Monday, November 5, 2007
Why is that auction "Chinese?"
That was the first question my daughter asked yesterday as we were wound our way through our church's "Chinese" auction.
"Do they auction Chinese people or Chinese things?" she asked.
The origins of the "Chinese auction" aren't clear, but I am willing to bet the rent that the origins aren't in China. Conventional wisdom cites a a wealthy American socialite from the early 1900's believed to reside in NY as the creator. According to legend, she was looking for a new and unique idea for charity fundraisers. After struggling to find a new concept she hit on a "Chinese auction". What is the Chinese part you might ask? Well, apparently this wealthy woman believed that making the auction "Chinese" added intrigue, mysticism and mystery to an ordinary event-reflecting the way that many Americans viewed Chinese people at the time.
Fast-forward 100+ years.
Do we still need to put the word "Chinese" in a description? Isn't defining a person or event with this label reinforcing the stereotype of anything Chinese being a little bit odd or off kilter? What is the first thing you think of when you hear the term "Chinese" auction-confusion and chaos or a unique fund-raising event?
This type of racism is not limited to Chinese-consider the "Mexican" standoff-a gunfight where no shots were fired - a Mexican standoff - was inferior and thereby "Mexican." Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins), New York, 1977.
What about "Dutch treat?" Isn't this a stab at the stereotype that the Dutch are cheap-and would make you spring for your own meal rather than pay for your dinner?
Don't these kinds of phrases-no matter who they are directed at-put the speaker 'above' others making the others inherently inferior?
Some argue that if we have to look up the origins of these kinds of racist terms, then the racism is gone. Do you believe that?
I sure don't and neither did my seven-year old-who likened the Chinese 'auction' to the enslavement of African-Americans in the 19th century.
We often scratch our heads about what we can do about racism. Well, here's something you can do right now-rename your 'Chinese' auction-or don't patronize one that won't change the name. Don't tell your kids that you are 'going Dutch'. Don't use any of the 'common' ethnic phrases-ever.
Take action-you're kids will see that you mean business and it will make a difference.