‘Racial Slur’: Government Blocks Asian-American Band from Trademarking ‘the Slants’

Vince Coglianese, Daily Caller, October 21, 2013

A six-member, Portland, Ore. band composed entirely of Asian-Americans has been fighting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for over four years in an effort to trademark the band’s name—“The Slants.”

When the band first applied for the trademark in 2009, the PTO refused on the grounds that the name was offensive to Asians, citing two crowd-sourced reference sites—Wikipedia and the ever-colorful Urban Dictionary—in the denial.

Urban Dictionary, an online compendium of user-submitted definitions, has multiple definitions for “slants.” According to one, the term is a “derogatory term used to refer to those of Asian descent. More accurately, it tends to refer to anybody with slanted eyes.” {snip}

NPR reports that The Slants threw every argument they could think of at the PTO in their first application in 2009:

  • They’re “reclaiming the term.” (That argument worked for “Dykes on Bikes” in 2005.)
  • It’s “a reference to musical chords.”
  • They’ve surveyed Asian-Americans across the country about the offensiveness of the phrase.
  • They had a Duke University linguist analyze the word.

The PTO turned them down by citing the “Lanham Act,” which forbids “scandalous” or “immoral” trademarks.

So The Slants changed their strategy and applied again in 2011, removing all references to race.

“On the second attempt we decided to make it race neutral,” Simon Tam, the group’s band manager and bassist, told The Daily Caller. “Nothing [was in the application] that would indicate we were Asian whatsoever.”

“We wanted to apply for the name on its own merit and see what the reaction would be,” Tam said.

But Tam said the PTO didn’t even try to consider the application independently from the previous one.

“The same examining attorney just copied and pasted the old evidence” in the denial, Tam explained. ”When we asked him why he applied the use of a racial slur on our application, [he replied,] ‘Because the applicant is Asian-American. Because of the applicant’s race, people automatically think of the racial slur.’”

“[W]e are faced with a term that necessarily identifies people, i.e., the live performers,” the PTO wrote in the denial. “Thus, those who attend the live performances will necessarily understand THE SLANTS to refer to the persons who comprise the musical band.”

The group was livid. “You shouldn’t be allowed to deny a right based on somebody’s race,” Tam told TheDC.

The group refers to their music as “Chinatown Dance Rock”, and their albums include ”Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts,” “Slants! Slants! Revolution,” “Pageantry,” and “The Yellow Album.”

{snip}

Now the group is taking their case to federal court.

The Slants are hoping that a judge will agree with the band’s newest argument—that it’s their First Amendment right to use any name they want—and force the PTO to approve the trademark.

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  • RebelliousTreecko

    “You shouldn’t be allowed to deny a right based on somebody’s race,” Tam told TheDC.

    —that it’s their First Amendment right to use any name they want—

    Unless you’re a Straight White male, then it’s usually hate speech and “hate speech is not free speech”.

    • WR_the_realist

      Well, this is a trademark case, not a free speech case. The PTO is not denying the performers the right to call their band The Slants. It just isn’t letting them trademark the name. Maybe some people here could start a band called The Round Eyes and see if the PTO will let us trademark it.

  • Spartacus

    They should rename the band YU SO WEI CISS !

    • bigone4u

      In Russia the band name “Pussy Riot” is tolerated and I don’t think the band name refers to cats.

      • ShermanTMcCoy

        No, considering the “ladies” involved, it probably refers to what goes on in a petri dish when they have a pap smear.

  • Alexandra1973

    That’s like denying blacks the right to call each other The En Word.

    • JDInSanD

      The black group NWA stood for N****’s With Attitude. Wonder if a black group today could get away with calling themselves the Monkees?

      There was an Irish Band called Pogue Mahone which is a slang term for a gaelic phrase meaning Kiss My A**. They were forced to shorten their name to the Pogues. According to their Wiki article, “partly due to BBC censorship following complaints from Gaelic speakers in Scotland.” One of their members had come from a band called the Nips.

  • I used to know some members of a band named “Tongue In Groove”, and this was not a carpentry term.

  • Until about a generation ago, Pekin H.S. near Peoria had as its sports mascot the “Chinks.”

  • Skip Wellington

    Band names, “Gook” and “Zipper Head” are pending approval.

    • How much longer until “gobbledygook” becomes a racial slur?

      • Skip Wellington

        Your post has been flagged.

  • bigone4u

    I guess I’ll have to lay aside my plans for a “Little Black Sambo” chain of fast food restaurants glorifying southern white culture and achievement since I can’t trademark it. America will just have to do without Little Black Sambo’s foot long peanut butter sandwiches.

    • MBlanc46

      When I was a kid, I had a Little Black Sambo children’s book. The adults in my family routinely referred to black children as pickaninnies. A lot sure has changed in a lifetime. I don’t have much interest in using racial slurs for minorities and I don’t think it helps our movement to do so. But people ought to pay a lot more attention to the important stuff (an orgy of black violence, millions of illegal Mexicans with millions more coming) and a lot less attention to trivia (The Slants, the Redskins, your restaurant). If you build it, I will come.

  • What would they think of my not blogging much anymore friend:

    the slitty eye | See the reality from my slitty eyes theslittyeye(dot)wordpress(dot)com

  • me

    Only in Amerika. ANYONE can call themselves ANYTHING, as long as they’re not committing a crime against others. The Patent and Trademark Office needs some schooling in Constitutional Law, apparently. Humorous name, the Slants! I wonder if the PTO would object to a band called ‘The Crackers’. LOL!

    • ShermanTMcCoy

      Thing is, I can’t think of a single offensive slang word for whites. I like crackers. Redneck reminds me of country music. “White boy?” Obviously that is what I am, and thanks for overlooking my age! “White bastard?” Since my folks were married, I know that isn’t even accurate. Bothers me not. Now, calling a black a “black bastard” is probably redundant. And “ni66er?” The word is insulin because it identifies the callee as a worthless black, the worst of all insults. And to all non-worthless lacks, my deepest apologies. To both of you.

  • MBlanc46

    Stalinism in action.

  • ThatguyinTN

    Yea I remember that they were pretty good. Too bad they had to go and make a song about killing whites so I quit listening to them.

  • Sayaka says we have harsh sibliants. My best friend from Australia has a truly rough accent Sayaka can’t even recognize as “English”. It’s not Paul Hogan’s accent. Japanese is not very different from German.

  • Unperson

    I have read that the Chinese compare the sound of spoken English to “farting noises.”
    I for one don’t feel insulted by this: if that’s how we sound to them, they should have the right to say so. Just as we should have a right to say that Chinese sounds to us simplistic, undifferentiated, sing-song nonsense. Or that Ebonics sounds like a Southern white with a speech defect and/or moderate brain damage. Or that African tribal dialects are strongly reminiscent of the gruntings of primates.