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. Please read 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

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