In an age when anything could be considered offensive and anyone could be canceled for it, the only solution is to stand your ground.
Trader Joe’s, a popular grocery chain, decided to do just that after an online petition deriding its brand labels as racist began to go viral. At first, it seemed that Trader Joe’s would give in to the mob calling for its head. A company spokeswoman admitted last week that some of its branding (which includes playful spins on ethnic foods, such as “Trader Giotto,” “Trader Jose,” and “Trader Ming’s”) might have gone too far.
But this week, the company announced that it would not be removing the international food labels because the intentions behind them are not and never were racist. Rather, the brand variations are “an attempt to have fun with our product marketing,” the company said in a statement, which is exactly how they’ve been perceived by the vast majority of customers who shop at Trader Joe’s.
“Recently, we have heard from many customers reaffirming that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended,” the company added. “We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves.”
A quick glance at the original petition condemning Trader Joe’s proves the company made the right call.
“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,” reads the petition, which has been signed by more than 5,000 people.
But the author of the petition doesn’t stop there. She goes on to suggest that the company’s original name, Trader Joe’s, is also racist. Citing a book that allegedly inspired the company’s founder, Joe Coulombe, to found the store, a book that also happens to promote the “’noble savage’ and ‘white god’ narratives,” the petition states: “‘Trader’ is still part of the grocery chain’s name. It leaves the question: What in particular about this book inspired the company?”
In other words, it would not have been enough for Trader Joe’s to get rid of its “exotic” branding. The company would have had to cancel itself completely to make up for its “racist” founding, and even that would not have satisfied the woke iconoclasts eager to see bigotry where it doesn’t exist.
No apology would have sufficed, so Trader Joe’s did what it should have done from the get-go: It stood up for itself and its customers.
“A few weeks ago, an online petition was launched calling on us to ‘remove racist packaging from [our] products,’” the company said. “Following were inaccurate reports that the petition prompted us to take action. We want to be clear: We disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions. We make decisions based on what customers purchase, as well as the feedback we receive from our customers and Crew Members. If we feel there is need for change, we do not hesitate to take action.”
This is encouraging to see, since many companies choose to appease the mob rather than fight back. Brands such as Land O’Lakes, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, and several others have been forced to rebrand over similar accusations of racism, and not one of the companies behind these brands pushed back. And it’s hard to blame them: It does seem easier to take the loss quietly than to be subjected to a frenzy of vicious online hate.
But that’s what companies (and individuals) need to do before we lose control of cancel culture completely. Already, we’ve seen lives destroyed by an ever-growing, militant online mob that makes up the rules as it goes and leaves no room for forgiveness. This is unsustainable in a society that depends on diversity and the free exchange of ideas. And at some point, the leaders in our communities will need to stand their ground — even if that comes at a cost.