This conversation took place between Akiyama sensei, Mrs. Betty, and myself this afternoon in the teacher’s office.
Prelude: I brought some omiyage (souvenirs) to school today for the kids. I have a bunch of excess shopping bags in my house and this time I used a shopping bag from Abercrombie & Fitch because it was the right size for what I was carrying. Upon noticing the bag Akiyama began the conversation with an unexpected bang!:
Akiyama: That company is racist!
Akiyama: That’s Abercrombie, right?
Akiyama: They’re racists! They don’t hire Asians.
Me: Really? Not even at the Ginza store?
Akiyama: Huh? Well, I don’t know…but they’re racists. Right Betty-Sensei?
Mrs. Betty: Huh? What?
Akiyama: You know Abercrombie? That clothes company?
Mrs. Betty: Can’t say that I do, Dear.
Akiyama: You know…the store that wouldn’t hire Asians…
Mrs. Betty: Ohhh! That store! Yes, they are as racist as hell!
Me: Are you sure? They are awfully popular here. I mean, everywhere I go I see their clothes on Japanese backs and their bags on Japanese arms…
Mrs. Betty: Japanese are so stupid, sometimes.
Akiyama: I know. It’s ridiculous! Baka nihonjin!
Me: I remember years ago they had some crazy T-shirt. It said something like, “Two Wongs make it white” and a lot of people didn’t like it one bit. And, I seem to remember they had some questionable hiring practices too…But then they were sued, and I think they got their act together. Sometimes companies just need their coat pulled. Growing pains, and what not.
Akiyama: But, still…this is Japan. What happens in America is different from what happens in Japan.
Me: That’s true, but you shouldn’t be so hard on Japanese.
Me: Hell, half the companies in America had or have the same problem. Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Nautica, Liz Claiborne, Versace, Timberland…hell even The Gap. Most of those clothes lines black people turned into popular fashion, because…well, let’s just say psychological trauma. But, if they’re racists, and their racist policies come to light, we deal with it! One way or another. I remember when I was a kid, everybody I knew wore Timberland boots…me included. We couldn’t help but notice that though everybody black we knew was wearing Timberlands, the company’s models remained white, and their ads only targeted white consumers.
So, what happened? The rumor mill began spreading rumors that the company was racist and the tree on the Timberland logo represented trees where blacks were lynched. All kinds of stuff. The rumors were everywhere! I’d like to say that because black people believed the rumors they stopped buying Timberlands, which forced the company to make a bottom line decision and recognize that a significant segment of their business was being generated in the black community, but that didn’t happened. I used to think, black people are just stupid!
However, I think the rumors put these companies under the kind of scrutiny they don’t really need. That combined with some legal pressure coming from black law firms and what not and, what do you know, they started slowly diversifying their models, as did many of those other companies.
And, I bet if you go to Abercrombie in Ginza you’ll find some Asian models and staff people. I’d like to think, even if they do still have some racist policies and tendencies, they ain’t that stupid!
Akiyama: You’re probably right.