Does American Apparel’s Ching Chong Hat Offend You?

August 1, 2011 § 3 Comments

The good women from Disgrasian have pointed out that American Apparel is selling a rice paddy hat for $15. I’m a little surprised it has taken American Apparel so long to get on with this “trend.” I remember first seeing it on whipster (white hipster) fashion student Nora from the first season of Project Runway, and that was like 8 seasons ago. Anyway, AA is really scraping the bottom of the PBR barrel with this one.

The Disgrasian bloggers let the hat speak for itself and instead eviscerate the would-be wearers as fashion victims. Fair enough. Wearing it would make you look like an asshat. But is it racist?

The hat brings me back to the sweet times of my youth when Abercrombie & Fitch was the hip brand (hey, I’m from Florida). A&F stirred controversy for their excessively racist t-shirts, that depicted caricatures of Asian men wearing – yup, you guessed it – rice paddy hats with slogans like “Two Wongs Can Make It White.”

Platoon, 1986

via Resist Racism

Rice paddy hats have a long history in the American imagination stemming, most directly, from the Vietnam War. Movies like Oliver Stone’s Platoon, and other Vietnam War movies, often depict desperate, fleeing Vietnamese in rice paddy hats. The hats are also a common trope in editorial cartoons. The hat itself isn’t racist, but it has a deep, Orientalist history that subsumes multiple nations, histories, and billions of people, under one big coolie hat. What is truly offensive is the ability of the West to take something like a rice paddy hat, something that has actual meaning and substance and shape and turn it into a cheap symbol of the Orient. If I drew a head with that conical hat on it, a viewer would immediately know to reference: Asian person.

I’m trying to think of a time and place where I would welcome the coolie hat, that is not mid-summer on Bedford on a whipster or traveling in rural Asia. It would be Halloween. The wearer would be an Asian American female, dressed like a Vietcong guerrilla fighter with a sniper rifle slung around her in a reference to Full Metal Jacket. The hat would look pretty badass.



§ 3 Responses to Does American Apparel’s Ching Chong Hat Offend You?

  • emcc says:

    in vientiane (laos), we saw a man wearing this!! but he turned out to be from china and was visiting with his friend? son? so… i’m not sure if it was really his or if /he/ bought it as a se asian souvenir.

  • Grace says:

    Are they comfortable at all? I’ve always wondered.

    I feel like I have the same issue with this hat as I do with tourism – there’s just something very shallow and fake about both, even if there is no outright intent to offend.

  • Jason says:

    The commodification/consumption of the “hat” is connected to broader histories of erasure, minstrelsy, and objectification of people of color. We see it all the time with Native American and indigenous peoples (using the “Indian” as mascot, or wearing feathers and other Indian-inspired accessories), and we see it all the time with Black culture (fashion or music etc…) as well. I think the meanings vary depending on which community we are talking about, but it is still important to note the ways in which there is very much white consumer (white gaze) and that of the spectacle/object to be consumed. In this particular context, the hat is supposed to be ironic, as you allude to the “whipster,” which begs the question of how/why is this funny to wear/parade, and how/why is it funny that the person wearing it is white? This reminds me of white college theme parties, where they get-together and perform Black and Brown face…

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