Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why is the word "Oriental" considered derogatory?

My father does a lot of business in a place that I call "Asia", but which he refers to as "The Orient". And he's friends and colleagues with many people that I call "Asians" but he sometimes calls "Orientals".

A lot of people consider the word "Oriental"---which simply means "Eastern"---to be out-dated and/or derogatory. But is it? And if so, why? I found an interesting answer on Wikipedia, a website which never contains inaccuracies:

"Some people think the term 'Oriental' is derogatory, largely because of its connection to imperial 19th century Europeans and Americans who are thought to have held a patronising attitude towards the region. ... Major objections to the use of 'Oriental' are chiefly limited to North America. Its use is much less controversial in Europe and Hawaii, as well as in Asia where, especially in Southeast Asian countries, the word is in comparatively widespread usage. In Europe the term is used to describe such things as the East's cuisine and goods, ancient culture, and religions, at times to denote an exotic quality with upmarket or mildly positive connotations."
So, North Americans are still upset because of attitudes that prevailed in the 19th century. Huh?

My dad is either very worldly, or just far and above philistine American backwardness and isolation. And damn, he's so down with his brothas and sistas from China, Thailand, Korea and Indonesia, that he's even allowed to call them 'Orientals'. My dad is The Shit, people.

Or maybe it's because in the 60s he occasionally played bass for Katherine & the Firebyrds (right).
Hey, if he's accepted as calling them such, then more power to him. However, do you think maybe they just don't tell him it's offensive because they don't want to be rude?

Personally, I don't like being called Oriental.

And I grew up with white people.

Go figure.
In the days when I used to toil in the dark satanic mills of a major global corporation, I remember attending a global conference of execs in Australia, prior to which we all visited some of the business units in various parts of Asia.

At a big dinner at the conference attended by all the top corporate walla-wallas, the president of my unit (an American) made a speech thanking our host (an Australian) for arranging all our trips to the "Far East".

The Ozzie went bersek and tore into the Yank for several minutes, in front of all present, about how his use of this phrase exposed his cultural insensitiviy and American parochialism. It's only "far" or "east" from where you ugly Americans and Europeans are sitting was more or less the gist of the tirade. (Come to think of it this was total nonsense as the Far East is west of the USA.)

Personally I don't like being called a "Brit". Just as it's not politically correct to refer to a Jewish person as "that Jew", I prefer that you refer to my countrymen as "British people".
So, tillerman, do you think the wikipedia entry is inaccurate? Is the word 'oriental' just as derogatory in Europe?

It's strange how some words come to be derogatory and others do not. If you think about it, "Asian" is also very inaccurate as far as location, but it's the standard word right now.

Personally, there's not one name you could level at me that I'd find offensive, but I'm just Joe White Guy.
Maybe in the US at least it could be traced to Edward Said's book Orientalism (1978), in which Said uses the term as a way to talk about Western civ privileging its own culture as transcendant or universal while placing others in limited or inferior positions.

At least that would be my guess.
I think any time you use a word to refer to one people by a name that is by definition relative to another people you are asking for trouble ...

You're an infidel because you don't belive the same as me.
You're oriental because I'm in the center of the universe and you are east of me.
You're an Indian because ...ummm .. umm ...well, I guess because Columbus screwed up.'re Asian because you have smaller eyes than me but I have no idea what country you're from.
When I was in elementary school I had a "girlfriend" who was Korean. I think we held hands or kissed. Her name was Sue. One day a bunch of other students were teasing her, calling her "Oriental." I came home crying and when my mother asked me what was wrong I told her how all the other kids were calling Sue "Oriental!" My mother cocked her head for a moment and said, "But... she IS Oriental." I don't remember this, but she says my jaw dropped and I ran to my room furious at her. This was around 1977.

I have several friends who are Asian and they all prefer to be called Asian, not Oriental. It's not my call.
I'm only half-Asian, so maybe this answer is only half right. My understanding is that "oriental" is an adjective to be applied to objects and "Asian" applies to humans.
Check the dutch:
This comment has been removed by the author.
I only recently found out that using the word 'Oriental' to describe a person is derogatory but it is for pretty simple reasons I suppose, so it's just as easy to use the term 'East Asian', since 'Asian' seems to apply too generally, and tends to be used for people from the Indian subcontinent. Pretty simple - it's just the part of the world map that their family hails from.

It's not much to ask. All this political correctness does often seem to make even the most general conversation a minefield but you must agree that East Asian people are hardly most complain-y people when compared to other ethnic groups.
Why is everyone so sensitive? I am a Jew. I don't mind being called a Jew. I don't refer to black people as African Americans, because I grew up referring to them as black people, and I don't refer to myself as a European American. I'm white, their black we are all the same underneath, and really? WHO CARES?
I was born in East Asia, lived all my life almost in the U.S., and the first time someone referred to me as oriental I was confused. Since when did they use words that described objects and location to describe people? Since when was it okay to generalize and say, "that's black" or "that's white"? How is that even relevant? How do you know if the person is thinking the same as you when you make such generalizations?
A friend came up to me at a funeral and commented on my beautiful jacket. She was surprised to see me in it and wondered if we had travelled to Asia. I said, "actually i have several oriental jackets and just love them". She interupted me mid-sentence and said..."You mean Asian jackets". I said "no I mean oriental jackets" "no, she said, the word is Asian".

so my question is, "when did it become poitically correct to confront a friend who is in profound grief because of the death of a very close friend, and argue with them about the proper use of a word?" The appropriate word is RUDE.
I too wonder what make people so sensitive,I grew up using the word oriental just like eastern European,south American and during the civil rights movement black people decided that was the appropriate vernacular in the we're told African American is correct.My children are of Greek lineage but I am offended by natural born Americans that feel the need to qualify theirselves by adding on their ancestors birthplace,such as Greek American,I wonder if people in other countries born of American parents say things like I'm American Greek.We're not talking about derogatory terms that were created with that intent to hurt and humiliate people as a group.How many of you that are offended correct people when you hear derogatory comments,just remember to do that when you hear the very common American term to " Jew
The down". Let's lighten up America and not add to the list we really have so much more to worry about!
I don't mind if people call me "oriental." It's a pretty meaningless word really.
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