Trader Joe’s has long given playful foreign versions of its name to certain international product lines: Trader José, Trader Giotto, Trader Ming, and so on.
One could have guessed that amidst our racial reckoning (“the Great Awokening,” as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias calls it), these names would come under attack. This happened: A 17-year-old woman spearheaded a petition that attracted more than 5,000 signatures, asking Trader Joe’s to eliminate names that reflect “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”
Trader Joe’s initially seemed inclined to rebrand, but recently decided to retain the names, insisting, “we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions.”
Bravo. We must certainly submit what we consider funny to periodic reexamination, and be vigilant about the dangers of stereotyping. However, petitions must also be subject to examination and vigilance, because they can function in ways that are less progressive than puritan.
At the heart of wokeness is a paradox. On one hand, we are not to shoehorn people into preset characterizations; we are to see them as individuals. But on the other hand, we are not to deny that subgroups exist. For example, it is wrong under this catechism to say “I don’t see color” because it can be taken as not only a denial that people of color exist in subordination to white people, but also a denial of cultural differences.