Why the Slants Took a Fight Over Their Band Name to the Supreme Court

Where did the name the Slants originally come from?

It came from me asking around friends when I was trying to think of a band name. I said, “What’s something you think all Asians have in common?” and they told me slanted eyes. That’s interesting because, No. 1, it’s not true — not all Asians have slanted eyes and Asians aren’t the only people that have a slant to our eyes. But No. 2, it worked [as a name] because we could talk about our perspective — our slant on life, as people of color navigating the entertainment industry — and at the same time, pay homage to the Asian-American activists who had been using the term in a reappropriated, self-empowering way for about 30 years. We know that irony and wit can neutralize racial slurs, because it shifts the dynamics of power. It makes people check in and think, “Is this actually appropriate to use or not?” Prior to that, people just make assumptions.

How was the initial rejection of your trademark explained to you?

My attorney called me and said, “Hey, we have a problem with your registration.” I thought I’d messed up the paperwork. But he said, “No, all that’s fine, but they rejected it because they said your name is disparaging to people of Asian descent.” And I thought it was a practical joke. Up until that point, we had not received a single formal complaint by any Asian-American and we’d been touring for several years. There was never an incident. I asked who they found that thought it was offensive, and he said, “Nobody, but they did quote UrbanDictionary.com,” and there was a photo of Miley Cyrus pulling her eyes back in a slant-eyed gesture. That set us on this long, long path.

How much time, energy and…

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