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Author Topic: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?  (Read 1251 times)

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Offline Ephiral

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #50 on: September 26, 2014, 06:56:24 PM »
I've seen "Desi" used as a self-applied term for the peoples of the Indian subcontinent; I'd say this might be a better approach than "Indian". And yes, I screwed this up earlier. Mea culpa.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #51 on: September 27, 2014, 01:01:42 AM »
The issues, Sho, are that

"looks vaguely Middle Eastern" is, as you say, an incredibly wide grouping and, given the current situation, its difficult to view a phrase like that neutrally.  While, sure, you might think that "That guy over there looks vaguely Middle Eastern to me" carries no connotations and is simply a description of reality, I think you can see how the phrase could be viewed badly.

"Arab", pace what you claimed, isn't an ethnicity.  It's a social/cultural grouping.  Using "Arab" for anyone who "looks vaguely Middle Eastern" (from now on: lvME) is incorrect and wildly offensive to large swathes of people - semites to use a somewhat old fashioned word, berbers, etc.

Ethiopia, Sudan, Morocco, Libya, etc are both Arab nations, and the inhabitants certainly don't lvME - Lisztes specifically makes that point in a different context wrt to Ethipia.  The Arab World

It is possible to "[try] to answer something honestly" and still be very and offensively wrong - the fact that you tried to answer honestly is in no way a shield.  I'm sorry you feel people "jumped down your throat" but equally this is the closest E has to a pure debate section.  Your statement - and, again, the fact that you tried to be honest is utterly irrelevant - was wrong and potentially offensive, hence people challenging it.

Online Sho

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #52 on: September 27, 2014, 02:40:02 AM »
It is possible to "[try] to answer something honestly" and still be very and offensively wrong - the fact that you tried to answer honestly is in no way a shield.  I'm sorry you feel people "jumped down your throat" but equally this is the closest E has to a pure debate section.  Your statement - and, again, the fact that you tried to be honest is utterly irrelevant - was wrong and potentially offensive, hence people challenging it.

In that case I apologize. You're right, it is a debate section. I was answering early in the morning after a hard day of work and with another hard day ahead of me - I was more sensitive than I should have been, particularly having been around E for as long as I have been.

What I'd ask, then, would be: How would you refer to someone who hailed from what is typically considered the Middle East, at least in responding to the OP's request of how to refer to someone? This does, of course, digress somewhat from the question of the term 'Oriental' and is now focusing on the Middle East. I say Middle East in reference to what I consider the Middle East (I Googled 'Middle East' and this image came up, which encompasses the countries I would generally be referring to: http://www.travelnotes.org/MiddleEast/images/middle_east2.gif).

Being American, the term "Middle Eastern" is generally used to refer to those countries. In response to your saying that the term "Arab" can be wildly offensive, I've had a different experience. From my friends who are Middle Eastern - though some prefer the term 'Middle Eastern' and some prefer 'Arab' and some prefer 'Arab-American' - I've never thought saying someone was Middle Eastern was particularly offensive. I'm not saying that it isn't offensive, of course, just that amongst my friends who hail from Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia it is what they use and how they refer to themselves (and are fine with being referred to). Given your opinion that it's offensive, though, it's certainly something for me to keep in mind - it may well be more offensive than I had ever thought of it being.

I do think that a good portion of the offense is in how it's used; saying "Oh, look at that Arab over there" would be something I would find highly offensive, whereas someone saying "Oh, him? Yeah, he's Arab; he comes from Saudia Arabia/Iraq/Iran" wouldn't particularly bother me. I also think that the grammar is important; in the same way that someone someone is "a black" as opposed to "black" is HUGELY offensive, I think the same applies to 'Arab'..."He's an Arab" is very different from "He is Arab", at least where I've lived and worked. That could very much be a regional/social thing where I am, though, so that may be very open to interpretation and I may well be wrong. Also, I absolutely am aware that the term is now (given the political situation) far more charged than it would be otherwise, but I won't get into that since I feel like this might well be derailing the OP's initial question and thread, I'm happy to respond here but perhaps it might be better to take it to PM or to another topic?

Offline Kythia

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #53 on: September 27, 2014, 03:02:36 AM »
Your image doesn't work for me for some reason, but I can imagine vaguely what it encompasses.  One would assume it includes Israel?  Which is pretty emphatically not an Arab nation - without opening that colossal can of worms.  Ethiopia, as I say, is an Arab nation but probably not in your map of the Middle East.  The two terms, the point is, aren't the same.

Being American, the term "Middle Eastern" is generally used to refer to those countries. In response to your saying that the term "Arab" can be wildly offensive, I've had a different experience. From my friends who are Middle Eastern - though some prefer the term 'Middle Eastern' and some prefer 'Arab' and some prefer 'Arab-American' - I've never thought saying someone was Middle Eastern was particularly offensive. I'm not saying that it isn't offensive, of course, just that amongst my friends who hail from Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia it is what they use and how they refer to themselves (and are fine with being referred to). Given your opinion that it's offensive, though, it's certainly something for me to keep in mind - it may well be more offensive than I had ever thought of it being.

I don't believe saying someone is Middle Eastern is offensive, I was referring solely to usage of "Arab".  "Middle Eastern" is a geographic term that I think most people would accept - though it is of course Eurocentric (east of where?) and might be worth avoiding for that reason.

Online Sho

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #54 on: September 27, 2014, 03:09:00 AM »
Hmph. Can't seem to get that to work in my original post, so I'll just drop the relevant link here for people to copy/paste if they'd like:   http://www.travelnotes.org/MiddleEast/images/middle_east2.gif

It includes: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Saudia Arabia, Gaza, Jordan, Cyprus, Lebanon, and the West Bank.

Yeah, let's not get into the whole Israel thing - I agree with you that it wouldn't be considered an Arab nation, but as you said, that's a whole can of worms not worth getting into given how complicated it is.

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #55 on: September 27, 2014, 08:38:09 AM »
Looking at that list of countries, I'd say... there's actually nothing but geography tying the people it covers together. Five of those nations are not majority-Arab; two have no significant Arab population. One is majority-Asian, one has citizens as a minority, and two have no reliable data. Pretty much all of them that do have data are wildly multiethnic.

So... yeah, looks like a geographic term would be best, and "Middle Eastern" would be the best I've seen (though, as Kythia mentions, it does have issues.)

Man, ethnology is hard.

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #56 on: September 27, 2014, 04:30:07 PM »
Let me just say firstly. I'm an Asian and I live in South East Asia.

It's very funny for me, because I actually used the word 'Oriental' to describe my Asian characters from time to time, until a fellow roleplayer brought it up to me that the term 'Oriental' to describe an Asian is actually considered offensive. How he described it was that people used the term 'oriental' for objects, and 'asian' for people.

I have to ask the OP on what he meant about Malaysians though. Because you see, Malaysia is made up of three main races which is the Chinese, Indian and the Malays (Not to say there aren't any other races, of course). If you mean the Malays, they would still be categorized as just as Malays and would prefer to be called that way. I feel that 'Asian' is a loose term, and could be accepted by anybody within Asia.

For me, personally, I think the word 'Oriental' is not an offensive term but would be very peculiar to be used or to be called as one. I wouldn't be offended, mind you, but it's a term where nobody really use it unless they want to describe an object. To describe a person though? Just stick with the term 'Asian', and you're good, in my honest opinion.

If you want to make certain you do not offend anybody? Go with the proper ethnic group. From Malaysians, Chinese, Koreans and etc etc.

Online LisztesFerencTopic starter

Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #57 on: September 28, 2014, 11:41:57 AM »
I have to ask the OP on what he meant about Malaysians though. Because you see, Malaysia is made up of three main races which is the Chinese, Indian and the Malays (Not to say there aren't any other races, of course). If you mean the Malays, they would still be categorized as just as Malays and would prefer to be called that way.

  I guess maybe Malay is the word then. I was wondering how to refer to the the island nations of South East Asia like Malaysia and Indonesia, as they seem visually dissimilar to other ethnicity and culturally different due to the importance of Islam in their society.

I feel that 'Asian' is a loose term, and could be accepted by anybody within Asia.

  It should do yes, its just strange how it has also come to mean a specific part of the Asian people in different countries (Chinese, Japanese and Korean in the USA and Indian and Pakistani in the UK).

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Re: Is Oriental/the Orient a bad term?
« Reply #58 on: September 29, 2014, 10:56:27 AM »
       I think in the US, it really depends who you ask.  University departments sometimes distinguish East Asia (China, Japan, Korea if they can afford people to actually study it ahem) from Southeast (usually covering at least Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia I believe - but sometimes more).  Some outfits speak of Central Asia as being more the neighborhood of Kazakhstan.  Or you can even hear "Southwest Asia" referring to possibly Iran or even maybe, Turkey.  Quite a few people do have clearer ideas of these. 

        But in folk usage, when you say "Asia," it's amazing how people on the street still assume it must mean one very particular area.  That gets silly enough to begin with if you worry about it though, as quite a few people are not all that clear on geography and they tend to simply neglect a country or two.  Or confuse some.  If you stop using precise terms over that sort of problem, then pretty soon you'll have to struggle with words like "Oklahoma" whenever one of the parties to the conversation grew up too far away and never became interested in geography.

       I still see Oriental used quite a lot on hotel titles, advertising, and business letterhead.  Particularly I think in more conservative countries such as China, Pakistan, Malaysia, etc.  It's ironic because one faction of the same countries tends to be very busy (or even overactive) in shouting about foreign intervention or application of Western standards to local situations.  I'm not sure how much of using the term is just for advertising exoticism, and how much is a celebration of claimed in-group history and "uniqueness."  At some level, the conservative take and the entrepreneurial take go together rather well.  It could also be partly because British English still has a great deal of influence in these areas -- that, and language education tends to lag behind the social trends that may have changed certain usages in the West more often?

       Oriental often rings as rather antiquated by now in the US...  People in academia tend to think immediately of Said's Orientalism and some will get nervous about anything that sounds vaguely similar, regardless of intention.  Then again, I think in more pulp novels and even Western advertising, it's still fairly common as an exoticism and entertainment trope.  Enough people may realize that some people really do mean to use it as a way of identifying with a particular setting.  In my own book, it could even have some relationship to how Western academics still regularly write many Asian names with surname first (I mean while writing analyses otherwise largely in English), in the style of the languages they are translating -- that's still considered quite normal, though I find it pretty incongruous myself. 

        Anyway, speaking of individual persons or from a distance of customs, Asian generally comes off better than Oriental.  At least, I would say that's true in the US in communities that are sensitive about race and colonialism.  But there's some room for more exotic advertising, literary, or perhaps personal renditions of Oriental I think.  It hasn't completely gone away and I wouldn't go quite so far as to insist it should.  So it's sometimes a trick of the situation and relationship involved. 

        From one angle, it could be rather like knowing when it might be safe to use Black.  Or let's say more, precisely what context and tone of saying Black -- the word itself is quite common, but getting it across well is perhaps not so simple.  Or even the much more troublesome and by now, historically burdened word "nigger."  Yes some people do use it, though it's usually accepted mainly among Blacks in their own dialects which is a very exclusive game.  Unless I suppose, just maybe you are living in the ghetto yourself day to day or perhaps in deep with a clique of people who have adopted more sort of Eminem style.  Something where you are feeling pretty darn sure you won't get your head bashed over it. 

        Even then I think I'd be a little worried about hitting the note just right...  I tend to think the cocky people on such scores often enough run into someone not from the same background and make them think, "Wow aren't they racist [or sometimes, playing it up awfully hard for no good reason]"  And we do get plenty of people -- who often enough appear to be somehow or other biased btw -- trying the "I've got some [insert minority] friends, so clearly I can use this otherwise volatile word and everyone should know I couldn't possibly have the wrong idea anywhere in my life no way no how."  Which can quickly get ridiculous the more it's played, if it isn't actually a cheap excuse to begin with.  So...  Oriental, I would say, is not at quite that level of controversy.  We don't so vehemently say, generally "Just don't play around with it" with quite that same sense of terror.  It's not subjected to quite the same level of scrutiny or the same general presumption of ignorance or hate.  But there are situations where it could really go amiss for similar reasons.

          Again, it doesn't quite infuriate me to see Oriental in a hotel title, although I may smirk and roll my eyes slightly.  Especially if I feel they are overplaying it or taking themselves too seriously about supposedly knowing esoteric things I have reason to suspect they are clueless about.  It's more when it gets applied to individual people, I might sooner perk up and ask why now.
 
« Last Edit: September 29, 2014, 11:03:04 AM by kylie »