For the last several years, Asian American rock band, “The Slants”, has been in a knockdown fight with the US Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO) over their band’s name.
The fight stems from a decision made by the USPTO to refuse registration of “The Slants” as a trademark on the grounds that the bands’ name is racially offensive to Asian Americans. The USPTO was empowered to make their decision based on the 1946 Lanaham Act, which prohibits the registration of any mark that “consists of or comprises of immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”
In practice, the USPTO frequently makes such decisions unilaterally through the determination of a single case officer who by happenstance receives an application to register a questionable mark. Consequently, the USPTO has been notoriously inconsistent in their determination of a mark’s “immoral”, “scandalous” or “disparaging” content. “The Slants” is a group of Asian American musicians seeking to reclaim an offensive word they recognize as traditionally a slur; despite the USPTO’s refusal of their application, the Office has permitted the registration of “Dykes on Bikes”, which is a group named under similar reasoning.
Earlier this year, I profiled the Oregon-based Asian American rock band, “The Slants“, whose fight to trademark their name had gone all the way to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. According to their website, The Slants has been making music together since their 2007 debut album “Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts“.
Recently, however, The Slants have found themselves embroiled in a legal battle with the US Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO), which denied them registration for the trademark of their band name on the grounds that it is derogatory towards Asian Americans. The 1946 Lanham Act prohibits registered trademarks from “consisting of or comprising of immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”
It is on this basis that opponents of the Washington Redskins and other racist sports mascots have demanded that the NFL #ChangeTheName. And indeed, when the federal government allows an entity to register a racist, sexist, or otherwise derogatory trademark, they in so doing condone the language by granting it institutional recognition and legal protection.
But, should all uses of all historically derogatory slurs simply become — in essence — blacklisted — prohibited regardless of context?
Recent events have allowed mainstream media to paint a picture of Asian American and Native American communities as being at odds in #NotYourMascot: the fight to call on Washington R*dskins owner Dan Snyder to change the name and mascot of his NFL team, both of which are deplorable examples of redface stereotypes against Native peoples. Sadly, in the aftermath of the last two weeks and the attention placed on Asian American advocacy, Native peoples have been functionally “edited out” of their own campaign.
Yet, anti-racist work is a work that should bring together people of colour, not divide us. This week, the AAPI blogging community is dedicating a week of posts in solidarity with our Native brothers and sisters to try and raise awareness for #NotYourMascot and the R*dskins controversy. Many AAPI blogs have committed to writing posts in support of #NotYourMascot, and we will also be re-tweeting the powerful and compelling writing of Native writers.
Please check out all the blogs participating in this week of solidarity and bookmark this post, which will be aggregating all the writing done this week.
Please also check back for updates.
This post was last updated April 17th 12:00PM EST.