Hundreds of license plates with perceived ‘ethnic slur’ get recalled in Kansas. Not everyone is on board.

A Japanese-American’s diligence over license plates containing what was seen as an ethnic slur paid off when the state of Kansas issued a recall.

But is this political correctness gone mad, or does the complainant actually have a legitimate beef?

Keith Kawamoto, 70, first saw the Kansas license plate near his home in Culver City, California and snapped a photo of it — it read “442 JAP.”

“My gosh! ‘442 J-A-P.’ I said, ‘What is that?!’” Kawamoto told the Pacific Citizen.

Kawamoto responded by engaging in a letter writing campaign to Kansas officials, to include Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer.

“I let them know it is considered a very derogatory racial slur,” he said. “And I don’t think it should be allowed anywhere.”

It was not a vanity plate, but one of a number generated by a random selection of alphanumeric combinations. In all, there were 731 active registrations listing the J-A-P combination, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue.

One such plate found its way on eBay.

The Kansas Department of Revenue, Division of Vehicles, responded to Kawamoto to offer an apology, saying “the combinations on our standard plates (which this plate is) are a random sequence of letter and numbers and not designed to portray words or abbreviations of words.”

“I would say in this circumstance, this specific plate combination is a coincidence and not intended to degrade any one person or group of persons. I apologize if this plate is offensive to you personally,” said vehicle services manager Lee Ann Phelps.

Kawamoto still wanted plates that had already been issued to be recalled and received unexpected help from Barbara Johnson, a 67-year-old Japanese-American woman, in Abilene, Kansas.

Johnson and her husband got involved after she saw the Pacific Citizen story and it brought back childhood memories, according to Fox News.

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

Long story short, after the issue came before a review board, the Kansas Department of Revenue agreed to pull all current license plates with the lettering and prevent its use in future plates, Fox News reported.

“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,” Rick Johnson said.

The reaction on social media suggested that there are plenty of reasonable-minded folks who don’t get what all the fuss is about, and it’s noteworthy to remind you that, according to the Urban Dictionary, J.A.P. stands for “Jewish American Princess.”

While some Japanese-Americans may still harbor negative memories from World War Two, a sampling of responses from Twitter suggests the sensitivity police may be working overtime here.

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Tom Tillison

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