Government Modernizes Words Describing Asian Americans

| by Ray Brown
An Asian American women walks down a street.An Asian American women walks down a street.

The words "Oriental," "Negro" and "Eskimo" will no longer be used in federal legal language to describe people of Asian descent.

The move comes after President Barack Obama signed a bill into law that modernized the terms used to describe nonwhite peoples, including Asian Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans. The bill, which was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York, replaces "Oriental" with "Asian Americans" in two sections of U.S. code written in the late 1970s to define minorities in the arenas of public health, social welfare and civil rights, reported ThinkProgress.

"The term 'Oriental' has no place in federal law and at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good," Meng said in a May 20 press statement. Obama signed the bill that day.

"No longer will any law of the United States refer to Asian Americans in such an offensive way, and I applaud and thank President Obama for signing my bill to get rid of this antiquated term," Meng added. "Many Americans may not be aware that the word 'Oriental' is derogatory. But it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land."

The bill had bipartisan support and 76 co-sponsors by the time it reached Obama's desk.

"Nobody, let alone the federal government, should use a hurtful term like ‘Orientals’ when referring to Americans of Asian descent,” Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California, an original cosponsor of Meng’s bill, said. “Our country is a rich tapestry of cultural backgrounds, and Americans of all backgrounds deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

In addition to replacing “Oriental” with “Asian American,” the bill also replaces “Negro” with “African American;” “Spanish-speaking” with “Hispanic;” “Eskimo” and “Aleut” with “Alaska Natives;” and “Indian” with “Native American," ThinkProgress noted.

Sources: ThinkProgress, Rep. Grace Meng / Photo Credit: Centinel/Flickr

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