HomeJapanese AmericanState of Kansas Recalls License Plates with Ethnic Slur

State of Kansas Recalls License Plates with Ethnic Slur

Photo by Ichabod via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Hundreds of vehicle owners in Kansas received a letter asking them to return their license plates for a free replacement after the plates were found to spell “JAP,” a slur against Japanese Americans, reports The Independent.

Kansas has a total of 731 active registrations with this issue; plates not sent back to a local vehicle office within 30 days will be identified and replaced during the annual renewal.

Last year, 70-year-old Keith Kawamoto saw a Kansas plate with the slur in traffic near his home in Culver City, California, reports Newsweek. He snapped a photo of the plate and then wrote letters to Kansas officials, including Governor Jeff Colyer, about his concerns.

“It’s very derogatory, it’s a racial slur, it’s very offensive to a lot of people,” said Kawamoto. “I said no other state in the union would allow this.

“I gave [Colyer] a brief history in case he didn’t know it of what happened to the Japanese American people on the West Coast during the Second World War, the majority of them being Japanese Americans, with an emphasis on that, if that makes any difference, of them being put in concentration camps and being the most egregious violation of the United States Constitution ever in history.”

The state’s motor vehicles division sent him an apology, which stated that the letter combination was random and was “not intended to degrade any one person or group of persons.” But Kawamoto wanted the state of Kansas to take further action and recall the plates.

Barbara Johnson, a 67-year-old Japanese American living in Kansas, spotted the story on the Pacific Citizen, the Japanese American Citizens League’s national newspaper, where Kawamoto’s photo was first published.

Johnson said it brought back memories of her childhood.

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

She worked with her husband Rick to get the plates recalled.

“It was very gratifying to know there is someone in government that was willing to hear our side of the story and to recognize it and to proactively act on it as quickly as it did,” said Rick Johnson.

“We do take these types of complaints very seriously and appreciate that it was brought to our attention,” said Rachel Whitten, spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Revenue.

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