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Monday, April 8, 2013

Offensive

When I'd first started writing this blog back in '09, the intent was to provide a candid, down to earth view of life in the US from that of a Caribbean perspective. But by the end of the first year I think I'd explored all the major topics that affected Caribbean expats living out here.

More recently, I'd started writing about travel, US Carnivals, food, etc, but for once, I think I've found a topic of concern, that brings me back to why I'd started writing this blog in the first place. I think part of what bothers me a bit about this particular concern is the fact that I have lived alongside Americans for eleven years and only recently discovered this.

So apparently the word "oriental" is considered a racist and offensive term here in the US. So much so that some states, namely Washington and New York, have banned its use entirely from any official state documents. 

What planet am I on again? 

What makes this concept so interesting is the fact that the word is only selectively offensive. Apparently it's okay to say oriental when referring to rugs, or oriental foods, but it's not okay to refer to Asian Americans as oriental. Notice I didn't say Asians, I specifically said Asian Americans. I don't have this feeling that Asians worldwide are offended by this term at all, I think it's those that grew up in Asian American communities here in the US.

This transition from proper English word, to hateful, racist phrase seemingly began sometime during World War II in the time after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. The bombing led to a sense of fear and mistrust of Asians and somehow "oriental" suddenly became taboo. I don't know the exact nature of what happened but if I had to guess, I'd say some prominent figure started using the phrase to refer negatively to an entire race of people and over time the phrase itself became associated with racism and hate. 

The issue I have with this is the fact the term itself is innocent enough and thus used quite normally everywhere else in the world. Even the wikipedia entry for the word recognizes that "oriental" is considered offensive only in the US. Why take an otherwise harmless word and turn it into something hateful? When the need arose, society wasted no time in creating terms for hated groups: wetbacks, niggers, chinks, untouchables, bullers, none of which mind you, are officially recognized in the English language. But oriental is, and it's use is perfectly normal and acceptable.....just everywhere else but the US of A. 

This experience has made me a bit more cautious when using the term, I certainly don't refer to people anymore but as a side note, I still do think it's stupid to refer to some rugs as oriental, but not people. Who the fuck made the oriental rugs dummy? Mexicans? 
(though come to think of it, that's probably true in this day and age). 

Have I been living in a bubble all these years? I'd like a few of my non-American followers to weigh in. Is it offensive to refer to an Asian person as "oriental" in your nation or is this truly just an American thing?

I'll say one thing though, you Americans need to quit messing with the English language, you've screwed it up enough already. We won't have you taking anymore of our perfectly good English words and mucking them up. I'll play by your grammatical rules because I live here, but for the love of Christ, enough already. 

DTJ


4 comments:

  1. steups...dey all chinee! ;-)

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  2. k...I'll stop but LMAO @ "I still do think it's stupid to refer to some rugs as oriental, but not people. Who the fuck made the oriental rugs dummy? Mexicans?
    (though come to think of it, that's probably true in this day and age).

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  3. Well here's the thing eh, "chinee" isn't typically considered offensive though. Ey an we young people prefer to spell it "chiney" thank you.

    ReplyDelete