Orientalism and its Prevalence Today

I had always thought that Orientalism and the word Oriental itself was simply just racist towards Asian individuals. I do still think that, but it was interesting to hear Said’s point of view on it. He worked to see “past” its racism and instead studied it objectively and historically to try to figure out why Americans have such an “us” and “them” mindset. But God of Small Things showed that some people who live in Asia may have that same mindset, but view being American or being from the west as a positive, while it’s the opposite for Western folks.

Although the video of Said and his book on Orientalism are from quite a while ago, the Eurocentric view of Asian people has remained and nothing has made that more clear than the Corona Virus.

On countless occasions I have overheard people confidently say such uncomfortable and harmful things about Chinese people because the virus originated from there. It seems like everyone is forgetting that the most harmful and murderous diseases came from Europe. But of course as soon as something comes from Asia it is suddenly all of their faults and their way of life is now being constantly criticized. It’s also been crazy to see how the media has used Asian people in pictures when reporting on the virus when it made no sense to.

The only way to truly understand why people are so quick to say such ignorant remarks is to trace it back historically. I think we all take part in reinforcing ingroups and outgroups, and I don’t think they’re always bad. But when it comes to blaming a gigantic group of people who are just as guilty (but more like innocent) as you and I, is when it becomes a large and harmful issue.

2 thoughts on “Orientalism and its Prevalence Today

  1. JONAH O

    I totally agree with this idea. The idea or orientialism is like a double edged sword. Because asia has the same prejudicial view on america that we might have on them. I had a friend who came back from china (before corona) after working there for a year only to find out that it’s almost the same way. With the chinese government blocking out a lot of what is being told by the media the country doesn’t tend to always learn about everything from correct sources.

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  2. It’s worth noting that, although Said would spend most of his academic career at Columbia University in New York City, his academic focus was European art, literature, and music (he was a big opera fan). The fact that we can apply Orientalism to the United States comes from other scholars’ adaptations of his theories (and American culture being, to some extent, an extension of a much longer-standing Western European culture).

    We also must ask how much of Said’s theory can be applied directly to the United States and how does the United States unique history of internal racism and its relative lack of a colonial empire make its relationship with global stereotypes a bit different. I’m not saying it’s less intense — just different. So much of American “imperialism” comes in the form of economic domination (most of the actual manufacturing of our everyday commodities now come from overseas sweatshops in Asia, for example). That’s more of a hidden domination, which gets its justification, maybe not through stereotypes, but through a silence. We don’t want to know where stuff we use and wear comes from; we don’t want to interrogate our privilege.

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