My wife is Chinese-American. I guess in England we may wonder why she uses that label for herself, and it’s true – we don’t have ‘Asian-Brits’, or ‘African-English’ or whatever as go to labels. In fact being Asian in the UK tends to refer to a completely different ethnicity. We would have these conversations together about how in the US this label is PC, while here it sounded wrong. In the States the label ‘Asian’ is considered owned by the South East Asian community. Trying to point out to her that Asia is a continent, and Russia and the Middle East are actually Asian too is a conversation that always ends up opened ended. For the Chinese in America this is a whole conversation you don’t want to get into.
Still used here innocently sometimes, the label ‘Oriental’ is considered in the US to be ‘very’ un-PC. really! – it’s like using the the ’N’ word here for anyone with African heritage, even though at best their great-grandfather came from Jamaica. You may as well do the slitty eye thing and ask my wife if she eats dog as call her Oriental. She would never get hurt by these racist comments that every Chinese kid in a Western country has heard so often that it is boring. This type of ignorant, and often well meaning rib-digging humour, just acts as a social filter for her. It’s like calling a Welshman a sheep shagger, or making a ginger joke – we’d never use the ’N’ word with a black friend, or today even joke about Allah or the Nazis with our Muslim or Jewish friends.
We put up with it as part of a culture here in the UK that really is only excused by the white Brits, those who repeat the humour of our grandparents and Les Dawson – it’s all just a laugh, no harm meant. Well that’s fine if you’re not on the receiving end. Ask any redhead or Welsh guy if they really find that 1970’s humour funny. They smile and let it slide, but it’s no different to the jokes that we dare not say today to other groups.
Jeremy Clarkson was a refreshing bloke who reminded us of our older relatives and a fabled time of white Britain. The ‘slope on a bridge joke’ was funny. It was – I laughed, but only on my side of the screen as a white Brit. If he called my wife a slope I would have been the one hitting him in the face while sticking his uncooked steak up his ass, and I liked Top Gear and his attitude!
In the USA I have had my fair share of rib-digging, people putting on dumb, Dick Van Dyke accents, “lovely cup of tea” comments and making fun of me as their preconceived idea of an Englishman. But being called a Brit is not the same as being called a Jap or a Frog. Making fun of ethnic groups and nations only become hurtful to those who have been enslaved or lost face as we the victors occupy or colonize their country.
They can call me a Brit, make fun of the fact that I probably like tea and crumpets (and yes I do!), and it would never hurt me. But if one day our country is invaded and occupied, or we are enslaved – with the word ‘Brit’ referring to the locals as under dogs, once emancipated it is likely we would find it as hurtful as words we use that actually evolved from latin words that only really mean ‘black’, or once accurately once referred to a specific region of South-East Asia.
Meanwhile, while my wife is eating dog – I’ll be dancing like a chimney sweep and having a “luvery cuppa tea mate”!