Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Plain Truth About Anti-Asian Prejudice in America

 The Plain Truth About Anti-Asian Prejudice in America



 What is the Plain Truth about Anti-Asian Prejudice in America?

·      It is not new. You can trace its roots nearly 200 years;

·      Trump did not create it. He just made it PC to express.

·      It cannot be legislated away; prejudice is embedded in American culture and history. 

·      The first step toward eliminating this and other prejudice is to recognize The Plain Truth.



Let’s look back:


In the mid-eighteenth century, Chinese began to immigrate to America to escape famine and bloodshed in China. They found work building railroads, working mines, etc. in California during the Gold Rush.


There they found extreme racism which sometimes turned into fatal violence. One writer said:

“Chinese immigrants simultaneously confronted major racist barriers and also significant violence in their quest to make a new life in America.

James Bradley quotes a Wyoming state official who arrived first on the scene

of the Rock Springs Massacre in September 1885: “Not a living Chinaman—

man, woman, or child—was left in the town. . . . The smell of burning human

flesh was sickening . . . and plainly discernible for more than a mile along the

railroad. Bradley adds that during the court trials that followed, there were no convictions.”[ii]


Chinese immigrating to America showed the patience and forbearance that is inherent in their Confucian culture, worked hard and looked very different, with their traditional clothing and hairstyle, which featured a queue for most men. This and their successful work ethic attracted attention and caused fear in other immigrant groups, most notably the Irish. In 1878 Dennis Kearney, an Irishman of the Workingman’s Party of California, shamefully said:


“To add to our misery and despair, a bloated aristocracy has sent to China—the greatest and oldest despotism in the world—for a cheap working slave. It rakes the slums of Asia to find the meanest slave on earth—the Chinese coolie—and imports him here to meet the free American in the Labor market, and still further widen the breach between the rich and the poor, still further to degrade white Labor.

These cheap slaves fill every place. Their dress is scant and cheap. Their food is rice from China. They hedge twenty in a room, ten by ten. They are wipped curs, abject in docility, mean, contemptible and obedient in all things. They have no wives, children or dependents.

…The father of a family is met by them at every turn. Would he get work for himself? Ah! A stout Chinaman does it cheaper. Will he get a place for his oldest boy? He can not. His girl? Why, the Chinaman is in her place too! Every door is closed. He can only go to crime or suicide, his wife and daughter to prostitution, and his boys to hoodlumism and the penitentiary.

…California must be all American or all Chinese. We are resolved that it shall be American, and are prepared to make it so.”[iii]


The best anecdote from that era is the quote from an American lawyer’s defense of his white client after a violent race riot in 1865, “Why, Sir-r-r, these Chinamen live on rice, and, Sir-r-r, they eat it with sticks!”[iv]


The extreme prejudice against Chinese at the time did not go unnoticed by the rest of the US. One of the many cartoons that the famous Thomas Nast published in Harper’s Weekly in 1871 clearly showed the xenophobia that was unchecked at the time, and whose characteristics were not unfamiliar to Americans:


The plight of Chinese in America also caught the attention of famous American writers such as Mark Twain and Bret Harte. In 1870 Harte created a satirical poem about a Chinese named Ah Sin from the same Gold Rush country. The original title was “Plain Language from Truthful James” which was changed upon publication in The Overland Magazine of September 1870 to “The Heathen Chinee.”[vi]The poem was intended to satirize the plight of Chinese in America but ended up having the opposite effect. The language tells us why it could be misinterpreted, even if we believe Harte had egalitarian motives in writing it;

Which I wish to remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar,
Which the same I would rise to explain.

Ah Sin was his name;
And I shall not deny,
In regard to the same,
What that name might imply;
But his smile it was pensive and childlike,
As I frequent remarked to Bill Nye.

It was August the third,
And quite soft was the skies;
Which it might be inferred
That Ah Sin was likewise;
Yet he played it that day upon William
And me in a way I despise.

Which we had a small game,
And Ah Sin took a hand:
It was Euchre. The same
He did not understand;
But he smiled as he sat by the table,
With the smile that was childlike and bland.

Yet the cards they were stocked
In a way that I grieve,
And my feelings were shocked
At the state of Nye's sleeve,
Which was stuffed full of aces and bowers,
And the same with intent to deceive.

But the hands that were played
By that heathen Chinee,
And the points that he made,
Were quite frightful to see, --
Till at last he put down a right bower,
Which the same Nye had dealt unto me.

Then I looked up at Nye,
And he gazed upon me;
And he rose with a sigh,
And said, "Can this be?
We are ruined by Chinese cheap labor," --
And he went for that heathen Chinee.

In the scene that ensued
I did not take a hand,
But the floor it was strewed
Like the leaves on the strand
With the cards that Ah Sin had been hiding,
In the game "he did not understand."

In his sleeves, which were long,
He had twenty-four packs, --
Which was coming it strong,
Yet I state but the facts;
And we found on his nails, which were taper,
What is frequent in tapers, -- that's wax.

Which is why I remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar, --
Which the same I am free to maintain.[vii]


The sentiments expressed then—could they be coming from the White House in 2020? The point, again, is: expressed or unexpressed—do these sentiments still exist? The dramatic rise in hate crimes against Asians in 2020 say yes. To be sure, let’s look again at some words from the 150-year-old poem:


We are ruined by Chinese cheap labor,


Twain and Harte wrote a screenplay together entitled “Ah Sin” based on the main character of the poem, ostensibly to further understanding by satirizing anti-Chinese xenophobia. Again, it had the reverse effect. The play premiered in New York at Daly’s Fifth Avenue Theater in July 1877. Despite their protestations and writing to the contrary, the play did nothing but stoke prejudice.


If you were not surprised until now, take a look at one of the cartoons that accompanied the play’s release:


The embedded prejudice was supplemented by Official US Government Policy. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Acts which prohibited the immigration of Chinese into the USA. Mind you, this in an era where European immigrants were immigrating in droves. Between 1870 and 1900, about 28 million Europeans immigrated the the US; during that same 40-year period, about 350,000 Chinese were recorded.[viii]

Prior to 1882, in 1875, the US passed the Page Act, which prohibited the importation of women expressly for  the purpose of prostitution. This determination was left to the immigration officers, those in California being on Angel Island; what do you think was the result of their observation?


The Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943, during WWII when China was considered an ally and a “model minority,” which allowed 105 Chinese immigrants per year (no zeros missing), and was not finally abolished until 1965, when Congress and President Johnson passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which eliminated the National Origins Formula.[ix] Of course, millions of Japanese were imprisoned in Internment Camps during WWII without regard to their loyalty. 


So then, in 1949, comes Mao, freeing China from thousands of years of dynastic rule and claiming that China “stood up,” but allying itself with Stalin, and then later fighting with the US in Korea. And threatening to obliterate Chiang Kai Shek and the Nationalists, who fled to Taiwan and who the US had backed to the point of inviting him to meet with Roosevelt and Churchill at Cairo in 1943 (despite Mao’s many overtures; is it significant that Chiang is the only one smiling?):


The rise of Mao’s China did nothing to promote better understanding of China and the struggle of the Chinese people in the US; so, during a centennial, embedded prejudice became cultural bedrock and has not changed materially until this day. Culture itself is learned, shared and passed on from generation to generation; in addition, it is usually embedded in children by the age of five. 


Which is why we face anti-Asian prejudice in 2021. Prejudice, Nativism and Xenophobia have been institutionalized in the US for nearly 200 years. It is part of our culture. Of course, this embedded prejudice in our culture is not restricted to Chinese. 


Back to Trump, he didn’t invent anti-Chinese prejudice; he merely let the cat out of the bag. The fact is, that even if anti-Chinese and anti-Asian prejudice is not expressed, it clearly exists under the surface. After Trump sanctioned anti-Chinese prejudice, it was PC to come out.


The most certain element here is we can’t legislate our way out of prejudice. As difficult as it is, the only way to eradicate the problem is to scrub the culture clean. Whether this can ever happen in the US or not, I am sure that it cannot be mitigated or controlled to afford respect to all minority groups unless we first face

the Plain Truth about our culture and our history of Prejudice, Nativism and Xenophobia.


(Above is an exclusive excerpt from my as yet unpublished book, “The Culture Factor: Understanding the Plain Truth about US-China Relations.” If you wish to read more, please email me at and I will put you on the list to receive priority notice of publication and a special recognition for your patronage and support)

Copyright Michael Serwetz 2021

[i] Thomas Nast, “The Chinese Question-1871,”

[ii]  “BAD BLOOD: The Legacy of History for US-China Relations.” Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry, by Lyle J. Goldstein, Georgetown University Press, 2015, pp. 26–45. Accessed 24 Dec. 2020, p. 33.

[iii], “Chinese Exclusion, and the Dangerous Islamophobia of Donald Trump,”

[iv] LIU, HAIMING, and Huping Ling. From Canton Restaurant to Panda Express: A History of Chinese Food in the United States. Rutgers University Press, 2015. JSTOR, Accessed 24 Dec. 2020, p. 40.

[v] Thomas Nast, “The Nigger Must Go” and “The Chinese Must Go,”

[vi] Mark Twain Library University of Virginia, “Plain Language from Truthful James,”

[vii] Ibid.

[viii], “United States Immigration Statistics,”

[ix]  Wikipedia, “Chinese Exclusion Act,” Ibid.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Economist: “Sweatpants Are A Designer’s Worst Nightmare”—Is dressing up another casualty of the Pandemic?

 Economist: “Sweatpants Are A Designer’s Worst Nightmare”—Is dressing up another casualty of the Pandemic?

Are we doomed to be sloppy?


An article in The Economist 1843 Magazine written in March 2021 thinks so—maybe.


What do you think?


There is no doubt that the year of the Pandemic took a grave toll on apparel, maybe more than any other industry.  Let’s look at some numbers:


First, of all retail sectors, apparel and accessories have suffered the most, almost diving 100% last year and still seriously in deficit.


Next, let’s take a look at the total sales picture. From a peak of about $34 billion in November 2019 pre-Christmas, sales sunk to about $7 billion in May 2020 and only could recover to about $30billion at Christmas 2020, after operating in serious deficit for almost a year:



The kids didn’t get new clothes, either. Family clothing stores followed the same trend, but even worse; the nadir in May 2020 was about $700 million from a peak of almost $15 billion.


Some major companies did well during this period, and some did not. Take a look at the following graph and tell me what the common denominator is for those who saw increases:


Crocs. Eh? You don’t wear those to the office or on a date. Wolverine- Moccasins, Hush Puppies? See the point now?


So, dressing up is dead and we all fall down in sweats? Hoodies for dinner? To a meeting, though? The author of the Economist article entitled, “Fashion Victim: Sweatpants are a Designer’s Worst Nightmare: The Shape of Things to Come,” [i]says, “The rise of sweatpants represents the demise of fashion as we knew it.”[ii]


So, is this true? Are we going to see hoodies in restaurants? In offices? My answer to that is no and no. And it has been for more than a year, which I have expressed in my article in February of this year, my informal poll of nearly 100 students from the US and other countries begs to differ:


My students will happily shed their hoodies and sweatshirts to dress up when person-to-person and person-to-group interactions are permitted and safe. They were nearly unanimous about that. One student went so far as to say she felt like she would throw out her entire wardrobe. Bright colors, happy clothes that actually fit and don’t make you feel like taking a nap will come roaring back. 


Those of us who have experience in the world of retail (pre-Pandemic and pre-Ecommerce) and have a good merchant’s sense of trends incoming all agree that the lack of buying clothes for a year (except online which seems to have been Crocs and Mocs) will have a snapback some are calling “the roaring 20’s (100 year anniversary which we hope will not end the way the last 20’s did), insofar as it will constitute not only wardrobe additions, but wardrobe replacement).


In fact, here is my contribution to the chorus, my solo as it were: I believe we are going to see a new attitude toward dressing that has been in remission since the jeans craze of the 1980’s and subsequent approval for casual dress in offices (because the boss wanted to wear jeans too). No, we won’t have dress codes to wear a tie and suit to work as we did in the 1970’s; if there is any code to come, it may be that offices set limits on how sloppy you can look. 


The real trend will be a reaction to the Year of the Pandemic where people began to recognize that a sloppy you is not your ideal presentation to the world; in fact, it is pretty damn embarrassing. And that you are what you wear; look good, feel good (Ricardo Montalban vintage: “I feel mahvelous, dahling”). Wait-will “dress for success” come back into people’s psyches? It could be…


This revolution will also be a quality revolution. Renewed pride in your appearance will require your clothes don’t look cheap; this will spell trouble for those purveyors of disposable clothes like Inditex and H&M (I have complete faith that they will respond but it may take some time and rocky roads).


One more blow to the fast-fashion brands will be that people not only won’t want to look cheap, they will NOT want to look just like the person next to them (and also on the other side); so we will see a drive for Individualism in apparel, a definite departure from the cookie-cutter fashion that ruled the world pre-Pandemic.


We merchants had solemn responsibility to not only spot the fashion trends—fit, silhouette, fabric, the Black Swan (actually, significant fashion changes can come from the Unknown Unknown), but when we bought merchandise to populate our t-stands and round racks, we had better figure out the right color. There could be few worst disasters than having thousands of the right style in the wrong color. So here I go with another risky prediction, one which I have said before: Bright Colors can do the best job of externalizing our psyche and will have the most robust response both physical and online.


None of this is written in stone or on tablets (stone ones). And world events could easily get in the way of my predictions (such as European countries like France bungling the vaccine response and prolonging the pain of Pandemic). But I think, all things considered and not considering Black Swans (which you never get to consider until they show up at your door), my predictions are accurate.


The one thing that I can virtually guarantee is that the Economist column writer is wrong about the enduring influence of sweatpants on fashion. If anything, their influence will be a reverse effect. 


The author backtracks and covers his butt at the end of the article. After a headline that pronounces sweatpants the Wicked Witch of fashion, he backtracks and says, “One day we will go out again and we won’t be wearing sweatpants.”[iii] So which is it, then? I guess it depends on when “one day” is. I can speculate on that: One day is 2021 Fall season to 2022 Spring season, the start will be fast and the momentum will leave many retailers in the dust.


And, therein lies the biggest danger to the revival of the fashion business: That retailers get lazy, or lack vision and merchant abilities, thus failing to prepare the inventory when the customer wants it, or blindly following the Pandemic Trend as if it were going to last forever. Google sweatpants and you will see that everyone from designer to mass market is rushing to compete in the Red Ocean of sweats. From the online merchandising, it would see that the Economist writer is correct.


Again, I don’t agree and think that stores are lobotomously missing a key post-Pandemic trend. That enduring incompetence can scotch this recovery; however, for those of us who have the right merchandise at the right time, it IS the Roaring Twenties. At the other end of the spectrum, the Grim Reaper will be invited to the party, as he was so many times in 2020.


Send me your opinions! You are part of the customer base. Then, when we get enough opinions, it will be more than opinion—it will be proof.


Copyright 2021 Michael Serwetz


(Origin of all graphs are documented on the graph itself and text quoted is duly footnoted below)


[i], “Fashion Victim: Sweatpants are a Designer’s Worst Nightmare: The Shape of Things to Come,”

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

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