A New York sports talk show host didn’t score any points this week with his repeated on-air references to Asians as “Orientals” and “Oriental Americans.”
WFAN radio personality Mike Francesa was discussing Monday’s Supreme Court ruling that a federal prohibition on disparaging trademarks was a constitutional violation of free speech. The case involved the Slants, a Portland, Oregon-based Asian American dance band that said it picked the provocative name to reclaim a derogatory reference to Asian people’s eyes as a “badge of pride.”
Francesa was telling a caller the court ruling might help Washington’s NFL team keep the name many Native Americans find offensive when he used the outdated words.
“The feeling is that it’s going to be the same answer to the same question” regarding the Washington team name, Francesa said. “The only other debate is that they were talking about themselves. They all were Oriental Americans who were part of the group. … They were some kind of a musical band from Oregon, and they could not trademark the name ‘Slant,’ even though they were a group of young Oriental Americans.”
Webster’s New World College Dictionary says Oriental, applied to persons, is “now often regarded as a term of disparagement.” The Associated Press Stylebook, followed by many news organizations, including HuffPost, admonishes “do not use” the term to refer to East Asian nations and their peoples.
Erika Lee, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, told NBC News that terms like “Orientals” and “Oriental Americans” were used in a time when Asia and Asian peoples were thought of as “backward, inferior, exotic, and foreign in order to justify colonization and subjugation.”
“In the U.S., the term “Oriental” has been used to reinforce the idea that Asians were/are forever foreign and could never become American. These ideas helped to justify immigration exclusion, racial discrimination and violence, political disfranchisement, and segregation.”
A few minutes after Francesa used the terms on the radio, a producer explained that they might be offensive. Francesca seemed bothered by the suggestion.
“You’re telling me that is considered a slight if you call someone an Oriental American?” Francesa asked, according to the Daily News. “What is the proper term now, since I want to get it proper since, Oriental American is now considered a slight. What would not be a slight?”
“Asian American,” the producer said.
“Oh, Asian American … So let’s make that an Asian American band. ... You’re telling me using the word Oriental American is a slight? … If they would like me to say Asian Americans, all power to it … Then I will say Asian American. Whatever makes people happy. Has it gotten to that point that would be considered a slight? Oh, boy.”
The Daily News pointed out that just last year, the federal government banned the use of “Oriental” and the N-word from all U.S. documents.
Francesa’s comments are fresh evidence that parts of the sports world need to adjust on Asia and Asian Americans.
In 2004, basketball coach Steve Kerr apologized after calling Chinese basketball star Yao Ming a “Chinaman.” Kerr said he thought the term was the same as calling a guy from France a “Frenchman.”