Stomach-Turning Stereotypes Alive and Well in My Home State

Posted by Prince Gomolvilas
ON Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Take a look at this sign (one of many) from the U-Washee laundromat in Richmond, Indiana. Guess what year this photograph was taken?


Having been born in Indianapolis, Indiana, I lose a bit of Hoosier pride here. Well, actually, all of it.

Bil Browning breaks it all down and shows you more pictures here.
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  1. Annie Said,

    Racist Midwesterners are alive and well. Take my in-laws in WI. When I first met them they had a "sambo" statue in their garden - proudly displayed as a focal point. My MIL named it "nig." Seriously.

    They only agreed to take it down two years ago.


  2. JSH Said,

    Racism is everywhere. I lived in supposedly backwards Georgia for 7 years and never saw such blatant racist behavior as I've seen here in supposedly progressive Massachusetts. The accents may be different but necks can be red anywhere.

    And is absolutely necessary for the man on the sign to be yellow?


  3. Yup. You both affirm that I should stay in California. Forever.


  4. JSH Said,

    California is hardly immune racism.

    In 2002, I had a flight out of the Ontario, CA airport. When I got to the airport, I waited in line for about about 20 minutes to check my bags in curbside with the Skycap. When I got to the front of the line, the African American Skycap told me (a white guy from the deep south) he was going on break and I'd have to go inside to check my bags. I stepped out of line and wondered why he didn't tell me this before I waited 20 minutes. As I went inside, I turned around and saw that same Skycap check the bags of the African Americans that were waiting in line behind me. The other caucasians waiting in line figured out what was going on and promptly went apeshit. I would have gone back to say something to the guy but I was about to miss my flight.

    For months after that, it really bothered me to have been denied service based on my skin color. I'd never experienced discrimination first hand and it disturbed me to the core. However, I've since come to the conclusion that it was probably a good thing for me. Being treated like a second class citizen was a lousy feeling but it has made me much more empathetic towards anyone that's been discriminated against based on their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.


  5. Nicolas Martin Said,

    I don’t think the laundromat’s Chinese association is racist. Immigrants from the same country often start businesses of the same type, and this was the case, from the 1850s, with Chinese immigrants who opened laundries. To quote from an article about Chinese laundries in San Diego:

    “In the spring of 1851, a Chinese man named Wah Lee opened the first Chinese hand laundry in the United States. It was in a small, leased storefront and basement in San Francisco. He posted a sign that read: “Washing and Ironing,” and undercut the going rate for washing to “$2 for a dozen pieces”. Wah Lee was immediately overwhelmed by customers. In less than three weeks, he had twenty washer men working three shifts a day. Within three months, dozens of other Chinese hand laundries sprung up all over the city.

    "Before long, Chinese laundries emerged wherever Chinese immigrants settled; from small mining towns to towns where railroads were being built. By the 1870s, there were Chinese laundries in the large towns all across the country. By the 1880s, there were at least 1,000 Chinese laundries in the city of San Francisco alone. By 1900 most large American cities had Chinese laundries, which employed 75% of all Chinese men.

    "Chinese immigrants chose to open laundries because it was the quickest way to become their own boss. It didn’t require them to speak much English and it didn’t take much money to start one.”

    A century ago seventy-five percent of all Chinese men owned or were employed by laundries!

    In our day immigrants from one area of India (often with the last name Patel) dominate the independent hotel industry, and it has been estimated that 90 percent of the nail salons are Vietnamese-owned.

    Richmond, Indiana has a sordid history of racial discrimination (see the city’s Wikipedia entry), but this isn’t an example of it.


  6. Nicolas, nobody's denying the history of Chinese-run laundry businesses (or Vietnamese nail salons or Cambodian donut shops, etc.). That's not the issue here.

    The issue is the way the Chinese man is depicted in the signage (yellow skin, buckteeth, stereotypical clothing) and the way the sign is written (broken English, "Oriental" font).


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