Category Archives: Europe

Word Crimes

Rosencrantz: What are you playing at?
Guildenstern: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.
           Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

She chastised me because I used a word. She told me a person cannot be Oriental, since it is degrading. I was out of the loop, I did not know. The preferred word is Asian, a person can be an Asian.

What’s in a word? It helps us communicate and limits our communication at the same time. It can be artificial, complex and ever-changing. There is heaven and hell in those words. Take pleasure in its playfulness and beauty. Find frustration when communication fails.

In Latin, orient simply means east. That was the origin of the word and the end of it became insulting. Evidently people from Asia don’t call themselves Oriental, and it’s best to call people the name that they prefer. I learned that calling a person Oriental is an antiquated term that calls to mind a time when Western peoples viewed Asians in a subordinate way.

So Asian or Asian-American is preferred. And so is African-American. Say Native-American instead of American Indian. An Indian is actually an Asian. We end up chasing our tails.

This whole idea of hyphenating Americans is a bit odd to me since hyphenation carries its own inherent flaws.

The word America is named after Amerigo Vespucci. An Italian explorer, Amerigo stumbled upon what is now part of Brazil. An early mapmaker decided to name this part of the world America after this Amerigo guy and plunked that label onto his map. Soon other mapmakers started to label the lands north of Brazil as America also. So by chance, the continents were called North and South America.

So where does this leave hyphenated Americans? You give up the words like Oriental and Black in exchange for the name of a dead-white man that poked his nose into an indigenous population beyond his own borders. I don’t see a vast improvement. Other words such as black, white, red, and yellow also fail to accurately describe human beings.

The West creates more word crimes than anyone else. Through a modern political lens, Western civilization has a name, and that name is evil. The word and the land America may find itself in jeopardy.

Native-Americans crossed into the the Americas about 25,000 years ago; relative newcomers to this land since humans first appeared on the planet about 160,000 years ago in East Africa.

In more realistic terms, we are all East Africans that have wandered far across the globe. A politically correct analysis: We torment the rest of the animal and plant kingdoms, and tamper with the climate and the earth’s crust. All of humanity is the real evil in this world view. Paradise was lost when humans entered the scene.

The world and the words in it are not perfect and never will be. Can’t we just relax and enjoy our discourse and disagreements without a call to self-flagellation? Do the best we can, do no purposeful harm, and move on. That’s all we have to go on. Go peacefully.

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Racism and the White Woman

A Kenyan-born professor taught an African Studies class I took at an American college. One time he mentioned that the American Slave trade forever skewed the relationship between Europeans and Africans. The relationship was healthy between them before the horrible trade began and should have remained so. But the growing market for slaves in the Americas altered the dynamics.

This was an offhand comment and the professor didn’t dwell on it, nor make it a political point. It was a basic observation and lament. Many years later, this one comment remains vivid in my mind.

Africans traded worldwide as equal economic partners with other countries and continents. Advanced civilizations flourished on the African soil. The Library of Alexandria in Egypt was once the largest and grandest in the Mediterranean world. Slave did not define an African.

And yet here we are. Racism is central to the American fabric according to some groups. Even if racism is diminishing, it is not gone.

Africa has a rich history. Racism was the result and not the cause of slavery. Slave traders dehumanized Africans so that they could treat this one race as if they were property. Slavery obscures the historical Africa.

The real story of Africa is not victimhood. A sense of healing in the future might begin if we can revisit the past.