Asians are gaining power as the global economy shifts Eastward, and along with that, views of Asians and Asian Americans shift from have nots to haves.

    The whole idea of slanted eyes as defining (or not) a standard of beauty will also shift I would imagine.

    But the root of the matter is an issue of Trademark rights. Why should Asian Americans be singled out to deny their right to using racial slurs to symbolize their identity? Why are we singled out?

    And will there be a time when we can be proud of our slanted eyes? Simon Tam says yes and I quite agree. The time is now.

  24. On June 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    I think it’s important for all generations to have conversations such as these, to determine the relevance and effectiveness of efforts when it comes to social change. And although our world is facing an abundance of issues, such as some of the ones named above, I wholeheartedly believe that it is important to address issues that divide communities or leaves entire groups of people underserved.

    Bringing it back to the central issue of trademarks, it is why I believe that the government shouldn’t be in the role of policing what types of marks get approved or denied when it comes to “disparagement” simply because they don’t account for social change and can end up being detrimental to minorities (both in terms of reinforcing and denying marks). Discussions of re-appropriation aside, I believe that the Trademark Office shouldn’t be upholding outdated laws that contradict the very purpose in which they serve. JAP and Oriental Boy be approved to be used by non-Asians, why can’t The Slants be approved for use by an Asian American?

    With The Slants’ case in particular, nothing in our application (business description, evidence of our brand being used in commerce, logos, etc.) remotely implied that we were of Asian American descent…nothing except for my name. For my Asian name to be the impetus for investing a claim of race, it creates some disturbing revelations about the practices in that law. If I had a more Caucasian sounding name or if we were all Caucasian ourselves, our trademark application would have been a non-issue. We would’ve been approved like all of the other trademarks (none of them were even checked for a reference to race, most were simply approved with no additional investigation).

    Posted by Simon Tam

  25. On June 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    And for a bit of clarification, I’m in my 30s – like many, I am older than I look :)

    In fact, the oldest member of our band just turned 63 (he is our road tech, engineer, and all-around help).

    Posted by Simon Tam

  26. On June 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    I’m a 40 something to help place my age as it mirrors my attitudes towards racial slurs.

  27. On June 3, 2012 at 8:15 pm JadeLuckClub responded with... #

    I am 54, for the past 30 years I have been telling everyone that the future is in the East…my attitude toward racial slurs was influenced by my father’s teachings. Whenever we were put in the back of the restaurant when there were a lot of seats available in the front, whenever someone yelled “Jap” or “Nip” at us, whenever we were pushed aside because white people were helped first, my father would whisper to me “we have to take this now because we live during a time of great stupidity and prejudice after the war, but when you grow up, you will have an education and a voice to speak up against these wrongs” I learned to fight back and to stand up for what I believe is right, rather than the model minority, I believe I was the model of terror…
    We are fortunate to be able to have a forum to voice our opinions and have this discussion. I am sure we have managed to stimulate many minds, though they are not blogging their opinions. If we allow the Trademark police to make their decision about Asian Americans, what’s next? If Asian Americans become too successful in America, are we going to start seeing political lobbying to “contain” the yellow peril? History unfortunately, does repeat itself.

    Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

  28. On June 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm admin responded with... #

    Simon, I was a supporter of roles in the media that do not involve race before you were born. For example, the lawyer could be played by an Asian American, but the role doesn’t have to be race specific. One can fill in the blank with other professionals. In the 70′s Asian American theater was about race and ethnicity. Plays about concentration camps, women warriors, honey buckets, railroads, and so forth were the norm. Movie and TV roles for Asian American actors were often for gangsters, foreigners with accents (Japanese tourists with cameras were big), and NERDS (of which I am proud to be). The dream of open casting for actors of color was just that–a dream. The Berkeley Rep was a leader in multicultural casting. ACT supported Asian American theater in an amazing fashion.

    Today, we are seeing more positive roles for Asians in the media. Much more work is needed. Why are there so many Asian American women playing girlfriends or spouses of European Americans? How often do you see the reverse of that? Where is the strong Asian American couple? Where are the Asian American male newscasters? Where are the strong male leads (not that we don’t need more for Asian American women). Yes, there are more. Have you noticed all the people of color in television ads, now that Obama is President? (Of those roles there still seems to be a bias against Asian males; there have been some good ones too, however.) These things didn’t just happen. And the movement to make more improvements isn’t over.

    So, the same applies to music. A band named Purple Rose (I’m making up a name that has nothing to do with Asian Americaness) that is all Asian American is what our battles were about. We did not fight for the right to call a band Slants–that’s really what I am trying to say. We were/are fighting so you could have a successful band where race didn’t/doesn’t matter.

    Susan, I never said that I am averse to saying, “I’m not comfortable with that which you said….” Or “WTF did you say?” If you know what I mean. I have given talks pointing out the bamboo ceiling at meetings for university leaders across the country. People don’t like hearing or seeing things like that. When I presented the statistics that were in my talk to our administration, they were stunned. I noticed that once I pointed the problem out, that Asian names were in the list of interviewees for high level administration posts on a number of occasions. Did my advocacy matter? Who knows, but Chico State (with which I remain an adjunct) just offered the Provost’s position to an Asian woman, and she accepted. They also recently hired an Asian Vice President of Research. I was the founding faculty advisor for SACNAS, the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native American Scientists, at Chico State. I have given the keynote speech at the Multicultural Career Conference at UC Santa Cruz. I have given keynotes at two different AAPI university graduations, and for years I was a presenter at the AAPI graduation ceremony at a university in the Rockies. At that university I was the ONLY Asian American on the tenured faculty, and I was there for 13 years. I make every effort to teach about the downside of lumping Asians and Asian Americans into a single group. I certainly stand up for Asian American students who are not getting a fair shake for admissions and scholarships. Our fight is for the truly underrepresented, not just for what the government says. (The govt. has a definition of underrepresented.)

    Also, there is a saying from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince”: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” I started using that quote in my presentations about nature 40 years ago, when I was a Ranger-Naturalist. Yes, I take showers and brush my teeth, but I could give a hoot about my appearance, in general. (Don’t get me wrong, I continue to exercise and watch what I eat, so I don’t gain more weight and all that, so there is some vanity (pride)).

    Posted by John Nishio

    • On June 3, 2012 at 9:26 pm admin responded with... #

      John, obviously, you are a person that speaks what’s on your mind, or you would not be blogging on this forum…unless John Nishio is not your real name. I hope that after 41 comments (42 counting this one) that the other people reading this discussion can be stimulated to stop being watchers and become people of action.

      Every effort that any professional puts out to educate the ignorant on the subtle but ever existing racism in the professional world is a plus for us.

      When Federal regulators make decisions on what can or cannot be used as a trademark name because it is offensive to them, that’s when scary power comes to mind and group think actions (like what Elie Wiesel points out in his trilogy) becomes accepted.

      Posted by Susan Miyabe – Sugimoto

  29. On June 4, 2012 at 8:50 am admin responded with... #

    ohn, I agree with you – race shouldn’t matter. This is why I am arguing that I shouldn’t be singled out because of my race in the application for our trademark. Beyond that though, there is a much bigger picture than just a band trying to get a trademark. It’s the idea that minorities should have the ability to protect themselves in commerce as well as in political speech.

    Law professor and beloved API activist Keith Aoki was helping us fight for this as well (until he passed due to prolonged illness), arguing “that scholars have pointed out that the denial of benefits may be viewed as an abridgement of speech protected by the First Amendment.. . . Regulation of commercial speech may guard against such wrongs as fraud and false advertising, but not as a manner of suppression of social content.”). These constitutional infirmities are especially true when the mark denied registration is a so-called self-disparaging mark and is used by members of the allegedly disparaged group (often a discrete and insular minority) as artistic political-identity speech rather than as traditional commercial speech.”

    As Helen Keller noted, “The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.” There have been extraordinary efforts of API activists in many areas, including pioneers in nearly every industry. Yet I do know and understand that there’s still an uphill battle just for equal footing in this world. And in my experience, one of those areas is in intellectual properties law. We’ve been working on this case for three years and have come across numerous other organizations, businesses, and individuals who have been denied this right because of a misunderstanding or lack of cultural understanding. One of the most famous cases was an LGBT non-profit organization, Dykes on Bikes, who were originally denied their trademark because the Trademark Office felt it was disparaging towards members of the LGBTQ community. It was only after many years, thousands of dollars, and thousands of hours of work/research from other activists that their particular case was overturned. That eventually paved the way for others in the LGBTQ community to gain their marks: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and so on.

    In terms of race, this has not been the same. Caucasians can get trademarks for “Redneck,” “Kracker” and “White Trash” as well as for terms that can pertain to other races “Slant,” “Oriental,” “Jap,” “Redskin,” and so on (as well as variations of those) yet for a person of color to be shut down simply because of their race (even if their mark isn’t even explicitly racial), it shows that there are major inequities in the system. Me? I’d love it if other API activists could pursue and get their marks approved. Slant Film Festival is one of the most incredible Asian American festivals in our country, I’d hate to see them not be able to register for a trademark simply because they’re API’s themselves (they use the term “Slant” also as a reference to perspective as well as the Asian nature of the event).

    Because of that, my advocacy work isn’t just limited to making changes in the system in terms of social/cultural awareness or even challenging institutional racism in our society, this has become an area of great importance to me as well. I understand that we all have our passions, purposes and areas that we’re fighting for Asian American justice – this trademark battle was just a fairly recent addition in my list.

    Posted by Simon Tam

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