I am a usually a big fan of the Italian design firm Alessi , who make, besides other things, all kinds of cool, funky and expensive kitchen gadgets. However, this Mr. Chin line of kitchen timers and other gadgets made me wonder, what were they thinking.
According to their web site , “The Chin Family” line was designed in association with the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. That really doesn’t change the fact that to a lot of Asian people, to anyone who’s had to endure the ‘slant eyes’ type of racist remarks , these things are going to be quite offensive.
I have noticed that there is a significant difference in the way racism is perceived amongst people of a particular race or nationality who have never been put in another, more hostile environment, versus those who have lived or travelled outside of their home country or community. So it’s possible that the Taiwan museum people didn’t see anything overtly wrong with the imagery, and that the (presumably Italian) Alessi design people took that on. To me, they look like retro ’70s era depictions of ‘Asian’ (as in East Asian, not South (India, etc.) Asian) people, and while I like retro design, this is retro in a bad way. Cute, sort of, but so are Little Black Sambo and golliwogs .
I don’t think I’ll be getting any of these for my friends’ birthdays anytime soon, Asian or not.
[Update:] This entry has garnered an interesting variety of reactions since I posted it. Quite a few people have said that I am making too big a deal of it. Well, for one thing it’s my reaction to it, not somebody else’s, and I find the imagery too close to the ones that have been used to depict Asians in a negative way. No it doesn’t mean I am saying you should have the same reaction. If you are not Asian, or have never faced any kind of racism, and so on…but there it is. My general view on things like this is that you can never really understand another person’s reactions to it, and therefore should not judge it by your own perspective.