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Thread: Racist/Offensive Comment?

  1. #1
    Custom Title antmanb's Avatar
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    Racist/Offensive Comment?

    I was wondering if some posters might help me out with an explanation.

    I want to start by saying that i genuinely mean no offense i'm just confused about something. I have noticed that many people (my observation has been non Europeans) find the term "Oriental" when used in relation to people offensive/racist and say the term to be used is "Asian".

    Now i'm confused only because, as far as i'm aware the term "Oriental" in the UK is not offensive - Oriental being the opposite of Occidental - East and West. In the UK the term "Asian" is mostly used in relation to people originating in India and the surrounding countries and not the same group of people covered by the term "Asian" as used by non Europeans.

    So I was wondering if there is some history or something else that has meant the term has become offensive.

    All help greatly received!

    Ant

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    That's actually an interesting topic. When I was in grade school, my Caucasian teacher corrected me when I used the term "Oriental" to describe Asians.

    I know in France "asiatique" refers to Asians in general, but I get why Brits would reserve "Asian" for mostly Indians.

    If someone called me oriental or half-oriental, personally I wouldn't be offended. But I have been educated to be offended, if that makes any sense.

  3. #3
    Custom Title antmanb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wrlmy View Post
    That's actually an interesting topic. When I was in grade school, my Caucasian teacher corrected me when I used the term "Oriental" to describe Asians.

    I know in France "asiatique" refers to Asians in general, but I get why Brits would reserve "Asian" for mostly Indians.

    If someone called me oriental or half-oriental, personally I wouldn't be offended. But I have been educated to be offended, if that makes any sense.
    Thanks very much for your response. Out of interest has your education to be offended simply been that you've ben told to be offended at the use of the term or have reasons/explanations been given?

    I'm struggling to think of why it would be offensive other than the fact that it is a generic term for a number of different countries/cultures. But if that were the case then surely Asian would be just as offensive?

    Ant

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    Any explanation I was given was that "oriental" is an ethnocentric terminology. This sort of made sense since whenever I traveled to Japan, I flew toward the west. But it was never a sufficient reason for me to be offended at being called oriental. In fact, in Japanese, seiyou literally means the west and is used to refer to continental Europe and American continent. So I never really understood what the fuss was about.

    But as a pc person, I exercise my right to be offended

  5. #5
    Dreaming and dancing Bennett's Avatar
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    Yes, I've heard that people in Europe would often/sometimes use the term, "Oriental." With that knowledge, I personally would not mind that term at all if the people from there would use that term.

    In Japanese, we actually have the equivalent terms, "Easterner" versus "Westerner," (the ones Wrlmy is referring to) which has often been used in socio-cultural discussions. I like these terms for the cultural connotations that encompass the history. It was an epoch making for Japan to have opened to the Western countries around the turn of the century. The cultural gaps between the West and the East have long been the foci of important socio-cultural discussions throughout the modernization of the country.
    Although these terms are too broad and too insensitive to acknowledge the cultural differences between countries, I still find it a useful framework that captures some fundamental socio-cultural structures.

    On the other hand, it might be possible that some negative connotations may be involved in the term, "Oriental," in the context of the US history. But I do not know the origin or historical context of the term at all.

    At the everyday interaction level, however, "Easterner" and "Westerner" may sound a bit old-fashioned even in the Japanese cultural context. As I said, a lot of times, these categories are simply too broad to make any meaningful reference. People would be more likely to refer to each specific name of the country or narrower regional categories such as "West-Europe," "South-East Asia", "North America" etc.

    In the context of the US, I have never heard the word "Oriental" be actually used to refer to groups of Asian Americans or Asians. AFAIK, the most "official" term (e.g., The Census, other surveys) would be "Asian" or "Asian American" in the US. They used to be often combined with "Pacific Islanders" and called "API" until several years ago. But they are now considered to be more separate categories. In addition to "Asians" or "Asian Americans," they'd also say "East Asians", "South Asians" etc when they want to be a bit more specific.

    At an everyday interaction level, I have personally never been called "Asian". People tend to be a lot more specific. All those friendly people who talk to you on street or on bus would ask me if I was Japanese, Korean, or Chinese. But most likely, they'd somehow know that I must be Japanese.

    I'd prefer when people are specific about my country of and ethnic origin at personal interactions. But this may depend on your personal backgrounds (e.g., level of acculturation, racially/ethnically mixed origins etc). Some people may prefer being called "Asian" or "Asian Amecian" than "Japanese" /"Japanese American" etc. I don't know.

    Finally, my personal experience of being called "Oriental" was when an old White lady told me on street that I looked like an Oriental doll. Although I knew that she meant it to be a compliment, I felt a bit annoyed. Although I have never been annoyed by a "doll" or a "Japanese doll," her "Oriental doll" suggested some exoticism, even though I would not think that she was conscious about it. It sounded a bit old-fashioned as well. But then again, this may have been just a cultural expression to refer to East-Asian traditional porcelain dolls which might have been commonly used. In any case, this has been the only occasion that I heard "Oriental" so far.

    But as I said, I would not be annoyed if the term is used in a neutral or a nicer way especially with the knowledge that it is used neutrally in the UK.
    Last edited by Bennett; 12-11-2008 at 10:58 AM.

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    Wicked Yankee Girl dorispulaski's Avatar
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    If she was really an older lady, was she old enough to remember World War 2? If so, she may have been avoiding the term Japanese as insulting? Because in the 50's, it would have been an insult (usually shortened to Jap) so a nice lady might have been avoiding the whole problem by using Oriental and wasn't up to date enough to have gotten the memo that the word was 'Asian'.

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    Forum translator Ptichka's Avatar
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    I'll give you another example. In Russian the word "negro" is perfectly OK, whereas the term "black" is actually offensive (Russians usually use it to refer to the people of the dark Mediterranean look from Georgia/ Armenia/ Azerbaijan). It usually takes a bit for Russians in the US to get used to this.

    I think the word "Oriental" just has a lot of history behind it. It implies a certain exoticism. Also, it originally referred to the Middle East, not all of Asia.

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    Custom Title antmanb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wrlmy View Post
    Any explanation I was given was that "oriental" is an ethnocentric terminology. This sort of made sense since whenever I traveled to Japan, I flew toward the west. But it was never a sufficient reason for me to be offended at being called oriental. In fact, in Japanese, seiyou literally means the west and is used to refer to continental Europe and American continent. So I never really understood what the fuss was about.

    But as a pc person, I exercise my right to be offended
    Absolutely and so you should! I particularly liked your explanation of the term being ethnocentric - especially since you flew west to Japan!

    Quote Originally Posted by Bennett View Post
    whole post
    As per usual Bennett you have gievn such a comprehensive answer! I'm very grateful for your response and your experiences.

    I would always assume that if a particular group of people do not wish to be called by a particular name/description, then out ofrespect i would not use that name, however, i was just extremely intrigued since i couldn't work out what might be offensive.

    Thanks to everyone for their responses.

    Ant

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    In Canada(Western Canada, I don't know Eastern Canada), it's common to use oriental people to describe Asians.
    Last edited by jennylovskt; 12-11-2008 at 11:07 AM.

  10. #10
    Dreaming and dancing Bennett's Avatar
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    Wow, I just find it so fascinating to know how much context and time dependent words/expressions could be.

    Quote Originally Posted by dorispulaski View Post
    If she was really an older lady, was she old enough to remember World War 2? If so, she may have been avoiding the term Japanese as insulting? Because in the 50's, it would have been an insult (usually shortened to Jap) so a nice lady might have been avoiding the whole problem by using Oriental and wasn't up to date enough to have gotten the memo that the word was 'Asian'.
    I've known "Jap" was insulting, but never known that "Japanese" could be insulting as well at that time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ptichka View Post
    I'll give you another example. In Russian the word "negro" is perfectly OK, whereas the term "black" is actually offensive (Russians usually use it to refer to the people of the dark Mediterranean look from Georgia/ Armenia/ Azerbaijan). It usually takes a bit for Russians in the US to get used to this.
    Very interesting.

    I think the word "Oriental" just has a lot of history behind it. It implies a certain exoticism. Also, it originally referred to the Middle East, not all of Asia.
    Does "Oriental" refer to only the East Asia in the UK, whereas had it referred to broader areas in the US? The "Orientalism" indeed seems to have included cultures from diverse areas.

  11. #11
    and... World Peace! Tonichelle's Avatar
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    considering what we did to the Japanese-Americans during WW2 the US had a very uncomfy adjustment period for a while... (surprisingly enough we didn't learn about the containment camps in the US until senior year of high school... so it's still a hush hush topic)

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    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ptichka View Post
    I'll give you another example. In Russian the word "negro" is perfectly OK, whereas the term "black" is actually offensive.
    This was the situation in the U.S., too, up until the 1960s. "Negro" was absolutley the polite and acceptible term. Even in the South people of good will did the best they could with "Nigrah," trying to avoid you-know-what.

    In the 1960s the radical Black Power movement came along which undertook to challenge the problem head on. Why should we go along with the idea that "black" is a bad word, as if there were something inately inferior associated with the color black. "I'm Black and I'm proud!" sang James Brown.

    In consequence, "Negro" came more and more to mean "Uncle Tom" -- a black person who accepts his inferior status in society (an unfair and misplaced knock on the real Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, by the way.)

    I think most of these words gradually acquire connotation, good or bad, through usage. For some reason "Afro-American" is out and "African-American" is in. "Colored people" is out (this term was championed in the early 20th century by W. E. B. Du Bois as an alternative to the stigmatized "black"), but "people of color" is not only OK, it's quite cutting edge p.c. In the case of "oriental," I think that word was used by bigots to refer to a group of people that they didn't like, so over the years the word itself became a little bit tainted.

    Weird factoid: "Oriental" and "Orchestra" come from the same root word, meaning "to rise." The sun rises in the east, and the original meaning of orchestra was the theater where the dancers "rose" to perform.
    Last edited by Mathman; 12-11-2008 at 12:42 PM.

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    Custom Title Joesitz's Avatar
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    Well maybe, the US system of education has changed since my long-ago days, but I seem to recall that there are 3 Human Races: Caucasian, Negroid and I believe the third was Mongolian.

    It could be that Mongolian did not have the scope of all peoples whose origins are from Asiatic and Pacific Islands so they used the term Oriental.

    However, since that time, there have been many peoples who do not want to be included in the scope of those three and consider there are more the 3 divisions of races of mankind.

    I think a new biology book would cover today's races. Occidental and Oriental really refer to direction.

  14. #14
    Dreaming and dancing Bennett's Avatar
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    Reasons?

    As I think of it, one of the reasons why Occident vs. Oriental can be seen politically inappropriate may be because it is based on a dichotomous worldview that ignores other areas. Although this framework still provides its own value in socio-cultural and historical discussions, it is often unsuitable for understanding more complex pictures of the world in the age of globalization. With an awareness that this is merely one of many worldviews, the use of this dichotomy as a common term to describe people from that specific region could be considered problematic.


    As Ptichka mentioned, some also may perceive exocism, or the Orientalism, in that term. Although the Orientalism may have contributed to yielding great artworks (I love the Japonism influences in 19th century French arts), it could reinforce some skewed images, especially because of its association with the imperialism.
    Last edited by Bennett; 12-11-2008 at 12:48 PM.

  15. #15
    Dreaming and dancing Bennett's Avatar
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    Please pardon me for the back-to-back post as my previous post got long.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post
    I think most of these words gradually acquire connotation, good or bad, through usage.
    Great point! I heard that "negro" means "black" in Spanish. But perhaps the historical connotation eventually mattered more, regardless of the similarity in their literal meanings?

    but "people of color" is not only OK, it's quite cutting edge p.c.
    Yeah, it seems to be so. One of my profs wanted me to change "racial/ethnic minorities" into "people of color" because now "minorities" are sometimes getting majorities in number and some racial/ethnic "minority" groups are not always considered racial/ethnic "minorities" in some political realms (like Asian-Americans not eligible for some minority scholarships).

    I personally do not like the terms that refer to skin colors (e.g., "White," "Black," "people of color" etc). I do not like the fact that they refer to physical traits of people than their cultural or regional origins. Besides, despite that skin colors are so complex and diverse, these crude categorizations into a few colors oversimplify the reality. Yet, I nonetheless use these terms unless I have an opportunity to explain my usage of alternative terms, because these are socially important, commonly shared terminology.

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