So last Saturday morning when my wife (who is Japanese) returned from grocery shopping to our apartment building , she passed a few people on their way out. A few moments later, I hear an older greying blonde haired woman yelling about how someone’s white truck was blocking her in. I opened my door to help but before I could open my mouth she blurted out, “Have you seen an Oriental woman walk past here? I think her white truck has blocked me in and I’m late for work!”
My first thought was, “What century are you from? Oriental?!” My second thought was to insult her but my parents raised me better than that and since she was also older I figured maybe she didn’t know that people no longer used Oriental to describe Asians.
Instead, I informed her that first, “She’s my wife and she drives a black car,” and second, “that white truck belongs to the landlord so you should probably find him.” Upon hearing the “Oriental woman” was my wife this lady’s tone completely changed and further hearing it was the landlord’s truck blocking her in, she did a complete one-eighty in her attitude.
Upon returning inside, my wife couldn’t help but notice I was slightly annoyed. I looked at her an said, “Oriental? You are not a rug.” And she laughed. Then she asked, “Is that bad? I’ve never heard anyone call Asians Oriental. Where does that come from?” And without skipping a beat I replied, “I don’t know but guess what my next blog will be about!”
To me, calling someone Oriental could be as insulting as the n-word. That word referred to enslaved Africans as objects/property and not human beings. Oriental refers to products from Asia or Asian culture, not people.
Let’s look at some definitions:
The Orient means the East. It is a traditional designation for anything that belongs to the Eastern world or the Near East or Far East, in relation to Europe. In English it is largely a metonym for, and coterminous with, the continent of Asia.…Some in the United States consider “Oriental” an antiquated, pejorative, and disparaging term. John Kuo Wei Tchen, director of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute at New York University, said the basic critique of the term developed in the 1970s. Tchen has said, “With the anti-war movement in the ’60s and early ’70s, many Asian Americans identified the term ‘’Oriental’’ with a Western process of racializing Asians as forever opposite ‘others’.” In a press release related to legislation aimed at removing the term “oriental” from official documents of the State of New York, Governor David Paterson said, “The word ‘oriental’ does not describe ethnic origin, background or even race; in fact, it has deep and demeaning historical roots”. – Wikipedia***Politically incorrect term used in place of “Asian.” Correct usage should be an adjective for things like inanimate objects, not humans.Correct usage: There’s an Oriental rug store on Derbe Drive.
Are you going to the Oriental market?Incorrect usage: Is that dude oriental?
Orientals are known to be bad drivers.– Urban Dictionary
Do you see what I mean?
Do I believe this older woman is a bigot? No, I have little to no proof of that. Ignorant? Yes, possibly. Should I correct her the next time I see her? Judging from her reaction to my reaction, I think she knows what she said was inappropriate so once this post is done, I’m also done with the whole encounter.
In researching this subject on the net, I came across this Yahoo post and it truly is the best answer I could find.
At the end of it all, my wife thought it was just strange. Why? Because she didn’t grow up with American racism or prejudice, so she didn’t know she’s “supposed to be offended.” Is that okay? For her, yes. Why? Because for the most part, she doesn’t care and life is too short to care.
I agree with that type of thinking but still hope certain waves of ignorance and disrespect disperse into our collective ocean of history, never to return.
- Oriental is a Rug: Five Quick Thoughts on Race (metrodad.typepad.com)
- Oriental: Rugs or People (journalism.nyu.edu)
- Law Bans Use of ‘Oriental’ in State Documents (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)