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July 22, 2005

Asian

The Flea was subject to a "who's on first" style conversation between a CNN anchor and UK terrorism expert this morning. The first was an Asian American woman and the second a British man of Asian descent. The tricky thing for folks unused to reading the American or British media is that "asian" means something quite different in the two contexts. The CNN anchor asked the UK expert if reports the man shot on the tube today being "asian" meant the terrorists might have challenged expectations of the likely ethnicity of a suicide bomber. Aside from issues around profiling, etc. and so forth this confused the UK expert who pointed out that three of the four reported suicide bombers of two weeks ago were "asian".

The conversation continued in this awkward, mutually incomprehensible vein as the Flea was tempted to throw a slipper at the television set. Let us clear this up. In English-speaking North America the word "asian" is generally used to refer to people of East Asian descent while in the UK the word "asian" is generally used to refer to people of South Asian descent. Both terms are gross generalizations that obscure fantastic regional, ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity within the groups for whom they act as shorthand and either shorthand ignores well over a billion people who are just as asian. If I was, say, Armenian both abbreviations would be a source of ongoing annoyance.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at July 22, 2005 07:33 AM

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