A flyer inviting patrons to "come get slant-eyed at The Goat" in honor of the Chinese New Year angered members of the Triangle's Chinese-American community last week.
In celebration of the holiday, which began Feb. 7, the Raleigh bar posted flyers inside its building with the offensive tagline, which carried the words "no offense" in parentheses. The flyer encouraged customers to dress in Chinese outfits to win prizes at a Wednesday night event.
"I saw the flyer, and then I saw it was in Raleigh, and I thought 'Oh my gosh, this is right in my hometown,'" said Jennifer Ho, an assistant professor of English and comparative literature at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The flyer was not only offensive in playing on stereotypes, Ho says. It also indicated a lack of knowledge about the holiday and its significance to the Chinese-American community.
"It's clearly someone who doesn't know what Chinese New Year is," she says. "That alone—and to link all that kind of racism with Chinese New Year—was what hit me."
Chinese New Year is a 15-day celebration that includes traditions such as wearing new clothes, lighting firecrackers to dispel spirits and handing out envelopes filled with money to children.
Amanda LaRoque, whose husband owns the Goat and authored the flyer, says it was not intended to be derogatory or racist.
"It was meant totally in fun, and this is so being blown up into something that was so not," LaRoque says. "It was not meant to be racial or offensive in any manner."
Ho and others say the flyer spoke directly to stereotypical ideas of Asian Americans and brought to the surface feelings of racial tension and discrimination that had previously been more subtle.
"My whole idea of the South was that it was going to be this rabidly racist place and Asians wouldn't be part of the conversation," Ho says. "In fact, in my daily life, I don't encounter what I call overt racism. But, on a daily basis I am made aware that I am in many cases the only Asian American in a room."
Iimay Ho, a senior sociology major at UNC-Chapel Hill, says the flyer resurrected memories of discrimination and mockery she faced while attending a predominantly white school as a child.
"It's just so explicitly racial, and I think the authors of the flyer knew," she says. "I don't think you can use excuses."
LaRoque says the flyers were posted only inside the bar, which opened April Fools Day 2003. The members-only establishment serves about 1,500 people weekly and none of the members expressed concern about the flyer, LaRoque says.
LaRoque says she did not understand why the flyer attracted such criticism, adding political correctness is being taken to an extreme.
"And I don't know where you grew up, but when people were high, they referred them as being slant-eyed."
While some in the Asian-American community voiced their disapproval over the flyer, Cyndy Yu Robinson, president of the Triangle Area Chinese American Society, says she was not personally offended.
"It's just a lack of exposure; the best way around that is just more interaction," Robinson says.
She acknowledges, however, how physical appearances are undoubtedly a part of discussions of race.
"My child at 9 is very aware of skin color and race, and she embraces it but understands the sensitivity of it," she says. "People are aware of the physical characteristics, but I would hope that people could get beyond the physical characteristics."
LaRoque maintains that it was not the bar owners' intention to be derogatory.
"It's a situation of something that was done with the best of intentions and has been a little misinterpreted and blown out of proportion," LaRoque says. "If it offended anyone, we are truly, truly sorry. We're not racists."