An eight-year struggle recently turned into a huge victory for the Asian-American band called The Slants.
In a fight to trademark their band name, The Slants’ case (Matal v. Tam) made it all the way to Supreme Court — where the decision was made in their favor in June.
Simon Tam, the founder and spokesman of the group, came to Gannon University on Tuesday to speak about The Slants’ struggles and the gravity of their win.
Later that evening, the band would perform at Erie’s Basement Transmissions.
Tam opened his seminar, sponsored by the Erie County Bar Association, with a story about The Slants’ performance at a maximum security prison years before the lawsuit.
A group of men covered in white supremacist and swastika tattoos approached him, and to his surprise, one asked for his autograph.
“We had literally judged each other by the skin,” Tam said — for him, his Asian descent and for the prisoners, their tattoos.
The prisoner said he couldn’t change what was stained on his skin, but could change what’s in his heart.
Tam explained that the name of the band originated from a Quentin Tarantino film — “It’s our perspective, our ‘slant,’ on life as Asian-Americans,” he said.
The band decided to register the name through the Patent and Trademark Office, but that effort was rejected because the name was “disparaging to people of Asian descent,” which was backed by illegitimate sources like Urban Dictionary.
The Slants fought back, proving their positive light and providing 3,000 different contributions, many of which were letters from Asian-American leaders.
Among the exchange of resubmitting and being rejected, Tam realized that the Trademark Office only “wants to avoid political controversy.”
Their anti-racism work was similar to other groups like Dykes on Bikes, which also were trying to reappraise words.
According to Tam, the Matal v. Tam Case is the biggest repeal on a 2A Lanham Act rejection in the history of our country, which targets people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
However, Tam said The Slants’ victory felt overshadowed by the media using the Washington Redskins case to spite them.
Nonetheless, as they left the Supreme Court building, thousands of people applauded them — a small gesture of gratitude for the eight-year battle.
“If you want to protect civil rights, you must first protect civil liberties,” Tam said.
Though a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of social injustice, The Slants’ have done something extraordinary not only for their heritage, but for minority groups across America.
After witnessing the charisma they brought to the stage at Basement Transmissions following Tam’s lecture, it’s hard to imagine such heavy issues ever existed for The Slants.
“We live by assumptions,” Tam said. “We have to change how we map the world if we want one of justice.”