Self-Defined

A modern dictionary about us.
We define our words, but they don't define us.

Avoid—racist term

Oriental

Speech

noun or adj.

We would recommend adding a content warning when speaking about this term. Pleaseread the guidance on how and when to warn people before using this term in any context.

Issues

The word Oriental is rooted in the concept of Orientalism, which is strongly articulated by Edward Said in eponymous book, Orientalism. In his book, Said illustrates the Orient as being the observed "other" or "foreigner," whereas the Occident (or the West) is centred as the default. All Eastern culture is prescribed through this imperialist, pejorative lens, where it is deemed as strange, exotic, dirty, effeminate, and weak. By presenting Eastern culture through this lens, Western culture may present set itself up for dominance through cultural hegemony and colonisation.

Calling someone Oriental reinforces those hegemonic ideas even if you're unaware of its historical context.

Impact

By continuing use of this term, we are perpetuating anti-Asian sentiments and the centralisation of Western (i.e., Occidental) imperialism. Diverse Asian people, nations, and cultures are flattened into one caricature of itself, which is dehumanising.

Alt Words

  • Asian or Asian-American when you're uncertain. However, when possible, be as specific as possible. If you know or can ask someone's ethnicity, it's better to be specific such as Korean-Canadian or Vietnamese-American.

Further Reading

You may want to add a content warning before discussing or showing imagery involving this topic, as it is a topic that can elicit unnecessary harm through inducing negative feelings, anxiety, or trauma.

Content warnings usually take the form of "Content warning: Oriental" or "CW: Oriental. We recommend the former when possible.

Content warnings should be given at the earliest possible opportunity. Examples of where you can do this are:

  • Articles under the byline, before content
  • Videos (with proper audio descriptions)
  • Photographs (with proper alt text)
  • Podcasts (before topic, in transcript)
  • Books (introductory page, summary)
  • Conference talks/webinars
  • Start of social media posts including this term
  • Social media posts with a link to content including this term

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