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Author Topic: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?  (Read 1250 times)

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Offline Caeli

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #25 on: September 25, 2014, 05:24:04 PM »
That's understandable, but doesn't Asian also achieve that by referencing somewhere outside the the United Stats? Although I understand the importance of using a word that doesn't have a history of derogatory connotations? In a similar way I guess I have sometimes wondered if Africans Americans are bothered by that term, since by the same logic whites there should be called European Americans, but it seems to be regarded as the most respectful term.

It's not quite the same thing.  "Oriental" = 'East of Europe' but "Asian" = the continent of Asia.

Or more eloquently:

"The Orient" was generally viewed as a single monolithic thing - it actively denied dthat cultural differences were of any importance (if it even acknowledged their existence at all). "Asian" is a term of pure geography; the only thing it links these people by is "likely to be found together in this part of a map of the world". It doesn't exactly acknowledge cultural differences, but it also doesn't erase them, which was an issue with "Oriental".

This explanation is very similar to how I feel as well.  I wouldn't say that Asian is specifically a term of pure geography (as I think was mentioned previously, even though India and Persia and even Russia are considered Asian countries, people from those areas are usually referred to specifically as Indian, etc.), but it is certainly less offensive and less "generalizing" in that sense.  I am not sure that I explained that very well - sorry about that.

Edited to add: I would also agree that 'Oriental' as a more general sense does carry with it a kind of monolithic generalization, while the term 'Asian' does not, though I don't have any historical texts to refer to on that one - it's more of a feeling and its connotation in usage.  Please note that I am also not a scholar in Asian-American history so I am not as familiar with anything beyond the typical arguments against the usage of 'Orient/al'.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2014, 05:30:28 PM by Caeli »

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #26 on: September 25, 2014, 05:25:33 PM »
  That's understandable, but doesn't Asian also achieve that by referencing somewhere outside the the United Stats? Although I understand the importance of using a word that doesn't have a history of derogatory connotations? In a similar way I guess I have sometimes wondered if Africans Americans are bothered by that term, since by the same logic whites there should be called European Americans, but it seems to be regarded as the most respectful term.
Well, yes, it references somewhere outside. But "Asian American" and "African American" reinforce, rather than question, the legitimacy of these people as American.

I know of exactly one case in which someone publicly objected to being called "African American". It was a hockey player, who was asked in an interview if he felt that, as prominent African American, he served as a role model to others. I don't have the exact quote to hand, but the gist was "Um. I'm not African or American. I'm a black Canadian." Interestingly, the term "black" is generally acceptable here, though (as always) context matters. Which brings us to the most obvious of conclusions to this speculation: What should you call people as a group? Whatever they call themselves as a group, or tell you to call them.

Offline consortium11

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #27 on: September 25, 2014, 05:36:03 PM »
In colloquial use, your argument against "Asian" is a non-starter, at least everywhere I've seen the term used; it's generally understood to imply southeast Asian. People of Indian or Arabic descent are generally referred to as such (and Persians generally get awkwardly filed under 'Arab', because a) most people can't tell the difference and b) society as a whole tends not to give a shit about being really damn offensive to them.)

That's quite region specific though; in the UK the term "Asian" is just as, if not more, likely to be used to referred to people/things from India/Pakistan.

To give two recent examples (and I apologize for the Daily Mail link, but it's useful here as a sort of "how do average people speak" example) you can look here or here, both of which use the term "Asian" to refer to people of Pakistani descent.

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #28 on: September 25, 2014, 05:44:22 PM »
That's quite region specific though; in the UK the term "Asian" is just as, if not more, likely to be used to referred to people/things from India/Pakistan.

To give two recent examples (and I apologize for the Daily Mail link, but it's useful here as a sort of "how do average people speak" example) you can look here or here, both of which use the term "Asian" to refer to people of Pakistani descent.
Fair point, and probably should've occurred to me when I was trying to think of examples. I'll concede the point, though not the wider argument that, regardless, there are terms that are at least as specific and way less offensive than "Oriental".

Offline Caeli

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #29 on: September 25, 2014, 05:47:58 PM »
I also wonder if usage of the term ("Asian") in publications would differ from its colloquial / mainstream usage in conversation. 

Offline consortium11

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #30 on: September 25, 2014, 05:53:27 PM »
Fair point, and probably should've occurred to me when I was trying to think of examples. I'll concede the point, though not the wider argument that, regardless, there are terms that are at least as specific and way less offensive than "Oriental".

Oh, I don't disagree at all... if I ever do use "Oriental" it's in the "things not people" sense and even then I rarely use it, largely because it's offensive due to the history and connotations.

That said, I do think it is worth acknowledging that there's somewhat of an issue with how to identify/refer to people from the various regions in Asia and because of that there's a lack of consensus around the world (hence the example above).

Offline LisztesFerencTopic starter

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #31 on: September 25, 2014, 05:56:38 PM »
"The Orient" was generally viewed as a single monolithic thing - it actively denied dthat cultural differences were of any importance (if it even acknowledged their existence at all). "Asian" is a term of pure geography; the only thing it links these people by is "likely to be found together in this part of a map of the world". It doesn't exactly acknowledge cultural differences, but it also doesn't erase them, which was an issue with "Oriental".

  Okay, that makes sense. I didn't know that.

The difference is that it is generally considered by Asian people to be less offensive. Is this not a big deal? As for your other examples: South. East. Asian. What is so confusing about this term?

  Sorry, I missed that. So we have:
Arab
Indian
Asian
South East Asian
And some other ethnic groups with no easy catchall term

  Cool, thank you. I know I could have done this with wiki, but I prefer to learn things by talking to people.

Is there really a situation in which you would be told about an Asian person, see someone of Batak descent, and say "Nope, can't possibly be them!"? Could you cite an example?

  Probably not, but I still like to know this stuff.

For bonus points: Could you please explain how "Oriental" is any better at describing the multitude of different people in southeastern Asia than "southeast Asian"?

  This kind of aggressive demand is what almost made me write off most of what you had to say. I sensed a hostility in your post that I judged undue, and one that I certainly didn't sense when reading Caeli's posts. In fact it was only because she praised one of your points for eloquence that I re-read your posts with an open mind. I had never heard of any negative connotations of the word "Oriental" before, neither did the first replies mention this, instead they talked about lack of differentation, without the difference between the two words you supplied. Hence my confusion on why Asian was considered better (along the different use consortium11 showed which I couldn't quite get my finger on).

Daily Mail

  Asylum Seekers Carry New Type of Aids that Lowers House Prices (what is generally assume to happen if you merge all Daily Mail headlines)

I also wonder if usage of the term ("Asian") in publications would differ from its colloquial / mainstream usage in conversation.

  Possible, but then according to wikipedia this is what the British Asian population looks like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Asian

Also note from the article:
This is reflected in the "ethnic group" section of UK census forms and other government paperwork, which treat "Asian" and "Chinese" as separate categories.

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #32 on: September 25, 2014, 06:14:43 PM »
Sorry, I missed that. So we have:
Arab
Indian
Asian
South East Asian
And some other ethnic groups with no easy catchall term
It really depends on how deep you want to drill - I can guarantee you there are hundreds of ethnicities you've never heard of before. Which brings us back to the simple "What do they call themselves?" rule.

This kind of aggressive demand is what almost made me write off most of what you had to say. I sensed a hostility in your post that I judged undue, and one that I certainly didn't sense when reading Caeli's posts. In fact it was only because she praised one of your points for eloquence that I re-read your posts with an open mind. I had never heard of any negative connotations of the word "Oriental" before, neither did the first replies mention this, instead they talked about lack of differentation, without the difference between the two words you supplied. Hence my confusion on why Asian was considered better (along the different use consortium11 showed which I couldn't quite get my finger on).
I apologize. I was responding to something I saw in your posts - something which, given the rest of this conversation, wasn't actually there. This was wrong.

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #33 on: September 25, 2014, 06:21:35 PM »
Actually, you do have to be careful with the 'what do they call themselves' rule.  There are situations where it's okay for 'insiders' to use a catch-all, but not 'outsiders'.  Much better to ask the individual what labels they prefer.

Offline LisztesFerencTopic starter

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #34 on: September 25, 2014, 06:25:04 PM »
It really depends on how deep you want to drill - I can guarantee you there are hundreds of ethnicities you've never heard of before. Which brings us back to the simple "What do they call themselves?" rule.

  That's obviously the safest bet, but I do like to know, and I feel that especially in a foreign country talking to a local who knows your ethnicity, it can make them feel welcomed as they are recognized as more than just "not us, a foreigner". I was talking to a Japanese girl once and she was seemed quite happy when in response to her saying her parents followed traditional Japanese religion I asked "Buddhist or Shinto?"

I apologize. I was responding to something I saw in your posts - something which, given the rest of this conversation, wasn't actually there. This was wrong.

  No problem. I took a step back and saw that in the barest essence what I had said is "I refer to (x people) by (y term. I don't see what could possibly be wrong with that". So it wasn't exactly hard to misinterpret my intention.

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #35 on: September 25, 2014, 06:33:30 PM »
Actually, you do have to be careful with the 'what do they call themselves' rule.  There are situations where it's okay for 'insiders' to use a catch-all, but not 'outsiders'.  Much better to ask the individual what labels they prefer.
True. Given my teal tag, I'm pretty much obligated to point out that asking people what terms they prefer is not offensive! (Well, unless it's "What do I call you people?" or "Is (insert slur) okay?".) Rather the opposite: You're expressing a desire to learn about things that are important to them, without bringing any baggage along.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2014, 06:50:36 PM by Ephiral »

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #36 on: September 25, 2014, 11:14:17 PM »
In general no.

I consider Oriental like saying European, or Scandinavian, or African, or Middle Eastern, Polynesian, etc.

I suppose you could use Asian.

I'd never call a specific person an Oriental or even an Asian, I'd endeavor to learn from which nation they actually hail.

Offline LisztesFerencTopic starter

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #37 on: September 26, 2014, 04:46:00 AM »
I suppose you could use Asian.

I'd never call a specific person an Oriental or even an Asian, I'd endeavor to learn from which nation they actually hail.

  I'm not quite sure I understand this. Would you also never call a specific person Black, European or even Scandinavian? Obviously knowing someones nation is better, but at the same time these words that denote racial/ethnic groups do exist for valid reasons.

  I've been looking around, now that I know the connotations of Orient I'm surprise how common the word still is. Here's a major company only considering in February of this year that maybe Oriental Express is an outdated name (but then again maybe I shouldn't be surprised given how long the Redskins team has been around):

  http://skift.com/2014/02/26/the-curious-rebranding-of-orient-express-hotels-into-the-belmond-brand/

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #38 on: September 26, 2014, 05:27:56 AM »
Sure maybe if I was describing someone to another.

No I wouldn't just call someone a European, nor would I say you're an Oriental. Europe is made up of a dozen distinct nations and cultures and to call someone simple European like they're all one people is crass to me at best.

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #39 on: September 26, 2014, 06:18:29 AM »
I suspect that the 'Oriental Express' hotels may have been banking on some of the mystique of the famous Christie novel/movie for some time.

Offline LisztesFerencTopic starter

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #40 on: September 26, 2014, 06:46:15 AM »
No I wouldn't just call someone a European, nor would I say you're an Oriental. Europe is made up of a dozen distinct nations and cultures and to call someone simple European like they're all one people is crass to me at best.

  As a European, I disagree. Sure I would expect friends to learn which nation I am from eventually, but I would not be offended if a non-European friend introduced me to their friends or family as "This is Zoltan, he's European" nor would I mind if someone told me that a person I had talked to in the library recounted the event as "I talked to a European guy in the library".

  I don't get why you assume the term European can only mean that you think they're all one people, and if that is what you think, wouldn't the same logic calling someone German imply you think all 80 million German's are one and the same? I understand the need for cultural sensitivity, especially if your nation and/or race has a long history of exploiting and brutalizing those other cultures, but it just seems to me you are taking it too far.

I suspect that the 'Oriental Express' hotels may have been banking on some of the mystique of the famous Christie novel/movie for some time.

  I'm sure they were, I'm just surprised that "for some time" has lasted until 2014, when the negative connotations of the word Oriental were being discussed in the 1970s.

Offline Sho

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #41 on: September 26, 2014, 10:29:21 AM »
I think the offensiveness of the term varies from place to place. Where I live, one would probably be considered at least a bit racist for using that term in referring to people (it strongly brings to mind an 80-year-old white man who grew up in a more racist time). The 'things not people' rule is pretty good. You can have an Oriental design on something, an Oriental rug, etc. As far as people? Asian.

My general understanding (pardon the broad strokes here) is that China, Japan, and Korea fall under 'Asia', and the rest of what you think of 'Oriental' falls under Southeast Asia. Arab covers pretty much everyone who looks vaguely Middle Eastern, and Indian covers...well, Indians. When in doubt, just use your best guess. I certainly wouldn't use the term Oriental, though. As far as why not...what the others said was true. It really brings to mind an era when Asians were treated as second-class citizens and it brings to mind the fetishization of an entire race by a euro-centric point of view.

At the end of the day, what you think of as Oriental is colloquially known as Asian nowadays. In any situation where you would use Oriental you can use Asian - I've never met someone who was referring to Southeast Asia or India or Russia or wherever that used 'Asian' instead. Asian pretty much means Oriental, as far as its general usage.

At the end of the day, whoever told you not to use it was probably right. It's a fairly outdated term - usable, but definitely questionable. Asian is the go-to term nowadays.

Offline consortium11

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #42 on: September 26, 2014, 12:51:21 PM »
At the end of the day, what you think of as Oriental is colloquially known as Asian nowadays. In any situation where you would use Oriental you can use Asian - I've never met someone who was referring to Southeast Asia or India or Russia or wherever that used 'Asian' instead. Asian pretty much means Oriental, as far as its general usage.

Again, I'd stress this is very region dependent; in the UK (and a number of heavily UK influenced countries) "Asian" is just as likely (and I'd suggest actually more likely) to refer to someone or something of Pakistani and/or Middle Eastern appearance as it is to someone from China/Japan.

Offline Valthazar

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #43 on: September 26, 2014, 01:16:12 PM »
My general understanding (pardon the broad strokes here) is that China, Japan, and Korea fall under 'Asia', and the rest of what you think of 'Oriental' falls under Southeast Asia. Arab covers pretty much everyone who looks vaguely Middle Eastern, and Indian covers...well, Indians.

To corroborate what consortium11 is saying, here is the Wikipedia article about British Asians.  To quote the article, "British Asians are British citizens of South Asian descent, also known as South Asians in the United Kingdom, Asian British people or Asian Britons. In British English usage, the term 'Asian' usually does not include East Asians, North Asians, or Southeast Asians."

Also, why do Indians apparently have their own category of "Indians"?  India itself is an enormous conglomeration of ethnic groups.  There are Dravidians, Afro-Indians, Tibetan-Indians, Parsi Indians, Kashmiri, etc.  Often times, one ethnic group of Indians looks absolutely nothing like the other, and it's usually easy to tell an Indian from Tamil Nadu (South India) from a Punjabi or Gujarati.

It's like calling all Brazilians as "Brazilians" as an ethnic group, not a nationality.

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #44 on: September 26, 2014, 01:27:26 PM »
Also, why do Indians apparently have their own category of "Indians"?  India itself is an enormous conglomeration of ethnic groups.  There are Dravidians, Afro-Indians, Tibetan-Indians, Parsi Indians, Kashmiri, etc.  Often times, one ethnic group of Indians looks absolutely nothing like the other, and it's usually easy to tell an Indian from Tamil Nadu (South India) from a Punjabi or Gujarati.

Because India is a country.

Offline Valthazar

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #45 on: September 26, 2014, 01:37:50 PM »
Because India is a country.

I was referring to Sho's statement where she was choosing names for ethnic groups based on appearance:

Arab covers pretty much everyone who looks vaguely Middle Eastern, and Indian covers...well, Indians.

If we are deciding terms based on nationality, then yes, all would be "Indians."

But if we using phenotype, then one's ethnicity also ties into how we describe them.  There are Brazilians of pure Germanic descent with blonde hair and blue eyes, just as there are Brazilians with much darker skin.  Nationality wise, they are all Brazilian, but ethnicity wise, and racially, they are not.

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #46 on: September 26, 2014, 01:40:36 PM »
I missed the "looks vaguely".  Fair enough.

I agree - Sho's wildly, almost impressively, incorrect there.  I'm honestly not certain what "looks vaguely middle eastern" could mean.

EDIT: Or, rather, I suspect I am sure and hope I'm wrong.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2014, 01:42:05 PM by Kythia »

Offline Sho

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #47 on: September 26, 2014, 03:12:54 PM »
I'm sorry if I offended anyone - I was simply answering the OP's question with what I've experienced in my particular region.

It seemed to me like the question was '"how do you describe a particular person who looks Asian/Oriental" and which term is correct', as far as the OP put it. I may have misunderstood, but that's what I gathered. As such, going off OP's example of how to describe someone in a train station, I was saying how people are described based on the particularities of their appearance.

Thank you, everyone, for jumping down my throat. Truly appreciate it when I was just trying to answer something honestly. I am fully aware that people who look very different from their supposed ethnicity exist - taking Brazil as an example, citizens can range the gamut of looks. Frankly, they can in every country. The only reason I said 'looks vaguely Middle Eastern' was because I find that it's the region with some of the most variety in terms of looks and it's one of the few regions that doesn't have a particularly strongly defined ethnic image that comes to mind in terms of looks (whereas 'Asian/White/Black/Native America' call to mind fairly distinct images), at least in my mind.

I believe the OP was asking how you would refer to a group based on appearance, and I was trying to clarify.

Editted to add that I don't think it's a great idea to identify someone based solely on apperance (when referring to a vendor, you're better off saying 'that girl/boy by the east exit of the station who sells magazines'), but if for some reason you feel a burning need to do so, that's how I would do it. In my region the ways I've listed are considered non-offensive. Take it as you will.

A secondary note is that the term 'black' is often swapped with 'African-American', though many of my friends have pointed out that they prefer black because they are neither African nor American, or if they are, they simply prefer the term 'black'. That's something that changes from person to person, so it's something you want to listen out for and figure out what the people around you prefer.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2014, 03:25:17 PM by Sho »

Offline LisztesFerencTopic starter

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #48 on: September 26, 2014, 03:25:10 PM »
I believe the OP was asking how you would refer to a group based on appearance, and I was trying to clarify.

  Pretty much. Its understandable why people can get the wrong idea when asked how to categories someone based on their looks, but at the same time I don't think pretending not to notice that the ethnic population of Ethiopia more closely resembles that of Nigeria than say France is really going to be a good thing.

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #49 on: September 26, 2014, 04:45:58 PM »
I am fully aware that people who look very different from their supposed ethnicity exist - taking Brazil as an example, citizens can range the gamut of looks.

I just wanted to emphasize the difference between ethnicity and nationality.

I don't know if saying there are people "who look very different from their supposed ethnicity" is entirely accurate, and the only reason this should occur is if we are not defining ethnicity specifically enough.

For example, English is a nationality while Anglo-Saxon is an ethnicity.  On the same token, Indian is a nationality, while Dravidian, Parsi, etc.  are ethnicities.  As such, if ethnicities are defined specifically enough, and not confused with nationality, there is significant phenotype and genotype similarities among a shared ethnic background.