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oriental-- a derogatory term ? Options
prolixitysquared
Posted: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 10:47:21 PM
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I have an adopted older sister who is from South Korea. She's soon going to be 37. I'm 24.

I grew up using the word 'Korean' but sometimes 'Asian' or 'Oriental' to describe her, if I had to explain the situation to a new person who didn't know the family.

My sister is very uninterested in anything to do with the culture or history of her birthplace. She is gun-ho American. I have my own theories behind this, but I'll leave those in my head unless anyone would like to ask about them ! Anyway, my sister is incredibly American to the point that I'd say she's more American than me, and I'm Caucasian (German & Irish). My sister seems to go out of her way to be involved in stereotypical American pastimes. I am usually very anti-those things because they bore the hell out of me. Example-- sports, especially baseball. My sister's life revolves around her son's baseball team and socializing with the other parents.

But my point is basically that I did not know the word 'Oriental' was derogatory until a South Korean friend pointed it out to me. She seemed truly offended when I used the word. I really had no idea about this offense because my sister never cared one way or another, but again, she has no interest in relating to fellow Asians.

I have noticed where I work that if someone is trying to remember her name, to say she's done a landscape design or work for them in the past, that they're often very hesitant to try to describe her. Some will say 'the Oriental woman.' Some say 'the Asian woman.' And like I said, some just seem to hesitate until I myself say these words so that we all know we're talking about the same person and probably also so they know it's okay to describe her by her obvious ethnic background.

So I gather that some people do understand that apparently the term 'Oriental' is offensive today and 'Asian' is somehow less offensive and more all-encompassing.

Another interesting part of my childhood involved people sometimes assuming I was with the person behind me in line at the grocery store or Kmart because my sister looked different than me. She was considerably older than me, so she often carted me around to do errands. I would sometimes look at the cashiers funny when they'd ask if we were separate with our purchases because maybe a white person was behind me, and they thought I was with that person. But I grew up with my sister in my life every day, and her looking different than me never phased me. It's really strange, looking back, seeing how others just assumed we weren't together in public. But I understand now how that could be their uninformed perspective. Who knows-- maybe I've acted similarly with strangers too.

Any similar stories or experiences ?
Luftmarque
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 12:18:08 AM

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Now they've really gone too far! I have never before heard of oriental being considered derogatory. I fervently hope it is not so. Of course, there was the British in India coining the derogatory "WOG" for "White Oriental Gentleman" but that's its own insult.
genome
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 1:01:41 AM
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I do not think 'Oriental' is offensive. At least in India - which the British ruled for two hundred years,and used to their snob ways - we do not think so. Over time things change. We do not find the British patronising or snobbish when we meet them, now.

'Oriental' is the antonym for 'Occidental'.

But reading through your post, I was unable to understand what the problem was, as opined by another correspondent. If the objective of the post was to narrate your experience/s it was fine.
Angus
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 3:26:32 AM
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I don't understand the offensive part, but I was told in no uncertain terms to use "Asian" rather than "Oriental" more than 10 years ago.
catskincatskin
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 8:38:02 AM
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Yeah, it's considered offensive in the NE US for certain. Check out TFD's entry for "oriental." There it says that only the adj. to describe a human is offensive, but where I'm from it's safer to not use it at all. I know that since the early 80s universities throughout the US have changed their departmental names from Oriental Studies to East Asian Studies.

@Genome: I've never heard of "oriental" as a description of India. I think in England it refers to the Middle East and in the US the Far East. (Far East is another term that is highly criticized.)
Raparee
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 9:02:48 AM

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I heard some while ago that "oriental" was considered offensive, with the preference being "Asian" - "oriental" is for a rug, "Asian" is for people. But the vast majority of people that I've met don't realize this, so don't feel like you were left out of the loop. It all depends on the individual in question. For instance, I have a crazy strong Irish background and while I know "Mick" is generally derogatory, I couldn't care less. To me, it would be like, "Yeah, I'm Irish and damned proud of it. Kiss it." ;) But that's just me.
fred
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 9:55:05 AM
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PLEASE.

I'm will now begin to tell everyone "white" is offensive. It makes us all look like Slave Owners.
I will get a warm fuzzy feeling making others feel guilty... top of the heap!
early_apex
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 10:08:42 AM
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We should evaluate people based on their true nature, not their outward appearance. In a supermarket checkout line, outward appearance is about all you have to size someone up, unless you start to profile them on the basis of their purchase selections. Of course, the word "profile" has now been hijacked away from its original meaning.

If people have trouble accepting other people who do not look like themselves (and I suspect everyone does to some extent), then in today's culture one tends to be very cautious not to let those inner thoughts out. Of course that all breaks down when you have to describe someone based on physical attributes. I'm seeing signs of people becoming overly sensitive in these matters.

My personal objective is to avoid specifying gender or ethnicity when talking about people, but when it fits the conversation, to use descriptive terms without hint of bias. If I believe that all people are just people on the inside (I do), then I should be able to talk about people matter-of-factly without worrying about offending. The true offense comes from offensive people, which I strive not to be.
Christine
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 10:09:11 AM
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An Asian told me "oriental" is for rugs. I don't remember the person but I remember this.
early_apex
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 10:10:57 AM
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Christine wrote:
An Asian told me "oriental" is for rugs. I don't remember the person but I remember this.


Isn't the Orient the area between Turkey and Iran? Maybe we should call them Persian rugs.

All of this should have been covered in orientation.
Luftmarque
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 10:40:25 AM

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fred wrote:
PLEASE.
I'm will now begin to tell everyone "white" is offensive. It makes us all look like Slave Owners.
I will get a warm fuzzy feeling making others feel guilty... top of the heap!

Hear! Hear! Applause I'm going with "dermal pigmentally challenged" as an acceptable replacement I think. I will not give up such a lovely-sounding word as Orient quietly! The etymology of Orient is simply a reference to "the East" as its companion Occident refers to the West (and sounds a lot harsher and cruder, at that).

Though I do get the fact that concepts like "The East" and "The Far East" contain the assumption that these locations are given with respect to some place taken to be the origin or center and thus carry a connotation of "otherness." But show me a language that does not contain ethno-centric terms! "White Devil" for one. And I believe that the Hindi word for "foreigner" is "videshi" which literally translates to "person from the wrong country."
fred
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 10:42:13 AM
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Caucasian is a native or inhabitant of the Caucasus.
I am not such a native. Do not call me Caucasian you rude person.
MiTziGo
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 11:52:50 AM
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Argument about whether we as a society have gone to far to the extreme in relation to racial, cultural, religious, and sexual sensitivity aside, the terms Orient, Oriental, etc. are considered offensive/politically incorrect in the US. Asian is currently the more accepted term.

See this Wiki article on Orientalism for an explanation of why the term has negative connotations.
risadr
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 12:03:29 PM
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I was also taught, as a child, that oriental is for rugs and Asian is the politically correct term to describe people. That said, I've never cared much for political correctness.

In recent years, I've heard that "African-American" is no longer the correct PC term to use when describing Black Americans, unless they are truly of direct African descent. I had never heard that before, and had apparently been offending the people around me for years by referring to them as "African-American." When I learned of this faux pas, I gave up on political correctness altogether.

fred wrote:
Caucasian is a native or inhabitant of the Caucasus.
I am not such a native. Do not call me Caucasian you rude person.


Hear, hear!
fred
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 12:38:10 PM
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MichalG wrote:
Argument about whether we as a society have gone to far to the extreme in relation to racial, cultural, religious, and sexual sensitivity aside, the terms Orient, Oriental, etc. are considered offensive/politically incorrect in the US. Asian is currently the more accepted term.

See this Wiki article on Orientalism for an explanation of why the term has negative connotations.


I find that viewpoint offensive and silly.
Raparee
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 1:10:24 PM

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risadr wrote:
In recent years, I've heard that "African-American" is no longer the correct PC term to use when describing Black Americans, unless they are truly of direct African descent. I had never heard that before, and had apparently been offending the people around me for years by referring to them as "African-American." When I learned of this faux pas, I gave up on political correctness altogether.

I've heard this as well. It's to the point that we're not Americans - we're <something> American. Great for that whole national pride thing. How about I start putting Irish-American on my forms and insist on that? What about the self-proclaimed "mutts" (my friend openly calls herself that) with heritage from more than four areas? Are they going to insist upon German-Dutch-English-Spanish-Swahili-<insert nationality here>-American? It's all so ridiculous. Last I checked, we were Americans.

Hellfire, I'm almost to the point where I dislike having to use terms like black and white for fear of the repercussions! How insane is that! (Seriously, I have two black boy cats and I call them, oddly enough, my black boys...when I was telling a coworker about my cats, you'd have thought I committed genocide somewhere!) I'm sorry, I have pale skin (and many freckles) and people generally consider me white. If they are describing me and call me a white woman, so be it. I see no reason we can't use light-skinned/white-skinned, tanned-skin, dark-skinned, black-skinned, olive-skinned, purple-skinned, whatever! And yet, boy, do some people still get persnickety over that! What's next? We're no longer to say we're female/woman, male/man?

Sorry, I digressed and ranted a bit. Been a rough few days with the total BS at the non-home-type place.
fred
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 1:21:14 PM
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Raparee wrote:
risadr wrote:
In recent years, I've heard that "African-American" is no longer the correct PC term to use when describing Black Americans, unless they are truly of direct African descent. I had never heard that before, and had apparently been offending the people around me for years by referring to them as "African-American." When I learned of this faux pas, I gave up on political correctness altogether.

I've heard this as well. It's to the point that we're not Americans - we're <something> American. Great for that whole national pride thing. How about I start putting Irish-American on my forms and insist on that? What about the self-proclaimed "mutts" (my friend openly calls herself that) with heritage from more than four areas? Are they going to insist upon German-Dutch-English-Spanish-Swahili-<insert nationality here>-American? It's all so ridiculous. Last I checked, we were Americans.

Hellfire, I'm almost to the point where I dislike having to use terms like black and white for fear of the repercussions! How insane is that! (Seriously, I have two black boy cats and I call them, oddly enough, my black boys...when I was telling a coworker about my cats, you'd have thought I committed genocide somewhere!) I'm sorry, I have pale skin (and many freckles) and people generally consider me white. If they are describing me and call me a white woman, so be it. I see no reason we can't use light-skinned/white-skinned, tanned-skin, dark-skinned, black-skinned, olive-skinned, purple-skinned, whatever! And yet, boy, do some people still get persnickety over that! What's next? We're no longer to say we're female/woman, male/man?

Sorry, I digressed and ranted a bit. Been a rough few days with the total BS at the non-home-type place.


I'm African American via the Middle East, the Russian Steppes, Baltic, Western Europe, Ellis Island, U.S. Midwest. That should cover the tens of thousands of years my blood line has traveled. I think this is about insecurity and control by guilt.

Yes, there are some words one shouldn't use. I will not call any man "boy". If I'm called "boy", I just laugh.
Drew
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 2:14:06 PM
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I've been studying journalism for the past few years, and I've always been told that "Oriental" is only proper to refer to an object, while "Asian," or a specific nationality (Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.), is preferred when referring to humans.

Why certain words are considered offensive to certain people can be somewhat bewildering at times, but it's certainly nothing I'm going to get worked up over.
fred
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 3:15:15 PM
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Drew wrote:
I've been studying journalism for the past few years, and I've always been told that "Oriental" is only proper to refer to an object, while "Asian," or a specific nationality (Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.), is preferred when referring to humans.

Why certain words are considered offensive to certain people can be somewhat bewildering at times, but it's certainly nothing I'm going to get worked up over.


Exactly! Or anyone.
prolixitysquared
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 7:43:35 PM
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catskincatskin wrote:
Yeah, it's considered offensive in the NE US for certain. Check out TFD's entry for "oriental." There it says that only the adj. to describe a human is offensive, but where I'm from it's safer to not use it at all. I know that since the early 80s universities throughout the US have changed their departmental names from Oriental Studies to East Asian Studies.

@Genome: I've never heard of "oriental" as a description of India. I think in England it refers to the Middle East and in the US the Far East. (Far East is another term that is highly criticized.)


I did look up TFD's notes about the term 'Oriental' and planned to paste that into my original post, but I forgot by the time I finished typing.
Stevie
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 7:50:35 PM
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Well this has certainly got Fred worked up. :)
prolixitysquared
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 8:10:40 PM
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Plus, I'm sure the offensiveness stems from somewhere if even a handful of us have learned that the term is more derogatory and second best (back burner material, really) to the descriptor 'Asian.'
kaliedel
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 11:54:42 PM
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In regards to the original question, I'm unsure as to whether "oriental" is a derogatory term.

However, there's something else about your post that may need addressing: the ironic idea that she's more "gung-ho American" than you, despite her being Korean and you being of European descent. This is a common assumption we all have, but remember that "American" isn't much of a concrete nationality/heritage (at least not anymore) - anyone can move to the US and become "American," regardless of their background, but hardly anyone can move to, say, Germany, and become "German," apart from technical citizenship.

For good or for bad, "American" is a "big tent" term and can include anyone born in the US or even naturalized there over time (someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, who now seems more American than Austrian.)
prolixitysquared
Posted: Thursday, April 30, 2009 6:59:41 AM
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kaliedel wrote:
In regards to the original question, I'm unsure as to whether "oriental" is a derogatory term.

However, there's something else about your post that may need addressing: the ironic idea that she's more "gung-ho American" than you, despite her being Korean and you being of European descent. This is a common assumption we all have, but remember that "American" isn't much of a concrete nationality/heritage (at least not anymore) - anyone can move to the US and become "American," regardless of their background, but hardly anyone can move to, say, Germany, and become "German," apart from technical citizenship.

For good or for bad, "American" is a "big tent" term and can include anyone born in the US or even naturalized there over time (someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, who now seems more American than Austrian.)


In that instance, I just meant 'American' in terms of behavior. She seems to try to be involved in some of the major stereotypically American pastimes that don't interest me a pinch. Most people who talk to her find it very odd that she has absolutely no interest in learning about her home country or culture.
fred
Posted: Thursday, April 30, 2009 1:19:54 PM
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My posted was edited so I deleted the entire post. My privilege, my way.
Luftmarque
Posted: Thursday, April 30, 2009 1:27:04 PM

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fred wrote:
My posted was edited so I deleted the entire post. My privilege, my way.

But then who deleted my post I wonder? I didn't… did anybody see it before it went away? Will this post also be deleted? If it was deleted, why was it deleted? It was a plea for keeping TFDLFs a place for grown-up discussion, a question about what was objectionable with the list of derogatory terms used as examples rather than as slurs, an observation that the idea of using repetition of an insult to defuse it goes back at least to a Lenny Bruce monologue, and the hope that TFDLFs not be rendered uninteresting by the application of a blandness filter.

[revision] OK, yes it was probably deleted because it quoted fred's (censored) post. That would make more sense than somebody manually deleting a post about a post. I'm still very disappointed about the censoring.
fred
Posted: Thursday, April 30, 2009 1:30:28 PM
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Luftmarque wrote:
fred wrote:
My posted was edited so I deleted the entire post. My privilege, my way.

But then who deleted my post I wonder? I didn't… did anybody see it before it went away? Will this post also be deleted?

Sorry, it may have been deleted because my post was quoted? Unfortunate, Luftmarque. I shared your view.
fred
Posted: Thursday, April 30, 2009 6:49:03 PM
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If Oriental is derogatory, this entire thread should be deleted. Just saying.
fred
Posted: Friday, May 1, 2009 8:41:13 AM
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I think we can now safely say, by a major online dictionary's action and inaction, that the word "Oriental" was not, is not, and most likely never will be a derogatory word.
The English language should not be held hostage by foreigners.
risadr
Posted: Friday, May 1, 2009 9:55:15 PM
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fred wrote:
I think we can now safely say, by a major online dictionary's action and inaction, that the word "Oriental" was not, is not, and most likely never will be a derogatory word.
The English language should not be held hostage by foreigners.


Once again: hear, hear!
kaliedel
Posted: Saturday, May 2, 2009 12:11:16 AM
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prolixitysquared wrote:


In that instance, I just meant 'American' in terms of behavior. She seems to try to be involved in some of the major stereotypically American pastimes that don't interest me a pinch. Most people who talk to her find it very odd that she has absolutely no interest in learning about her home country or culture.


I might be grasping blindly in the dark here, but the non-interest in her home country or culture might be a consequence of being adopted, not of anything Asian-specific (which you might have already assumed.)

Additionally, often nothing is more powerful or tempting than American culture, especially to the first generation of an immigrant family (I say that as the child of first-generation Irish immigrants.) There's a constant struggle between traditional heritage and popular culture.
catskincatskin
Posted: Saturday, May 2, 2009 9:47:34 AM
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fred wrote:

The English language should not be held hostage by foreigners.


What does this mean?
fred
Posted: Saturday, May 2, 2009 12:21:48 PM
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catskincatskin wrote:
fred wrote:

The English language should not be held hostage by foreigners.


What does this mean?



It's meaning is durogattory.
catskincatskin
Posted: Saturday, May 2, 2009 3:35:08 PM
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fred wrote:
catskincatskin wrote:
fred wrote:

The English language should not be held hostage by foreigners.


What does this mean?



It's meaning is durogattory.


Huh. Okay. Initially I thought you were saying that you think it is an act of terrorism when someone expresses offense at a term like "oriental." Since that's not so much derogatory as severe paranoia, I guess I was wrong.

prolixitysquared
Posted: Saturday, May 2, 2009 5:48:20 PM
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kaliedel wrote:
prolixitysquared wrote:


In that instance, I just meant 'American' in terms of behavior. She seems to try to be involved in some of the major stereotypically American pastimes that don't interest me a pinch. Most people who talk to her find it very odd that she has absolutely no interest in learning about her home country or culture.


I might be grasping blindly in the dark here, but the non-interest in her home country or culture might be a consequence of being adopted, not of anything Asian-specific (which you might have already assumed.)

Additionally, often nothing is more powerful or tempting than American culture, especially to the first generation of an immigrant family (I say that as the child of first-generation Irish immigrants.) There's a constant struggle between traditional heritage and popular culture.


I can tell that there is a lot left out here since we're just speaking in general. I know my sister very well, and I know that being adopted has affected her self-perception very seriously. I learned this mostly after I became friends with the South Korean girl (also adopted) whom I mentioned earlier. I learned through her all of what my sister was keeping inside. This is not to say every single minority, or at least that those from Asian countries, have outright identity issues in America. But when I absorbed the issues that impacted my South Korean friend's everyday living so clearly, I started to understand exactly why my sister acts the way she does. It's about fitting in and not feeling like the outsider you look like. My South Korean friend once admitted that she would jokingly call herself 'The Token Asian' in a crowd as a self-defense mechanism-- so that no one else could point her out for being Asian (and not just herself, as we might judge white people) first. My sister has a lot of pain built up inside that she will never face directly. I know this because basic psychology and projection aren't that difficult to grasp. I don't trust my sister much. She is a very manipulative, conniving, and self-serving person. She's convinced that she's entitled to many things for free that the rest of us normally pay for, and I'm pretty sure this is because at least in some way, inside, she feels she deserves it because she's been so wronged by the world around her-- and a lot of the bad circumstances in her life have to do with her being a minority and the people around her being prejudice, racist, etc.

I do understand that not every single minority goes through the same feelings, and maybe some are perfectly fine with who they are, without questioning the country of their origin. But if you've ever read books by Jhumpa Lahiri, it's very easy to see how minorities try to blend and fit into a world that doesn't always feel right to them...but I suppose not being an outcast seems better than any alternative.

Also, besides the many observations I have about my sister, I noticed that when I was younger, whenever anyone would ask her if she was curious about her birth parents, she would quickly clam up and act like the person asking the question was rude and needed to change the subject. She was very firm about it. She especially hated when someone wouldn't give up the topic. I learned an incredible amount about my sister just from observing her behavior and reactions to those around her.

With the South Korean friend, after she grew to trust me well, she admitted that she was jealous of the American style of eyes. She hated pictures of herself because she felt that her face was too oval and her eyes were too small. I had never in my life before that considered the idea of being jealous of the shapes of eyes and the surrounding skin. This friend is a good person, but she's also gone through a lot of difficulties in her life, and most of them stem in some way or another from her being adopted into a white family that should not have been considered suitable for parents to a foreign child or maybe any child.

I think I may have omitted a lot of this information originally just because I wasn't sure if this was the place for such an in-depth, complex topic. And of course, I don't know exactly for sure how my sister feels because she is like a rock. She makes herself very hard on the surface so that pain cannot penetrate her, at least visibly to others. I know she has a lot of issues, and in my youth, she misdirected her anger and problems at me with projection and very poor treatment. She really messed with my head, in the end. But she will never admit to wronging me or treating me badly. If I confront her with how she treated me, she acts like I'm an irrational, lying psycho. Yet many family members have confirmed that she did treat me horribly. I had to go to counseling for it during college, and it was such a release, but it made me so angry at her. I told myself I would not trust her fully until she gets help with a psychiatrist or something along those lines. She will probably never attempt to try therapy though because that would mean acknowledging that she has problems. And everyone has problems, I think we can all admit. But when you let issues go and build up and express themselves in unhealthy, misdirected ways, it's damaging to all of those around you. I am very big on looking at issues (and people !) closely in order to truly understand the how and why of people's behavior and actions. I think it's pretty much a lost cause with my sister.

Also, I should note that her son, who is almost 16, has said certain things before that clearly showed his discomfort with being Asian because he felt that people would see him and only think of the stereotype of Asians-- not of him just being himself as a human being. I tried to talk to him about it, to make him feel better, but he is his mother's son, and of course he didn't listen. It's a shame, but he's a psychologically consistent clone of her, but in maleness and younger years.

Issues, issues, issues all around ! I think this is a very complex topic that is difficult to analyze thoroughly in one hit.
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