How to Be Politically Incorrect

EMILY TSAO

September 05, 1991|By EMILY TSAO

I am an Oriental girl. Excuse me, I forgot to use mypolitically correct dictionary. Let me rephrase that. I am an Asian-American woman. Yes, that sounds about right. Excuse me again, I mean politically correct.

When I first stepped into the campus scene last year, I, like many other anxious freshmen, wanted to fit in. I wanted to wear the right clothes, carry the right bookbag and, most important, say ,, the right things. Speaking to upperclassmen, however, I realized that I had no command of the ''PC'' language.

Girls were to be called women. Freshmen who were girls were to be called freshwomen. Mixed groups of both sexes were to be labeled freshpeople, and upperclassmen were to be referred to as upperclasspeople.

Orientals were to be called Asian-Americans, blacks were to be called African-Americans and Hispanics, Latinos.

To me, most of this seemed pointless.

Being called a girl does not bother me. I'm 18 years old. My mom is a woman. I'm her kid. I don't expect her to refer to me as a woman.

I have always referred to my female friends as girls, and still do. I want my boyfriend to call me his girlfriend, not his woman friend.

My friends and I refer to the male students at college as boys or guys. Never men. Kevin Costner and Robert Redford are men. Men don't drink themselves sick at keg parties every weekend, ask Dad for money or take laundry home to Mom.

For 12 years in high school and grade school the female students were always girls and the males were boys. Why does going to college with these same peers suddenly make me a woman and the boys men?

I certainly don't feel much older or wiser than I did last year. When people refer to me as a woman, I turn around to see who is standing behind me.

Another fad now is for people to spell women with a ''y'' instead of an ''e'' ''womyn.'' These people want to take the "men" out of women. Next they'll invent "femyle."

I have always been gender conscious with my language when it seemed logical. In third grade, I referred to the mailman as a mailperson because we sometimes had a woman deliver our mail. I don't think I ever said mailwoman, though, because it just didn't sound right.

From elementary through high school I told people I was Chinese and if I wanted to refer to all Asians, I used the word Orientals. I guess I was young and foolish and didn't know any better.

At college I was told that the proper label for me was Asian-American, that Oriental was a word to describe furniture, not people.

But what is the difference? All Asians are still being clumped together, even though each group Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indians, Vietnamese and Filipinos, to name just a few comes from a different country with a different language and a different culture.

The new ''PC'' term to describe Asian-Americans and all other minorities is People of Color. The reason, I am told, is that the ''minority'' population has grown large enough to be the majority.

But even if that's true, the phrase seems rather contradictory. Since many African-Americans no longer want to be referred to as blacks, why then should the term for minorities once again refer to skin color? The same is true for Asians, most of whom find the label ''yellow'' more offensive than Oriental. And isn't white also a color?

As long as we're throwing out all the old labels, why not replace white with European-American (to be consistent with African-American and Asian-American). Then WASPS would be EAASPS (European-American Anglo Saxon Protestants).

Well maybe not. The term ''white'' has remained constant in our society because members of that group are comfortable with their label. I haven't met anyone yet who wants to change the spelling of white.

Minority groups want new labels to give themselves a more positive image. But unless the stereotypes disappear as well, is it really going to help very much?

Look at the word sophomore, which comes from Greek roots meaning ''wise fool.''

''PC''-conscious sophomores ought to revolt against this offensive phrase. I, however, will not be among them. Changing the word ''sophomore'' will not make me any smarter, humbler or wiser.

C9Emily Tsao is a Yale sophomore who was a Newsday intern.

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