Sunday, May 2, 2010

Trash talk ... Kikes, Chinks and Pakis

Overheard in the Human Resources section of a Government department recently, a staffing consultant referred to a fellow employee as prejudiced in their hiring decisions. When bandied about carelessly and long enough, we lose trust in such clich├ęs. They require too long a pause in the flow of conversation to ensure they are being used accurately, sincerely, in context, and not just as rhetorical diversions.

We have lost so many useful words and powerful expressions through such careless use. Could 'prejudice' and 'anti-semitism' be about to join them? Are we tiring of having to parse them so meticuloulsly everytime we hear them?

Certainly the Holocaust remains despicable stuff. Yet the reason other diasporic peoples sometimes resent Euro-America's institutionalized and reflex references to anti-semitism is precisely that, outside its Euro-centric context, it can seem ... well, euro-centric.

Having migrated away from where they were the majority, each diaspora must adjust to new circumstances as a minority. Initially excluded by the majority from leadership roles in politics or the military, what is a bright young 'Kike' in Europe, 'Paki' in Africa, or 'Chink' in Polynesia to do except excel in those domains left open to them: academia, the arts and business.

The original stereotype within European anti-semitism centered on banking, credit and trade, but Jews in the European diaspora also reveled and excelled in the most exquisite refinements of national literature, music and science in each of their host countries. When those national arts rose to transnational significance to become part of the global legacy, the human canon, Jews, like most diasporic peoples seemed disproportionately represented among those elites and, eventually, were disproportionately resented as well.

Have we so easily forgotten the Indo-Pakistani diaspora in Idi Amin's Uganda. Care to examine the social undertones among Philippinos towards even third and fourth generation Chinese? How about the attitude of local academics toward the rise to prominence of Japanese scholars at the University of Hawaii in the 1980s? And what was the ratio of so-called 'Asian' admissions to Harvard last Fall compared to their proportion in the overall US population?

I have a friend who is fond of saying, "Beware jargon! It usually indicates a repository of power." That reminder seems especially appropriate when discussing prejudice of all kinds, whether as part of the rage over new Arizona immigration policies, or resistance to Nunavut's Inuit Employment objectives.

While true clich├ęs merely wilt to benign insignificance, the most insidious are co-opted as jargon into the service of organized deception. Whether we call it a 'lobby' or a vested interest, they deliberately marry semantic subterfuge to political correctness in order to contaminate public discourse and cut off debate.

The irony?

Such silence and censure, over the long haul, end up hindering the desired outcomes of those very lobbies that provoked them.

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2 comments:

  1. Just a footnote: the early Jews in Europe were forced into banking and credit because the European society of the time needed those services, but since "usury" was still a sin for Christians, only Jews could practice it.

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  2. Indeed and, ironically, whether pushed there on purpose or drawn there by default, the success of such diasporic elites ends up being resented by the very ethno-centric and nationalistic powers that confined them to those roles in the first place.

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