Thursday, July 30, 2009

describe east asian people as "yellow"

Here's a great moment from an old children's quiz show:

Go Jerry!

I've heard people of Asian descent, and especially people of various East Asian descents, referred to as "yellow." I also still hear such people referred to as "Orientals." In both cases, the speakers were older white Americans. Both usages should be at least as long gone and forgotten as the old TV show that this clip is from, but they're not yet.

I also found this exchange in the comments at YouTube interesting:

m4lvolio (2 days ago)

That asian kid is gonna go brucelee on his [sic] ass after the show.

rathrio (1 day ago)

you're as cliché-oriented as that little girl is.

m4lvolio (1 day ago)

The only difference being that I did it intentionally, as a joke. It kinda ruins the fun when you have to explain something like this.

"Ruins the fun"?

m4lvolio doesn't seem to realize that while acting racist in a joking, ironic manner may seem "fun," it's still racist. Not to mention, as rathrio points out, cliché oriented.

Some still wonder if "yellow" is a racist term. They should ask the Israeli Ambassador to Australia about it. In 2006, Naftali Tamir was "recalled" from his ambassadorship for making this loaded comment:

Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia. We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don't have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not -- we are basically the white race.

Speaking of quiz shows, here's a quiz for this blog's many smart readers -- why is referring to people in racial terms as "yellow" considered racist, and yet, doing so with the terms "black" or "white" is not considered racist?

h/t: Angry Asian Man; the YouTube commeters write that the program this clip is from was aired in New Zealand in the 1980s, and was called "W3."


  1. I lived in Britain for a year in the early 90's and found them to be really politically incorrect, to the point of total rudeness. As a guest in their country I expected better. I was told to my face (at a very 'polite' dinner party) that I 'was OK, because as an American Black I would go home'; and that 'being black is a burden to be overcome'. I have to say that my West Indian Cousins that went to Britain instead of coming here to the U.S.A. were far less prosperous.

  2. the kid that got the answer right is actually Asian.


  3. -_-'

    I ain't yellow...

    The Simpsons are!

  4. Ha! Excellent ownage. Good point you're making in this post too, thanks. always good to be reminded of such things.

    I won't attempt to answer the quiz q. Others are more able than I, and it is to them that I shall defer.

  5. My friend (let's call her Danielle,) and I were taking an AP bio multiple choice test and one of the questions was "What's yellow and dangerous?"

    She said one of the answers should have been "Danielle" because she was Asian.

    ha ha ha hee hee hee ho ho ho.

  6. Hi, I'm back to add something a bit more useful than my previous comment above.

    The words white, black and yellow have certain connotations on their own, to associate them to certain people is to attempt to apply these connotations to the people.

    Obviously, white is clean and pure... except nobody really is white in colour. To own the colour white, people of European descent are designating themselves as above other people.

    Black is dark and mysterious. Exotic anyone? Again, no one is truly black in colour - perhaps close but never truly black black. People are scared of mysterious things, the unknown and therefore bad and the conditions of this colour is also applied (regardless of the truth) to the people who fall under this social label.

    Yellow is a colour associated with cowardice and treachery. Jews were branded with a yellow star to imply their relationship with "Judas the Traitor". The yellow peril was used to imply the supposed deceitful and cowardly nature of Asians. Does the image of a weak Asian ring a bell?

    Now, onto the differences of colour/word meanings from culture to culture. And I can only speak of my own specific Asian culture and language.

    White to Asians mean pale, ghostly, death... freaky! Which is a bad thing, you don't wanna be a dead freaky ghost now do you?

    Black does not mean African, it means anyone with dark skin - this includes some South East Asian people, Sub-continental people and some Middle Eastern people as well. It is more of a descriptive label rather than one that has any real good or bad meaning.

    As for yellow, it's true... a lot of Asians do have a more yellow tone to their skin (everybody does in fact, anyone who buys cosmetics would/should know) except in my mother's tongue, when we refer to "yellow skin" it actually means golden and warm. We are alive and precious (cheesy yes). We use the same word for yellow AND gold.

  7. gooblyglob...

    Very interesting points. Why are American Indians called red? What does that signify?

  8. @Spanky - I have no idea!

    Western perspective - they have a ruddier skin tone than most???

    Asian perspective - they are also categorised as "black"

    As for red the colour... generally it means love, anger, passion, blood/life and the usual...

  9. @Spanky - perhaps it signifies the ignorance of people who once thought the Earth was flat?

    To my own eyes, Indigenous Americans (both North and South) appear to be ethnically closer to Asian peoples such as Tibetans, Mongolians and a touch of Kazakh NOT Subcontinental/Indian peoples.

    And red is a also happy and lucky colour in Asia, just in case you're wondering.

  10. gooblyglob: Asian perspective - they are also categorised as "black"

    since when? i've never heard that. maybe your family, but not in any family i know.

    i've also never heard of anyone with dark skin being labeled as "black" by asians. this certainly does not happen in my family.

  11. Personally, I have never thought of an Asian person as yellow. I would normally just classify a person as either Black or White.

    However, when I was a child (about 8-9) I remember reading a lot of my cousin's Commando comics and the Asians (Chinese, Japanese etc) were always drawn in the colour section of the magazine as being "yellow" in colour. I often wondered why that was as my earliest memory of an Asian (a guy in my primary school's mother was Asian (Oriental), his father black) and to me she was white. She was very fair in complexion and the son was quite dark and looked almost Hawaiian with a dark brown complexion and very curly and big hair. We were about 4/5 then.

    Now, I remember the first time I saw a really dark Asian (Indian) person. I was about 12 and I was going to school one morning, as I looked into another carriage I saw a really dark skinned woman, she looked Asian, had extremely long hair down to her waist and was many shades darker than me (I am a medium brown complexion). I have to buy foundation with an orange, brown and yellow mix if that helps.
    Anyway, I kept glancing over at her because I had never seen an Asian person who was actually darker than some Black people including myself. Now, my sister is very fair and people think she is mixed and she is much lighter than a lot of mixed people I have met despite the fact we are all from the same parents. Her foundation is mostly yellow mix. I guess that is genetics for you.

    Now, I have seen some people who would be classified as white who look kind of brown or beige complexioned, but I would still classify them as White.

    If anything, I would probably say that some Asian people look brown, some have a caramel-like colour.

    Hopefully, nobody will jump in here and start taking offence, but this is just an observation of mine. It can get a little confusing after a while.

    One time, last year, I was having a conversation with a woman who is mixed. Her mother is White and French and her Father is Black from Ghana. She has a little boy who also looks mixed, I think his father is White. Anyway, we were having a conversation about Obama before the elections and I said that he was mixed. She said he was Black. I insisted that to me he was mixed. She said he was Black, I said matter of opinion. She then told me that she was Black and her baby son would decide if he wanted to choose mixed or black when he grows up. She got quite heated and adamant about the whole thing which I found very interesting.

    That's why all these "ethnicity" and Equality and Diveristy forms are a waste of time as some people do not want to identify with certain things while others do. Some people will flat out refuse to answer. Can't say I blame them.

    I remember once I described a person and said they were Asian, another person said no the person is Chinese. So I said well where is China, isn't it in Asia? The person looked at me and said oh yeah, it is.

    I think to some people the whole colour, race, ethnicity thing can get very confusing.

    I was watching the news a few weeks ago and saw that they actually had Muslims in China as a result of the fighting and unrest which happened there a few weeks ago. I never actually knew this. I guess you learn something new everyday.

    Some kids get confused if their parents are from a mixed background and don't know which parent to identify with. I have met people like this, can't make up their mind if they are black or white or mixed.


    I have family in the USA, they are certainly more well off than us UK cousins. Probably because there is more "opportunity" in the USA than UK. This may have something to do with the sheer size of USA compared to UK or maybe the people in the USA are more willing to accept Black people? I'm not really sure why it is to be honest.

  12. @giles - you seemed to have missed the part where I said I can only speak for my own culture. Not all Asian cultures are the same and obviously they don't hold the same beliefs and cultural understandings.

    In my family, even Malay (indigenous) and Cambodian people are considered to be "black"...

    What does "black" mean for your family then?

  13. @giles - I am sure that even you must be aware that a seemingly single group such as the Chinese are actually very different amongst themselves and I'm just thinking of the Han ethnic group along the East border/coast of China here, not the many other ethnicities and regions found in the whole of China.

  14. I also still hear such people referred to as "Orientals..." Both usages should be at least as long gone and forgotten as the old TV show that this clip is from, but they're not yet.

    There's more than one view on that... I had a co-worker a while back who was Canadian-born, but of Chinese descent, and he intensely disliked being referred to as "Asian" - because, as he pointed out, he'd never even been to Asia, much less come from there.

    He considered "oriental" to be a less racist term, because he saw it as simply a descriptor of physical race, like saying "white" or "black", but to him, being called "Asian" implied that no matter how long his family might have been here, they couldn't ever be considered really Canadian or even North American, but were still regarded as being "from" a place most of them had never been and felt little connection to -- that using that term marked them as being "foreign" and other even though his generation, at least, were Canadian-born.

    I have no idea how widespread that interpretation might be -- I've never heard anyone else react to the term "Asian" that way that I can recall, so maybe it was just him, but it still made me think... I could see his point. But I still tend to use the term Asian predominantly, because I know more people find it acceptable than find the term oriental acceptable.

    It just made me realize that in the context of a racially biased society, there may be no racial terms that aren't potentially problematic in some way. :-/

    But I think we can all agree that "yellow" is right out.

  15. @MissLynx

    The nationality thing is a tricky one.

    I am a white (caucasian?) person, but I identify as African because, well, I'm a South African citizen.

    I use the term Asian because I honestly cannot think of anything better. Everything else sounds racist to me. I don't even like using Asian because India is in Asia too.

    I do, however, try to avoid the term African, when referring to race. As pointed out by MissLynx, why would you call someone after a place? No one has ever referred to me as European that I know of.

    And I also know it's not nice to call people "blacks" or "whites" but rather black people and white people.

    As for the quiz question, I wouldn't be able to say.

    But... what term would Asians prefer? I'm really at a loss.

  16. Yellow is so rarely used. I agree about makeup. People do refer to yellow skin tone for makeup, but that's not specifically an Asian thing. Both Asians and non-Asians alike can have yellow or other skin tones. So the only time people would use 'yellow' to describe Asians is if they actually are being racist, or joking about being racist.

    As for 'oriental'. For me, it sounds a bit archaic...hence colonial, and hence possibly patronizing...I mean, it depends on the context and nuance/tone, but I mean, when would you use the term 'oriental' anyway? Except when you say, 'You have such beautiful Oriental features'... which sounds kinda weird, doesn't it? Sounds like an exercise in exoticizing ppl.

    misslynx - I think your friend was just angry with the general practice of treating Asians as perpetual outsiders (taken from another of macon's post title somewhere). Besides, 'Asian' isn't even a socially constructed race. It's just a region. Many of us don't even look like each other. (e.g. Papuans, Chinese, Uighurs.) Some can't even agree whether or not Indians are Asians.

  17. While I was taught in school that oriental was a bad word, a slur, and something you should never say (with Asian-American being the only acceptable term), my grandmother had been taught that "oriental" meant someone who was from the orient, and was more appropriate then trying to guess at where someone was from.

    Oriental rugs and "oriental flavor" ramen confused the heck out of me as a child.

  18. @PattiLain - I can't speak for anyone else but personally, as an ethnic descriptor I would prefer East Asian. My nationality however is simply Australian.

    @fromthetropics - I would say Indians are Asian because they are of the Asian continent.

  19. I'm not sure why "yellow" is considered racist where "black" and "white" and "brown" aren't. I actually didn't even have an inkling that "yellow" could possibly be considered offensive until quite recently.

    My boyfriend says that it may be because no one you might call "yellow" actually embraces that term the way white and black people embrace the terms "white" and "black." There's no "yellow pride" movement, for example. That's the best explanation I've seen so far.

  20. I think you hit that on the spot, Bluey. Asian people don't usually self-identify as "yellow" the way Black and white people do. So using the term is patronizing and racist (like they're saying, 'we know better than you what you are').

  21. yeah, the only time I've heard people use the word 'yellow' to refer to Asians is when Australians, back in the days, spoke of the 'yellow peril'. I wouldn't be surprised if it was used in the US during the Pacific War too. Anyone know?

    >@fromthetropics - I would say Indians are Asian because they are of the Asian continent.

    So would I. Hence my blank expression when I first heard a Pakistani say, 'But I'm not Asian.' Russell Peters talks about how Indians forget that India is on the 'Asian' continent too.

  22. regarding yellow... the first thing that comes to mind is that it's been used as a racial slur (I'm thinking WWII here, mostly). And although other derogatory language abounds, I am not aware of instances where "black" or "white" are used as derogatory terms per se.

    But it also seems like there's a problematic skin color/ethnicity overlap. That is, researchers now often use "Hispanic white" and "non-Hispanic white," recognizing that skin color and ethnicity don't necessarily correlate. And since white (Caucasian) skin comes in a variety of shades as Macon pointed out recently, who is to say that the definition of white (color, not ethnicity) shouldn't extend to include Asian skin tones. Is this, perhaps, part of what makes yellow offensive? As in, it seems like an attempt to make a division between this-kind-of-white and that-kind-of-white that seems completely unnecessary unless it's important to the one (aka caucasian majority) for there to be a distinction. (I recognize that there are a range of skin tones that might be considered Asian, and some might be a stretch to call white, but this thought grew from thinking about the context of WWII, and various representations of Japanese people might have been floating around then, many perhaps from Japanese art that tends to idealize very white skin)

    All that said, maybe bluey and the witty mulatto have it...

    And by the way, myblackfriendsaid, what IS yellow and dangerous? What a bizarre question...

  23. @fromthetropics -- People of Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi descent are commonly referred to as "South Asian" as distinguished from "Asian"

    As for the quiz question, I think the classification "yellow" originated as a derogatory reference from the opium given to the Chinese by the British during the Opium Wars.

  24. I remember commenting online once, when someone used the term "Oriental" to describe someone, that "Asian is for people and Oriental is for food." I got jumped on and informed that in some areas of the world Oriental is the appropriate term to use for people from countries like China, Japan, etc., and Asian is for people from South Asian countries like India. That's been my understanding since, that it's a regional variation. But in North America we use Asian rather than Oriental, so I continue to use Asian.

    "Yellow", however, I have never seen as anything but derogatory.

  25. @fromthetropics: Yes, "yellow peril" was used in the U.S. during WWII, though it originated in the 19th-century as a nativist response to increased immigration from Asia (and more broadly, from "the east"--some nativists considered central and eastern Europeans part of the so-called "yellow peril/threat/terror."

  26. I am from Aotearoa/New Zealand and I can confirm that the clip is indeed taken from a New Zealand show. It was a quiz show where teams from New Zealand Schools competed and the questioner was one Selwyn Toogood now deceased.

    Australia did indeed refer to Asian people as the Yellow Peril, that dates from their "White Australia Policy" when they argued in the then League of Nations that to allow Asian people to immigrate into Aussie was tantamount to opening a back door to invasion by "The Yellow Peril". The government of New Zealand did not officially follow this policy (overtly) but it can be noted that until the 1980's immigration by Asian people to New Zealand was very minimal.

    New Zealanders, like Aussies, did indeed refer to Asians as being "yellow", this may well have been a downunder thing. I must admit that until I viewed this clip today I had never made a connection between calling Asian people "yellow" and the fact that yellow is also used as a euphemism for cowardly. This clip is heavily impregnated with such huge irony - A Kiwi kid of Asian ethnicity (he had a Kiwi accent) answering the question (wrongly as it turned out) by saying "Chinese" and being corrected with the "correct" answer, "cowardly".

    I swear I heard a slight pause from Selwyn before he corrected the child. Selwyn was a very intelligent and astute man and I am sure all the ironies would have hit him right in that moment but he was also a professional. He kept on with the show.

    And I wonder how that kid who had clearly learnt from white New Zealand that he was "yellow" felt about it.

    I apologise for the length of this comment but thank you for this thought provoking post.

  27. >People of Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi descent are commonly referred to as "South Asian" as distinguished from "Asian"

    Yes, just as we have East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia. And together with South Asia they make up Asia. Living in Asia, that's how we understand the region. It's only in Western countries that 'Asian' seems to have become synonymous with 'yellow, slant eyed people'.

  28. In the UK 'Asian' always means 'South Asian'. East Asians, though there are a fair number, are, curiously to me, almost invisible in comparison (I've known many South Asians, including half my family, but no East Asian Brits), and there doesn't seem to be any consensus on what they are called as a group, so rarely are they referred to.

    I think often it will just be 'Chinese' if they are of Chinese ancestry and so on. Many people do still say 'Oriental', but, having mixed with Americans a lot, I now wince at that, and go with 'East Asian'.

    The different implication of 'Asian' in the US led to a few communication errors when talking with Americans. Not helped when if you then say 'no, Indian' they think you mean American Indian.

    The use of these terms is clearly an historical occident.

  29. As an East Asian person, the term "yellow" has always been awkward to me because it seems like a far more exaggerated description of skin colour than black or white ever is. When I was little, I had trouble fathoming why East Asians were referred to as the "yellow race" when many of my Asian friends were just as pale as my white friends. The difference is underlying skintones, in which case it's true many East Asians have more yellow in their skin, but then many white people look positively pink.

  30. @misslynx:
    In the US, at least, a person described as Asian is not assumed to actually be from Asia. It's understood as the simple "descriptor of physical race" that your Canadian friend described. To connote nationality/culture, you'd describe the person as Chinese or whatever. (Oddly, though, a person described as "European" or "African" is kind of assumed to be from Europe/Africa.)

    I think "Oriental" is still okay as an adjective, but it's not okay to use it as a noun anymore, and that taboo is so strong that the word has fallen out of use in general. (Good. The not-as-a-noun thing makes sense to me, because I've never liked terms like "black" and "Jew" used that way. Or "white," for that matter.)

  31. @misslynx:
    Two more thoughts on "Asian" vs. "Oriental":

    1) Your Canadian pal would actually benefit from a peculiar Americanism if he used the word "Asian"— i.e.: many Americans equate Asia and China. They're not hip to the fact that Asia consists of a lot more than China and Japan (sorry, Laos, Vietnam, India, et cetera!). So if he said, "I'm Asian," many Americans would understand that to mean, "I have Chinese heritage." Which in his case is actually accurate.

    2) I suspect that if he described himself as "Oriental" to an American— especially to a white person— they'd assume he was making some kind of ironic (and possibly radical) political statement!
    It would be like if I described myself as a "negress." They'd smile, nod, and start slowly backing away. Because "radical" POCs are scary.

  32. Ok, I just remembered something. When we were teenagers my younger brother used to like to taunt me. He would pick a fight with me and want me to chase him or fight him....LOL He would call me names and one of his favourites was you yellow belly chicken. I'm assuming he read that in a book or saw it on TV or something.

    Looking up these terms, yellow belly chicken all appear to be terms meaning a coward or uncourageous person. I think the use of this "yellow" term dates back to the World Wars. I think it is kind of a double insult, describing the skin colour and the courage/coward aspect. This makes sense to me after looking up the covers of a number of Commando comics (based on World War 1 and 2) which I used to read as a child.

  33. From reading through past comments I feel I have to point something out. The "Orient" is not a place. It was a completely made up term, created by early European colonizers. There is no specific boundaries or way to identify what is or isn't included in the "Orient."

    It's connotation, and along with it the label "oriental," therefore is one of white Europeans being the ones in power, i.e. Guns Germs and Steel, and those labeled "oriental" being beneath them, lesser peoples, as well as drawing on all other stereotypes from this time period including "orientals" labeled as the exotic, other.

    I don't think that ANYONE could consider that less racist. I'm sorry to be forward about it, but I believe that those of some type of Asian descent who consider this to be more respectful are simply ignorant of it's origins.

  34. @gooblyglob - yeah i missed your comment about speaking for your own culture because it wasn't included in the comment in which you said the "asian perspective" calls all dark skinned people black. i just felt i had to address the idea that there is an all-encompassing "asian perspective." i'm sure you didn't mean it like that, but it just reads like that.

    also, in my family - black mean african-american. it sometimes means caribbean. (cape verdeans are not considered black here.) it never means indian or malay or cambodian.

    i don't know why "even i" must be aware that chinese are diverse? i wasn't the one who lumped all asian people into having an "Asian perspective." anyway i don't know what i said that offended you so forget i said it.

  35. Here's another thing about the word, "yellow." I'm Chinese American and Chinese often refer to themselves as "yellow-skinned people." The phrase is in Chinese of course, and not in a derogatory manner in any way. When I was 6 years old, I would color all my people with a yellow crayon rather than "peach."

    However, I feel a need to distinguish between Chinese Americans and Chinese for while the Chinese may embrace the label, your average Chinese American many not. I find it interesting that it may be the case that "yellow" isn't derogatory in the Chinese language to refer to Chinese people, but in English, it is offensive because it represents a system of oppression and discrimination.

  36. Since the publication of Frank Wu's book Yellow: Race in America beyond Black and White, several of the Asian people I know have embraced the term yellow as the semantic equivalent of white, black and brown. Can't they do that if they want to? It was once verboten to say "queer" in polite company, but the gay movement to reclaim and reform that term changed things. I realize that yellow has negative connotations, but so does queer. If that can be reclaimed and reformed, why not yellow and red?

  37. @giles - I was trying to say, of course there is no real "asian perspective", perhaps I should have said "the common view held by my own family, friends and ethnic community" (see how wordy that is?)

    The Chinese example is to show that even within a seemingly singular group, views and beliefs differ within that group.

    You offended me by implying that I don't know that other Asians might have other views ie. implied that I'm stupid - ps. no one likes that.

    Admittedly, my family back in their motherland were a bit ignorant of the greater world and mostly uneducated and never really saw black people until the world wars and modern local civil wars came about. The term black had always been used to group people, just not people of African descent mostly because they (the communities that my relatives came from) weren't aware of them (people of African descent). Although they did leave a lot of their offspring behind once the wars were over, so I guess we have a lot of people of partial African descent in parts of Asia now.

    @Christine - I agree that "yellow/gold skin" in my language is not offensive, but in English it is.

  38. @gooblyglob: my bad. but i think it was fair to assume what i assumed based on what was written there. anyway, internet beef is played out.

  39. @gooblyglob – I believe that giles brought up some important points about how you phrased your statements as I took issue with them when I read them also. But please note that I have no association with giles and respect his decision that his issue with you is over; but I also feel that you dismissing his concerns as simply a rude and unfair reading of your words is…well, unfair.

    Firstly, I strongly believe that no matter how wordy your longer description of exactly whose perspective you were refering to might be, you should always use it, due to the propensity of (for example) non-Asians to take the perspective of a single Asian and expand it to define the views of all Asians, a tendency I believe Macon D addressed in a much earlier post.

    Secondly, I take issue with your assertion that you and your family’s perspective holds true for most or even just many of the “Han ethnic group along the East border/coast of China” as my family and I are such Han Chinese from the eastern coast of China, fluent in 4 different dialects of Chinese (including Mandarin and Catonese), familiar with 3 others, and don’t hold these characteristics of speech or thought. For example, for me and mine, the word “black (hei)” can be used as a descriptive adjective meaning dark so we would say “I (as a Chinese woman) am blacker than Macon D;” however, the phrase “black people” (hei ren) always refers to blacks of African or Caribbean descent. Also, in none of the dialects we speak or are familiar with are yellow and gold the precise same word (although they are often used in conjuction with each other).

    The intention of this ridiculously long comment is not to chastise or to attack you (and I do apologiye for my verbosity). It is just that I feel, in this blog which is often about the impact and influence of language on people’s lives, you were overlooking a fair critique of your own language. Of course, turnabout is fair play, and if you take issue with my language, you are welcome to respond, and I will endeavor to give it due consideration and redress.

  40. I know I'm super late with this comment, but re: the whole use of the term "Oriental" some English folks still use it...and not just older English folks. A friend of mine in his late 20s is English of Chinese descent and he referred to himself when I first met him a couple years ago as "Oriental." When I told him that terms isn't commonly used in the US and told him that it's actually considered racist, he seemed pretty surprised. As someone pointed out, "Asian" in the UK normally refers to folks of South Asian descent while "Oriental" normally refers to folks of East Asian descent. I still do a double take when I hear the term here in London. I think it's sort of a colonial hangover...for example, I've been asked where in Africa I'm from. When I explained that I'm not African, I'm American, the person who asked me the question (an older white English lady, about my parents age) then wanted to know where in Africa my family (parents) was from. When I told her my family and my ancestor several generations back were born in America, so I had no clue where my ancestor originally came from she seemed shocked. Not to go off on a tangent, but I definitely find that the use of terms to describe race in the UK can sometimes be a bit antiquated.

  41. Yes, well, in the UK I have heard Asian people refer to themselves as Oriental on a number of occasions over many years. So, using the term Oriental is not necessarily seen as being racist or anything. I recall using it in one of my previous comments in this post.

    I know a Phillipino guy I met at University a few years ago and he is referred to as Oriental and refers to himself in this manner also.

    I note the difference between the US and UK in the usage of slang and terminology generally. I mean in the USA the term fanny, for example, means something totally different from what it means in the UK.

  42. Modern society uses the term black and white for skin colour, and that's what I view it as. Describing anothers colour of skin. Nothing more. Just a word to describe the tone of flesh, hair, eyes. I rather would not say it though.
    I feel uncomfortable, maybe because colour is something ignorant people use as a scapegoat. I find it hard to explain why I am uncomfortable in saying that "black person " or that "yellow guy". My English teacher told my class it is fine to do so, but still. I refrain from using those terms.
    I say "African- American" as the term "black" refers to them where I reside in Canada.
    Even though I think, logically, it is to me only a description of the colour of ones skin, it makes me uncomfortable in my heart to say or hear this terms being used.

    As a Korean, I find it annoying to be called Asian or Oriental.
    Asia is so diverse, containing not only Japan, but India, Korea, etc. Saying I am from Asia?
    I am from Korea.
    A small part of Asia, yes, but a part in the vast land that is different from Sri Lanka, different from Thailand, different from Japan.
    Do not jumble all of the people from rich cultures and countries together into the term "Asian".
    Koreans are not Chinese, the Chinese are not Japanese, etc, so why call yourself Asian when you can call yourself *what race* you are, not where much of your race is located.
    I'm Korean, so I say that I am. Not Asian. Not Oriental.
    (plus, saying Asian and Oriental, it makes me sound like I'm a sort of food. "Asian chicken", "Oriental noodles", these terms are frequently used for foods in the American market, like those commercials I've seen lately on the tv, if not, maybe other places as well. )

  43. Jinho--

    I absolutely understand about the "food" thing. My boyfriend (he's trying, bless him) recently described someone as "Oriental." I told him rugs are Oriental, food is Oriental. People aren't.

    I avoid Asian as much as I can for that same reason, and of course when I know someone's country of origin I use the real descriptor. Sometimes, though, I really can't tell, and I figure it's better to err on the side of caution with "Asian" than label someone incorrectly.

    (I was in an advanced placement program in high school, and the program had a large proportion of Asian/Pacific Islander students. Once, an acquaintance mentioned something about being Japanese, and I said "oh, I thought you were Korean." D: I really honestly thought she had been for some forgotten reason, but that didn't save me from "the look.")

    I have learned to call people only what they choose to label themselves, whether it's about race, gender, sexuality, or what have you.

  44. @Liriel - I'm sorry... but huh? can you please quote which part of my comments you have issues with?

    How am I dismissing @giles as being unfair... unfair? Just because he skips comments and didn't read things in order? I always try to most read comments to a post even if they're really long and boring so I don't repeat a question that has already been answered.

    Of course I can only speak for myself... it goes without saying. I never said that I'm a god or deity, so it is impossible for me to know about every single other person's thoughts in this world.

    Secondly, I take issue with your assertion that you and your family’s perspective holds true for most or even just many of the “Han ethnic group along the East border/coast of China” as my family and I are such Han Chinese from the eastern coast of China...
    I am not a Han... nor a Chinese... in fact the Chinese had enslaved my own people in ancient times, but that is a totally different topic...

    What I meant was, using the example of CHINESE as ONE example of ASIAN... but even within that sample, there are many and various groups such as the HAN people and within THIS ONE group of people, there are many DIFFERENT views as well.

    So since I am not a Han Chinese, and I am only speaking of my own people... obviously I am not speaking about Han people.

  45. I know that no one's posted here for a while, but I just wanted to say this is a great discussion. I'm Asian-European (my mother is Thai) and I've been called yellow to my face, by a guy who didn't mean it as an insult. I told him "no, I'm not yellow" but he looked surprised and just kept insisting that I was. I was offended by that and it stuck with me, because I'd never heard anyone described as yellow before and to me it had connotations of cowardice. It's good to know that most people would consider it offensive too -- I thought I was alone.

  46. I remember in the first grade, when sitting in a group and drawing pictures with crayons as an assignment, we had a discussion on which colour best represented skin. We settled on the peach crayon, with the obvious exception being Blacks who were in fact brown. But then we wondered, what about Chinese (which meant East-Asian) people? That would cover all the races, we thought, if we nailed those three colours. We looked across the room at the one Chinese student in the class and we immediately decided yellow was best.

    To this day, I still consider "Yellow" to be the most descriptive, as "White" and "Black" are exaggerations at best, and completely unrepresentative at worst, but "Yellow" still rings true.

    I don't use the term of course, because I still recognize that it's offensive and I don't mean to demean or patronize the peoples of Asia. However on principal alone, I support the term "Yellow" more than "White" and "Black".

  47. "Yellow" is the wrong way to describe asians, especially east asians because not only do we NOT embrace the term, but many of us are naturally paler than caucasians. In fact, if you REALLY want to attribute "whiteness" to actual skin tone, many east asians would be white and caucasians would

    That said, this argument was used in America back in the day when Asian immigrants were not allowed to naturalize. I forget the name of the court case but it was one where a japanese-american (well, actually he couldn't get citizenship) argued before the court that his skin is whiter than the likes of italians and the spanish and therefore he should be allowed to become a citizen under the law that only whites could naturalize.

    The judge ultimately ruled against him because the judge said "white" has more to do with the caucasian race rather than actual skin tone. This was a real court case. look it up!

    THat said, I often notice I'm paler than many of the caucasians around me and I'm not even remotely the palest in my family. Unless the guy is a super pale scot like keven mckidd, I'm whiter than most whites.

    As for the term "oriental" it's offensive because it not only conjures up the memory of colonialism but also because oriental is nowadays thought to describe THINGS (like rugs) and not people.

  48. SOmeone posted a comment about chinese people referring to themselves as "yellow".

    In my opinion, that didn't happen until AFTER western imperialism (remember when China was labled the "sick man of asia"?)because all before that, they referred to themselves as "chinese" or by the area they're from or their ethnicity. For example, my grandparents would refer to themselves as "shandong people", which is people from shangdong. (like someone from CA referring to themselves as californian)

    So in that respect, "yellow" is STILL an inappropriate way to describe Chinese people, and in fact, many chinese ppl (especially the educated( would not call themselves "yellow". And while many people in western china tend to have darker skin tone that may have more of a yellow tinge, most chinese people in the east are fair and therefore even LESS likely to call themselves "yellow".

    And from what I've gathered from my time spent in Japan, japanese people don't refer to themselves as "yellow" either. The fair ones are very fair, especially those in tokyo. And the ones of darker skin tone prefer to think of themselves as "wheat colored" (ie same color as the fake tans white movie stars use).

    There IS something that both Chinese and japanese people have in common. When they are VERY tan, such as from sun exposure or if they're naturally very dark-skinned, they refer to their skin tone as "black". Obviously, they don't mean black like someone from africa, but to them, the term "black" is relative. When they say "black" they mean they're darker than their fair-skinned counterparts.

    I have a cousin who is naturally very tan and Chinese people would say she has "black" skin without actually meaning "black".

    We have to realize that people don't tend to refer to skin color in it's truest form. Just like plenty of "white" people with ruddy complexion (much redder than any native american) will still call themselves white.

  49. Yea, now that I REALLY think about the term "yellow" and it's application to Chinese people in China, I really can't recall chinese people using it prior to western colonialism. It wasn't until europeans started calling chinese people "yellow" did chinese people start using the term themselves.

    but even so, you'll ALSO meet many Chinese people who refer to themselves as having "white" skin even if they're not very fair.

    It is PERFECTLY normal to hear Chinese women talk about "white" skin even though the person's skin tone is more of a sunkiss golden tan because in Chinese, "white" is ALSO a relative term. When they say "white", they mean whiter than many of the tan skinned chinese people.

    I think Chinese people is a funny example because you'll hear chinese people refer to themselves as yellow, black or white but their chinese identity is never in question. The way they refer to their skintone usually has to do with, well, their skintone.

  50. I'm mixed Asian and Caucasian descent. When I visit Japan, people tell me I'm dark-skinned. Compared to me, most Japanese are white. I actually find it funny that the term 'yellow' is used for Asians.

  51. 1/2 asian 1/2portuguese my skin tone has a green undertone in some lightings, my cheeks go red in the cold (livin in australia all my life thus hardly ever get cold, when in the new york winter or ice skatin my cheeks sting and go red,looks like roscea, gross) my butt is white and after the solarium i go golden. I look prettiest golden. However, since that asian chick died of skin cancer from over doing at the solarium I turn to model inc. tan in a can. Not as natural looking as sun/solarium but it will do for now.

  52. Hi, I'm Chinese and was born in Australia. Personally, I do find the term 'yellow' very racist and demeaning. I don't see the real need of ever describing someone by their race, so in general, i get slightly irratated by racial adjectives whether its 'Asian' or 'African', as mentioned before, seems to segregrate people and categorise them. The thing about Asians having yellow skin is indeed very far off.

    Firstly, 'Asia' describes anywhere that lies east of Europe, regardless of their physical traits, although it is colloquially interchangeable with 'East Asian'.
    Secondly, Asian countries have light and dark skins and SKIN TONES. Even if comparing East Asians, Northern Chinese and Koreans are both very pale and have underlying white skin tones, while Southern China and Japan have light brown skin with yellow underlying tones. And when I'm saying Northern Chinese and Southern Chinese, I'm saying the majority - Han people, not the other fifty something minorities. You might have realised many Koreans, and some Chinese are very pale and white, and don't have any yellow underlying tones.

    Anyway, I have just tried to give you guys my opinion of what i think, coming from alot of experience. Been to China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia... Know lots of Asians.
    After having a quick read, i feel like i give the impression that i'm angry.If youre thinking that: not at all.

  53. I know this is a while after the last post... BUT, racial categorisation is always going to be subjective. It will always offend some people some of the time. There is no right thing to call anyone.

    For example: look at Native "Americans"

    it is impossible to categorise them at all. They are nt native Americans because, America was invented AFTER they were there. Thus, that would be offensive because it completely fails to recognise their existence (unlike the Aborigines) before colonisation. They can't be called Red Indians, because that is wrong on two counts - the red is colonial label (I imagine fierce, couple with darker skin colour - I find the Red Skins football team utterly repulsive) whilst 'indian' was given because the explorer (I assume Columbus, I may be wrong) thought he was in Asia/India, is a complete mistake to continue labelling them that way. Then (that I know of) there is no self given collective name - I think they we're killed off before they could - and they can't be generalised to their tribes like Cherokee, because that's incredibly offensive. I'm from Hull, Yorkshire, England. If someone assumed me to be from Leeds, Yorkshire I would be pissed, because I can't stand them (the place as a collective) If i were to be refered to as northern, or Yorkshire I would be in no way displeased. I hope that analogy made sense. Anyway - i think that whatever someone is called; it will offend someone. It is too subjective not to.

    Personally, I avoid calling people by colour or race. It should not be seen as their distinguishing feature.

    I think that black culture is the only one which is proud of its colour based label - I mean the 'yellow' thing with Asians is most definitely derogatory. I'm 'white', but i wouldn't say I've ever been proud of it - i mean if you say you're proud of being white then you sort of support white colonisation, and all the bad s**t 'we' did.

    I doubt anyone will actually read that long winded, out of time post.

    Thoughts? (tumbleweed)

    1. Sure, I was a typical East-Asian Girl, but later I became a broad, flat face. When I was locked up in confinement many other prisoners labeled me as Korean. Til this day I knew it was manners that paid the price for a beautiful face I own up to.


Please see the "commenting guidelines" before submitting a comment.

hit counter code