Culture 

The Mahjong Line Founders Have Apologized, but Will They Take Responsibility?

Their statement offers little in the way of solutions or redress for their whitewashing of Chinese culture.

By
9,713 Hypes

The Mahjong Line Founders Have Apologized, but Will They Take Responsibility?

Their statement offers little in the way of solutions or redress for their whitewashing of Chinese culture.

Last night, infamous fashion watchdog account @diet_prada introduced its two million followers to a group of three white women, Kate LeGere, Annie O’Grady and Bianca Watson, attempting to give Mahjong a “respectful refresh” with The Mahjong Line, a recently launched brand of pastel-colored game sets priced at over $300 USD. Their goal? To “bring Mahjong to the stylish masses,” according to a now-deleted statement on the brand’s website.

The Mahjong Line offers five limited-edition sets that swap out the dots and Chinese characters engraved on traditional tiles with cutesy illustrations of flowers and bars of soap. There’s the Minimal Line (which, judging by its cluttered design, isn’t so minimal), available in three different colors, as well as the Botanical and Cheeky Line, perhaps the most perplexing of the bunch — tiles are engraved with technicolor bags of flour and lightening bolts.

While the designs themselves might not seem problematic, it’s LeGere, O’Grady and Watson’s erasure of the game’s history and cultural significance that reeks of ignorance. Though its exact origins are unknown, it’s believed that Mahjong originated in China during the 1800s. The game grew popular in the West during the 1920s, when Joseph Park Babcock, a Standard Oil employee sent to represent the company in China, devised a simplified version of it for an American audience. To this day, Mahjong remains hugely significant to the culture that created it — the game is a tool for communication, community-building and camaraderie in Asian communities, domestic and abroad. (China Daily also explains the meaning behind Mahjong’s tile illustrations, which our friends seem to think need refreshing.)

Professor Annelise Heinz makes the important point that American fascination with Mahjong, contrasted with the othering of Chinese culture as a whole, points to the country’s longstanding history of anti-Asian racism.

The Mahjong Line, which is based in Dallas, makes no such reference to any of the above history on its website nor its social media pages. Similarly, the brand’s lifestyle imagery bears scant indication of the game’s roots, instead opting for vague visual indicators of Eastern Asia — reminiscent of Orientalist symbolism rampant in colonialist art and writing — such as cloisonné bowls, elephant figurines and Buddha heads. Indeed, professor Annelise Heinz makes the important point that American fascination with Mahjong, contrasted with the othering of Chinese culture as a whole, points to the country’s longstanding history of anti-Asian racism. “White Americans embraced the game because marketers attached the game to ancient Chinese courts that were seen as highly esteemed, but also distanced themselves from Chinese American people who were denigrated and caricatured, and subject to nativism and anti-Asian sentiment,” she told NBC.

LeGere, O’Grady and Watson issued an apology shortly after @diet_prada’s post was published. “While our intent is to inspire and engage with a new generation of American mahjong players, we recognize our failure to pay proper homage to the game’s Chinese heritage. Using words like ‘refresh’ were hurtful to many and we are deeply sorry,” their statement reads. Though the trio seem to acknowledge their shortsighted marketing tactics, their apology fails to take responsibility for their whitewashing of Chinese culture, and offers zero practicable solutions for making their brand more conscious and inclusive. Though they mention an intent to “engage with a new generation of American mahjong players” (read: white players), they are not entitled to do so without first engaging with the community — and history — of the people who created Mahjong in the first place. This leaves us with several questions: does The Mahjong Line have any Chinese employees? In its development phase, did The Mahjong Line consult with any Chinese people about the cultural significance of the game? Going forward, how will The Mahjong Line ensure it pays proper credit to the origins of the game? As white founders of a brand built on Chinese culture, will LeGere, O’Grady and Watson launch initiatives to benefit the Asian community (which is facing xenophobic violence during the pandemic)? Will they delete their reference to haikus, a Japanese art form, from their website?

And of course, this leads us to one final question: is the very existence of a white-owned Mahjong brand cultural appropriation?

Read Full Article
Share this article

What to Read Next

ESPRIT Brings a New Spirit of Positivity and Love to the Modern World
Fashion 

ESPRIT Brings a New Spirit of Positivity and Love to the Modern World

From its iconic colorful apparel to its human ethos, the beloved global brand stays true to its roots of celebrating real people who feel good inside and out.
979 Hypes

Danish Design Brand GUBI Forays Into Outdoor Furniture
Art & Design

Danish Design Brand GUBI Forays Into Outdoor Furniture

Presenting its “Bohemian 72” line inspired by Gabriella Crespi’s collection in 1972.
2,056 Hypes

No Sesso's FW22 Runway Honors the Journey of Black Womanhood
Fashion

No Sesso's FW22 Runway Honors the Journey of Black Womanhood

The brand has also debuted its upcoming collaboration with Levi’s.
1,565 Hypes


Megan Thee Stallion Lands Her First Acting Gig
Film & TV

Megan Thee Stallion Lands Her First Acting Gig

The rapper is set to star in A24’s musical comedy, ‘F*cking Identical Twins.’
4,397 Hypes

Pro-Trump Rioters Storm the Capitol in Washington D.C.
Culture

Pro-Trump Rioters Storm the Capitol in Washington D.C.

A violent scene broke out as Congress convened to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
1,577 Hypes

Jazzmyne Jay Talks Being a Plus-Size Woman and Creating Body-Positive Content
Culture 

Jazzmyne Jay Talks Being a Plus-Size Woman and Creating Body-Positive Content

The queer creative opens up about the life of an influencer, her coming out story and more.
10,267 Hypes


When Did Brands Become Too Cool for Social Media?
Fashion 

When Did Brands Become Too Cool for Social Media?

Influencer marketing is projected to hit $15 billion USD, but brands are removing their social media presence.
6,907 Hypes

Thibo Denis Teases Dior's Next Collaboration With Shawn Stussy
Footwear

Thibo Denis Teases Dior's Next Collaboration With Shawn Stussy

Get ready for a new iteration of the B27 sneaker.
3,807 Hypes

Nike Celebrates Lunar New Year With Exclusive Footwear Collections
Footwear

Nike Celebrates Lunar New Year With Exclusive Footwear Collections

Including festive styles by Converse and Jordan Brand.
3,392 Hypes

Announcing HB Commencement
Fashion

Announcing HB Commencement

Apply for your chance to be among the five finalists.
1,718 Hypes

SEVENTEEN To Perform Over 20 Hits in Virtual Concert
Music

SEVENTEEN To Perform Over 20 Hits in Virtual Concert

The K-pop group has announced an upcoming livestream extravaganza.
1,768 Hypes

Learn How To Make Vietnamese Tet Noodles With Chef Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo
Culture

Learn How To Make Vietnamese Tet Noodles With Chef Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo

Craft the fan favorite dish from home.
5,164 Hypes

6 Shows To Watch if You're Obsessed With 'Bridgerton'
Film & TV

6 Shows To Watch if You're Obsessed With 'Bridgerton'

A list of scandalously romantic titles to binge now.
22,462 Hypes

More ▾
 
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Keep updated on the latest news.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Looks like you’re using an ad-blocker

We charge advertisers instead of our readers. Support us by whitelisting our site.

Whitelist Us

How to Whitelist Us

screenshot
  1. Click the AdBlock icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Under “Pause on this site” click “Always”.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the AdBlock Plus icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Block ads on – This website” switch off the toggle to turn it from blue to gray.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the AdBlocker Ultimate icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Switch off the toggle to turn it from “Enabled on this site” to “Disabled on this site”.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the Ghostery icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Click on the “Ad-Blocking” button at the bottom. It will turn gray and the text above will go from “ON” to “OFF”.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the UBlock Origin icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Click on the large blue power icon at the top.
  3. When it turns gray, click the refresh icon that has appeared next to it or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the icon of the ad-blocker extension installed on your browser.You’ll usually find this icon in the upper right-hand corner of your screen. You may have more than one ad-blocker installed.
  2. Follow the instructions for disabling the ad blocker on the site you’re viewing.You may have to select a menu option or click a button.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.