California legislator demands apology for racist sofa tag

Software translation malfunction blamed

Staff Staff, May 4, 2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A translation error in a software program is apparently to blame for a tag on a leather sofa sold in Canada with a “nigger-brown” label describing its color.

The leather sofa sold by retailer Vanaik Furniture and Mattress in Mississauga, Ontario, was purchased by a 30-year-old consumer, who is black. Her 7-year-old daughter discovered the label after it was delivered, according to The Toronto Star.

Vanaik’s blamed Cosmos Furniture, who in turn blamed its supplier in Guangzhou, China. Neither has responded to Furniture/Today’s request for comment.

According to Associated Press reports, the manufacturer was using an old version of translation software from Beijing-based software company Kingsoft Corp., which got the definition from a Chinese-English dictionary.

The AP story said the consumer is seeking compensation and has filed a report with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

In mid-April, California State Senator Leland Yee called on the Chinese company to discontinue selling furniture labeled with a racist slur and to issue an apology. 

“It is completely unacceptable and there is really no excuse for an international company to market their product with such hurtful and derogatory language,” said Yee, who was born near Guangzhou, in a released statement. “While this may be the result of a poor translation, there needs to be some quality control when it comes to such insensitive words.”

Yee called on the Consul General in San Francisco to further investigate the matter and is asking the manufacturer discontinue selling products with this description and issue an apology.

Yee has led efforts to remove racially charged materials before. Last year in the Netherlands, he led an effort to have Sony pull an ad and issue an apology after promoting the release its white-cased portable video game system with a billboard depicting a white woman angrily grabbing a black woman in the face with the text “Playstation Portable. White is coming.”

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