One of the shirts depicts two slant-eyed men in rice-paddy hats above the slogan, “Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs Can Make It White.” Another shows a dancing Buddha with the slogan “Get Your Buddha on the Floor.”
The national chain store, which introduced the graphic shirts last weekend as part of its summer line, apologized yesterday for causing offense. It also recalled the shirts yesterday after receiving more than 60 complaints from around the country Wednesday, said company spokesperson Hampton Carney.
Some of the calls came from students at Stanford and MIT, where anger over the shirts has also led to protests.
Abercrombie had earlier pulled images of the t-shirts from their website, Carney said.
But students are asking for an official statement from the company, saying that pulling the shirts from the chain’s 311 stores is not enough.
“What angers us is not that we haven’t gotten an official apology, but that we’ve gotten no explanation of how this could happen,” said Chris Tam ’03, a member of the Asian American Brotherhood (AAB), which is spearheading the protest.
Students also said the shirts remained on the shelves of the chain’s Harvard Square branch about an hour after the company announced it was pulling them.
Company officials said the shirts were intended to be humorous and to keep in line with the store’s image.
“We apologize that the shirts caused any discomfort,” said Tom Goulet, a customer service representative at the company’s hotline. “It was definitely not our intention. Abercrombie is about humor.”
But many students said the shirts were inappropriate or offensive because they promoted a negative stereotype of Asian-Americans.
“The slogans are pretty clever, you know?” said John K. Yasuda ’05. “Your first instinct might be to laugh. But then you realize just how serious this is.”
Many students said they found the Chinese laundry stereotype particularly offensive.
“Chinese immigrants in the 1800s had no choice [but] to be laundry workers because a racist America refused to let them be much else,” wrote AAB member Aram Yang ’02 in an e-mail.
Some also took issue with what they saw as Abercrombie’s specific targeting of Asian-Americans.
“If the shirts depicted Mexican or black Americans, Abercrombie would be eaten alive,” Yasuda said.