Racism was conquered today in Canada. After Vancouver-based Lululemon art director Trevor Fleming linked to a t-shirt design by California artist Jess Sluder, called ‘bat fried rice’, brave internet warriors took action, accusing the company responsible for turning yoga pants into streetwear of ‘insulting China’. The long-sleeved t-shirt showed an image of a pair of chopsticks with bat wings on the front and a Chinese takeout box with bat wings on the back, with the words, ‘No thank you’. On his website, Sluder was offering the shirt for $60, adding, ‘Where did COVID-19 come from? Nothing is certain, but we know a bat was involved. This quarantine offers a friendly reminder to avoid foods containing this nocturnal beast. Stimulate your stay-at-home-wardrobe with a 100 percent cotton long sleeve tee featuring my quarantine inspired artwork…thank you for your support and stay healthy!’
While you may think the design was in poor taste, it was, undoubtedly, a joke. Of course, today, the war against jokes rages. Good thing, too. Otherwise we might actually find something of worth to fight. Like, I don’t know, a global pandemic. or an economic crisis, or, I don’t know, a potential actual war.
One man tweeted, ‘Waiting to hear from @lululemon before I determine if I will ever buy anything from them again. I own approximately 50 lululemon pieces in my wardrobe.’
I’m personally more offended by a man who wears that much Lululemon, but hey, you don’t see me up on Twitter with the hashtag, #getanewlook. An Instagram influencer named Dorothy Wang shared Sluder’s post in her Instagram stories, writing, ‘Wow why am I not surprised someone from @lululemon is involved in a racist project against the Chinese.’ Wow Dorothy, good question. It makes total sense that Lululemon is involved in a racist project against China, seeing as 67 percent of the company’s products are manufactured in China and just last year the company announced a five-year growth plan to quadruple international sales by 2023, where ‘invading China’ was a key strategy. Last April, investors.com reported, ‘Like many firms, it sees China as being key to its future growth prospects. Lululemon expects sales in the totalitarian state to exceed those from Europe and Australia/New Zealand combined by 2023.’
Lululemon’s stock price surged more than 80 percent last year, thanks in part to their plan to expand to international markets, and the company currently operates 38 stores in China, where sales jumped 70 percent in the country in the first half of 2019.
Racist plan activate!
But the internet cares not about intent. It cares about the temporary surge of power you feel after leaping to action against individuals with no real power in the world, in an attempt to accomplish nothing of substance. Do any of these people believe the best way to address racism is to get a man fired from his job and ensure he is without any further employment opportunities in the foreseeable future, thanks to internet virality and Google searches, during a global pandemic and economic crisis? Do any of these people actually believe the global art director of Lululemon is racist? Because he shared a link to a joke t-shirt design?
This shirt is not offering deep commentary about Chinese power, but I have to wonder whether joking about or criticizing China is off-limits at this point, solely because China is not a Western country? China is on its way to becoming a major superpower that dictates much of our economy in Canada and the US. It is also an authoritarian dictatorship that surveils its citizens at home and abroad, in order to ensure the Chinese Communist party is protected from criticism. The government has detained and prosecuted hundreds of political activists and dissidents, and citizens who fail to demonstrate loyalty tend to mysteriously disappear.
To point all this out is not racism against Chinese people — Chinese people are the people who are most oppressed under the CCP. And getting a man with a family to feed fired from his job certainly won’t resolve any of this, just as it won’t resolve anti-China sentiments wrongly translated as racism against Chinese individuals.
To all those expressing Very Serious Concern that Canada’s COVID lockdowns somehow equate to a ‘police state’, I highly recommend you move to China, which is an actual police state. If you start to feel like you miss free speech and access to information at any point, or would like to live under a government that won’t kidnap your grandma because you call the prime minister a douchebag, you’re welcome back. Same goes for all you Twitter users who currently have the freedom to, uh, tweet.
The entire world mocks and criticizes the US with impunity, which is perfectly fine and often justified. Why China must be protected at all costs is beyond comprehension. Except if we consider that online social justice warriors have no concept of how global power and oppression actually work, so spend their time trying to destroy the lives of individuals who are not totalitarian, murderous police states or racist politicians with the power to actually dictate policy.
After the bat fried rice hit the fan, Sluder made his Instagram account private. Before deleting the post advertising his t-shirt design (which never came to fruition in actual t-shirt form) Sluder commented, ‘The racial aspect of this honestly had not occurred to me, which is clearly something I need to explore further. I apologize sincerely for any offense.’ Fleming changed his Instagram bio to read, ‘I deeply apologize for putting the URL in my bio. I did not design the t-shirt, nor did I participate in any part of its creation,’ then deleted his account.
Sorry, brothers! The crowds have spoken! Authoritarian dictators are in, joke t-shirts and jobs are out.
While Lululemon will continue to profit at an exponential rate, thanks surely to their brave anti-racist politics, China will continue to operate with impunity, avoiding criticism while a global crisis looms.
In the meantime, all you social justice warriors can rest easy on your cushy bed of retweets.
Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, BC. Her website is Feminist Current.