Towards a more nuanced view of people:
Why I Ain’t Calling Nobody ‘White’ Anymore
The basic gist:
Don’t call people “white”. Better to call them Caucasian, Northern-European, Western-European (or ask them where their family ancestry is from).
Or even better yet:
Let us not classify people based on morphology.
I will no longer call people “black”. Instead, I will call people African-American, just ‘American’, or ask them about their family ancestry. Or perhaps more accurate notions like ‘Afro-Caribbean‘, “French”, etc.
Where I’m coming from
I was born in 1988 in San Francisco. I grew up in the Bay Area (Alameda, California). From age 10-12 I lived in New York (first in College Point, then Bayside Queens). My family ended up going back to California, and I went to middle school in Lincoln Middle School (Alameda), and we moved to Castro Valley for High School. I went to school at UCLA for my undergrad, got my first job in Santa Monica (Demand Media) working as online community manager for eHow.com, and have been working on this blog since.
Racism inherent in language?
But anyways besides my personal history, let me talk about my personal experiences growing up, and my thoughts on language.
What is ‘white’?
The problem with the notion ‘white’
It seems when we talk about ‘white’, what we mean to say is:
Pure, clear, preferred, eminent, prominent.
Or we mean to say:
Dominant, majority, standard.
How do Koreans classify ‘white’?
The word we use in Korean to call a ‘white person’ is:
This word is interesting, because it quite literally means “white” (chroma) person.
I looked on Wiktionary for the root, and it comes from “白” which has a very fascinating makeup.
It is also similar to the word ‘*kɓɔɔk’ which is Proto-Mon-Khmer which means ‘white/grey’.
But anyways, growing up Korean-American we called ‘white’ people as the ‘백인’ people.
To think of my personal history, I actually recall that as a kid growing up, to call another kid ‘white-washed’ was quite possibly the worst insult you could call them. On-par as calling another kid ‘gay’, ‘fag’, etc.
What does white-washed mean?
In my nomenclature growing up, to be ‘white-washed’ meant:
To be spoiled, bratty, entitled, etc.
Growing up as a poor working-class Korean-American immigrant, I essentially saw the white kids as being more ‘privileged’ (not all of them). The joke we would have is that white kids were weaker than us (Asian-American or ‘ethnic’ kids) because they didn’t get beat at home, they had their own bedrooms, etc. I remember when I got trouble, my mom would beat me (not in a cruel way, but what I consider a ‘just’ way), whereas the other “white” kids would get “grounded” (me and my friends thought the notion of being ‘grounded’ was absolutely insane).
If a white kid gets grounded, he throws a tantrum, and complains about how he is locked in his room and has to play Playstation without leaving his room.
Cantonese for white person
Growing up, most of my friends were Chinese-American (in Queens, New York) and also in Alameda, California. Back then, all of my friends spoke Cantonese (I never heard anyone speak mandarin until I went to college).
Anyways, the word they called white person was:
鬼佬 (sounds like ‘bak-gwai’.
I learned (funny) that it literally meant “white-ghost”.
Equivalent, a black person was considered ‘black ghost’.
So needless to say, in the Asian American community (I grew up with fellow Taiwanese-American kids, Chinese-American kids [from different providences in China], Korean-American, Vietnamese-Americans, Filipino) we saw ‘white’ as “other” (and not necessarily a good thing). In fact as kids, we saw “white” kids as weaker, inferior, bad.
Clean vs Unclean
The reason why I find notions of ‘white’ and ‘black’ hugely problematic:
As long as we use the terms ‘white’ and ‘black’, we will systematically continue to perpetuate notions of “clean” (white) and “unclean” (black).
America 300 years from now?
Let us consider, if notions of ‘white’ and ‘black’ still exist in America 300 years from now … if you’re considered “black” or self-identify as black, you’re almost scarlet-lettering yourself.
And if we truly want an ‘equal-opportunity’ society, then it means we should get rid of the notion of ‘white’. Perhaps better to call people by their heritage, or their morphology, or just call them “American”.
I find the essays of Nassim Taleb hugely useful. The essays:
- Something Neither Antisemitic Northern Supremacists Nor Arab Nationalists Will Like
- The insidious racism of Mary Beard and the “diversity” operators
- Something is Broken in the UK Intellectual Sphere.
Some simple ideas (at least here in the states):
- Don’t call people ‘white’. Call them Caucasian.
- Don’t call people ‘black’. Call them African-American.
- Don’t call people ‘brown’ or ‘colored’. Try to be more specific in terms of describing their morphology. For example, ‘Latino’ or ‘South Asian’ (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka)
- Don’t call people ‘Middle Eastern’. Call them as being from the ‘Levant’, ‘Near East’. Strive towards a more geographical-specific place.
Or best yet, don’t talk about people in their Pantone shade. Just call them ‘Bobby’, ‘Joe’, ‘Barbara’, ‘Jose’, ‘Zeus’, ‘Billy’, ‘Craig’, ‘Alyssa’, etc.
And if people wanna be more specific in terms of how they look (morphology) then you can try to describe people in a more nuanced way.
The future of all of humanity (sooner or later we will all become mixed)
Is Kim Kardashian ‘white’? Are Jewish people (Steven Spielberg) ‘white’? Will Kanye’s future kids be considered “black” or “white” or “mixed”?
The problem of the notion of ‘mixed’
The problem is inherent in the language, “mixed” is seen as bad. Do you want mixed gold? No. We desire “purity”.
Thus perhaps moving forward, my simple suggestion:
Let us see all of one another as the HUMAN SPECIES or the HUMAN RACE; and essentially we are all homo-sapiens at the end of the day.
We are all born alike and equal, but through our effort and industry we become who we are.