A Dallas-based company that sells redesigned mahjong tiles has apologized after it was accused of cultural appropriation by social media users.
The Mahjong Line — founded in November by Kate LaGere and two friends — has replaced some traditional Chinese characters and symbols with pictures of cherries and lightning bolts on brightly colored tiles.
However, many people were particularly troubled by the company’s website, where the founders explained how they were inspired to give the ancient Chinese game a “respectful refresh.”
Though the page has since been changed, a screenshot of it was posted on Twitter Monday night.
“On a quest to purchase her first Mahjong set, Kate discovered that the artwork of the traditional tiles, while beautiful, was all the same — and did not reflect the fun that was had when playing with her friends,” the website said, according to the screenshot. “And nothing came close to mirroring her style.”
The Twitter user who posted the screenshot also included a comment of his own.
“My culture is one of the oldest civilizations in the world,” he wrote. “It is a product of thousands of years of tradition and history. My culture [is] not some cheap coloring book that can be filled-in and be ‘made pretty’ by the standards of privileged teenyboppers.”
Another Twitter user directly accused the company’s founders of cultural appropriation.
“What’s happening?” the person tweeted. “Colonizers Annie, Bianca and Kate have discovered a new and improved tile game, once known as mahjong but now is a reflection of their individual style and fun. This is a textbook example of #culturalappropriation so happy 2021 everyone.”
On Tuesday, The Mahjong Line posted an apology on its website and social media platforms, saying the founders created the company “with pure intentions and a shared love for the game of American Mahjong, which carries a rich history here in the United States.”
The company said it wants to be part of the evolution of American mahjong tiles “in the most respectful and authentic way possible.”
“While our intent is to inspire and engage with a new generation of American mahjong players, we recognize our failure to pay proper homage to the game’s Chinese heritage,” the company said. “Using words like ‘refresh’ were hurtful to many and we are deeply sorry.”
In a statement emailed to Fox News, founder LaGere said the company will work to make sure the game’s “rich history and cultural significance is properly represented in our promotion and description of the game.”
“We stand by our products and are proud to be one of the many different companies offering a wide range of tiles and accessories for the game of American mahjong,” LaGere said. “That being said, we take full responsibility that in our quest to introduce new tiles we unintentionally recreated an experience shared by many Asian Americans of cultural erasure and are working to correct this mistake.
“This will be an ongoing process which will take some time as we continue to expand and roll out new policies in line with our goals to further education ourselves as entrepreneurs in this space,” LaGere added later.
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