It’s Asian vs. Asian, once again.
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?
In a unanimous vote, the Virginia Senate passed House Joint Resolution 641 to recognize January 30th as Korematsu Day. The day recognizes the historic contribution of Fred T. Korematsu to American history; during World War II, Korematsu — who was an US-born Japanese American citizen — refused to abide by Executive Order 9066 which authorized the incarceration of Japanese Americans in concentration camps (read more about the power of words). Korematsu was arrested and convicted for his refusal.
After the war, Korematsu filed a Supreme Court challenge to the constitutionality of the camps through seeking an appeal to his conviction. Korematsu’s success in overturning his conviction was a significant step in winning reparations for Japanese American survivors of the camps.
Fred T. Korematsu passed away on March 30, 2005. Today, Korematsu’s daughter, Karen, heads the Korematsu Institute, which works to keep Korematsu’s legacy — and the history of Japanese American forcible imprisonment during World War II — alive. One effort of the Institute is to try and have January 30, Fred Korematsu’s birthday, recognized nationally and in all 50 states as Korematsu Day.
Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!