Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Nomenclature of Race

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.

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.



Donzo said...

How can you be running late, at 11:26 AM?

Anyway. I say; "What's your family heritage?" then I follow it up with "I'm a genealogist - my hobby is the meanings of people's names, and where they are from."
To me, it's an alternative to; "So. What do you do for a living?"
I'm too old to worry about offending people by accident. If I intend to offend you, you'll know it.

Gleno said...

Why do people insist on leaving comments on unfinished posts?

Gleno said...

OK. I'm done. You can talk now.

Donzo said...

Why do we leave comments, on unfinished posts? Because we feel, that what we have to say, is so important that you will want to know what it is, as soon as possible. Either that, or we are so bored, waiting for software to install, we are looking for anything to do, no matter how trivial.

Gleno said...

Why do, you use, so many, commas?

Glenn said...

Unfortunately, Orientals are Asians and can be called Asians. The reason that people from Iraq are not called Asians is unclear to me.

In federally funded public school I was told that there were Caucasians, Negroids, and Mongoloids. People are in one of these categories or a mix of these categories. Try using one of these terms and see how long it is before Jesse Jackson is talking to a camera outside your house.

Race is a tough subject, but it's far harder when the target is always moving.

Gleno said...

Here's another one I just caught last nite. A man who was riding in a bike-a-thon to raise money for kids with Down's Syndrome referred to his son and others who are afflicted with Down's Syndrome as "Intellectually Differing."


Yes, they are differerent, sir. They're different because they're retarded. That's the word that is used to express that specific difference.

Words mean things. Learn them. Use them. You'll find life is much easier that way.

AsterixChaos said...

I am a white, Christian male.

I am a minority, as there are more of the other combined races, creeds, and/or genders than there are of mine.

I am the ONLY group completely devoid of "protections" or "special interest" groups.

Instead of being able to enjoy the same freedoms and protections as say, a black Muslim, I have to be extremely careful in everything I do, everywhere I go, and even who I look at, and how.

And all of this shit? It comes from language. I'm a young guy, and I can remember when you could call a black person a black person, or a Mexican a Mexican. Now, I have to learn a whole new lexicon every couple of years. First, it was black, then people of color, then African American, and so on. With each generation, the word before becomes a little more "bad," until a couple of vocabulary generations later, the earlier word is taboo.

This is where I'm sick to death of the libtards.

Every couple of months, it's a new, fancy word. That new word is doublespeak for something a little more socialist or a little more fascist than what came before it.

Now, in the name of "freedom" and "acceptance" and "equality" we have ground to a halt in things like "progress" and "power" and "democracy" and "liberty."

Hell, when you meet someone new on the bus, you have to go through five minutes of greetings to feel them out to make sure you're not going to use a word that offends them.

We are fast approaching the end of our empire, America. The more time that we spend shaking each other's hands, clapping one another's backs, and sniffing each other's assholes in fake camaraderie and ever-growing contempt, the sooner the whole thing is going to fall out from under us.

It's not that I'm racist. It's that I'm sick to death of being told that I should feel guilty or afraid.

Recessionista Genie said...

I couldn't agree more with the absurdity of all our politically-correct word-wrangling. I think that changing words for things and getting uptight about certain words is missing the point and avoiding the real issues.

I think that as a nation, we need to work on viewing all people as PEOPLE. Not members of particular racial, ethnic, or other types of groups (a.k.a. "communities").

In my work, I come across all sorts of new words for people's sexual orientations and gender identities, too. There are the LGBTQ groups... the LGBTQQA... the LGBTQQIA... WTF?

We human beings are weird, complex, multifaceted critters. No person is wholly defined by any label, politically correct or not. If we need to assign a letter to every type of human, we'll have to expand the alphabet pretty soon. Absurd!

However, it's tricky because we can't pretend that discrimination against people perceived as belonging to certain groups doesn't exist. How can we work toward equality if we don't acknowledge inequalities and prejudices?

Sadly, discrimination is not over in our country. There IS oppression of minorities--and I'm talking about minorities in our nation, not in the world. White men do not need special protections based on their race and gender, because their race and gender is not oppressed systematically in the U.S. (This is backed by all kinds of data such as income levels and sociological studies of behavior.)

I do think the media is way too uptight about words, though, and I don't think suppressing free speech or particular words is the answer to solving discrimination or inequality.

But I do think it's worth thinking about whether saying something--anything--might be hurtful or embarrassing or denigrating to a fellow human, no matter who they are.

Recessionista Genie said...

Two fun examples of "offensive" words!

#1. I was in California when Arnold made the "girly men" comment based on an SNL or Mad TV sketch... I forget which. Anyway, Arnold was making fun of himself for being spoofed... not making fun of women or gays or whoever. Obviously. But there was a media shiz-storm about it, and apologies were demanded.

Arnold's response? To call the people asking for an apology "girly men."

I laughed so hard! He used humor to diffuse the situation and didn't play into the drama game.

#2. There is a local coffee chain in my area that was, for some time, called "Beaner's." Not everyone realized that this was a term used to denigrate Mexicans, and it was probably not what the chain meant when it came up with the name. I mean, coffee beans... beaners... an unfortunate coincidence.

However, it caused some people problems. I had a couple of friends who worked at the chain who had parents from Mexico. They were kind of embarrassed about it and joked, "Oh my God, I'm a beaner working at the Beaner's." Jokes were made by others about the situation, some friendly, some not.

Well, Beaner's chain looked into expanding into other states, southward of Michigan, where more people recognize and use that term as an insult. The "Beaner's" expansion proposal was met with shock and disbelief in other states. (In fact, I think it was mocked by Jay Leno.)

So Beaner's decided to change their name to Biggby. In the end, who really cares? Same coffee, same everything, different name. Just because a mistake is honest doesn't mean it couldn't use some revision to function in the future.

Interestingly, scores of white people rose up in an absolute RAGE!!! It was as if, because THEY didn't know it was a disparaging term, changing the name was an accusation of their own racial insensitivity. Wow. Get over yourselves.

In my opinion, we have a perfect storm in this country of:

a.) a lot of aggression toward "others," defensiveness, and repressed guilt expressed as victim-blaming;

combined with:

b.) a lot of way uptight people and even some victim-glamorization. "Oh, someone called me a name! Call an attorney!"

I think we all need to be a little more open with each other, assume a little more good-will, have more humor, and be willing to look at our own prejudices (which we all have) without freaking out. Let's lighten up already! On people who use words AND on people who may get hurt by those words.

Gleno said...

[stands up and applauds Genie]

Thank you!

Thank you for what you just said!

Michelle said...

I'd like to say that I agree with you all and stand firmly behind my very UN-politically correct views of the world. As a new Canadian, I am immersed in a multi-cultural community no matter where I turn.

And although I am pretty understanding of the different people I come across in my daily routines, I tend to call a spade a spade.

I drive on the road with Asian drivers; my boss is brown ; I have a black colleague; a Vietnamese girl does my nails...need I go on?

And guess what? I call my boss BROWN to his face! And he jokes right back at me. I don't have time to think about who I might or might not offend.

Give me a break. We are in the 21st century - certainly not a time where it is commonplace to torture other folks because of the color of their skin.

There are FAR more important things to be worrying about in this day and age - things like global warming; recessions; extinction of animal breeds; weapons of mass destruction; the war in Iraq....

I don't give a damn where people come from - if you are a decent human being, and want to hang out, lets crack a beer and have a darn good time doing so.

I wholeheartedly feel the same as you, Glen, I truly do. Why should I have to watch what I say when those folks that complain are the first to make comments about me being a white European? I say screw them - if you don't like me, don't talk to me. My social circle knows that I have no desire to cause anyone pain or suffering, whether they are black, white, pink or green.

But I guess that makes me a bad person doesn't it. Oh well!

Just wanted to throw my two cents in and say "Very well written!"