Use of word 'Oriental' restricted by law
Seattle Times staff reporter
Instead, officials must use "Asian" to describe people of Asian descent.
The change is mandated by a bill sponsored by state Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, and is the first such law in the country. Shin said he got the idea from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who sought to outlaw the word "Negro" because of its connection to slavery.
The word "Oriental" was first used to denote everything east of London, said Shin, a Korean War orphan. It was later used to describe people with flat noses, small eyes, black hair and mysterious ways, he said.
"We don't appreciate that," he said. "It's pejorative terminology. It's offensive."
He introduced the bill last year, but it stalled in committee. At the time, many legislators said they had no idea Oriental was perceived as a slur. And some were confused when told it was still OK to speak of Oriental food and rugs but not people.
Shin tried again this year, and the measure overwhelmingly passed. Only six lawmakers — all from Eastern Washington — opposed the change.
The law immediately reforms only a lone statute that requires the solicitation of minority contractors for construction of city water mains.
The law read: "Minority group members include, but are not limited to, blacks, women, native Americans, Orientals, Eskimos, Aleuts and Spanish Americans."
Shin's bill replaced "Orientals" with "Asians" and "Spanish Americans" with "Hispanics."
Since the law is limited to references to human beings, it leaves RCW 18.36A.050 and its mention of "oriental medicine or oriental herbology" untouched.
Shin said he's fielded called from newspaper reporters across Asia inquiring about the change.
He also heard from U.S. Rep. Michael Honda, D-San Jose, Calif., who told Shin he may introduce a similar bill in Congress next year.