SAN FRANCISCO — Pottery Barn’s parent company in San Francisco has removed two Halloween costumes from its website after an Asian American civil rights organization charged that they were culturally insensitive.
A sushi chef costume and kimono for adults were created to coordinate with existing sushi-themed costumes for children.
Williams-Sonoma confirmed Oct. 28 that it removed the adult costumes from its website. Leigh Oshirak, vice president of public relations and marketing, said in a statement that the company “did not intend to offend anyone with our Halloween costumes, and we apologize.”
Ling Woo Liu, director of strategic communications for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, sent the following letter on Oct. 25 to Oshirak, Pottery Barn President Sandra Stangle and Sara Kerns, publicist for Pottery Barn Kids:
“Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the national affiliation of Asian American and Pacific Islander civil rights organizations, is writing to demand the immediate removal of Pottery Barn Kids’ ‘Sushi Chef’ and ‘Kimono’ costumes and that Pottery Barn issue an apology for marketing and profiting from offensive merchandise.
“We were surprised, quite frankly, to see these costumes being sold by a national retailer based in San Francisco, a progressive city where more than one-third of residents are of Asian American descent.
“While we don’t find the ‘Baby Sushi’ costume offensive, given that it clearly represents food, we do take issue with the ‘Sushi Chef’ costume, which is composed of ostensibly traditional Japanese attire and a Japanese-flag bandana, and the ‘Kimono’ costume, which is nothing more than a Japanese kimono.
“Our problem is not with the attire itself; it is with the fact that Pottery Barn is marketing these outfits as costumes. As a student-led campaign in 2011 put it, ‘We’re a culture, not a costume.’
“Like other minorities, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are real people who cannot and should not be commodified as Halloween costumes. There is a history in this country of using caricatures to reinforce stereotypes of minorities as perpetual foreigners who are somehow less ‘American’ than white Americans.
“Commercial characters such as Popchips’ Ashton Kutcher as ‘Raj,’ painted in brownface, and Quaker Oats’ Aunt Jemima are evidence of this, but costumes, such as ‘Kung Fool,’ ‘Osama bin Laden’ and the unfortunately long list of Native American sports mascots, also play a role in cementing stereotypes that slow our march to equality …
“Should you have questions about future merchandise that may be considered offensive, please consider us as resources to better serve your sizable Asian American and Pacific Islander customer base. We would be happy to meet with you in person.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice has affiliates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
In other Halloween costume news, Angry Asian Man and other bloggers are slamming partiers who dressed as the fight crew from Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport in July. The three men, wearing torn-up uniforms and fake blood, had name tags reading “Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo” and “Ho Lee Fuk.”
Those names were broadcast by KTVU-TV in Oakland in the belief that they were the names of the Asiana flight crew. The names turned out to be a prank, and KTVU was roundly criticized by the Asian American Journalists Association for failing to recognize that they were phony.
The photo, which has been circulated widely on the Internet, was taken over the weekend at the Sidetrack Video Bar in Chicago.
“Well, Halloween is upon us. And with the early weekend festivities came a whole lot of crappy racist costumes, documented on social media for all to see,” Angry Asian Man said. “Just when you think you’ve seen all the bad taste you can take, a photo like this comes my way … Three people die, dozens more injured. At least you guys got a good Halloween costume out of the tragedy.”
There are unconfirmed reports that the men are actual flight attendants for Continental/United Airlines, and United said in a statement that it is reviewing the matter.
Another photo posted by the San Francisco-based SFist website shows a man wearing a torn and bloody uniform with the same three fake names printed on it. The photo was taken over the weekend at a party at Montbleu Casino and Resort in Lake Tahoe.