See also: 7/07/2020 Edits below
“My legal counsel advised me to never do business with Chinese companies, because all of them will rip off your intellectual property.”
Paraphrased, but an accurate representation of what was said by a very prominent deck creator in our community. She’ll tell you my paraphrase isn’t accurate and that I’ve misrepresented her. She takes issue with me saying she used the word “all.”
I can’t recall if that precise word “all” was ever used, so let’s believe her and say I’m mistaken. She never said “all.” It was me who read into what was absolutely, unequivocally implied in the subtext.
Oh, wait. The below was sent to me, after I started feeling pretty terrible about maybe misconstruing what she had said. I was beginning to second-guess myself, thinking, man, I now feel like crap for thinking she said “all” when she didn’t. Many of her friends were messaging me, privately and publicly, telling me I got her all wrong, I am remembering her words wrong, and she never, ever said “all.”
Some deck creators saw that same post I saw and immediately thought it was problematic and insensitive.
Other deck creators believe she means well, but perhaps she worded her sentiments wrong– let’s chalk this one up to poor word choice. Maybe. But what I’ve seen from her, she is one fine writer.
And still others think I am the one who is way out of line, being overly sensitive, probably because I’m Asian, and poor, poor Karen for getting misunderstood.
I’ll concede that the truth is probably somewhere in that middle “no man’s land” intersecting point of the Venn diagram. I’m not 100% right, but then neither is she.
Here’s the thing. That was not her first offense. From what I have personally witnessed, it was her third. If we consider what the entire community has witnessed, who knows how many times she has repeated this rhetoric.
Quite a while back in a Facebook group, she remarked that Chinese deck manufacturers cannot be trusted, so if you want to make sure you don’t get pirated, don’t do business with Chinese printers.
I rolled my eyes and scrolled on.
Months later, maybe years, I don’t know, time blurs now, again this same name, this well-known deck creator of multiple decks is off ranting and raving about not doing business with China.
A Chinese deck creator and owner of a small printing company in China spoke up, gently and meekly, defending Chinese manufacturers. Karen went off on her and then started accusing her specifically of probably ripping off deck creators herself.
That deck creator reached out to me privately, clearly upset because she had been wrongly accused of something she never did. Just for kicks, we’ll say allegedly. All of this is allegedly, right? I most certainly don’t know what the truth is.
She directed me to the thread so I could read for myself. Dayam. Karen’s tone toward that Chinese deck creator was condescending, patronizing, demeaning, and broke my heart. She accused the Chinese deck creator of bootlegging decks because that’s what Chinese factories do. The deck creator said no, her company most certainly would never do such a thing. Karen continued to be just absolutely vicious. I winced at everything I was reading. The deck creator, tearful, asked me if there was anything she could do about a potential defamation claim.
And you know what? Even after seeing that, I still looked away, because I’m that kind of a passive asshole. It’s not my mess, I kept justifying to myself.
Recently, I was invited to join a Facebook group of deck creators who wanted to work together to combat deck piracy and brainstorm viable solutions.
Karen popped up again.
“My legal counsel advised me not to do business with Chinese companies, because they will rip off your intellectual property.”
There. Happy, Karen? Took away the “all” from my paraphrase of your words.
Her proposition for stopping deck piracy: don’t ever do business with Chinese printing companies, because they will sell your digital files and that’s how your decks get bootlegged.
When I saw this same prominent deck creator pipe up a third time in an open forum with the same anti-Chinese sentiment, finally something in me clicked. She will continue to spout anti-Chinese rhetoric so long as no one from the same weight division as her stands up and says, no, this is not okay. I finally decided, you know what, time is up. Strike three. I gotta say something.
So I did.
You can read the comments thread there, if you’d like to get more context.
After that post went up, she messaged me privately.
Her first words to me: “I am absolutely shocked at this characterization. . . . You know nothing about me . . . China does not have enforceable copyright laws unless you are a huge corporation. Any lawyer can tell you that. I would not send files to Russia either. . . . I will simply not be accused of racism. It’s most unfair. I am sorry to come across as annoyed. But really – I am insulted, as I assume I am meant to be. I said nothing racist. It’s a slur to accuse me of that.”
Yup. Those were the opening lines of dialogue she went with.
I said there might be a misunderstanding between her and her legal counsel if she is asserting that legal counsel told her not to do business with China (or Russia) because they will rip off your IP. Karen’s response: “Are you accusing me of lying? Or being too stupid to understand my own lawyer?”
Okay fine. I’ll back off. But considering I’m an IP lawyer, I mingle and hang out with IP lawyer friends, and I constantly work in professional settings with IP lawyers, I’m just saying that sounds like a very, very absurd and whackodoodle thing for an IP lawyer to have said.
An IP lawyer might say something like, “As of this moment, the People’s Republic of China is not a member of the Berne Convention, which means if you, based in the UK (or US) want to file a copyright infringement suit against a Chinese company, you’re going to find yourself in an impossible battle, so the risks of doing business in China when it comes to protecting IP are high.”
An IP lawyer is never going to tell a client “China has no IP laws.” Assuming that IP lawyer has in fact handled any cases involving China and copyright, trademark, or patent claims, then he or she would know that China most certainly has its own body of IP laws. It’s just incompatible with UK or US law and policy.
Another one of her defenses to me for “not being a racist” was that she has mixed race relatives. Her family being mixed race was what she pulled as proof and justification that she couldn’t possibly be racist.
I clarified that I was not calling her racist. I was saying her statement was, in the way that I perceived it, racist. Yeah, yeah, we’re kinda blurring the lines between race, culture, and nationality here.
By the way, compare how she decided to open the lines of communication with this hypothetical alternative: “Hey, can we talk? I’m feeling kinda crappy right now, and I bet you are, too. Maybe we can work this out.” Boom. That would have nipped the whole thing in the bud right there. Don’t you agree? But she chose– her choice– not to go the diplomatic route.
After a long back and forth, I decided to really, clearly throw the ball in her court. Let me toss her an open, vulnerable line to make it as easy as possible for her to be compassionate.
I said to her: “I am telling you that they [her words] were hurtful.”
[Actually, I repeated this twice, said her words hurt me, twice.]
Her response: “Honestly, just pause and reflect please.”
Me: “You want me to pause and reflect?”
Her: “Might be densible.” [I think she meant sensible.]
She and many of her supporters say I should have gone to her privately to talk it out, not post what I did on my personal Facebook page. That’s a big ask of me, on multiple grounds.
First, she and I don’t know each other. She’s a public figure because she presents herself and her deck company as such. Before the described exchange, she and I had never even crossed paths. Why would it be demanded of me to go out on a hunt for her contact information and reach out privately to her like we’re BFFs? It’s perfectly reasonable, given the precise circumstances here, that I’d opt straight for fair commentary.
Second, her consistent history of repeating what I perceive as anti-Chinese sentiments and the long exchange of private messages she sent me demonstrate that reaching out to her privately would have gotten nowhere. It would have been round and round in circles, wasting my breath and time.
I know she’s hurting right now, but an equal amount of backlash has hit me, too. No one comes out of this unscathed. I’ve been told (paraphrasing), “You calling Karen anti-Chinese for what she said is like her getting to call you anti-Irish for what you’ve said about her.” Another thing I’ve been told: “You connecting her actual words about Chinese businesses to anti-Chinese sentiment is like connecting what you’ve said in defense of Chinese businesses to promoting the Chinese Communist regime.”
Do I believe that Karen had horrible experiences with perhaps multiple Chinese businesses? Yes, I believe it. Do I believe that illegal deck piracy traced back to China has caused her life and her business an enormous amount of grief? Oh, absolutely I believe that. Do I feel weirdly guilty on behalf of all of China for her negative experiences? Absurd as it may sound, yah. I do.
Is there a trend and undeniable pattern of deck piracy that can be traced back to Chinese printing companies? Yes, certainly. Case after case after case can prove that. Does China, broadly speaking, have an IP infringement problem right now? Yes, in the same exact way the United States had a serious IP infringement problem in the 18th and early 19th centuries that utterly stretched Europe to her wits’ end. It’s a common symptom in history of industrial revolutions, and right now China is going through its industrial revolution. It’s not a China-culture problem. It’s a historically-well-documented-economic symptom.
However, none of that justifies anti-Chinese sentiments. Yes, to say or even to imply by subtext that no Chinese business is capable of acting ethically with IP is an anti-Chinese sentiment.
The deck creators’ Facebook group where Karen’s third strike happened was a group I had high hopes for, which is why I accepted the invite. I still believe bringing all deck creators together to show a united front can help move the needle.
Online tarot conferences are so popular right now– what about an online conclave where the traditional deck publishers, indie deck artists, traditionally published deck artists, and major Chinese deck manufacturers are invited to sit at the same virtual table to discuss this issue? Publish that panel discussion on an open forum for anyone to view. Perhaps that will inspire in a way that further moves the needle.
Independent deck creators can establish an organization to certify Chinese factories by the organization’s collectively set standards, where Chinese factories must commit to internal policies of securing digital art files and preventing IP theft. Factories who commit to certain standards are placed on an openly shared list among deck creators so deck creators know who to trust and who to do business with.
Instead of making Chinese factories the enemy, make them your ally, and you will find them agreeable, honorable, and powerfully effective on their own end at being preemptive when it comes to piracy, especially if they know that some sort of certification and therefore huge financial incentive is on the line.
Finally, think about the demand end instead of the supply. If you cut off the demand, you’ll cut off the supply. Basic economics. The reason decks are pirated is because consumers in first world nations happily buy pirated decks. Pirates support a global consumer base and the majority of their business comes from North America and the British Isles.
The problem (that shocked me, to be honest) is there are way too many deck buyers in English speaking nations who genuinely do not see any problems with buying cheap knock-offs. They complain that indie decks are too expensive. If a traditional publisher is selling a deck for $30 but they can buy it off Wish for $5, why shouldn’t they buy it from Wish for $5? So another measure in the problem solving would have to be more proactive and more widespread education of the consuming public.
Also, you often hear deck buyers in these forums say, “How can I tell the difference between a pirated bootleg deck and the real thing?” This is an information problem. Making sure resources are more widely accessible will help consumers make more informed, ethical decisions.
Will all that end piracy? Realistically, no. IP piracy is a global problem with bad actors in every nook and cranny, in every country, and I keep calling it Hydra because it is. But at least these are all steps in a productive direction. These are all more viable solutions to the piracy problem than “never work with Chinese businesses because none of them can be trusted to act ethically.”
Now let’s get back to how Karen treated me. After the third strike, I finally spoke up. There were a lot of people who supported her and saw me as acting out of line. Fair enough. There were also a lot of people who decided they didn’t want to financially support a deck creator who would behave in this way, and utter such words. So they cancelled their orders and/or spoke out publicly to say they would no longer support her company, Baba Studio.
Karen took to social media to present herself as a victim. She blamed me for her woes (saying that she’s being unfairly painted as a racist). Instead of considering why some people might be cancelling their orders with her due to her own conduct, she decided it was all my fault. She maintains that she spoke out against Chinese factories because she was trying to do something good for other deck creators, and look at what doing good got her– insinuating that she’s being punished for her good intentions.
When she reached out to me via DMs, it was all about how she felt, how she was being perceived, how she’s not a racist, how she’s annoyed with me, how I am vilifying her, how I am bringing harm to her, and never once, not once, did she stop for half a second to ask, wait a minute, this made you feel what way? Oh, crap, I am so sorry my words made you feel that way. That is not at all what I had meant. I would never mean to hurt you. I would never mean to denigrate all Chinese people everywhere. Please, let me explain my side.
None of that. She never tried to go there.
Funny story. A fellow deck creator from that group, who I admire to the stars and back, immediately messaged me and apologized, saying she was very, very sorry if her post had in any way come across offensive and she most certainly would never mean to denigrate Asians.
I had no idea what she was talking about.
Then she referred me back to a particular post. No wonder I didn’t remember it– because I had no problems with it. At all. None. She spoke her truth. She was specific. She spoke from specific experiences. None of her words came across as anti-Chinese.
See, this other deck creator mistakenly thought I meant her post, so immediately came to me to apologize (which I told her to take back because there was literally nothing to apologize for and if anything, now I’m pointing and laughing). Sigh, sometimes I really love the people in this community. We’re so adorbs!
Compare that to Karen’s response.
Also compare with the Lon Milo DuQuette incident, who immediately reached out to me directly by e-mail and said he never thought about the subtext or implications of the jokes he was telling and he feels very bad that it would in any way be construed as mocking Chinese people. I was beaming ear to ear and eager to hug it out because I’m a huge fan of DuQuette’s work. He even encouraged me to make his apology public. Anyway, that’s so old hat I feel stupid even having to bring it up.
But see my point? Compare how he handled a similar incident with how Karen has handled the public reaction to her words.
There is absolutely nothing profitable in it for me to speak out in this way. If anything, it’s the total opposite: I’m going to get a ton of backlash for speaking up. A lot of good people will judge me negatively for this action. I’ve already been told by multiple deck creators that I’m being divisive, stirring the pot, and causing unnecessary trouble.
So why do it? As an Asian American voice in the tarot community, I felt morally obligated (… finally …) to speak up. I have my Asian American identity to answer to, too, as much as I do a tarot reader.
Likewise, when the shoe was on the other foot and the Asian American Tarot made a total mockery of tarot, I spoke up, loud and in no uncertain terms about how it was appropriative of tarot tradition, because no one white in the tarot community had the skin to say, hey, guys, what is the meaning of this travesty? I was pretty merciless about the Asian American Tarot because I have the tarot community to answer to, too.
That’s why when I see anti-Chinese sentiments, further supported by many Chinese and Diasporic Chinese messaging me to tell me that for a long while now, they’ve secretly viewed Karen’s comments in the various forums as anti-Chinese, I have a moral obligation to say something (though yeah, it took me long enough, so for that you can certainly ding me for).
Oh, and fun plot twist: I’m Taiwanese. If you understand culture, then you’ll get why this is all, in fact, hilarious. It’s on par with a Tibetan or Hong-Kongnese being forced to defend the humanity of the Chinese Communist Party.
After all this, though, I’m still extending an olive branch. I want to understand what Karen actually means. I’m eager to be convinced that she’s not anti-Chinese. (Hint: angry DMs saying you’re annoyed and you’re not racist aren’t convincing.) I want to be convinced that she is remorseful for the way she phrased her sentiments, and that she will be more compassionate and open-hearted going forward.
So there it is. Now we wait and see. By the way, I do hope the community will show grace and extend nothing short of love, patience, and understanding to all parties involved.
I’ve definitely kept the lines of communication with Karen open, and she has chosen not to take them. She has made no public comment about her statements on any of her platforms or store website. She hasn’t even offered, to anyone affected in private or in public, as a public figure, an explanation or counter-point to what she meant, or shown any regret or remorse for how she has made the Chinese and Diasporic Chinese communities feel. She could have easily put out a short statement to the effect of, “It was never my intention to paint all Chinese people or businesses with such broad strokes and regret that my word choice caused any misunderstandings. I’ve learned from this experience and will be a lot more mindful and empathetic going forward.” But nope. Instead, she said this:
She now claims I am abusing her and “bullying older women.” She says I’m implying she should shut up and get back into the kitchen. Heavens, Karen, not at all! I’m saying explicitly that you should speak up! Please! Break your silence and address what’s happening.
Secondly, to those who say I am overreacting, that Karen’s multiple, repeated statements about the Chinese are a non-issue, isn’t it interesting that these are the same tarot readers who would be up in arms, red in the face if anyone ever said this:
“Don’t go to fortune tellers. All of them use the there’s-a-curse-on-you-pay-me-$1,000 con. Fortune tellers cannot be trusted. We should just avoid them entirely as a measure of precaution.”
Permit me an assumption: It’s clear as day to you why that above statement is deeply problematic. You can pick it apart and point out every flaw in its logic, right? And yet somehow what Karen said about ALL Chinese deck printers illegally selling your copyrighted files to pirates is perfectly acceptable?
Every deck creator knows that in order to print your decks, you *have* to as in you *must* send your digital image files to the factory. You have to send your files to China, in other words.
Karen said, in her own words, verbatim, “ALL files sent to China will be offered to anyone who wants to buy them. ALL files.” (all-caps emphasis was hers)
To print your deck with a Chinese company, you HAVE to send your files. Therefore, following tautological rules of logic and reasoning, Karen’s statement means she also believes that ALL Chinese companies will offer for sale your deck images to anyone who wants to buy them. ALL Chinese companies.
So… how exactly did she not say “ALL”? How is she now backpedaling and saying she never said “ALL” when she herself put that word in all-caps, twice?
Furthermore, she publicly accused a Chinese deck creator who prints her own decks and is a small printing company that prints a few other decks of probably being guilty of this, too, just because she was Chinese. So this isn’t some one-time, one-off incident of awkward word choice.
I felt an obligation to my community to bring attention to this issue so that we can all, as a collective, do better going forward. We can be more mindful and empathetic about the ways our speech can negatively affect others.
Finally, after this post went up, I received a flood of private messages from Asians and non-Asians alike who have said they, too, witnessed Karen’s anti-Chinese statements over the years and felt uncomfortable about or even hurt by them. I truly hope we as a community will learn from this and truly rise up to be the empaths we say we are.