College Board, ETS Apologize for ‘Racist’ T-Shirts Sold at AP History Grading Event

By Liana Loewus — July 15, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The College Board and Educational Testing Service have issued an apology about T-shirts bearing racially charged caricatures of Chinese politicians that were distributed at a grading event for the Advanced Placement World History exam last month.

USA Today reports that AP grading gatherings such as this one, which took place in Salt Lake City and was attended by 1,000 professors and high school teachers, often feature commemorative T-shirts that reflect a question from the test. This year’s exam required an essay about China’s Cultural Revolution.

(Head to USA Today for pictures of the shirt.)

The College Board, which administers AP tests, and ETS, which hosts the gradings, released a statement on June 27 saying they were “deeply apologetic” about the T-shirts.

“It is unacceptable that one of the AP exam readers created a T-shirt that mocked historical events that were the cause of great pain and suffering, and promulgated racist stereotypes that further marginalize a racial minority,” the statement said. “Furthermore, it is entirely inappropriate that references to the AP program were combined with language and images that make light of a deeply tumultuous period in Chinese history.”

The statement also emphasized that “neither ETS nor the College Board has any involvement in the creation, distribution, or sale of these T-shirts.”

But apparently it was more than just the T-shirts that incensed some exam graders, such as Hannah Kim, a history professor at the University of Delaware who wrote a piece about her experience for Hyphen, an Asian-American magazine. While presenting on the standards for grading, a chief reader made a flippant comment about the Tiananmen Square protests. Both USA Today and Kim report that he pointed to the photo of a man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square (below) and said, “You don’t want to be that guy.”

Kim wrote that the chief reader was wearing a Red Guard cap when he made the remark.

In addition, she wrote, “After Asian-Americans and others pointed out that the shirt design was offensive, the director of ETS’s human resources department agreed that it should be altered. But she later changed her mind, deeming it ‘not offensive,’ and approved it for printing and distribution.”

When asked whether anyone approved the T-shirt, the College Board would not expand on the statement it had provided. ETS did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

Kim also wrote, “Sadly, many AP World History teachers and academics who were grading exams this year were not put off by this racist imagery. Hundreds of educators purchased this shirt and wore it on the last day. It is deeply disturbing that people who teach World History could be so indifferent to racial and cultural insensitivity.”

Blogger Angry Asian Man was among the first to pick up on the story. “This is like the nerd educator’s version of a racist-theme frat party,” he wrote.

The Twittersphere was up in arms as well. Here’s what some people were saying (including Arthur Chu, 11-time Jeopardy winner and prolific Tweeter):

Photo: A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks in Beijing on June 4, 1989. —Jeff Widener/AP-File

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.