I've been thinking for far too long about how to do something about the U-Washee laundromat on NW 5th Street here in Richmond, Indiana. I say "far too long" because I've known about its existence for years, and have only thought and talked with others about it, instead of taking action. I've been trying to figure out how to convert its overt displays of racism into a useful and transformative conversation in the community. Why does this place exist in the first place? Who patronizes it and what do they see and think about its imagery and stereotypes? How does our Asian population feel about it? Why isn't there more conversation happening already about U-Washee?
It was simultaneously a good and bad thing today to see that there are plenty of people talking about U-Washee outside of Richmond. A little more than a month ago, The Bilerico Project put up a great commentary with photos and really calls Richmond out for not taking action on this, but also ties it to larger trends of racism in the Midwest:
The laundromat is, literally, built on racist stereotypes of Chinese people and no one gives it a passing glance. It's 1940's era cartoon stereotype mascot, what Margaret Cho calls "feng shui hong kong fooey font," and the extra "ee"s at the end of words in the business's name and posted notices all combine to form one hellish timewarp into a past America most areas have forgotten but we tend to accept as typical - and no one utters a peep.
Then there's the long line of commenters below the post essentially shaking their heads at us. This is played out across comments from elsewhere in the blogosphere and media on U-Washee, all wondering why Richmond citizens aren't outraged.
I wonder that too. As a community that is usually at least no more willing to wear our racist tendencies on our sleeves than other Midwestern towns, and that sometimes rises to the challenge of confronting racism more directly, it seems like we would not want to let this pass.
Heck, if only for economic development reasons, you could make a case that it's really bad for a city that's struggling economically to even risk the possibility of offending a businessperson considering locating an operation here. In recent years, we've spent non-trivial resources developing relationships with contacts, governments and corporations in Asian countries (not that Asian people should be the only ones insulted by this). But if you drive someone on out to our industrial and business parks, you'll get to see U-Washee along the way
Here's what I can suggest for action, perhaps in order of escalation:
- Contacting the management and/or owners of U-Washee directly and asking them to remove the U-Washee branding and signage
- Raising awareness of the racist imagery through letters to the editor, talking about it with your peers and family, other media exposure, etc.
- Facilitating a community conversation about race and racism in the context of the U-Washee branding
- Notifying the various local organizations that might feel it is within their purview and/or mission to address this
- Asking Richmond's Mayor and Common Council to issue statements condemning the racist imagery
I don't want Richmond to be known for things like this, do you?