ethnic - pejorative?

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Thomas Tompion

Senior Member
English - England
The Times for tomorrow is going to run, I believe, a photo of a Tibetan child playing with a mastiff. It will probably carry the caption an ethnic Tibetan child playing with a mastiff.

I'm not quick to take offence at this sort of thing, but I'd be mildly peeved if someone described me as an ethnic Englishman. I find this caption rather tactless and patronising. What meaning does the adjective ethnic contribute? I see nothing wrong, unclear, or incomplete, in a Tibetan child playing with a mastiff.

Am I being oversensitive?
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The word "ethnic" adds nothing to my understanding.
    That makes me question why it has been included.
    Or perhaps it makes me question why the writer felt it necessary, or appropriate.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think the writer was making the point that the child isn't the same colour as most European children. Here's the photo. He looks a fine boy to me. The dogs are famous for their ferocity, and one recently sold for more than a million dollars.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    With no accompanying story it is hard to be definitive. Perhaps the story relates to the contentious issue (at least to China) of the status of the Tibetan people as rebellious, independent, autonomous, Chinese etc and the notion of a person being an "Ethnic Tibetan" would be similar to a "Native American" and so on. There was apparantly an old meaning for ethnic parallel to pagan (i.e. not believing the way some major religions do). However, the word seems primarily to mean relating to a grouping based on race, culture etc. This could be redundant or irrelevant in the context of the picture. Ethnic has also been associated with cleansing based on ethnicity so perhaps there is now a taste of hatred and discrimination attached to the word also. However, that might easily be called a neologism :D ?
    Perhaps we can see what the story says before deciding. I personally see ethnic as a neutral word relating to some kinds of groups - the fact that such groups often fight is a separate issue.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Following on from Julian (kind of), I'd take it to mean: a boy native to Tibet / a boy of the people indigenous to Tibet (who might not actually be living in Tibet) as opposed to a Tibetan boy which might mean a boy who lives in Tibet but might not be an indigene* of Tibet, i.e. he might be 'ethnic Chinese'.


    *Assuming that word exists.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Here's the story, Julian - I hope it prints generally: I have a subscription. It's about a large number of Tibetan mastiffs who escaped when their kennels were crushed in the Yushu earthquake. Yushu is a breeding centre for these dogs. 300 or so were crushed to death in the earthquake, but many others escaped, and being fierce (they are bred as guard-dogs) and big (up to eighteen stone in weight), with bites worse than their barks, they are proving difficult to catch and feed.
     

    arulado

    Member
    The word "ethnic" is certainly overused and has almost taken on the meaning anymore as related to anything other than white and English speaking.

    As far as the use in the OP's original posts, I don't think we can make a judgement if the use is correct or not w/o more information.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yet another theory: the boy is identifiably Tibetan because of his clothing. I suspect that 'ethnic Tibetan' might refer to this. If one were searching a picture library one might put in as a key-words ethnic Tibetan.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    A linked-to story tells us that not all inhabitants of the area were Tibetan. If the others might be thought of by readers of the Times as Tibetan in 'nationality' (whatever that would mean in this context), this gives some point to the specification that the boy playing with the dog was descended from the people who have a long tradition of raising that breed.
    China was observing a day of mourning for the 2,064 people killed in the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that levelled the county town of Yushu as people in the mainly Tibetan community were waking up on Wednesday last week. [ China observes day of mourning for quake victims]​
     

    shawnee

    Senior Member
    English - Australian
    I have had a bone to pick with the use of this term in the past. In this case the only rationale for its use that I can see is that it is the newspaper's way of not entering into problematic diplomatic territory. If the boy was called Tibetan it could be construed that they were according him 'separate' national identity. In the context under discussion he would be a subject of China of Tibetan ethnic origin. I think?
     
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    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Your link worked on mine, Mr Tompion, though I have no subscription as you have. I can also click through to the article; I wasn't sure that would work.

    Maybe the Times has a way of blocking internet access in Europe in hopes of compelling people to subscribe, but has not done that in the US. I have access to the timesonline.co.uk with a simple internet search.

    In any case, I apologize to people who don't have access. The rest of the article discusses the ceremonial moment of silence in China. It also quotes a Buddhist lama who has played a part in the recovery and the ceremony. The point of that, as I understand it, is to acknowledge the importance of the Buddhist tradition in that region.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Following on from Julian (kind of), I'd take it to mean: a boy native to Tibet / a boy of the people indigenous to Tibet (who might not actually be living in Tibet) as opposed to a Tibetan boy which might mean a boy who lives in Tibet but might not be an indigene* of Tibet, i.e. he might be 'ethnic Chinese'.


    *Assuming that word exists.
    Is that a borrowed (alias ethnically) French word :D:D:D


    I think we agree they are trying to describe this child as someone who is , shall we say, geographically, as opposed to "POLITICALLY" Tibetan. Avoiding the whole disapproval thing the Chinese government does.

    Here's the story, Julian - I hope it prints generally:
    Thanks TT - the link worked for me, at some distance from "The Times".

    I think this usage of ethnic is just fine in this particular context.

    As distinct from the uneducated usage "Oy - he's ethnic (and we're not), let's beat him up" (where he could be anything from a new kid on the block to a nation or race) which is, of course, intolerable, but not an intrinsic meaning of the word.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    Both links work for me, but the mastiff caption does not include the word "ethnic". Perhaps someone else found it offensive.

    The word would not have given offence to me, any more than the term "native Australian". I can understand why the Murdoch Times might not want to use the term "native Tibetan", since such a term might give offence to the Chinese government. But "native" or "ethnic" Tibetans have not only a distinct culture but physiology (their unusual red blood cells adapt them to high altitudes), and it is interesting to know which kind of Tibetan the photo depicts.

    I think that the reverse is more common in Australia. A criminal's ethnicity often goes unreported, even when the information might throw light on the reason for the crime. I'm not sure whether that is a good thing or not.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Both links work for me, but the mastiff caption does not include the word "ethnic".
    The photo caption only appears after you roll your mouse/cursor ovet the actual picture for a second or two.
    I wondered about that for a few moments with the same reaction, till it appeared :D
    It's still there!
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Following on from Julian (kind of), I'd take it to mean: a boy native to Tibet / a boy of the people indigenous to Tibet (who might not actually be living in Tibet) as opposed to a Tibetan boy which might mean a boy who lives in Tibet but might not be an indigene* of Tibet, i.e. he might be 'ethnic Chinese'.


    *Assuming that word exists.
    I think this highlights my objection, Mr E. I suspect that the reason you give is correct. However, there are a lot of Indians living in Southall, and we don't call them ethnic Indians.

    For some reason, which we don't seem to have suggested (except that the Chinese government may be sensitive to the ethnicity of people living in China), journalists seem happy to do this for people living in the Far East, but not elsewhere. It's that which I find offensive.

    I am an Englishman resident in France. Nobody has yet described me as an ethnic Englishman, and French newspapers don't talk in this way. I'll try asking other Brits how many ethnic English people they know in the area, and see how they like it. I expect raised eyebrows.

    P.S.
    Your link worked on mine, Mr Tompion, though I have no subscription as you have. I can also click through to the article; I wasn't sure that would work.

    Maybe the Times has a way of blocking internet access in Europe in hopes of compelling people to subscribe, but has not done that in the US. I have access to the timesonline.co.uk with a simple internet search.
    Your link worked well this morning, Cagey, but the story is not the one about the dogs, and doesn't actually contain the word ethnic.

    It may be wrong to suggest that the Times is entirely responsible for the caption. I suspect the photo was syndicated, and the caption may have gone with it.
     
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    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I see what you're driving at, Mr.T, but my perhaps-jaded eyes continue to find the use of the term in the original photo caption pretty unremarkable, and certainly nothing like 'offensive'. I mean by that: I don't find it offensive, and I find it difficult to imagine that an ethnic Tibetan would find it offensive either.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    However, there are a lot of Indians living in Southall, and we don't call them ethnic Indians.
    That in part is because it doesn't really apply in Southall, and also because of the insane witch hunts that swirl in UK over supposed "racism". You could look up Roy Amor, or Codie Scott.

    Ethnic is a very useful word. For example, many of the boat people and other refugees who came to Australia from Vietnam after the Vietnam war were ethnic Chinese.

    They were citizens of Vietnam, but they maintained the language and culture of their Chinese ancestors. Many of these citizens of the former South Vietnam were targeted after the take-over by the North, because they were ethnic Chinese.

    There are similar groupings of ethnic Chinese in many SE Asian countries.

    Some groups are the result of border changes. Slovakia was once part of Czechoslovakia, and Czechoslovakia was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

    To-day there are ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia. They are not citizens of Hungary. They are citizens of Slovakia, but they also maintain their Hungarian language and customs at home, while attending normal Slovakian schools.

    There are many similar examples: Ethnic Poles in Ukraine; Ethnic Ukrainians in Poland; Ethnic Belarusians in Poland, Russia and Lithuania.

    And so on, and so on.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    ... but the story is not the one about the dogs, and doesn't actually contain the word ethnic.
    [....]
    The story is not the one about the dogs. I quoted it to show that inhabitants of the area are of different ethnicities, as we here in the States would express it. We also sometimes make a distinction between a person's ethnicity and their American identity.

    I guess I am missing the issue in using the particular word "ethnic" to express this. We tend to use that word by preference over descent for instance, because we understand ethnicity to include a reference cultural traditions and not merely identify people by a supposed genetic inheritance.

    Edit: Meanwhile, Brioche has given a more articulate explanation of the same idea.
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    That in part is because it doesn't really apply in Southall, and also because of the insane witch hunts that swirl in UK over supposed "racism". You could look up Roy Amor, or Codie Scott.

    Ethnic is a very useful word. For example, many of the boat people and other refugees who came to Australia from Vietnam after the Vietnam war were ethnic Chinese.

    They were citizens of Vietnam, but they maintained the language and culture of their Chinese ancestors. Many of these citizens of the former South Vietnam were targeted after the take-over by the North, because they were ethnic Chinese.

    There are similar groupings of ethnic Chinese in many SE Asian countries.

    Some groups are the result of border changes. Slovakia was once part of Czechoslovakia, and Czechoslovakia was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

    To-day there are ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia. They are not citizens of Hungary. They are citizens of Slovakia, but they also maintain their Hungarian language and customs at home, while attending normal Slovakian schools.

    There are many similar examples: Ethnic Poles in Ukraine; Ethnic Ukrainians in Poland; Ethnic Belarusians in Poland, Russia and Lithuania.

    And so on, and so on.
    I greatly appreciate these attempts to calm my fears.

    I know that it's a handy way of saying these things, but please notice how all the examples you give are well away from the UK and US. You give two reasons for not talking about ethnic Indians in Southall:

    1. The argument doesn't apply equally in Southall. I just don't see this at all. The Indians of Southall have kept their ethnic identity with great vigour, as is evidenced by their dress, their language, their food, their shops, their way of life. Whenever I go to the UK I make a visit.

    2. Because of the insane witch hunts that swirl in UK about racism. Is this saying anything more than that you must be careful about referring to ethnic Indians when talking about the people of Southall, but not when talking about Indians living in Malaysia? It may be, and, if it is, you must explain how to me, my dear Brioche. I hope it is, because it was my suspicion that it isn't which got me going about this.

    I'm worried that this is a way of speech which is fine as long as we are talking about foreigners.

    [...] particular word "ethnic" to express this. We tend to use that word by preference over descent for instance, because we understand ethnicity to include a reference cultural traditions and not merely identify people by a supposed genetic inheritance.

    Edit: Meanwhile, Brioche has given a more articulate explanation of the same idea.
    I am developing two views about this issue:

    1. That the word ethnic, as in ethnic Indians, or ethnic Croatians, is handy for technical use by demographers, to distinguish ethnic background from nationality: notice I'm quite calm about its use with nouns like group, or background, and am not alone in this. This use (ethnic Indians, ethnic Croatians) occasionally leaches into the vernacular, and when it does so, people who value ethnic differences prick up their ears.

    2. They prick up their ears in particular, because, like so many of these things, it's a matter of linguistic habit; of what you are used to. And we are used to hearing talk of ethnic Indians in Africa, or ethnic Croatians in Slovenia, but not of ethnic Englishmen in France. We should get away from this bias, and it's there in AE, I think, as much as in BE: try looking up "ethnic Italians" New York in Google, and you mostly get works of demography. We don't talk very much of ethnic Western Europeans; people have to be more foreign than that to justify the epithet.

    It reminds me a little of an announcement on the radio news many years ago: There has been a plane crash in Mongolia. 270 people are dead, but we are assured that they are all Russians.

    Please tell me I'm wrong. I want that little boy to be Tibetan, not ethnic Tibetan. Had he been a Welsh boy playing, less dangerously, with a Corgi, on that Chinese railway line, part of a community of Welsh methodists who emigrated there in the 19th century, the Times wouldn't be talking of an ethnic Welsh boy, would it?
     
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    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I'd quite happily talk about ethnic Indians living in Southall, Mr.T. (PC witch hunts be damned.) I also wouldn't object in the least to being referred to as ethnic English if I was your next-door neighbour. The word is, as an adjective, utterly neutral to me, howsoever it's being used, whomsoever it's referring to.

    P.S. I never met a corgi I liked.
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'd quite happily talk about ethnic Indians living in Southall, Mr.T. (PC witch hunts be damned.) I also wouldn't object in the least to being referred to as ethnic English if I was your next-door neighbour. The word is, as an adjective, utterly neutral to me, howsoever it's being used, whomsoever it's referring to.

    P.S. I never met a corgi I liked.
    But you're an ethnic Lanky, Mr E, and they're special.
     
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