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Racism With a Twist: The Trademark Struggle Facing Asian American Band, The Slants

Four years ago, my band’s attorney suggested that we get a trademark on our band’s name. It’s pretty standard for bands to do – trademarks ensure that others don’t use the name, causing confusion in the marketplace. The job of the Trademark Office is to regulate the intellectual properties of businesses and artists. I never imagined that this relatively simple process would become a battle lasting four years and counting.

I started an all-Asian American dance rock band to empower people of color, celebrate our respective heritages, and of course, have an outlet for our artistic expression. Our band name

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A New Slant on Hate Speech

The United States Patent and Trademark Office is refusing trademark protection to a Portland, Oregon based rock band called The Slants. Apparently, they believe the name the band is seeking to protect is disparaging to Asians.

When I first heard about this I wasn’t sure what to think. On one hand, it seems like a marker of progress that the U.S. government would deny trademark protection of a racial slur. But, on the other, this sounds like censorship, right?

Wrong. The fact that trademark protection is being denied doesn’t mean the group can’t use the name. This isn’t censorship. This …

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Race Beyond Black and White: Four Reasons to Move Beyond the Racial Binary

I was recently featured as a guest on the National Public Radio program Tell Me More in the week leading up to the 50th Anniversary March on Washington, The interview was a discussion of a piece I wrote called Three Things Asian Americans Owe to the Civil Rights Movement. Close on the heels of that broadcast was the release of a video interview I did with GritTV’s Laura Flanders about the unique place of Asian Americans in our national civil rights history.

Too often, the history of race and rights in this country is a story told only in …

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Why for Some, SCOTUS Same Sex Marriage Ruling Just Doesn’t Feel Right

While most of LGBT America celebrates the legal defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act, some of us are finding this moment bittersweet. We recognize the decision is a real and meaningful victory, but we’re worried about what this victory means for those of us who wish to exercise the right not to marry, and about whether winning this right will diminish the transformational potential of the LGBT movement.

LGBT people have struggled for decades in the face of hate and exclusion to create new definitions of family, and community. Over those decades, we created intentional families as places to …

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Why I Support Same Sex Marriage as a Civil Right, But Not as a Strategy to Achieve Structural Change

The pending Supreme Court decisions concerning the constitutionality of California Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act have pushed discussion of same-sex marriage into the mainstream of the news cycle, with many civil rights advocates convinced that regardless of the court’s decision, eventual victory is a done deal. I don’t disagree. I’ve also argued in support of same sex marriage rights. However, I have some serious worries about the broad implications of this victory.

Why? First, the obvious. Marriage is a conservative institution. It licenses certain kinds of relationships and not others based on a template that reproduces a …

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The Durability of Race

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the death of racism. Many believe that as the global demographics change and Generation Y rises, racism will fade in significance. Some even suggest that what we are witnessing in the Obama backlash is just death throes.

That argument ignores history.

Here’s what I mean.

Neither the Emancipation Proclamation nor the abolitionist movement were enough to end slavery. Slavery was defeated in a Civil War that was fought not over race equality nor just for the cuase of freeing slaves, but over federal authority. The cynicism at the root of the “war …

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Why Immigrant Rights are Human Rights

A few years ago, a former Mayor of Portland, Oregon asked me the question “why are immigrant rights human rights?” I responded with a clumsy jumble of words having something to do with the United Nations and about ten other things adding up to a total of about 11 too many ideas all poorly articulated.

5 minutes after leaving his office the answer I wish I’d given came to me. I ran it over in my head all the way home. It went something like this:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written in 1948, three years after the …