A long-lost friend recently showed up on my doorstep with a gift in hand: this slogan T-shirt made by Torrance-based Asian-American clothing line Blacklava.
This red ringer tee is a spin on those mind-numbing "Everybody Loves A(n) _____ Boy/Girl" shirts of yesteryear. Remember those? Everyone had them; everyone wore them. Urban Outfitters hocked 'em for a little less than $30, and all you got in return was looking like a dumbass. Nice job trivializing your ethnicity, suckers!
Originally founded as a surfwear company in 1992, Blacklava has come to be known for their shirts and sweat shirts championing various worthy Asian-American rights issues, such as their "Details Assails" shirt, referring to Details magazine's April 2004 major fuck-up with their "Gay or Asian?" column, penned by the now-infamous Whitney McNally. Google it and you can peruse McNally's atrocity firsthand—name every racist and ignorant Asian stereotype in existence, and she included it, all in 250 words. Check out her intro: "One cruises for chicken; the other takes it General Tso-style. Whether you're into shrimp balls or shaved balls, entering the dragon requires imperial tastes. So choke up on your chopsticks, and make sure your labels are showing. Study hard, Grasshopper: A sharp eye will always take home the plumpest eel."
So, yeah, in addition to being plenty insulting, the piece wasn't even funny to begin with. (Which, I guess, made it just that much more insulting.) But thankfully, petitions, protests and intense web-fueled grassroots campaigning ensued soon after. Details editor Daniel Peres eventually issued a full-page apology—even placing himself at blame for the story idea.
Surprised you haven't heard about this? Details, a major pub put out by media giant Condé Nast? It's really websites and organizations like Blacklava that are helping to lend a voice to an often-overlooked/poked-at-and-it's-totally-okay minority, whose issues tend to not receive much coverage or even outrage from the mainstream. Rosie O'Donnell's on-air "ching-chong ching-chongs"? Abercrombie & Fitch's "Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs Can Make It White" shirt? Vincent Chin? New York City radio DJ Miss Jones' "Tsunami Song"? My up-to-this-point vastly disheartening love life?
Blacklava also supports Asian-American writers, artists and musicians, even making merch for popular breakdance troupes and adorable shirts for Little Tokyo's annual Tofu Festival. Website founder Ryan Suda likes to use the tag line "A place for all things Asian American" to describe his storefront. Visit Blacklava's website at blacklava.net to see their full range of clothing, CDs, books, stickers, buttons, paintings, accessories and more.
The site's most popular shirts include ones that read, "Adobo" (referring to the popular Filpino dish), "Save a Cow, Eat Tofu" and "Secret Asian Man" (the name of the first syndicated Asian-American comic strip). My personal favorite is the camo-green wifebeater that screams, "I WILL NOT LOVE YOU LONG TIME." The original saying, which has plagued the lives of Asian-American men and women foreeeeever, was actually catcalled to me in San Francisco about a month ago—in Chinatown.
Sport one to support your choice of cause . . . just don't be surprised if no one's ever heard of the cause in the first place.
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