When coming up with a business involving another country’s culture, shouldn’t it have involved someone who is verily familiar of that culture? Most business owners would agree, but that kind of thinking didn’t even come to thought with Kate LaGere and two other Dallas natives, namely Annie and Bianca when developing the now infamous The Mahjong Line.
The company came under heat for selling a rebranded look version of the Mahjong tile sets for a price range of $300-$425 dollars. Mahjong is a highly popularized game that originated from China and was made popular in the United States during the 1920s. Though, recently, the said founders have adversely popularized it.
News of The Mahjong Line’s copy spread like wildfire after being shared by Jeremy Lee (@JeremyLeeSF) on Twitter:
The company stated in their ‘About Us’ page that the traditional tiles of the Mahjong game “did not come close to mirroring their style and personality” which is why they decided to come up with a new look for the tiles in order to cater to the “stylish masses”.
Several twitter users voiced out their dismayed sentiments on what the founders have done to this game.
Another Twitter who goes by the username Bulletproof Noona (@bngtn_noona7) even called out those who took part in the making of The Mahjong Line and thrown down the gauntlet to businesses such as O&H Brand Design, Chris Plavidal of Plavidal Photography, SisterBrother Management, and Shelly Slater Strategies.
What makes it problematic?
A jarring observation is the fact that for a company that’s trying to sell something that represents a prominent culture like that of China’s, you’d think they would partner with someone who understood and actually represent the culture the game of Mahjong comes from, but they didn’t. The fact that it lacks any Asian representation to this game is visibly problematic and we’ve seen this across all types of scenarios. A prime example would be in films where Asian roles were casted with non-Asian actors. Cultural appropriation and whitewashing have been severely evident in society. What’s more, despite the huge shift to diversify where we are now able to see some Asian representation in recent years, we are still faced with cases like this knowing full well that someone’s culture is not for anyone to “update” as it plays a huge part in their identity.
Brands should be more sensitive and aware to the concepts they are trying to send across. In the mare’s nest everyone has been trying to survive in, starting anew with good intentions is very much welcome. However, it is crucial to keep in mind that the execution is the one to be judged and what truly matters. In the case of The Mahjong Line, its founders seemed to have only focused on what matters to them and thus mainly lacked consideration—of all potential consumers. Any business’ About Us, after all, should be about them.
Since coming under fire for blatantly culturally appropriating and white washing a historic game, the founders are said to be “deeply sorry” for overlooking on Asian representation, and for trying to update the whole look of the tiles. They’ve written in their ‘About Us’ page that they overlooked to “pay proper homage to the game’s Chinese heritage”.
The bottomline: they should have thought to “pay proper homage” in the first place—as we all should. #Respect