Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday links to get you thinking

Thought I'd start out this Monday with two links, one sent by a friend (thanks "D"!) and another sent by my aunt, "S"--hopefully these will provide some food for thought to kick off the work week:

*"White Privilege: Can you see it?"--this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking post about white privilege, with some links to articles and essays on the subject. I haven't read the discussion that follows, but I'm sure it's interesting.

*"Law Bans use of 'Oriental' on state documents" -- It's ABOUT TIME that we stopped, officially (and hopefully unofficially) stop using this word. I know that there are folks, esp. of a different era, who continue to use "Oriental" as synonymous with "Asian" or "Asian American" but I think law professor Frank Wu says it best:

“‘Oriental’ is like the word ‘negro.’ It conjures up an era.”

'Nough said.

Hope everyone is well--I'm off my heavy-duty pain meds so my brain should be starting to function and I should be starting to write posts again, so be on the lookout--can't guarantee I'll be writing anything too illuminating, but then again, that's never something I can guarantee--only something I can hope to occasionally stumble upon.


Greg said...

Interesting article, "Law Bans Use…" and if many Asian Americans feel so strongly about this, then it's definitely a victory. However, as I am soon off to sunny England, I recalled on reading this that "Oriental" and "Asian" are both still in frequent use there and not at all derogatory. "Oriental" often refers to east Asians and "Asian" to south Asians. I've heard anecdotally that many east Asians in the UK actually prefer "Oriental" because it sets them apart from Indians and Pakistanis (with whom some "Orientals" apparently don't want to be lumped).

Additionally, there are a couple points of contention I take with the article (aside from typos and other errors). A disclaimer first, though: I agree with the majority of the article; this is indeed a recognition of the racial prejudices faced by the Asian American community and an attempt to make better.

On to the criticisms! Governor Patterson says, "The word ‘oriental’ does not describe ethnic origin, background or even race; in fact, it has deep and demeaning historical roots." This is not entirely true. First, the meaning attributed to "Oriental" has historically been (and in some places - see above - still is) "people or things from the Orient, i.e., East Asia." This most definitely denotes "background" and potentially "race," depending on how you define it. I'll say, fine, not ethnicity; he can have that one. As for the "deep and demeaning historical roots," I beg to differ. "Orient" is opposed to "Occident", meaning east and west, respectively, deriving from the Latin for "rising" and "setting" - as in what the sun does at each end of such a continuum. These two original meanings are not in the least "demeaning". (Aside: Of course this is very Euro-centric, as Ngai points out; East and West are in fact arbitrary. But I'll also point out that the left-right superimposition onto West-East happens to work out from both an English perspective [being read from left to right, hence West=left=first=most important] and a Chinese perspective [historically read top to bottom, right to left, East=right=first=most important].) The subsequent uses of the term "Orient" in certain contexts were demeaning, but the "roots"? No. Wu even agrees, "The world [sic] 'Oriental' is not inherently negative"; it's the connotations it now carries (again, only in certain contexts).

My last bone to pick is with the following blanket statement from Dr. Ngai: "You should call people by what [sic] call themselves, not how they are situated in relation to yourself." When it comes to social categories, we must define ourselves in terms of others, and others in terms of ourselves; this is why they are social categories. A man is not really a "man" without a "woman" to be opposed to. Same for rich and poor, gay and straight, and maybe even most apparently, skin color: hell if I'm actually "white" except when compared with people who are "black" or otherwise "colored." See, social categories are fantastic! Otherwise, we'd all just be "people" (tongue firmly in cheek, here). As for calling people what they call themselves, I'm not about to refer to the black kids I hear on the bus all the time as "nigga". To be more specific, let's refer to people and their respective categories as however they would like for us to.

Ultimately, though, the critical issue is not the social stigma that a label for a category carries; it's the social stigma carried by the category itself. Historically, neutral words associated with stigmatized categories have come to carry stigmatized meaning. When that happens, the once-neutral label is shed, and a new one is donned, eventually coming to endure the same sort of stigma because the root of that stigma still exists. As examples, look at what happened to "colored", what's happening to "gay." This is probably the most important issue, and it's sad that it is not addressed in the article.

BTW, I realize much of this criticism is a bit nit-picky and maybe more suited to Language Log than MRA. Thank you for putting up with me.

MFG said...

I am writing a new book about mixed race people in America. The book will encomapss the history of mixed race people and the social, physical and emotional issues that plague them. I want people to know the issues first hand from the people that are mixed themselves so I am looking for entries of stories/bios/essay WHATEVER you need to express yourself.

I am accepting 5 entries for each age group ; 0-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, 61-100+. Thats 30 entries in total.

If you would like to write for this book please understand that there will be NO compensation. I am asking for people to volunteer their work for the book. Your work will not be edited except for minor grammer and spelling. I want to make sure that your voice is heard through your writing.

Please consider writing for my book. Email me for further information.