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Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Well-Oiled Government

Finally, we have a smoothly operating federal government. Well, I mean, on at least one item. The bill hit both the House and the Senate and was passed unanimously in both. Imagine that! The president signed the bill into law and now we have a new rule for the good of one and all.

What rule? The bill eliminated all known uses of the terms "oriental" and "negro" from federal law.

"After months of advocacy in both chambers of Congress, derogatory terms in federal law will finally be updated to reflect our country's diversity," said Senator Mazie Hirono, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate. Because, you see, "oriental" is derogatory. "Asian" is not.

Of course, "the Orient" is a term referring to the land east of Europe (which, by definition, is "Asia") and "oriental" refers to people and things from that part of the world ("the Orient"/Asia), so you can see that "Asian" is much less derogatory than "oriental". Congresswoman Meng, the originator and sponsor of the bill in the House, was relieved that "at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good." She went on to say, "Many Americans may not be aware that the word 'Oriental' is derogatory, but it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land." I suppose "derogatory" is in the ear of the hearer because "oriental" means "from Asia" and she was right -- many Americans aren't at all clear why a word meaning "from Asia" is derogatory but "Asian" is not.

"Negro" refers to skin color and was the word of choice for a long time, even up to today. It includes people from Africa as well as other locations with dark-skinned people. It is now "African-American". I wonder how a white-skinned South African immigrant will feel about that? And, I was wondering ... do you suppose the United Negro College Fund will be changing their name in shame and repentance for being so derogatory? I wonder.

But, hey, our government has succeeded in removing this blight upon the land. Now if only they can get rid of those right-wing fundamentalist wackos, a term that is not derogatory I'm sure.


David said...

I'm so glad our tax dollars are hard at work correcting something only lawyers and judges knew about. Money well spent.

Those terms can be derogatory in certain contexts, but you're right, by themselves that are merely nouns. The UNCF won't need to change their name because it can only ever be seen as derogatory if it was written by white people. As for Oriental, I've always seen that as an outdated term. It comes from a time when Europe the "center" of the globe. If course Asian can be just as derogatory in the right context, so there really no safe way to describe someone's ethnicity.

Stan said...

Europe at the time was called the Occident in contrast to Asia, the Orient. It was never meant as derogatory. Thus, your final comment, "there really is no safe way to describe someone's ethnicity", is, I believe, very close to the truth. The problem is not the description, but that there is one. That is, the moment you apply "Latino" or "Asian" or "Black" or whatever term is appropriate (at the time), you've discriminated. Oh, sure, in the most literal way, but, still, it provides a distinction -- "us" versus "them". So while "oriental" is removed for being "derogatory" and "Asian-America" has become the new "acceptable", give it time. After awhile the fact that it is not merely "American" will become an insult ... even though ethnic groups refuse to accept "American".