Project Anti-Disguise
  September 22, 2004 01:59 PM
October 18, 2002
Protest swiftly rids stores of offensive costume

By CHERYL B. WILSON, Staff Writer

Friday, October 18, 2002 -- AMHERST - Slanted eyes and buck teeth, a black eye and a red headband with a Chinese inscription - the "Kung Fool" Halloween costume added up to heinous stereotyping, said Asian-Americans whose complaints met with quick success this week.

"It's disgusting," Bethany Li, an Amherst College senior who is chairwoman of the National Asian American Student Conference, said Thursday. Her group worked with the Organization of Chinese Americans, based in New York City, to get the offensive costumes removed from the shelves.

Within days of their formal protest, the manufacturer, Disguise Inc. of Poway, Calif., has stopped production, marketing and distribution, and Wal-Mart has pulled the outfit from its sales floors.

"It's just the stereotype," explained Li of Danvers. "It's the buck teeth, which despite protests from Asian Americans continue to appear" in depictions of Asians. She said the Chinese character on the headband translates as "loser."

A group of law students at the University of California started an online petition drive against the costume at their Web site,

Li e-mailed members of the National Asian American Student Conference throughout the country.

She also called Wal-Mart, Spencer Gifts and Party City, all major retailers of the costume.

"Party City said they had pulled it off their shelves because they felt it was wrong," Li said. Wal-Mart told her they would call her back by the weekend and Spencer Gifts had yet to respond, she said.

"The costume singles out, ridicules, and marginalizes a single community, and this so-called humor is only seen as overt racism," George Ong, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans wrote to Disguise Inc. He said his group was "outraged" by the costume.

"We apologize," said Chris Wahl, spokesman for Disguise Inc. "Certainly the design of the costume was not intended to offend anybody." It was one of 150 new designs created for this Halloween. Wahl couldn't estimate how many Kung Fool outfits were made by the company.

"We stopped production, marketing and distribution of the costume and are in the process of working with retailers to encourage them to return the products to us for full credit," Wahl said. "The majority of the costumes have already been pulled or are in the process of being destroyed.

"This is the only year the costume was made," he said. "It will obviously not be made again."

A protest is still planned today outside Disguise Inc. headquarters in California, Li said, because the Asian American groups have yet to receive an apology in writing from the company.

The costume, which is intended to be worn by an adult, was being sold Thursday morning at the Wal-Mart in Hadley. Later in the day, the manager of the store said the outfits had been removed from sale after a directive from corporate headquarters in Arkansas.

"We got e-mail saying 'immediately pull from the sales floor all Kung Fool costumes,' said manager Ben Armstrong. He estimated their original shipment was a dozen Kung Fool costumes. "It doesn't look to me like we sold many. We pulled eight."

Tom Williams, a spokesman for Wal-Mart in Arkansas, said Thursday afternoon, "We found it out and pulled it. We issued a recall ourselves. It's significant when we send something out to all 2,800 stores."

Williams said adult costumes were a focus of his company this year because of an emphasis on family participation in Halloween.

Li said she was especially appalled about the costume after demonstrations last spring against Abercrombie and Fitch over T-shirts that depicted two slant-eyed men in conical hats with the slogan "Wong Brothers Laundry Service Two Wongs Can Make It White."

Li's national student group was also involved in the protest against those shirts. She led a demonstration outside Ingleside Mall in Holyoke, and other members of her organization protested in cities across the country.

"You would think after that campaign that companies would understand they shouldn't put out merchandise like this," Li said. "And if they do, they should know Asian Americans aren't going to be silent about it."

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