Sunday, August 5, 2007

Racial Slurs: Ang Moh

I got my first piece of hate mail / posting today. It's taking issue with labeling the term "Ang Moh" for what it is: a racial slur.

Anyway, my response is as below:

I suggest you research the history of racial slurs before you suggest to start telling people of a minority what they should think of a name.

For example, the word "Nigger" originally was only a descriptive name without any negatiave conotations but quickly became to be percieved by the people to whom it was applied too as derogatory.

Likewise the term "Ang Moh" is increasingly seen for what it is: a racial slur.

It doesn't matter how it is INTENDED, it matters how it is recieved and PERCIEVED.

As a cursory glance at both the internet and archives of the singapore staits times shows, many people of caucasian / slavic / baltic background who are described by this word find it offensive.

Indeed, even a number of singaporean bloggers have commented on the need to be careful when and where to use it as they have found through personal experience that it can, and does, cause offence to the people to whom it is used to describe.

Secondly, the origin of the term is it's self racist. It originally means "red-haired foriegn devil", which in the dialect it comes from had specific negative quasi-religious overtones.

This is not in dispute, any number of empirically based sources can cofirm this. It doesn't matter that the 'gui' has been dropped from the end, most caucasians / slavs / baltic people who spend some time in the areas of asia where this term is used quickly learn of it's origin and original meaning. As such, the term has baggage and lots of it.

A similar example is the phrase "Nip". Today this term is used as a racial slur against asians. It originally started as a simplification of NIPPON (name for Japan as a nation, in Japanese) but quickly became a negative name for all east-asians.

Like wise with the phrases "yellow man" (a simple physical description, yet offensive, just like Ang Moh), Nigger, Chink and a host of others have, at one stage or another, been used by a majority on the premise that they are a simple and inoffensive label.

They are not.

Ang Moh is a term that deeply offends an increaing proportion of non-asians in Singapore and Malaysia. The simple fact that even discussions about the words racist overtones crop up in official government controlled press in Singapore speaks volumes about the changing perception of the word.

I politely suggest it is you that need to polish up on your Hokkien language history before you defend a racial slur as something it isn't.


Anonymous said...

I've heard that term being muttered as well. I know they have terms for nationality but I've been told a term for a white person in general (when the nationality is unknown) has yet to be determined! Do you know if that's true? What's the polite way of referring to a white person in Singapore?

AsianRacism said...

The term described above is the term they use - both as a neutral expression and as a racial slur, like many of these terms.

I would suggest that if you had to describe someone by 'racial' characteristics you do so in a neutral manner such as "the person appeared to be of european descent, was 6ft tall, had brown hair and hazel eyes" but even better would simply be "the guy over there with brown hair, tanned skin and is 7ft tall? yeah, he's the guy i saw last night at harry's bar drinking cider and cheering on some russian football team"

No need to use racial descriptors at all.

Anonymous said...

What I meant was what's the polite term used to describe a white person in the Singaporean language(s)? Surely they don't use that slur on TV.

For example here in the West, if a description of a man who went missing was needed, the news would mention whether the man was white or asian or black.

What would they say over there?

fogger said...

Couldn't agree more! that word pisses me off... but if you scout around blogspace you'll find a ton of ppl who defend it's use as 'not racist' as well as some ppl who question it's usage.

Personally as an 'ang moh' living in Singapore, it find it offensive, but dude you're fighting an uphill battle man (i presume you are a man, sorry if you are not) as they simply don't give a crap about other 'races' - just look at the way singaporeans treat indians, remember the 'no pork' email and gag going around a while back? no racism in singapore? yeah right!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4/9/2007 - Actually the term has been used on TV here, and was even once used by the PM in a national day speech much the amazement of my group of Irish friends i was drinking with that day.

Fogger: i agree with dude! Singapore not racist? ha ha! good one!

AsianRacism: awesome blog man, keep up the good work!