Monday, 20 June 2011

Is the saying 'Chinese whisper' racist?

Yesterday my local paper reported  a story from Bejing where a young toddler had fallen from a building and become wedged behind an airconditioner. And then someone made a funny comment and then it was misunderstood or trolled for response and it was on. Don't you love the internet? Just like the safety of being locked inside the shell of your car where you can yell and shout at all the other idiot drivers who are refusing to give you a perfect run to wherever you're going.

Anyway - it got me thinking about what kicked the whole thing off. There are various terms we use for things that we probably never slow down to really think about. I've grown up knowing the term Chinese whisper - first as a party game where you whisper to the next person and they whisper on down the line and then you reveal the message that has ended up and the message that began - only to fall about laughing because the phrase 'particularly nasty weather' has been tortured through retelling and has ended up 'tickle your arse with a feather'. And then as I got older to realise how the saying came about.

In Australia, the Chinese have been part of our country since they flocked here in the 1850's to join the huge Victorian gold rush. In fact my first boss was Chinese and I remember asking him once when his family arrived - and in his very broad Aussie accent he said, "5 generations ago."

Now I don't know if the term 'Chinese Whsiper' comes from the gold fields where a message left with a Chinaman who barely spoke English would be passed on as something different, or if the term has come from elsewhere. I know in other countries the practise/game is called 'Telephone" - a far better and less controversial title. But is the term Chinese Whisper racist? Does it infer more than a struggle with language - a comment on intelligence? If so then it's definitely racist, but for me it goes into the politically correct - too hard basket. The readers in the newspaper certainly got stuck in and divided into the 'yes it does' and the 'no it doesn't' camps.

My call is that I don't think it is a term that signals a racist attitude, but it may infer one unwittingly. And for that reason - I'm going to take it out of my vocabulary and start calling that game 'Telephone'. Because the last thing I would ever want to be accused of is being a racist. So from now on when I give information to someone and they get what I say totally arse backwards, I will say it's just like playing telephone...... stupid Indian call centres!

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