[Dixielandjazz] Asian vs. Oriental and the world of PC

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 16 12:44:47 PST 2005


However, makes a lot of sense in this PC world of music, words, etc. Here is
an Oriental, oops Asian, oops Oriental take on the two words.

IMO very pertinent to philosophy of life, philosophy of musical descriptions
etc., etc. Like to me, "Darktown" is the same as "Little Italy". Both
describe places, neither seem pejorative. However "Nigger" is the same as
"Wop". And so Nigger Strutters Ball, or Wop Strutters Ball is offensive.

The below post was over 10 years ago and seems to me to be a breath of fresh
air. Amazing that we still argue about such trivia 10+ years later.

Steve Barbone

PS. Arnold Swartzenegger said his name meant "farmer" to Arsenio Hall on
that show. There is also a town named Swartzenegg in Switzerland. It is
possible that his family emigrated to Austria from there in the past when
most in that country switched religions from Catholicism to Protestantism
and it was PC to become a Calvanist.


By Alan Hu
Usenet Posting, circa 1993

OK, so a long time ago, people in Europe used to refer to everything to the
east of them as the Orient, including for example the Middle East, since
orient means "east". So far, so good. This mysterious area was the source of
all sorts of wonderful things like silk and spices, so the Europeans
attached also sorts of exotic, mysterious connotations to the Orient. As
Europeans gained a better concept of world geography, they eventually used
"the Orient" and "Oriental" to refer to East and Southeast Asia, where
people look "Oriental" in our current usage.

Anyway, that usage of "Oriental" has survived a long time, and it still
frequently carries all of the exotic/foreign/inscrutable/mysterious
connotations. These connotations happen to coincide with many of the
stereotypes held of Asian Americans. Furthermore, by definition, the word
"Oriental" is Eurocentric, referring to things east of Europe. For these
reasons, some Asian American activist types decided that "Oriental" was a
Bad Word, and that "Asian" was more accurate, less Eurocentric, and less
loaded with strange connotations. No big deal, right?

Well, a lot of people didn't want to change their language usage. Some
people grew up using "Oriental" and saw nothing wrong with the word. Others
came from other parts of the world, where
hip-activist-American-English-linguistic-evolution hadn't hit. Still others
never encountered anyone aware of Asian American politics, so had never
heard of this word usage change. Some people were exploiting the exotic
mysticism connotations and resisted change. (Very early on, you would see
articles about business and trade in Asia, whereas the travel articles would
talk about visiting the Exotic Mysterious Orient.) Finally, some people were
convinced that this was a typical case of
left-wing-politically-correct-thought-police-mind-control (which it was) and
decided in typical right-wing-politically-correct-knee-jerk-response that
the word usage change was intrinsically evil and had to be resisted at all

For a while, therefore, you could identify a person as being an American who
was aware of and sympathetic to Asian American politics by his/her word
choice. Now, however, many exploitation-types have realized that saying
"Asian" instead of "Oriental" is the cool thing to do, without changing any
of their stereotypes and misconceptions. (You can force a person to change
his/her behavior, but you can't force a change in thought.)

The upshot is to use whatever word you feel most comfortable with, or that
makes your listeners most comfortable, but don't be surprised if someone
takes offense. And in the time you save by not worrying about word-usage,
try to make the world a better place. 

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