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September 20, 2010

Comments

Michel S.

I'm of (mostly) ethnic Chinese heritage and no longer speak any Chinese language, but I'd say this sort of "ethnic profiling" is perfectly understandable. Surely someone who is vaguely Oriental looking (I say this, because from experience most Westerners can't tell Chinese/Japanese/Korean/etc. apart) is statistically more likely to speak an Oriental language than, say, an African-American or Hispanic-looking person.

As to terminology -- it could be cringe-worthy or not. I'd say in this case it's not -- I normally only get upset if it's apparent that the other person shows a prejudicial or mocking attitude. There's enough unintended slights going around in the world that one should assume the best intentions whenever possible :)

Beth

You make really good points, Michel S. I agree that assuming the best intentions is the way to go.

Utah K-12 schools have a Chinese language immersion program, and LDS mission trips have inspired lots of non-Asian-looking people to learn Asian languages, so a vaguely Oriental-looking person in this particular city might not be statistically more likely to speak some variety of Chinese . . . but in this case, the van driver's ethnic profiling worked, and no one was offended. I guess life doesn't always imitate Seinfeld's Cigar Store Indian episode. :)

Thanks for stopping by.

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