It's time for elected officials in Ontario to retire the term "Oriental" because it's outdated and offensive, says a university professor who has written on the subject.
Anthony Chan, a former broadcaster who works as a Canadian studies professor at the University of Washington, made the comment after a Toronto city councillor referred to "Oriental people" this week in a debate about shopping on statutory holidays.
Coun. Rob Ford said: "Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out. They are workers non-stop. They sleep beside their machines. That's why they are successful in life."
Ford went on: "I'm telling you, Oriental people, they're slowly taking over.… They're hard, hard workers."
Ford has apologized for his choice of words, but Chan, who obtained his PhD from York University in Toronto, said the term is really an ethnic slur that should be laid to rest.
Chan said he understands the term "Oriental" continues to be part of some people's lexicon but the acceptable, and more accurate, term to use these days is "Asian."
Oriental refers to the Orient, which has been used to refer to the Far East. Historically, the Orient was a term used in Western culture to refer to Asia.
Chan said, at the very least, Ford has raised an important issue by using the term. "I love a guy like that because he brings out what we need to think about," he said.
But he said using such a term undermines all the talk in Toronto about diversity. "When you start demeaning people, the whole diversity and the whole attitude of equity and fairness and social justice is just not there," he said.
Chan first raised the issue of the inappropriate use of the word "Oriental" in a paper he wrote in 1978, while a student at York University.
Chan, currently on sabbatical from his job at the University of Washington, is a filmmaker and author. He works at the Canadian Studies Centre of the university's Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.