Sorry John Curtas, But Use Of The Racial Slur, “Jap” Is Not Acceptable, Even As An Abbreviation

The following is a commentary piece by Gann Matsuda that is not an official statement by the Manzanar Committee.

LOS ANGELES — Although this has nothing to do, at least not directly, with Manzanar or the Manzanar Committee, it has everything to do with the kind of ignorance we are continually are fighting against, so I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment…

When are people going to learn that slurs, epithets and otherwise derogatory language targeting any group based on their ethnicity, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation are unacceptable?

Just as important, when are people going to understand that there is no difference between them, other than the group the term targets?

Sadly, the use of such hurtful, despicable language was launched back into the spotlight this week when it was learned that Food Network personality Paula Deen used the “N” word in the past (not necessarily the recent past) to refer to African Americans.

She has since apologized, but the controversy has certainly landed her in some very hot water. However, that is not what this post is about.

John Curtas, a renowned reviewer of Las Vegas restaurants, criticized Deen in a post on Twitter, saying, “She thinks colored people are swell” (see image of tweet above).

But Curtas himself, albeit in nothing near the same context, has also used racial slurs. In his case, the Japanese and Japanese American communities were involved.

On August 8, 2012, Curtas used “Jap” as an abbreviation on Twitter, saying, “The best Jap-German collaboration since 1941…Takeo Ischi – New Bib Hendl 2011,” in reference to a video on YouTube.

Curtas had no intention of offending anyone, but at the time, he ignored cordial tweets informing him that “Jap” was a derogatory term and that it was not acceptable.

Fast forward to the present…upon reading Curtas’ tweet criticizing Deen, even using the racial slur “colored” in a satirical fashion, I tweeted that he might want to think twice, given his own history, stating on Twitter, “You shouldn’t be critical after tweeting the racial slur ‘Jap’ awhile back.”

To my chagrin, Curtas fired back on Twitter, saying, “you’re being both stupid and wrong: ‘Jap’ as an abbreviation is hardly the same as the ‘N’ word.”

After once again informing him that the accepted abbreviation is “Jpn,” Curtas, who was obviously quite angry, tweeted, “and you might want to keep your sniveling, totalitarian, language policing to yourself.”

Again, there is no evidence that Curtas is a blatant racist, or that he harbors ill will towards any individual or group. However, his attitude and belief that is it acceptable to use a racial slur with the justification that it is merely an abbreviation is unacceptable, especially since he is fully aware that an acceptable alternative is available.

The fact that he chooses to use “Jap” instead of the accepted “Jpn” shines a bright light on the double standard so many have in their minds. Indeed, to so many, it is completely acceptable to use slurs, epithets and derogatory language to refer to some groups, such as using “gay” to refer to something bad, or that someone doesn’t like, or, as in this case, using “Jap.” But when referring to some other groups, they would never even think of using such words to describe them, as if they should be respected more than the rest.

Sorry, but equal respect goes hand-in-hand with equal opportunity, equal rights, and all the rest.

In Curtas’ case, if the “N” word was used as an abbreviation, you can bet that, as a public figure, there is no way he would even come close to using it.

Of course, this post will bring out those who rail against so-called “political correctness.” Sadly, these people are part of the problem, advocating, whether they realize it or not, for continued disrespect of others, and yes, even continued discrimination and racism—it’s a cop-out argument. But that’s for another blog post, some other time.

As a public figure who also appears regularly on KNPR (Nevada Public Radio), 88.9 FM and on KLAS-TV (CBS Channel 8), both in Las Vegas, not to mention that he is a contributor to several web sites and magazines, Curtas needs to issue a public apology and cease and desist from the use of slurs, epithets or derogatory language targeting any group.

Nothing less is acceptable.

Hours after this was published, Curtas responded with two rather angry posts on Twitter:



The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.

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44 Responses to Sorry John Curtas, But Use Of The Racial Slur, “Jap” Is Not Acceptable, Even As An Abbreviation

  1. Rational Adult says:

    Get over it softies.

    • tadashi Kishi says:

      What do you expect from a john? Just flush it!

    • First, I’m not condoning the use of the word “jap” at all — I’m old enough to have been beaten up as a child more than once for being the wrong skin color. I’m also surprised, and a little saddened, that Curtas didn’t apologize when the opportunity first afforded itself.

      But in all fairness, I’ve not known Curtas to be racist in word or deed. On the other hand, it might have been useful to disclose your role within the Manzanar Committee, specifically as it relates to the group’s efforts to get the “Power of Words” handbook ratified by the JACL (which it did last year, good job). In a way, a reasonable person might conclude after reading the handbook that you have become the language police.

  2. Guy Aoki says:

    Good work, Gann!

  3. Doug Urata says:

    A good indication of his state of mind was his hyphenating the slur with “German.” Those two countries were the among the most hated during WWII. His bio said he grew up poor in Mississippi. Maybe it’s like Paula Deen’s upbringing.

  4. Eva Marie Alonzo says:

    It amazes me how people think that when you become an Adult that you stop learning and evolving. John Curtas had a chance to teach others through his own ignorance (Ignorance is a state of being uninformed (lack of knowledge). A simple – ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend and will use Jpn in the future ‘ would have done more good. Remember, no matter what age, we all need a little Tap on the shoulder sometimes. :)

  5. John Curtas says:

    I offend people for a living. I am also something of a humorist, satirist and social commentator (as well as a restaurant critic). Political correctness is not my thing, but neither is racism.

    Hyper-sensitivity, on the other hand, is something I don’t care for either. Making fun of a YouTube video by calling it: “The best Jap-German collaboration since 1941” would seem to me to rank somewhere down there with “I don’t like your dog” and “How about those crazy Asians” in terms of offensiveness. (and it was on Twitter fer chrissakes–where abbreviations are both arcane and necessary!)

    And I love Japan, Japanese food and the Japanese (just ask dozens of Japanese restaurateurs in Las Vegas), despite the fact that it/they spent the years 1943-1945 trying to kill my father (the people not the food). The fact that the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of that generation now take umbrage at an innocent, slight, and Twitter-appropriate condensation of the English spelling of their country, is really something I cannot sympathize with.

    I’m sorry if I offended anyone, but I do think the world would be a better place if we all stopped taking language (and our respective cultures) so seriously.

    • Gann Matsuda says:

      Talk about one of the most disingenuous apologies ever…

      That’s also not acceptable Mr. Curtis, and you will be called on it.

    • sean says:

      I think…you just don’t know the context of the term? That’s what I’m getting here.
      I’m not sure you understand that the term “Jap” was aimed at Japanese Americans who were not of Japan…it was used in the racist propaganda that led to 120,000 Japanese Americans being put in concentration camps.

      Generally you can use the Room Test. If you would honestly feel comfortable going into a room full of Japanese people and yelling “HEY JAPS,” then perhaps you need to do some research. I understand why you think it’s simply an abbreviation…but it isn’t.

      Congrats on the job offending people, however. Wish I could pay the rent by just being inconsiderate….

    • “I have black friends so I’m not racist”. That’s essentially what your argument says, and look how silly it sounds! You say that language shouldn’t be taken so seriously, but as a satirist, isn’t that totally ironic? Language is what satirists thrive on. Moreover, satirists communicate a social message, not merely a hit-and-run.

      Satire’s an art that can either use Juvenalian or Horatian humour. Moreover, satirists are very well aware, if not too painfully aware, of their social and linguistic surroundings. You’ve decided to use Juvenalian satire, but you’ve accomplished nothing in terms of communicating a message on the betterment of society. That doesn’t make you a satirist. That makes you a jerk.

      At least take an Intro to Satire course before you sully the name of satire. It’s an art form, not meant to be a pathetic scapegoat for ignoramuses. You can’t claim to be a satirist if you think language shouldn’t be taken seriously, or if you are unaware of the social capital of the language you’re using. You also can’t be a satirist if you’re merely making jabs without an intention to contribute to the advancement of current society.

      Just because you make money by being rude doesn’t mean you’re a satirist at all.

      And yes, abbreviations are necessary. So use “Jpn.” as the appropriate abbreviation.

    • Jana J. Monji says:

      John Curtas used three letters for Japan and six for German? Why didn’t he use Nazi? If it’s true that he is a lawyer (as well as a humorist, satirist and social commentator), then he knows what is permissible in court and how important language is in a legal document. No excuses. I doubt that he would use the N-word or the K-word. He just knows that East Asian can be offended in this country with very little backlash.

  6. Thanks for your cogent recap and for calling this odious person out, Manzanar Committee. But I don’t agree there’s “no evidence that Curtas is a blatant racist, or that he harbors ill will towards any individual or group”…Tweeting “best Jap-German alliance since 1941” isn’t just using an abbreviation, it’s virtually using the racial slur in its original connotation. “Best Jpn-German alliance since 1941” is still pretty offensive, especially now that we’ve his horrible responses to your messages.

  7. George Kiriyama says:

    John, I’m not going to tell you how to write your restaurant reviews, because that should be up to you. But when you use the word “Jap” as an abbreviation even on Twitter, I cannot remain silent. I have been called Jap, Nip, Chink, Gook, Slant Eyes, Chinaman, throughout my life. “Jap” is a racial slur. You need to understand that.

    If you call me hyper-sensitive in this specific case, you are 100% right. My parents…my family were spit on and called “Japs” as they were sent to concentration camps here in the United States during World War II. So don’t even say using “jap” is okay. It is not. It never will be.

    As a National Leader in the Asian American journalism community, I am asking you to tweet out an apology to the Japanese American and Asian American communities…saying you understand using the word “jap” is wrong and from now on you will use the abbreviation “JPN”.

    I’m done. End of discussion

  8. Pingback: Las Vegas Restaurant Critic John Curtas Blames Japanese/Japanese Americans For Being Offended By “Jap” | Manzanar Committee

  9. Keith says:

    I think it’s about time that people get over words which aren’t said with intent to hurt. I grew up in SoCal in the 1960s and 1970s, and in my school we had white kids, Asian kids, Latino kids, black kids . . .and we used more of those words without bothering anyone. One friend of mine, when running for student council, used the slogan “Tap the Jap.” His parents were camp survivors (dunno which except it was only a day or so drive from Los Angeles in 1972), and I heard them use the word casually, more times than I can count.

    I would like to think that we’re strong enough that a word is just a word, not a reason to break down and cry. If it’s not meant to hurt, why be hurt? If it IS meant to hurt, being hurt means the hater wins. Either way, it’s a choice you make.

    After all, it was one of Musashi’s precepts to “Do nothing which is of you use.” Being hurt by a word certainly is of no use.

    That said, I’d like to tell Mr Curtas that I really doubt that any of the people running restaurants in Las Vegas ever tried to kill his father, but I’m willing to bet that some of them were thrown into concentration camps because of who their grandparents were. He needs to adjust his mindset about people.

    • Gann Matsuda says:

      Actually, do we really know his true intentions? After all, when informed that “Jap” was offensive, and that “Jpn” was the accepted abbreviation, he rejected that out of hand, and insisted upon using “Jap” instead. He made a choice to use the offensive term.

      Have to wonder what his motivations are. Perhaps his “apology” provides the clue.

      • Keith says:

        It’s pretty clear that his intent was a lame attempt at humor, not to be offensive. His later comments simply reinforce my original impression that he’s not as good a writer as he thinks he is, nor as smart.

        The real problem that I see is that some Nikkei are upset about an abbreviation that is natural and neutral, and makes reference to the homeland of one group of Asians.

        “Jpn” is clumsy and contrived, and I don’t see how it’s any better to say “Japen.” How is it any more offensive to refer to Japanese as “Jap” than to refer to Anglo-Saxon as “Brit”? You call me a “Brit” and I’ll kick back, because it was only some of my ancestors who came from the British Isles — I’m a Yank (which is a term originally intended as a slur). I’m a white American (well, actually, kind of a brownish pink), which most of my friends call “haole.” Some of the friends who call me “haole” describe themselves as “Jap Hawaiian.”

        Is “haole” a racial slur? Sometimes, but only when intended as such. And, once, someone was using it as a slur, and I won the argument (and a new friend) by not letting it make me mad. Likewise, that term which offends you so much is only a racial slur when intended as such.

        For that matter, if I ever visit Japan, I’ll be just another gaijin, with all of the contempt that some bring to that word.

        So, I’m stuck in the middle here. Curtas is obviously ignorant, and trying to dig himself out of this hole. Ever notice how, when someone is in the wrong, they tend to go on the offensive? At the same time, it seems that the people he offended are too sensitive.

        • Gann Matsuda says:

          You obviously don’t know the history of the term, “Jap,” if you think it’s legitmately used as an abbreviation.

          • Keith says:

            Of course I know the history.

            I also know people who are of Japanese descent who use the word as a casual abbreviation to describe themselves.

            The choice is a long word (“Japanese” or “Japanese American,” whichever applies), an obscure word (“Nikkei”) or a short, easy word that most people know (“Jap”). Unless there’s a short word that I’ve missed or forgotten . . ?

            Either way, you’re still better off an “American Indians,” named such by a guy who was lost when he “discovered” them . . .

    • You know… he could be quite aware of what has happened. I mean, we know the Japanese and the Germans were not on the best of terms in the 40s. We know what happened. We know the tensions between the peoples and the cultures there.

      Then he uses a racial slur that was used in that time? Of course it’s going to tie in all the nuances. A slur that was meant to put down the Japanese?

      And you know what, even if he was ignorant (although I’m sure he wasn’t since he claims to be a satirist, and satirists have to be aware of their social surroundings to make a living), he could have said, “Sorry, yeah, that was too far”.

      Buuuuuut he didn’t!

      You don’t need to be a history PhD to know about the Japanese and the Germans in the 40s. C’mon.

  10. Curtas sadly calls himself “something of a humorist” when the only joke is himself, a real-life Archie Bunker thawed out after all these decades: “I love Japan, Japanese food and the Japanese (just ask dozens of Japanese restaurateurs in Las Vegas), despite the fact that it/they spent the years 1943-1945 trying to kill my father” — the guy’s brain is one big racial slur, slopping all these completely different people together.

  11. Pingback: So You Didn’t Know (Or Didn't Care) That “Jap” Was A Racial Slur. Okay. But You Continued To Be An Asshole About It. | Angry Asian Man

  12. Reblogged this on huffy hippo and commented:
    A fine look at how the art of satire was sullied by an ignoramus who denies his ignorant. Typical. “Satirist” John Curtas claims that language should not be taken so seriously, but isn’t that ironic when satirists thrive and live on language? Mr. Curtas, do you know what satire is? Satire is used to critique society for the betterment of it, to fix it. Where was your social message in your tweet? Don’t tarnish the name of satire to cover up your ignorance and bigotry. You don’t need to be a history major to understand the tensions between the Japanese and the Germans. You knew the response you’d get from saying “Japs”. Why are you so shocked then?

  13. Kelly says:

    Being Japanese American myself, raised by my Nisei grandparents, I feel qualified to have an opinion on this matter. That opinion is as follows; it is ridiculous that this man is being singled out for using an impromptu compound word. “Jap-German” is not a slur. It is not offensive. If he were calling someone a “jap”, or referring to something as the work of a “jap” etc. This is clearly not the case. Lastly, to insist that one apologize for another’s blatant misunderstanding is like asking an adult to conceed to a child who thinks the earth is square. The man sounds like he’s standing by his statement, because it wasn’t a slur. It’s clear to me. The only one who offends me is the one who is insisting this must be offensive or else we are not moving forward. I’m glad that the writer admits this is far from Manzanar, because to even consider comparing the innocent use of “Jap-German” to describe something to the horrific events of internment is offensive to me. In my Jap-Irish opinion, this article never should have been written in the first place.

    • John says:

      his reaction to being called out for inappropriate language reminds me exactly of the millions of teenaged americans who flippantly say n***** and then defend themselves by saying “i got black friends i ain’t a racist so f- off.” this guy, a gray-haired dude living and working in a big city should is old enough and smart enough to know when he’s using offensive language, so yes it is his fault for using incorrect language.

      …his bitter reaction to being called out demonstrates his self-superiority complex and his “i’m a humorist” deflection is so weak that it’s offensive–especially given the sensitivity of the discussion.

      …he talks about japan trying to kill his father–this is beside the point but if you really want to go there, consider japanese internment or 2 a-bombs, or ongoing issues with racism in america.

      …his “i’m a humorist” deflection and pretty much everything else he said is a ploy to deny responsibility for his actions and is WORSE than paula deen’s “i’m from the south” excuse. at least paula deen can blame ingrained cultural tropes for her actions, where as this guy’s excuse is “i want to attention so i’m going to try to be funny.”

      …btw, there is a long history of racists and bigots using “don’t be all hypersensitive” as a way to shift blame onto victims–it’s like people who say “boys will be boys” when referring to rapists. disgusting and reprehensible.

    • J says:


  14. John says:

    My father killed japanese in ww2. He called them japs. I call them japs. My good friend married a japanese girl….a jap. Do i want to kill her? No. You pc thugs need to get over yourselves. Its just a term.

    • Gann Matsuda says:

      I suppose “nigger,” “wetback,” “kike,” “chink,” and “gook” are just terms, too, right?

    • ricekitty says:

      It seems that he must have deleted those tweets… I just went to his twitter and could not locate them.

    • ricekitty says:

      Are you being serious or just trolling? If someone that’s Japanese says that JAP is a slur… why do you not believe them? If they dislike the term because it brings them emotional strife. Would you still insist on calling them that?

      It isn’t just a “harmless” term when a large majority of Japanese and even other Asian people take offense to it.

      I am korean and many times, people have called me JAP and assumed I was Japanese simply because I am Asian and had falsely grouped me together with all of them. I then respond… tis’ not JAP you dumbass… it’s GOOK. Get it straight and educate yourself at least fucker.

      Colorful yes? I agree.

      Please go educate yourself.

  15. I like learning foreign languages says:

    I’m just going to be honest here; I don’t think the term “Jap” is, or ever has been, considered a racial slur. I believe that in WWII, “Jap” was just a slang term, a short abbreviation for “Japanese,” and it is still the same today. I know you all disagree with me. That’s fine. But I like to be very technical and truthful about this type of argument, and I can’t help but disagree with your opinion of the word “Jap.” If you were bullied for being Japanese while growing up, and the bullies contemptuously called you “Japs,” it’s not the fault of the word itself; rather, it’s the fault of the bullies for misusing the word.
    If you feel I’m wrong about any of this, I’m open to arguments.

    • Gann Matsuda says:

      You might want to look up the history of the term.

      • I like learning foreign languages says:

        I will, thanks.

        • I like learning foreign languages says:

          I just skimmed the internet and wasn’t able to find very much information on the history or origins of the word; the most I could find was a wikipedia article, and that wasn’t very in-depth. Anyway, I always thought that the word “Jap” when used for Japanese people, was kind of like the word “gringo” when used for white people; we white people might think it’s offensive at first, but our hispanic/latino friends quickly explain to us that it’s just a slang term, and is not meant as a slur. Then we relax.

  16. I like learning foreign languages says:

    Okay, sorry if anything I said was offensive. The more I learn about anti-Asian/anti-Japanese bullying, the more I can sympathize with you guys on here. I initially didn’t think there was anything wrong with using the term “Jap,” (not that I used it anyway) but now I’m starting to better understand you’re point of view.

  17. Tommas Jones says:

    I guess most Japanese people don’t care about saying jap.
    Because North Korea said Japan was called as jap,
    Japanese forgave about the racism.

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