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More adventurous than the average bear

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On terms perceived as offensive

"When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them." - Rodney Dangerfield


A: It's very fine and all that these people publicly display their outrage at the Indian family being told not to cook curry, but how many of these people also... (2) call indians "kelinkia" behind their backs... Call me cynical but I think this public display is precisely just that: a display.

I hear and see "klk" enough on a daily basis to think that it's all bs.

B: "kelinkia", "ah Neh" are just names to collectively call them as a group. It is just like calling a caucasian a "ang moh". Dont think there are anything wrong with them. I dont even think they mind. It is like calling a spade a spade. i dont think anyone meant any offence when using such names.

C: By the way, B, I hate to break it to you, but "kelingkia" is a derogatory term and as a "kelingkia", I very much mind being called that. Name to collectively call us as a group? What about "indu-ren"? Now that's calling a spade a spade.

"Kelingkiah" and "Apunehneh" were terms used by Chinese mothers to discourage their daughters from playing with me at the playground. In K2, a Chinese boy accidentally brushed against my arm, shrieked and said "Don't want apunehneh black come on me" and proceeded to rub furiously on the stain I must have left on his skin.

Ten years later, a Chinese boy no more than 6 years old used those terms on my little African-Ceylonese cousin before he hurled a fistful of sand at her face and kept pushing her hands off the monkey bars preventing her from playing (I witnessed this). Years before I was born, my paternal Eurasian grandmother used the term "kelingkiah" to express her disapproval/ displeasure at my dad bringing home a Ceylonese woman to marry - my mother. They eventually divorced coz the old woman could not get over it (in combination with my dad being a spineless ass).

So you see, the terms are offensive and meant to mock and convey hate. Its use and meaning/connotation since the late 70s to the late 80s to the late 90s have not changed. I don't see how it would have changed today.

Please spread the word to your friends whom are not of subcontinent descent. Thank you :)

Me: "Kilingkia" refers to the noise made by Sikhs' metal bracelets, I believe, and is not in and of itself derogatory.

If whites are offended by the term "ang moh", does it make it an offensive term?
In Indonesia the local like to call whites "bule". This pisses some of them off, but some locals maintain that it is a neutral term.
Should we avoid the term "niggardly" because some people find it offensive?
Why is the word "negro" shunned today by non-blacks, while at the same time many organisations retain the word in their names?
Are Singaporeans racist when they talk about "Jap food"?
Meanwhile "Yankee" used to be a derisory term, but today it is harmless.

What we should shun is the negative intent behind terms, rather the terms themselves. In Japan "gaijin" can be used as a neutral term to describe foreigners, or it can be a term of disdain - it all depends on the context.

The euphemism treadmill moves fast, and can send us hurtling into the sea.

A: With reference to your question regarding the word "negro", it is as you say, it depends on context. The primary context for "negro" is that it is ok for that ethnic group to use it for themselves but not for non-members to use it. It probably would not be controversial for african-americans to set up a "Negro Advancement Society" while it will most likely be so for white people to use it in most contexts.

I'm also not sure about the origin of the word "kilingkia" but the wikipedia article does contradict your origin story.

Me: Yes but doing the whole "I can say what I like about my group but you cannot say anything about mine" is double standards and leads to cultural ghettos where we are unable/unwilling to engage the Other beyond meaningless platitudes

Hmm I didn't know that etymology. Is it not telling that Keling is a reference to Kalinga and is not in and of itself derogatory?

"in Penang Hokkien, which is spoken by some Indians in Penang, keling-a is the only word that exists to refer to ethnic Indians.

The Hokkien and Teochew suffixes -a and -kia are diminutives that are generally used to refer to non-Chinese ethnic groups. "-yan" mean human."

C: I find this debate on etymology tiresome. Clearly it’s not the point A is trying to make but since it has come up in this thread, I’d like to respond to it. You can quibble till the cows come home over whether the etymology of 'keling' is racist, derogatory or not, but the fact remains that the word can, has been and is often used in racist contexts. The etymology unfortunately carries far less weight compared to the socio-historical use of the word. I don’t think it’s too demanding to ask people to err on the side of sensitivity with regards to issues like this. Jumping to the defense of terms that can upset people or cause them to feel marginalized and ‘picked on’ seems careless to me. Yes, people technically have the liberty to be prejudiced and clearly there are some people who will fight tooth and nail to safeguard even the most shameful kind of entitlement they can conjure up on the grounds of freedom. But it doesn’t strike me as that difficult to go with the word Indian over ‘keling’ when you’re faced with that choice. Or is it that diffcult?

Me: Just because I am for the rights of gays to marry doesn't mean I am gay myself

Also, what do you think of the term "ang moh"? Should Singaporeans stop using it if (some) whites feel it is offensive? See other examples above.

A: Just to point out that Gabe isn't arguing from the perspective of freedom here. I think he is pointing out the existence of double standards when people say we must be sensitive.

C: Why do whites feel 'ang moh' is offensive? Why do many black people feel it's offensive to be called negro or nigger? Why do many of the Inuit people want to stop being called Eskimos? Perhaps some of them are just up for making life a little more difficult for other people, but I would think most of them genuinely feel oppressed or undignified by the term because of the ways in which those terms have been used and the negativity those terms may have come to be associated with over time. Most of us would have at some point made up teasing nicknames for friends. When we become aware they don't like those nicknames, most of us would stop using those nicknames out of respect and decency. Why can't we just accord that same respect to people in general?

I am not referring specifically to Gabe in that comment, sorry if I hadn't made that clear. I'm simply marveling at the fact that people would defend the use of words that they are fully aware clearly hurt other people. I don't like categorisation at all but until we find another way to get about our business and daily life, I can accept that it is sometimes necessary. Since that is the case, why can't we just stick to the terms that are (for lack of a better or more fashionable word) politically correct? If you're speaking in Hokkien, and if 'ang moh' is indeed the correct or 'politically correct' word to use, then by all means, use it. But when used with English, one has to agree that it can take on an added connotation/dimension and potentially becomes problematic. It's such an easy thing to avoid doing, no real harm comes from avoiding the use of these sorts of words and it prevents hurting other people, so why can't we just do it?

Me: A: It's not really about double standards here, but rather people deciding to decree on a semi-arbitrary basis what is "offensive" and imposing standards on others.

C: Is 'ang moh' really used in a negative way?

If "Eskimo" is offensive, why does the Inuit Circumpolar Council use both "Inuit" and "Eskimo" in its official documents? Do note that "Inuit" excludes the Yupik people.

It's like the terms "Roma" vs "Gypsy". "Roma" is the politically correct term, but ironically it's less inclusive than "Gypsy" as it leaves out non-Roma Gypsies. As such some activists say that we should revert to the term "Gypsy" instead.

Dallas County officials spar over 'black hole' comment
Some people claim that the term "black hole" is racist. Should we stop using the term "black hole"? It's such an easy thing to avoid doing, no real harm comes from avoiding the use of "black hole" and it prevents hurting other people, so why can't we just do it?

How about other terms which have "black" in them? Blackguard, black-and-white, black box, black magic, blackhat, Black Monday, the Black Death, the Black Hole of Calcutta (double offence there!), Black comedy, the Black market, Blackmail, black sheep, Black coffee. Shall we stop using all of them to spare people's feelings? D.C. Mayor Acted 'Hastily,' Will Rehire Aide
Some people claim that the term "niggardly" is racist. Should we stop using the term "niggardly" (even if it is etymologically unrelated to "nigger"?)? It's such an easy thing to avoid doing, no real harm comes from avoiding the use of "niggardly" and it prevents hurting other people, so why can't we just do it?

If we give in to opprobrium against "niggardly", what about other words which resemble "nigger" like "snigger" and "niggling"?

The reality about "offensive language" is that there's a euphemism treadmill. The PC terms we come up with today will be considered offensive tomorrow. "Idiot" and "retarded" used to be medical terms.

How long will the list of words and terms that we should avoid using be, if everything that could potentially offend someone is avoided?
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