Hundreds Of License Plates Recalled After Complaint About ‘Racial Slur.’ How Did Offensive Pejorative Escape Officials’ Scrutiny?

November 28, 2018

It seems that every day, we learn about something else that someone finds ‘offensive.’ Now, an entire state is being taken to task over allowing - what one man says is an offensive slur - to appear on the license plates of over 700 car owners. And when you see it, you'll wonder how in the world they allowed it to happen.

At issue is the random three-letter combination that ended up being used in random production of license plates in Kansas.

NBC reports that “The Kansas Department of Revenue said there are 731 active registrations containing that random letter combination on standard license plates." The combination in question? J-A-P.

The issue came to light in 2017 when Keith Kawamoto, a 70-year-old California man observed a car with Kansas plates near his home in Culver City. He snapped a photo of the offending plate and immediately contacted several officials, including Kansas governor, Jeff Colyer.

He let them know, in no uncertain terms, that he considered the three letters, 'J-A-P' racist, complaining that they were extremely derogatory to anyone of Japanese descent. While some people see only a three-letter abbreviation for the word, 'Japanese,' Kawamoto says that it means a whole lot more to him.

“I let them know it is considered a very derogatory racial slur and I don’t think it should be allowed anywhere,” Kawamoto said.

And, although Kawamoto did, eventually, receive an apology from Kansas officials, he said that’ wasn't enough. He wanted them all gone!

When fellow Pacific American Barbara Johnson, 67, saw the picture of the offending license plate, she decided to join in the fight. Spotting the three-letter pejorative brought back unpleasant childhood memories for the woman. She explains:

“It was not a good time to be Japanese because of Pearl Harbor and World War II,” she said. “I recall vividly as a child being called ‘Jap’ — and how it made me feel so small and hurt by being called that.”

The two joined forces and brought their grievance to the Kansas Department of Revenue and, to their surprise, they got an unexpected response. The two had expected a long fight to eradicate the offending license plates, but, to their surprise, the review board agreed to cease manufacturing of any plates with the ‘J-A-P’ letter combination.

But the icing on the cake was when they also agreed to recall the nearly 800 existing plates already owned by Kansas drivers, a task that would surely be a challenge.

“Vehicle owners were sent a letter dated Tuesday asking them to return the plate to their county vehicle office within 30 days for replacement at no cost. Plates not replaced within that period will be identified in the state’s system and will be replaced at their annual renewal.” according to NBC.

In a statement issued by the Kansas Department of Revenue, Spokesperson Rachel Whitten explained the department's review board's actions.

“We do take these types of complaints very seriously and appreciate that it was brought to our attention.”

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