Teen who created petition calling out Trader Joe’s packaging as “racist” not satisfied with their response

UPDATE:

Per WashingtonExaminer – July 29th

Grocery store chain Trader Joe’s announced that it will not be removing popular international food labels despite being attacked as “racist” over the packaging.

“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.”

The post on the Trader Joe’s website refers to previous reports that an online petition gaining over 4,000 signatures had caused them to remove international packaging such as “Trader Jose” and “Trader Ming” while defending the practice against racism claims.

The company, founded in Pasadena, California, in 1967, went on to explain that the “buying team” started using the phrases years ago as a term of endearment and respect for other cultures.

“Recently we have heard from many customers reaffirming that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended — as an attempt to have fun with our product marketing,” the post continued. “We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves.”

The 17 year old who created a petition calling out Trader Joe’s packaging for being “racist” is not satisfied with their response, despite the company vowing to make changes.

“They lack the urgency needed to remedy a controversy like this one in the current climate,” Briones Bedell says. “These [labels] are microaggressions and the issue with microaggressions is that they inevitably escalate, and when we accept this baseline level of racism it leads to larger transgressions down the road.”

Kenya Friend-Daniel, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s, responded to the petiion with a statement “While this approach to product naming may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness, we recognize that it may now have the opposite effect — one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day.”

Friend-Daniel also said “We have been in the process of updating older labels and replacing any variations with the name Trader Joe’s, and we will continue to do so until we complete this important work. At this time, I don’t have an exact date but we expect to have the work completed very soon. 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.”

Yahoo reports a California teenager is making waves with her petition asking for the removal of racially insensitive packaging at Trader Joe’s.

Briones Bedell, 17, of San Francisco created a Change.org petition in early July calling for the grocery store chain to change how it labels its ethnic foods. Bedell names “Trader Ming’s,” the store’s Chinese food line, “Arabian Joe,” its Middle Eastern food line and “Trader José’s,” its Mexican food line, as some examples of the “racist branding and packaging” in stores.

“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,’” Bedell’s petition reads in part.

As of Wednesday, the petition has more than 3,800 signatures. Bedell tells Yahoo Life that she is surprised by the amount of attention it has received.

“I’m absolutely floored by the national media attention and impressed by the response. I’m glad this is on people’s radars,” she says. “I’ve also gotten a lot of negative reactions, hate mail, but I’m glad I’m opening up dialogue.”

Bedell says she was inspired to create the petition after taking a class focused on human rights, which she credits as making her more aware of the cultural insensitivities around her, including at her local Trader Joe’s store.

“I used to shop at Trader Joe’s a fair amount, and all of a sudden, I noticed the branding on their ethnic foods,” she explains. “When any community is not allowed the control of the representation, it leads the way for stereotypes and caricatures.”

The activist also had a problem with what influenced Trader Joe’s founder Joe Coulombe to create the store. According to the company’s website, Coulombe was inspired by the book White Shadows in the South Seas along with the Disneyland Jungle Cruise ride.

The first store, which opened in 1967 in Pasadena, Calif., “had a nautical theme and it was run by people who were described as ‘traders on the high seas,’” the website says.

Bedell argues White Shadows in the South Seas is racist, noting in her petition that the work “demonstrates the horrific legacy of trading companies as they exploited and enslaved the South Pacific in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

“It perpetuates the myth of the white God and noble savage stereotype, but it also depicts trading companies and their ravaging of the south seas in the early 20th century,” she tells Yahoo Life. “And I think it’s problematic to list that as an inspiration for a grocery store. In addition, there is the Disneyland ride that depicts native people as savages. These two sources paired together, [along] with the insensitive branding presents this questionable image of Trader Joe’s as a brand.”

Bedell says that she is surprised that she has not yet heard from Trader Joe’s since creating the petition. Yahoo Life reached out to Trader Joe’s for comment and has not yet received a response. The company issued a statement to the New York Times acknowledging that the ethnic names were “rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness” but that they “recognize that it may now have the opposite effect — one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day.” They also went on to say that several years ago, they decided to no longer use the names moving forward.

Bedell noted that the company gave a similar statement to NYLON in 2019, but she’s not satisfied with Trader Joe’s response thus far.

“They lack the urgency needed to remedy a controversy like this one in the current climate,” she says. “These [labels] are microaggressions and the issue with microaggressions is that they inevitably escalate, and when we accept this baseline level of racism it leads to larger transgressions down the road.”