We’ve seen it before: A company misuses an Asian word or symbol, a politician makes a derogatory comment on Asians in a campaign ad. Usually, these actions are followed by angry letters. The issue goes viral on the Internet. Sometimes, the person or the company issues an apology, sometimes not.
What is the right response? When we demand an apology or a retraction from a person or company, are we overreacting? Should we continue to be watchdogs for racial, ethnic, and religious misrepresentations?
Yes, we should.
Consider the case in which a Hindu community protested against a Portland brewing company, which sought to release a beer called Kali-mal, an imperial wheat ale flavored with Indian spices. The Hindu community believes that images of deities, like the Goddess Kali, should be worshiped in temples and home shrines, not used as symbols for commercial interests or other agendas. Surprisingly, with labels made and bottles ready for purchase, the company postponed the release of the beer and promised to re-name it before its release.
“It is NEVER our intention to offend or alienate any race, creed, religion, or sexual orientation. The inspiration for the beer label simply came from a favorite childhood movie
in the ‘Indiana Jones’ series, and we were unaware that it could be offensive to anyone. … To anyone we have offended, we sincerely apologize,” said the company on its Facebook page.
In response to the apology, Rajan Zed, leader of the protest and president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, commended the company for showing responsibility, respect, and maturity by taking quick action and understanding the hurt feelings of the Hindu community.
There have been many times when groups that advocate for such changes do not get such kind and desirable results. Other times, advocates are accused of being too sensitive. But whether the results are favorable or not, these efforts are important and they create dialogue more powerful than the offense itself. They ensures that at least one person will learn to pay closer attention.
As an story in this week’s issue relates, it may be hard for many of us to address these issues as individuals — for one of us to tell their boss to not use a certain word, for one of us to know what to say in the face of a racist comment, or for one of us to disagree with a friend’s views — but when we speak out as a group, our voices are amplified. Engaging in this dialogue will help ethnic communities stand for the proper representations of their views, faiths, and identities. It is the chance to say, “We are here, and we are listening.” (end)