Civil rights activist explains objection to Pottery Barn Asian-inspired Halloween costumes

Oct 29, 2013, 11:50 AM | Updated: 3:13 pm

Pottery Barn has reportedly apologized for Asian costumes some found offensive. (Image courtesy Pottery Barn)

(Image courtesy Pottery Barn)

Pottery Barn has reportedly now issued an apology for a couple Halloween costumes it was selling after an Asian civil rights activist group spoke out.

The disputed costumes are a sushi chef, featuring a Japanese flag headband, and a kimono outfit.

A representative for Asian Americans Advancing Justice tells KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson the issue is not specifically with the costume designs, but with the fact that they are being sold as costumes.

“The reason why we found Pottery Barn’s costumes problematic is not with the attire themselves, these outfits are just traditional Japanese outfits. The problem that we found was that they were being packaged as costumes, as Halloween costumes, and that a national retailer was profiting from them,” says Ling Woo Liu, with Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

But Dori says he’s seen a lot of Halloween costumes that are based on different cultures and ethnicities.

“I have seen a Swiss Miss at a Halloween party. When I was back in college, Crocodile Dundee was big and I saw people wearing what was perceived to be Australian garb. I’ve seen people wearing Mexican clothing with the sombrero and all that,” says Dori. “I guess I get what you’re saying, but it sure seems like manufactured outrage to me when it happens to a lot of other cultures come Halloween time.”

Liu says she’s sure she could find some Swiss Americans who wouldn’t be thrilled about a Swiss Miss costume. But the main issue she says, is the negative impact a costume could have.

“For instance, there’s a popular Osama bin Laden costume that’s being sold out there. That is controversial at this point because we still have a frequent amount of hate crimes against Sikh Americans, other Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim Americans because of a certain look … But if someone is going to go out dressed like a Swiss Miss, is she or he going to incur comments, hate remarks, or violence?”

Is it likely that a sushi or kimono costume will increase violence against Asian Americans, Dori asks Liu.

“I can’t say,” says Liu. “But I would say continuing to strengthen certain stereotypes of minority communities as perpetual foreigners who don’t belong – it certainly has an impact on Asian American communities.”

Dori says he thinks the stereotypes of Asian Americans are pretty positive.

“There is no other group that I hail as much for its commitment to family, to education. Asian Americans do better than any other ethnic group that comes to America and I think that is a tribute to Asians and Asian Americans,” says Dori.

While many Asian Americans are thriving, Liu says it’s important to remember those who are struggling with low income, language barriers, and the like. She also cites a few instances involving hate crimes against Asian Americans, one as recently as 2012. Liu says an American service member, Danny Chen, committed suicide after enduring racial taunting and slurs from fellow service members.

But Dori says every race, Caucasians, blacks, Mexicans, and Asians, have all had hate crimes perpetrated against them.

“I guess I’m just saying to talk about a Halloween costume in context with any of that stuff [hate crimes], I think it diminishes any legitimate incidents that you may bring to light when we talk about something like a Pottery Barn Halloween costume,” says Dori.

“I certainly didn’t say that a Halloween costume is going to cause a hate crime,” says Liu. “But when you put out the image of Asian Americans all doing well, and there aren’t really any civil rights issues we face, I needed to (correct you.)”

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