Thousands sign teenagers petition demanding Trader Joe's remove its 'racist branding'

Greg Evans
Tuesday 21 July 2020 11:00
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Picture:(iStock/Getty Images)

A petition asking the US supermarket chain Trader Joe's to rename specific products which have been given ethnic names has amassed more than 3,000 signatures.

Briones Bedell, a teenager from California who started the petition accused Trader Joe's of using 'racist branding' for food that comes from Mexico, China, Japan, Europe and the Middle East.

Bedell writes in the petition:

We demand that Trader Joe’s remove racist branding and packaging from its stores. The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of 'Joe' that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes. For example, 'Trader Ming’s' is used to brand the chain’s Chinese food, 'Arabian Joe' brands Middle Eastern foods, 'Trader José' brands Mexican foods, 'Trader Giotto’s' is for Italian food, and 'Trader Joe San' brands their Japanese cuisine. Furthermore, the Trader Joe's company takes pride in the fact that the founder, Joe Coulombe, took inspiration in building the Trader Joe’s brand from a racist book and a controversial theme park attraction, both of which have received criticism for romanticizing Western Imperialism and fetishizing non-Western peoples.

Bedell goes on to describe that the store was originally inspired by the book White Shadows in the South Seas, which depicts the problematic legacy of trading companies in the South Pacific in the late 19 century and early 20 century and the Disney theme park ride 'Disneyland Jungle Cruise,' which had received criticism for how illustrated indigenous cultures. She adds:

The Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures - it presents 'Joe' as the default 'normal' and the other characters falling outside of it - they are 'Arabian Joe,' 'Trader José,' and 'Trader Joe San.' The book, White Shadows in the South Seas is racist because it perpetuates the myth of the 'white god' and the 'noble savage' stereotypes. It becomes even more racist in context because the founder of Trader Joe's said that he was inspired by this book in some way when creating his company, a book which shows traders’ exotification of non-Western peoples turned into violent exploitation and destruction. The Disney Jungle Cruise is racist because it displays caricatures of non-Western peoples alongside exotic animals, as an attraction at a theme park to be gawked at.

At the time of writing the petition has received more than 3,400 signatures in two weeks and has a goal of 5,000 signatures.

In response to the petition, a spokesperson from Trader Joe's told CNN Business that it is already in the process of changing the name of many of its products and replacing it with the name of the store. Kenya Friend-Daniel added:

While this approach to product naming may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness, we recognise that it may now have the opposite effect -- one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day. Packaging for a number of the products has already been changed, but there's a small number of products in which the packaging is still going through the process.

Trader Joe's was founded in 1967 in Pasadena, California and is now one of the largest grocery chains in the United States with more than 500 stores in 42 states. It's vow to change the names and labels of some of its products falls in line with many other brands, such as Aunt Jemima, who have removed imagery that was considered racists, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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