Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sticks 'n' Stones

The Power of Words

Earlier this year the Associated Press (AP) was the first major US news organization to take a step forward in nixing use of the term "illegal immigrant" in all future stories. It was a forward thinking word choice by the AP, which reasoned that only actions and not people should be labelled as illegal. The decision will help put an end to the use of an expression that has shaped public perceptions for the worse. 

My local English language newspaper, The Japan Times, seems to be moving in the opposite direction. The paper recently used the word “mongrel” in reference to a Japanese person of mixed ethnic heritage. 

It’s a loaded expression and one that, as The Japan Times noted in a previous story, triggered a minor uproar when President Obama used it merely in reference to his own ethnic and genetic background. 

I may have missed some subtle nuances between the lines but standing alone there after falling in the middle of the article with a big thud, the word just hit me like a ton of stones.

Related: Regret the Slur @MediaBugs


  1. The article was crass in tone, style. Unpleasant attitudes tend to give offense, no matter the content.

    On a substantive level, the author indicated the cited research is new; it's not; it's been around for over a decade, going back to the 90's (Hammer and Horai). The article lacked longitudinal familiarity with Ainu, Jomon, Yayoi genetic research - fascinating and intriguing. Some research shows connection between Tibetans and Jomon, the direct ancestors of both Ainu and Okinawans.

    The Jomon/Ainu developed an amazing maritime culture which was interconnected from what is now Siberia throughout the Arctic Circle. On the North American side, this research is embroiled in political controversy. Some Jomon scholars think that the "first North American" ("Kennewick man") was Jomon. But Native Americans did not want the remains tested for religious reasons. A kayaker wrote about this line of thought in "In the Wake of the Jomon".

    A much lighter and uplifting view of not only Japanese but also humanity's shared and mixed genetic heritage may be found in Spencer Wells' "The Journey of Man". Wells' tone, attitude is respectful, open, and gracious. He starts his book/documentary journey in southern Africa, with the San people. who are the direct descendants of the ancestors of us all. Their physical appearance is similar to Hapa - people of mixed African, European, Asian heritage - beautiful. Take a look; JT - Wells' enthusiasm reflects happy wonder, the proper attitude for such buoying findings!

  2. Thanks for the insights and recommended reading!

  3. It's been a couple of weeks but still the Japan Times hasn't regretted the slur. While its readers have stirred the sleeping dog of racist language lying on its pages, the paper seems more content to run with it than put it down.