Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Why aren’t we allowed to use the word “Oriental” any longer?

Michael Deacon, writing in  today’s Telgraph, recalls singer Damon Albarn  telling Loaded magazine back in 1994 that he didn’t really fancy Oriental women. Deacon doubted whether Albarn would get away with that today – admitting that you are sexually attracted to certain races could be interpreted as racism (well, the way you blow your nose could be taken as racism by some people), and the use of the term “Oriental” might now be seen as pejorative.

Deacon’s right on both counts. But why?

Well, at the risk of being prosecuted for hate crime, I’m with Damon on the sexual attraction front: I don’t tend to fancy oriental women, no matter how beautiful. Given that our sexual preferences are, I imagine, almost entirely a matter of chemistry, and have absolutely nothing to do with rationality or moral choice, how could they be seen as racist? One doesn’t make a conscious decision to go “Ding Dong!” (never out loud, I hasten to add) - or not - when encountering women from a certain racial group. It’s just that, after a while, you realise that you generally find, say, Afro-Caribbeans rather more attractive than, for instance, Indians - or, indeed, vice-versa.  

It does not make you a bad person!

As for the term “Oriental” , I was discussing its lack of currency with dinner guests just the other night. Deacon’s right – whenever I use it, I feel ever so slightly naughty. But this is strange, because, after all, it just means “East” in Latin (strictly, it means “rising”, and the Sun, so they tell me,  rises in the East), so it’s hard to see how it could be interpreted as abusive in any way. Mind you, as we live in a world where a US college professor had to apologise to black students for using the word “niggardly”, one evidently no longer requires any definable reason for feeling outraged. And the same baneful principle is at work in this case - apparently various Oriental-American pressure groups decided they didn’t like the term, so American liberals (like the mindless, spineless, weak-kneed suckers for ersatz victimhood they are) substituted the term “Asian” as an acceptable alternative.

And now, inevitably, because British liberals don’t like to be left behind when it comes to behaving like craven fools, we appear to have fallen into line - and suddenly, we find ourselves using a term which is quite meaningless over here.

“Oriental”, very, very roughly, means “Yellow” – i.e. having skin which is of a slightly yellowish hue (Japanese, Chinese, Koreans etc.). This is dead useful, as it means we can employ “Asian” to refer to Indians and Pakistanis, whose skin isn’t even vaguely yellow. Furthermore, this leaves “South-East Asian” free for people from the Far East whose pigmentation is more light-brown than yellow – Burmese, Thai etc.

Half of all immigrants to the UK are Asian - whereas less than 5% could be classified as Oriental. What is the point of using “Asian” to cover both groups? What, exactly, do the Chinese and the Pakistanis have in common, physically or culturally? Besides, given the notorious racism of both the Japanese and the Chinese, might they not feel offended at being lumped in with other races as all-purpose “Asians”? Aren’t they, in a sense, victims too (the answer, if you’re a liberal, is yes - anyone who isn’t white is, by definition, a victim.)

Finally, (cue gong being struck) “Oriental” has wonderful connotations - mysterious, romantic, exotic, spicy, slightly dangerous. If my skin was yellow(ish), I’d demand to be referred to as an “Oriental”.

Or am I being crass?


  1. According to that yardstick of truth, Wikipedia, the reasons you give for liking the term, SG, are the very basis for the PC brigade eschewing it : “Some people think of the term oriental as offensive or politically incorrect, largely because of its perceived connection by some people with nineteenth century European and American attitudes about the region. In this world view, the East was seen as backwards, exotic, and patriarchal, while the West was seen as logical, rational, and more modern.” So there! Indeed, my extensive researches reveal that the very origin of the offending word is considered Eurocentric, because it places the Orient in the East, which it is when viewed from our perspective. As we Europeans tend to live in Europe, I personally don’t see the problem with us taking a Eurocentric view in this particular x!@&ing instance. After all, does any European out there object to being called Occidental?
    Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 05:25 PM

  2. SINOPHILE (WOMEN ONLY)18 October 2011 at 19:11

    This is a difficult one because the word conjures up images of Charlie Chan and Fu Man Chu and is associated with being "wily" and "inscrutable". In my experience, the Chinese do tend to refer to themselves as "Asians" although there is little logic to this as you point out. Perhaps they are seeking a parallel term to "European" which these days merely describes holders of EU passports [including various Chinese communities].
    I was intrigued enough to have a little internet trawl and discovered a book called "The Random House Guide to Sensitive Language" which states that the O-word should be avoided as a noun, but is "permissable" as an adjective in relation to objects or ideas viz Oriental rugs. It also states that the expressions "Lapplanders" and "Eskimos" should be exchanged with "Samis" and "Inuits". So, our old friends, the PC- Ideologues are hovering around tinkering with language in their usual, humourless way. Who are these people who prescribe these changes? What is their motivation?
    To quote Theodore Dalrymple [the trouble about the doctor is that almost everything he writes deserves quoting] :
    "Modern attempts at language reform are attempts to bring about a political end, usually utopian and therefore both romantic and sentimental: one that is simultaneously desired - at least is said to be desired - and known not to be possible. It is therefore a permanently useful, but dishonest tool for those who seek power." [Spoilt Rotten!]
    He also says that fiddling around with the accepted meaning of words means that they come to include too much and mean too little and points out the danger of insinuating falsehood while suppressing the truth . In short, why can't I use the word "Oriental" as both a noun and adjective still?
    I listened to a labour politician being interviewed on the radio recently - I think his name was Ben Bradshaw [ bouffant hair, wildly sincere facial expression] who in the course of 5-minutes used the word "sustainable" about 30 times. He was followed by another Labour MP who was "passionate" about everything - " I passionately want to get the sewage system in Dudley Salterton up and running". All of a sudden, these two words had lost their meaning for me. And now, ditto "Oriental""
    Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 05:41 PM
    The obsession with nomenclature for both the anti-racist and other PC lobbies is because it distracts attention for their failure to deliver lasting change. Take feminism, as I explained to a girl friend the other day. You've been Greering us to death for 50 years. We now call you Madam Chair at meetings, read Simone de Beauvoir to look as if we empathise and hesitate to use words like Mankind. But you're still paid less, get the sack from the news room when you get wrinkles, we are afraid to compliment you at work on how nice you look, no longer hold the door open and have stopped offering you seats on the tube.

    Job done girls.
    Friday, February 11, 2011 - 10:24 AM

  3. Harumphrey, I agree about Occidental, and furthermore have no objection to Honky, Round-Eyes, Paleface, Big-Nose, Gringo, Cracker or Gweilo (although I prefer Blond Beast or Gorgeous), and I agree absolutely that we have an inalienable right to view the world from a European perspective – why should we be expected to perform mental gymnastics to do otherwise? We are not all Method actors!

    Sinophile, Ben Bradshaw (for that is indeed his name) is a former BBC Radio Correspondent. A Player of the Pink Oboe, he is in a civil partnership with a BBC producer (bless!). His claims to fame as a politician include introducing the famous, epoch-defining Pesticides Act (1998), telling patients who couldn’t find an NHS dentist to visit their GPs(!!!) and defending rapacious hospital parking charges. He almost made himself a laughing stock by this statement from beyond the looking-glass: "Our use of computer technology in the NHS is becoming the envy of the world. It is saving lives, saving time and saving money. If you talk to health and IT experts anywhere in the world they point to Britain as example of computer technology being used successfully to improve health services to the public." Yet the diabetic nurse I saw last month, despite gazing for many minutes at what purported to be my medical records on her computer screen, seemed to know absolutely nothing whatsoever about my medical history. Saving lives indeed!

    Ex-KCS – I think language has just become another social engineering tool – another way of rewiring our brains so that we’ll become blind to the rich differences between the sexes and the races – it’s the whole mad “equality” obsession in action. The PC brigade assume that the recognition of differences automatically lead to hierarchies which lead to victimhood, and I just think they’re wrong. For some odd reason, they’re terrified of genuine diversity.
    Friday, February 11, 2011 - 10:30 PM

  4. “Scot”, “Scotsman” or, as John Wilkes had it, “North Briton”? Who knows? As to Orientals, the question goes back at least sixty-seven-and-a-bit years:

    George Orwell
    10 December 1943

    ... The word “native”, which makes any Asiatic boil with rage, and which has been dropped even by British officials in India these ten years past, is flung about all over the place. “Negro” is habitually printed with a small n, a thing most Negroes resent. One's information about these matters needs to be kept up to date. I have just been carefully going through the proofs of a reprinted book of mine, cutting out the word “Chinaman” wherever it appears and substituting “Chinese”. The book was written less than a dozen years ago, but in the intervening time “Chinaman” has become a deadly insult. Even “Mahomedan” is now beginning to be resented; one should say “Moslem”. These things are childish, but then nationalism is childish. And after all we ourselves do not actually like being called “Limeys” or “Britishers”.

    This extract from an Orwell article in Tribune is his solution to a problem. A problem which is laid out here, http://web.me.com/scottgronmark/Scott_Gronmark_Associates/Blog/Entries/2011/2/11_Is_liberalism_a_form_of_mental_illness.html
    Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 11:25 PM