Unlike derogatory terms such as the N word or the P word, the C word has flown under the radar as a widely accepted racial slur. It neither carries the notoriety nor the slander that the others possess. Because of this, the term has been slung around loosely and thoughtlessly but often results in unintentional or worse still, intentional offense. However, just how offensive is it to Chinese people?
Historically, the term ‘chink’ was indeed used comically. Episodes of Only Fools & Horses, perhaps the best British comedy of all time, used the term casually when referring to a Chinese takeaway. The writers and indeed the culture of the show clearly did not have any malicious intent by the use of the word and in fact, simply used the vernacular of British culture at the time to make the show more relatable. At the time, Chinese takeaways were referred to as ‘chinkies’, with no deeper meaning behind it.
Since then, the term has manifested itself into a more derogatory word. Racists took the informal word and began using it against the Chinese community. As a result, the Chinese community began to take offense towards the term. Thus begins a vicious cycle: the more the community finds the term offensive, the more racists will continue to use it.
As a result, when the former Wigan Athletic owner, Dave Whelen, referred to the Chinese as chinks and chingalings, there was understandably a backlash from the Chinese community. Michael Wilkes from the British Chinese Project said in a statement, “if we let one go then another people will think it’s alright… He set a precedent and he needs to pay the consequences. He is the representative of that football club [Wigan Athletic] and the Football Association has to take a very strong stance on this.”
Wilkes was right, Whelan should have been condemned for his words, especially considering his position as a reputable and responsible football club owner. His controversial statement sparked a backlash from the Chinese community, who became more vocal about the racial slur.
Speaking to the BBC, a girl who remains anonymous said, “It’s just become such a norm that the N-word or the P-word aren’t allowed but people feel they can use the C-word. I feel I die a little inside when some people say it.” Another source told the BBC that “on my 18th birthday, at the station, three middle aged men came up to me and said, ‘Oi chink, what are you staring at’ before they beat me up.” – http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/30538929/british-chinese-people-say-racism-against-them-is-ignored
Clearly, the Chinese community had been experiencing racial discrimination that was fuelled by the word ‘chink’ itself, but their stories had generally gone unheard of. According to the BBC article, Professor Gary Craig from Durham University carried out research about the Chinese population in the UK and concluded that the situation was deteriorating.
It seems prevalent that awareness about the situation needs to be spread. If more people are aware that ‘chink’ is deeply hurtful, they should refrain from using it. However, this is not necessarily the case. As stated before, a vicious cycle forms in which racists use the term more to offend as the community becomes more vocal about how hurtful the term is. Take, for example, the case of a fistfight. If one participant in the fight vocally tells the other not to hit his face because his face is his most sensitive part, where do you think the bloke who’s trying to inflict as much damage as he can, will hit him? In the same vein, the more we tell racists just how offensive the term is, the more they will use it against us.
The thinking here is that if we don’t make too much of a big deal about the five letter word, it will dissolve into nothingness and racists won’t have any ammunition to use against us. By making a big deal out of how offensive the word is, we are giving racists more ammunition and are only correcting those who accidently misuse the term, who never really intended to cause offence in the first place (eg. someone still using the vernacular that was acceptable during the days of Only Fools & Horses).
Unfortunately, in reality, an entire community cannot achieve this. Staying silent about your face being your most sensitive part may save you from a facial battering in a fistfight, but applying the same approach to a community on such a vast scale won’t be effective.
Personally I’ve never found the term offensive and have been fortunate enough to have not suffered any damaging racial abuse. I do, however, sympathise with those who have undergone the atrocities of racial. Whilst I wish for the term to dissolve into nothingness, the fact that others find the term offensive means that the approach of ignoring it, will not suffice.
Clearly the term ‘chink’ has been deemed offensive by the Chinese community – that debate is over. The debate now is how we deal with it. Whilst spreading awareness about the damaging nature of the word is the obvious go-to approach. As a society, we must be aware that racists who purposefully use this term against us will gain more capital and ammunition against us as we highlight the importance for society to avoid it. I’m not saying that we should stay silent by any measure, but do encourage our community to discuss our approach.