Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 10-10-2019, 02:47 PM
TriPolar is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: rhode island
Posts: 40,718

Is "kowtow" a racist derogatory term?


The following comes from this thread about the NBA and China.


Quote:
Originally Posted by kayaker View Post
You and two other posters used the term "kowtow". I thought this was a racist derogatory term, and a Chinese-American friend agrees. Just a thought.
Quote:
Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
Can you cite anyone else who thinks this? It's derived from Chinese. Why would this be racist? Nobody is saying the Chinese were kowtowing here.
Quote:
Originally Posted by XT View Post
I think it has to do with the Chinese concept of the century of humiliation. The term is derived from a Chinese word, IIRC, which is part of their reverence or respect ceremony towards the emperor and/or the imperial family, but was picked up by westerners and often used in derogatory ways to say Chinese were, uniformly submissive or passive or whatever.

I don't think it's a racist term, but it does have some negative connotations, especially today and especially when used by westerners. My sons partner and his family are from China, and this is how they explain it to me anyway when it's come up.
It may have negative connotations but I can't see how it is racist. If the term has been used in a derogatory manner to describe the Chinese as being uniformly submissive it must have been long ago. I don't think it is at all applied to the Chinese people in the modern world.

But I could be wrong. Let's see what turns up in this thread.
  #2  
Old 10-10-2019, 03:05 PM
What Exit?'s Avatar
What Exit? is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Central NJ (near Bree)
Posts: 29,366
Kowtow is a derogatory term, like grovel or servile, but not a racist term.

I have seen kowtow more often used to describe people or nations giving into another nations demands then about the Chinese people being servile.

Last edited by What Exit?; 10-10-2019 at 03:06 PM.
  #3  
Old 10-10-2019, 04:28 PM
Darren Garrison's Avatar
Darren Garrison is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2016
Posts: 11,693
No.
  #4  
Old 10-11-2019, 12:12 AM
Gary T is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: KCMO
Posts: 11,369
Not racist.
  #5  
Old 10-11-2019, 12:32 AM
Gatopescado is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: on your last raw nerve
Posts: 22,443
Quote:
Originally Posted by Darren Garrison View Post
No.
No reason to be a thug.
  #6  
Old 10-11-2019, 06:49 AM
mbh is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Posts: 4,789
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kowtow

The word implies that the modern Communists are as tyrannical as the emperors were.
That's a political jibe, not a racial slur.
  #7  
Old 10-11-2019, 07:13 AM
kayaker's Avatar
kayaker is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Rural Western PA
Posts: 32,849
If "kowtow" isn't racist/derogatory, then why, in a thread about China, was it used repeatedly instead of "grovel" or similar? I wish I knew a few more Chinese-Americans I could ask.
  #8  
Old 10-11-2019, 07:59 AM
What Exit?'s Avatar
What Exit? is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Central NJ (near Bree)
Posts: 29,366
Quote:
Originally Posted by kayaker View Post
If "kowtow" isn't racist/derogatory, then why, in a thread about China, was it used repeatedly instead of "grovel" or similar? I wish I knew a few more Chinese-Americans I could ask.
I say the word isn't racist, not having read the thread, I can't speak to the users of the word.
  #9  
Old 10-11-2019, 08:05 AM
mbh is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Posts: 4,789
It's derogatory to authoritarian political regimes, and people who ought to rebel against them, but choose to submit. Since the word is of Chinese origin, it is used in a discussion of Chinese politics.

Last edited by mbh; 10-11-2019 at 08:08 AM.
  #10  
Old 10-11-2019, 08:09 AM
Napier is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Mid Atlantic, USA
Posts: 9,579
Perhaps pushing for clarity on the question of "racist or not racist" misses a more useful point, and tends to suggest a binary choice between "people using the word that way are inherently jerks" and "we should all go ahead and use the word that way".

It's great that English tends to adopt words from other languages, but I can see it might be a bit problematic that native users of the language borrowed from might sense a misfit between how English speakers use the word and how native users do. It might kind of trivialize and misrepresent the word. It's a kind of cultural appropriation. If we combine that with the choice to keep using the word in a discussion involving specifically those native users, it could be insulting, right?
  #11  
Old 10-11-2019, 08:21 AM
mbh is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Posts: 4,789
I'm sure that the Party apparatchiks who ordered the Tienamen Square crackdown, and today's Hong Kong crackdown, would love it if we stopped comparing them to the imperial mandarins. Should we let them dictate the vocabulary that we use?
  #12  
Old 10-11-2019, 09:14 AM
madsircool is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: Los Angeles
Posts: 7,656
Quote:
Originally Posted by Napier View Post
Perhaps pushing for clarity on the question of "racist or not racist" misses a more useful point, and tends to suggest a binary choice between "people using the word that way are inherently jerks" and "we should all go ahead and use the word that way".

It's great that English tends to adopt words from other languages, but I can see it might be a bit problematic that native users of the language borrowed from might sense a misfit between how English speakers use the word and how native users do. It might kind of trivialize and misrepresent the word. It's a kind of cultural appropriation. If we combine that with the choice to keep using the word in a discussion involving specifically those native users, it could be insulting, right?
No. Kowtowing is a verb, not an adjective. The CCP is currently trying to get the pesky NBA and Hong Kong to kowtow to its oppressive ways. We should refuse to kowtow to them and we should refuse to stop using perfectly honest words.
  #13  
Old 10-11-2019, 09:52 AM
XT's Avatar
XT is offline
Agnatheist
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: The Great South West
Posts: 35,516
Quote:
Originally Posted by mbh View Post
I'm sure that the Party apparatchiks who ordered the Tienamen Square crackdown, and today's Hong Kong crackdown, would love it if we stopped comparing them to the imperial mandarins. Should we let them dictate the vocabulary that we use?
The CCP has been VERY good at stirring up things with charges or implications of racism, so this would be a two-fer for them really. Basically, they have been trying (and succeeding to a degree) in causing a mental shift that Chinese=CCP and that the CCP IS CHINA. So, got an issue with something the CCP is doing? You are a racist against China and the Chinese people. CCP actions towards other countries or wrt territorial grabs has connotations of colonialism? You are obviously a racist and hate the Chinese people. Use the word kowtow towards what the CCP is doing? Well, that's saying that all of China and the Chinese people are subservient, or that you think every Chinese person demands this...or something.

You see this all the time, though generally it's not directed at the US. I've seen some of the stuff the CCP and their state owned media has said about some of the stuff in Australia, and it was funny to see them calling the Canadians racists because of the Huawei. What's sad is so many people fall for this, both inside of China and outside. When you actually take a step back, you can see that it's all crafted outrage and directed anger with the specific purpose of muddying the waters and obscuring the reality.

I wouldn't use the world kowtow myself, as it does have some derogatory baggage as well as history. Plus, it's just old. But it's pretty certain that the CCP IS trying to force companies and countries to do things their way, to think their way (and, more importantly to not think about things the CCP doesn't want them to think about). And more people should be aware of this and aware of how the CCP is manipulating people, companies and countries, and why it's important to at least be aware and to say something when they cross one of the many lines they cross on an almost daily basis somewhere in the world.
__________________
-XT

That's what happens when you let rednecks play with anti-matter!
  #14  
Old 10-11-2019, 10:09 AM
Enilno is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2010
Posts: 265
As a Chinese American, I don't find the term to be racist or derogatory.

The English term came from western diplomats refusing to perform the ceremonial prostration to the Qing Emperor because it would mean that the representatives of another country is subservient to the Qing Emperor. So of course it carried a negative connotation. The usage in English is reflective of this historical context.

Quote:
Originally Posted by XT
The term is derived from a Chinese word, IIRC, which is part of their reverence or respect ceremony towards the emperor and/or the imperial family, but was picked up by westerners and often used in derogatory ways to say Chinese were, uniformly submissive or passive or whatever.
Traditionally in Chinese culture it's just a symbol for respect or reverence. Yes it's part of the ceremony towards the emperor, but you would also kowtow to your parents or elders, to a deity in a temple, or to express gratitude or beg for forgiveness. In modern mainland China it may be looked down on by some as an relic of the past, but not because it means to show undue subservience.

I think the English term carries it's own connotations entirely different from how the word may be used in Chinese, and using the term in context of Hong Kong and the Chinese government is pretty apt.
  #15  
Old 10-11-2019, 11:44 AM
Corry El is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
Posts: 3,893
I would say no.

Then again I'm less likely to say words are 'racist' generally than a lot of people here. To me 'racist' is per dictionary definition such as "showing or feeling discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or believing that a particular race is superior to another." And it should be a literal expression of such views IMO, not an ever expanding circle of inferences. A fairly small list of English words IMO directly imply such views (eg. words long and commonly used unambiguously as derogatory labels), and 'progress' does not demands the list rapidly multiply as some seem to want it to.

I myself tend not to use archaic words with an original English use referring to the supposed difference in behavior of 'other' cultures relative to the west (kowtow, gyp, etc). But I think it devalues real racism to call use of such terms 'racist'.
  #16  
Old 10-11-2019, 04:33 PM
Marvin the Martian is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2015
Location: Phoenix, AZ, USA
Posts: 1,258
Quote:
Originally Posted by Enilno View Post
Traditionally in Chinese culture it's just a symbol for respect or reverence. Yes it's part of the ceremony towards the emperor, but you would also kowtow to your parents or elders, to a deity in a temple, or to express gratitude or beg for forgiveness.
This. My first trip to China back in the 80s I went with my family to visit my grandfather's and my uncle's graves. All present kowtowed three time towards my grandfather's grave (all were from the younger generations); at my uncles grave the family of the same generation kowtowed once and the younger among us three times. Simply a show of respect.
  #17  
Old 10-12-2019, 01:32 AM
Ashtura is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 2,382
I've used this word before and had no idea it had anything to do with China. I don't think it's racist, but from an etymology perspective, ignorance fought.
  #18  
Old 10-12-2019, 09:54 AM
guizot is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: An East Hollywood dingbat
Posts: 8,736
No word or phrase is inherently racist. Racial or racist connotations arise from usage, as does the degree that they may be offensive. If you could show--through a corpus study--that the term kowtow demonstrates a preponderance of negatively racial usage, you could say that it is a racist term, but I suspect that such usage has faded away over time. For example, you could probably argue--using a corpus study--that the phrase inner city is used to index problematic racial connotations, and arguably has racist overtones. I'm not sure you could do the same with kowtow, especially with regard to the Chinese.
  #19  
Old 10-12-2019, 10:50 AM
TriPolar is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: rhode island
Posts: 40,718
Quote:
Originally Posted by Napier View Post
Perhaps pushing for clarity on the question of "racist or not racist" misses a more useful point, and tends to suggest a binary choice between "people using the word that way are inherently jerks" and "we should all go ahead and use the word that way".b

It's great that English tends to adopt words from other languages, but I can see it might be a bit problematic that native users of the language borrowed from might sense a misfit between how English speakers use the word and how native users do. It might kind of trivialize and misrepresent the word. It's a kind of cultural appropriation. If we combine that with the choice to keep using the word in a discussion involving specifically those native users, it could be insulting, right?
The comments related by XT in the other thread sounded like a claim of cultural appropriation to me. I don't think CA is wrong per se, and I don't see "kowtow" as any wrong kind of CA. It is interesting in it's etymology, in Imperial China there may have been no negative connotations, but the western world saw such prostration as a negative thing. In this case I was using it negatively as applied to the NBA, but not the Chinese.

I'm not sure why I chose the word "kowtow", I might have seen in some article about this beforehand, or my mind made the China connection unconsciously, but I can see a little confusion by using it in this context.

Last edited by TriPolar; 10-12-2019 at 10:51 AM.
  #20  
Old 10-12-2019, 06:28 PM
BigT's Avatar
BigT is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: "Hicksville", Ark.
Posts: 36,595
I personally would use kowtow and grovel differently. Kowtow, to me, means to completely surrender and give in to what the other side wants, while grovel means to go and beg for forgiveness, offering to do anything to get it. There is a similarity there, but not the same thing.

For me, a better synonym is submit, but that lacks the negative connotation towards the one being submitted to.
__________________
sig for testing purposes only

Last edited by BigT; 10-12-2019 at 06:29 PM.
  #21  
Old 10-13-2019, 08:38 PM
octopus's Avatar
octopus is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2015
Posts: 8,978
No.
  #22  
Old 10-13-2019, 10:31 PM
China Guy is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Pacific Northwest
Posts: 11,690
Sure seems like someone trying hard to find a word to get upset about. It literally means to Knock your head (against the ground). the character is 磕头. More commonly now is bowing as opposed to literally bowing down until your forehead touches the ground. Submit or subjugate. It is a very common practice among Buddhists today. Harkens back to the "mandate of heaven": with heaven-earth; emperor-subject; parent-child, etc.

At worst it is cultural appropriation but methinks it's a huge stretch to being racist. Since "English" is made up of primarily borrowed words and languages, that in and of itself is not worthy of being racist, n'est pas?
  #23  
Old 10-14-2019, 07:16 AM
Ravenman is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Washington, DC
Posts: 26,684
I think the word “chopsticks” has a more unseemliness about it than the word “kowtow.”

The word chopsticks probably came from the hackneyed “chop chop!” meaning to go fast, and the word is probably unrelated to any Asian terminology for the utensil.

As said before, kowtow is basically the English pronunciation of a Chinese word that is used in a meaning that’s faithful to the original.
  #24  
Old 10-14-2019, 07:43 AM
Two Many Cats is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Chicago
Posts: 4,961
I don't know. Is the term "boondocks" racist because it comes from the Tagalog language?
  #25  
Old 10-14-2019, 07:54 PM
Apollyon is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Posts: 2,721
Quote:
Originally Posted by Two Many Cats View Post
I don't know. Is the term "boondocks" racist because it comes from the Tagalog language?
Google is telling me that 80% of English words are loan words. This way lies madness.

Also, TIL that boondocks, and the more common local form "boonies" came from Tagalog by way of the US army. Now I'm curious how it made it to NZ slang; directly from US media, or via US military (perhaps WWII)...
  #26  
Old 10-14-2019, 08:18 PM
Arrendajo is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2010
Location: Emerald City South
Posts: 2,350
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ravenman View Post
I think the word “chopsticks” has a more unseemliness about it than the word “kowtow.”

The word chopsticks probably came from the hackneyed “chop chop!” meaning to go fast, and the word is probably unrelated to any Asian terminology for the utensil.

As said before, kowtow is basically the English pronunciation of a Chinese word that is used in a meaning that’s faithful to the original.
Chopsticks is a literal translation of the Chinese kuŕizi (筷子) meaning something quick or nimble.
Chop Chop is from Cantonese and means "do it quickly" or "right now."

Last edited by Arrendajo; 10-14-2019 at 08:21 PM.
  #27  
Old 10-15-2019, 01:33 AM
BigT's Avatar
BigT is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: "Hicksville", Ark.
Posts: 36,595
It's one thing when the words include a reference to a culture, like "Welshing" on a bet or being "gypped." Then, if the word came from a negative view of said culture, it makes sense to call it racist. Or if it had a history since its appropriation of being used in a racist manner (like being used as part of a negative stereotype), that could make it racist.

And I guess if the word were sacred in some oppressed culture, you could argue it was culturally appropriated. But merely borrowing words can't be--at least, no the bad kind.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 12:11 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2019 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017