Woops! My apologies!
I set out to write an article regarding the changing words we use to describe the sundry races of the world, but I got no further than searching for a graphic. It was at that point that I found that even the word "race" itself has apparently come under fire. An article at Answeringenesis.com (the nice folks who don't know that I stole their graphic) asserts that we should use the term "people groups."
When I was a little boy, one of the questions we would most commonly asked other kids was the question, "What nationality are you?" This being America and since everyone came from somewhere else, it was a great way to get to know a new kid and learn something fun. Usually, those you met were Irish or Italian or maybe something as exotic as German or English, but every now and then you'd meet someone from someplace you hadn't expected. It was fun.
Somehow asking what one's "people group" is doesn't quite have the same ring to it. Though today, the very act of asking this question at all might be considered politically incorrect.
It seems strange to me that defeat of racism in our society has ushered in, not tranquility between the races (yes, I said "races"), but instead a new era of drama. Far too many people are uptight. We are looking to be offended, or afraid of offending, at every turn. I find this especially true in the new politically correct lingo that people are using to describe themselves.
I recently attended a meeting of a local political group that works to ensure that minorities get hired in businesses that operate within this city. They frequently referred to black people as "people of color." This is a term that fascinates me. Having spoken the English language for most of my life (I couldn't quite get the hang of it in the first year or so), I'm pretty certain that the phrase "people of color" is no different than the term "colored people." Yet this latter term seems to evoke indignation among those to whom it is applied. I understand that the Archie Bunkers of this country had a way of using the term "colored" in a vituperative fashion, but if the term really has become offensive, why would it be resurrected in the form of "people of color"? Moreover, why would there be an organization called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People if being called a colored person is so offensive?
There was a TV newsman recently who, covering a story regarding the NAACP, right after speaking the words, "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People" congratulated the "colored people" who had assumedly advanced. He had to issue an on air apology. An apology. On air. He had to apologize. For using the term that they themselves had applied to themselves. (Watch it here. It's the most awkward thing you'll ever see in your life. http://www.therightperspective.org/2009/02/13/news-guy-apologizes-for-colored-people-phrase/)
This a tempest in a teapot. Unfortunately, I'm unable to get a decent cup of tea because of it.
I despise racism in all its forms. It's wrong. It's immoral. It's repulsive. But I also detest people who, for reasons of their own insecurities, want to instill a sense of guilt upon everyone around them. If you are carrying around hostility, that's no one's problem but your own and it's up to no one but you to resolve that. Attempting a wholesale modification of language is not the solution.
Here's another example that baffles me. Somewhere in the last few years, people from South-East Asia have laid claim to the entire land mass. Now they are simply "Asians." How that one quadrant of the earth's largest continent suddenly usurped the entire thing is still a mystery. If I am from Syria or Kazakhstan or Georgia, shouldn't I be offended at your use of this word?
All of my life the term "Oriental" was used to denote people from the Far East. This word has now somehow become forbidden. Why?
I asked a friend this question once and she told me that the word "Oriental" conjures up images of geisha girls and women who have their feet tied.
To whom? Who decided this?
The root of the word comes from a time when maps in Europe were held with the east at the top. The map would be oriented to the east. Hence, this land was called by the noun "orient". People and things from there were described by the adjective "oriental." That's how the English language works.
Tlahtoki Xochimeh, a Diversity Commission Student Representative from Northewestern University(1), claims that the word "oriental" was used to denigrate people from the Far East. He continues on to claim that the word is associated with genocide and disparagement of the people he calls Asians. Oddly, however, his article offers no proof of any of this. Were I to have the chance to ask him, I'd like to know, "Is it the word that denigrated Far East Asians or is it the actions of certain people that did so? Would these actions would have happened regardless of the word used to describe the people or is it the word itself that inspired the actions?"
Explain to me how, exactly, changing the name by which a thing is called somehow has power to change the thing itself. Does calling a crippled man "handicapable" somehow remove his malady? Does calling a black man an "African-American" somehow remove the strains of prejudice he may have suffered under?
My frustration is not with race. My frustration is with those who try to use language as a weapon. It is with those who think that if we simply change the name of a person, a condition, or a culture every 20 years or so that we can somehow count this as a measure of our success in defeating racism and intolerance.