Project Anti-Disguise
  September 22, 2004 01:59 PM
October 19, 2002
Poway distributor shelves 'Kung Fool'

By Elizabeth Fitzsimons and Daniel J. Chacón
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

October 17, 2002

POWAY – Complaints of racism from Asian-American groups have prompted a costume company based here to discontinue a Halloween outfit called "Kung Fool."

The karate-themed costume, which includes a mask with slanted-eyes, buckteeth and a headband with the Chinese character for "loser," outraged Asian-American groups nationwide.

"You work hard, you try to fit within the community as best we can and this kind of stuff just pulls us a few steps back," said Dan Hom, the past president and a member of the Asian Business Association in San Diego.

Disguise, Inc., which bills itself as the world's leading costume company, sells to hundreds of mass-market and specialty retailers nationwide and through its Internet site.

Chris Wahl, spokesman for Disguise, said the company is doing everything in its power to meet the requests of Asian-American groups. The company will no longer produce, market or ship the product and will refund retailers who return the costumes.

"Disguise is a culturally sensitive company, and we apologize to anyone offended by this product," Wahl said.

He said Disguise was surprised by the attention the costume generated. If the company had thought the costume was insensitive, he said, it would not have been manufactured.

About 5,000 people signed an Internet petition at www.yellowworld.org demanding an apology and a full recall.

Elbert Oh, who started the Los Angeles-based Web site, aimed at encouraging social activism in young Asian-Americans, learned of the costume in an Internet discussion group last week.

He thought it was a practical joke, but then he found it on Disguise's Web site. The image has since been removed.

"First it was disbelief. Once I realized it was real, it was disgust, and I was appalled," Oh said. "Whether you're Asian or not you should be appalled by a product that is so insensitive."

He and others at Yellowworld alerted every Asian civil rights and student organization they could think of.

In a letter to Disguise, the national president of the Organization of Chinese Americans said the costume "singles out, ridicules and marginalizes a single community, and this so-called humor is only seen as overt racism."

Levin G. Sy, executive vice-president of the local chapter, said by not recalling the costumes, Disguise had failed to accept responsibility. He said the costumes sent a message to children that it was all right to make fun of someone for their race.

Sy said he would have expected companies to have learned from Abercrombie & Fitch, which in the spring pulled T-shirts depicting two slant-eyed men in conical hats and the slogan "Wong Brothers Laundry Service – Two Wongs Can Make it White."

Last year, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill protested a Disguise costume called "Mental Patient." It included a canvas straight jacket with straps, and mask similar to the one worn by Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs."

Wahl said he did not know how many "Kung Fool" costumes had been manufactured. This was the first year it has been offered.

"That was one of the popular ones to try on," said Steven Pilcher, an employee at the Wal-Mart in Vista. "Everybody would take out the mask and play with the mask. They laughed at it and thought it was funny."

Pilcher said he didn't think the costume was in bad taste.

"They weren't trying to be offensive, they were just trying to be funny," he said. "They got (costumes of) hobos, which are mostly white people. They're not pulling those yet."


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