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Sun, Mar. 8th, 2009, 12:22 pm
currentlymusing: Richmond's claim to fame ... racists stereotypes at the U Washee?

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this lengthy (and fairly balanced and thoughtful, I thought) analysis on Sociological Images. Was anyone here even aware of this place? I grew up in Richmond and I had no idea it existed, apart from the name sounding vaguely familiar.

Keeping whites and colors separate: The "U-Washee"

"Racism is ingrained in the Midwest; we’ve normalized it. Take, for example, my earlier post on Tony Zirkle, the Hoosier Republican congressional candidate who spoke at a dinner honoring Hitler’s birthday. (He also publicly advocated for racial segregation.) Zirkle lost, of course, but the fact that he had no problem publicly stating his racism - without thinking that others would object - shows just how commonplace overt racism can be here.

One of the best examples is the “U-Washee” in Richmond, Indiana. The laundromat is, literally, built on racist stereotypes of Chinese people and no one gives it a passing glance. It’s 1940’s era cartoon stereotype mascot, what Margaret Cho calls “feng shui hong kong fooey font,” and the extra “ee”s at the end of words in the business’s name and posted notices all combine to form one hellish timewarp into a past America most areas have forgotten but we tend to accept as typical - and no one utters a peep."

Read more at Sociological Images or The Bilerico Project.

Sun, Mar. 8th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)

An Earlham Student was actually who prompted Bil to write the piece. The U-Washee use to be a chain in this county and others, only two remain (there use to be three in Richmond and 14 in other areas). The owner is a kindly older gentleman but this place really is a blast from the past. He bought it in 1961 and the signs were already there.

Additionally Bil was contacted by University of Michigan to get the owners number so that they could try to purchase the signs for their archives.

Just an update.

Sun, Sep. 20th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
nicmart: I disagree

I dissent from this characterization. I don’t think the laundromat’s Chinese association is racist. Immigrants from the same country often start businesses of the same type, and this was the case, from the 1850s, with Chinese immigrants who opened laundries. To quote from an article about Chinese laundries in San Diego: “In the spring of 1851, a Chinese man named Wah Lee opened the first Chinese hand laundry in the United States. It was in a small, leased storefront and basement in San Francisco. He posted a sign that read: 'Washing and Ironing,' and undercut the going rate for washing to “$2 for a dozen pieces”. Wah Lee was immediately overwhelmed by customers. In less than three weeks, he had twenty washer men working three shifts a day. Within three months, dozens of other Chinese hand laundries sprung up all over the city. "Before long, Chinese laundries emerged wherever Chinese immigrants settled; from small mining towns to towns where railroads were being built. By the 1870s, there were Chinese laundries in the large towns all across the country. By the 1880s, there were at least 1,000 Chinese laundries in the city of San Francisco alone. By 1900 most large American cities had Chinese laundries, which employed 75% of all Chinese men. "Chinese immigrants chose to open laundries because it was the quickest way to become their own boss. It didn’t require them to speak much English and it didn’t take much money to start one.” http://www.sdchm.org/exhibit_template.php?exhibit=History%20of%20Chinese%20Hand%20Laundries%20in%20San%20Diego A century ago seventy-five percent of all Chinese men owned or were employed by laundries! In our day immigrants from one area of India (often with the last name Patel) dominate the independent hotel industry, and it has been estimated that 90 percent of the nail salons are Vietnamese-owned. Richmond, Indiana has a sordid history of racial discrimination (see the city’s Wikipedia entry), but this isn’t an example of it.