I think 'no likey' perpetuates a racial stereotype April 6, 2001 11:03 AM   Subscribe

"No Likey"? I hate that phrase and think it perpetuates a racial stereotype. I've seen it a couple times in comments and it blasted me on the front page today. I'm not saying anyone that uses it is racist, nor am I asking that anyone be condemned for using it. I just wanted to make my feelings known. You may disagree.
posted by girlhacker to Etiquette/Policy at 11:03 AM (37 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

OK, was perhaps too hasty in posting because I actually did a search and found it was the same person using this phrase (twice) and I should have taken it up with him personally. Which I will do now. Feel free to discuss if you feel the need to, of course.
posted by girlhacker at 11:08 AM on April 6, 2001

Which racial stereotype? (I'm being serious...I'm not aware of that particular phrase's etymology).
posted by jkottke at 11:39 AM on April 6, 2001

At the risk of perpetuating a different stereotype, I've heard that in Oriental (what am I supposed to say? Eastern?) impersonations.
posted by MarkAnd at 11:44 AM on April 6, 2001

Yeah, it's commonly used in bad Japanese accents.
posted by Skot at 12:12 PM on April 6, 2001

who cares? i say "my brotha". i say "old chap". i say "viva pepe!". this is equal opprotunity humor here people.
posted by pup at 12:15 PM on April 6, 2001

I think the cutesy, unnecessary addition of "-ee" or "-ey" to various words has been around for a while, and is almost always associated with silly stereotypes of Asians. If you need some evidence of how silly and offensive it is, just have a listen to this audio snippet from the movie Tex Rides with the Boy Scouts from 1937 (in mp3 format). Nonetheless, the whole practice of "-ee"ing various words has become more free-floating, dissassociated from the original and more overtly racist usage. Which is why, like Mr. Kottke, many people aren't aware of it's more insidious overtones.
posted by varmint at 12:19 PM on April 6, 2001

yeah, i can't spell. real men don't spell check.

anyway, isn't it possible that this has become so diluted that no one even gives it a thought anymore? i know i haven't, but i might just be a racist pig without realizing it.
posted by pup at 12:25 PM on April 6, 2001

Japanese people much more commonly end mispronounced english words with 'o' or 'u' sounds than 'e's... So, I'm assuming the stereotype originated from other culture's mispronunciations...

posted by Neb at 12:29 PM on April 6, 2001

So I can't say "No Likey" anymore. What a gyp!
posted by MarkAnd at 12:33 PM on April 6, 2001

pup: It has become diluted. I believe people use it innocently most of the time. Hell, I've used it myself and I'm fully aware of its etymology. It's a great way to add a little levity when you're describing something you don't like. Still, I appreciate this post as a reminder that no matter how cute it seems, it comes off as demeaning to a lot of people, especially Asian-Americans.

neb: The original stereotype (like the one in that clip i just posted) was a common mockery of Chinese-Americans. Chinese laundrymen, specifically. But native Chinese speakers who are learning English don't talk that way either, so the stereotype isn't accurate regardless.
posted by varmint at 12:46 PM on April 6, 2001

Thanks for bringing this up, girlhacker.

MarkAnd, it's ... impolite to describe people as "Oriental". Asian or Asian-American (where appropriate) is preferred. And your second post is not funny.
posted by sudama at 1:01 PM on April 6, 2001

To me, use of the phrase perpetuates the stereotyped portrayal of Chinese immigrants, used in old movies and shows (as noted above). In my experience I haven't heard it used enough to feel it is "diluted", and it may very well be that people around me (I am Chinese American and live in a very multi-cultural community) assume I may find it offensive and don't use it enough for me to pass it off as just unfortunate mass usage. But I don't see it flung around in the vernacular of sitcoms (maybe I don't watch enough "mass market" TV). Even if it is commonly used, that takes me to the issue of "is it OK for me to become accustomed to something that mocks my cultural heritage?" I cringe when I hear "no tickee no laundry", which I've heard used in business meetings and I just hold my tongue. I don't think anyone that uses it means to be offensive, but does that make it OK? I'm actually not sure, but I know it doesn't make me feel OK. It actually bothers me more that people don't know about its origins, though I am glad that is because those stereotypes are not used much anymore.
posted by girlhacker at 1:13 PM on April 6, 2001

i work with a producer from hawaii, who is chinese/hawaiian/french/japanese/filipino--and he says no likee all the time when he pops into using slang...he is the only person i've ever heard do that, and he does it in a very exaggerated fashion, not because he has an accent. I would definitely cringe a bit if anyone else i knew used it.
posted by th3ph17 at 1:24 PM on April 6, 2001

Hmm, no I wasn't shooting for Asian, much too broad -- I was sure the line wouldn't be used to disenfranchise a person who lived on the steppe -- and I didn't know if the "no likey" stereotype was Japanese or Chinese.

And you're right, the gyp line wasn't funny.
posted by MarkAnd at 1:29 PM on April 6, 2001

I really think that people are just too damn sensitive about this kind of thing. I don't get my feelings hurt when someone makes fun of my drawl or how I say "I" (sounds a lot like "ah"). Even if someone is a minority, there's no reason to get your panties in a twist because of saying something like "no likey".

Some words don't have a place in normal discourse because of their usage, such as "nigger" or "kike". But things like this simply don't approach that level. It's time, imho, for folks to grow up a bit about it.
posted by CRS at 1:35 PM on April 6, 2001

MarkAnd or sudama-

what's up with gyp? i've used it before, but didn't know there was something behind it, either.

next thing i know you're going to tell me that "meta" is demeaning to puerto ricans or something :)
posted by pnevares at 1:46 PM on April 6, 2001

I presume that gyp comings from Gypsy?
posted by trox at 1:49 PM on April 6, 2001

In considering what CRS says about being too sensitive, I think that there is a difference between kindly making fun of someone's southern accent and mocking an exaggerated stereotype. I suppose there were (maybe are?) some Chinese people running around saying "no likey", but to me it is an unkind stereotype originally perpetuated by movies, radio, and TV. I'd rather not keep it going, just as there are southern accent stereotypes that probably should go away. The problem comes when people generalize a population unfairly. I've been trying to figure out where my sensitivity to this comes from (it's a gut reaction) and it probably leads back to being teased a lot for being different as a child. I was the only Asian student in my town. So, yeah, I am extra sensitive. :-) Thanks for everyone's thoughts, btw. I didn't post this only to hear agreements, so I appreciate hearing the opposing viewpoints.
posted by girlhacker at 2:13 PM on April 6, 2001

I guess you had to be there. From my perspective, whacking an -ee sound on the end of verbs or nouns evokes the old image of a unilingual American tourist trying to communicate with people in non-English speaking countries.

"Do you speakee Englee?"

On second thought, I guess that isn't a stereotype you want to perpetuate either...
posted by xiffix at 2:19 PM on April 6, 2001

at one point in history, many common words or phrases may have been considered offensive. but most people don't realize this when they say those words or phrases. they say "gyp" or "no likey" just like they say "yadda yadda yadda" or "groovy". it's just slang. no meaning beyond that. you know they didn't mean it to be offensive. you know that they have no idea it has an offensive background. so now the burden is on you to ignore it. you're imagining racism where there is none.
posted by pup at 2:21 PM on April 6, 2001

The theory is that it comes from gypsy. Gypsies had a repuation for swindling people. It's actually a little unclear, though.

That was certainly the sense in which I was using it, thus making it sort of vaguely insensitive. (It was on an episode of Will and Grace last year, though, which tells you something about the strength of the Gypsy lobby.)
posted by MarkAnd at 2:21 PM on April 6, 2001

We need a new language, we will call it newspeak. If all offensive words are removed, offensive thoughts will soon follow.

Assitant director of Minitrue
posted by Mick at 2:31 PM on April 6, 2001

Mick, that's a doubleplus good idea.
posted by MarkAnd at 2:36 PM on April 6, 2001

I thought it looked like babytalk. Either way this passes below my sensitivity level.
posted by john at 2:39 PM on April 6, 2001

While we're debunking stereotypes, I'd like to point out that the fabled "ancient Chinese secret" is a big fat lie - It's Calgon, people! Calgon!

Really, I don't know why people are lapsing into dystopian satire over this - hackergirl admitted that she doesn't think everyone who uses the term is racist. But it makes her cringe - a gut reaction. I sympathize.

And besides, it looks like we may have bigger fish to fry...
posted by varmint at 2:58 PM on April 6, 2001

I had no idea that "What a gyp!" had anything to do with Gypsies! the phrase just appeared at some point in my childhood. Metafilter enlightens again.
posted by register at 5:53 PM on April 6, 2001

Maybe we could get Matt to implement a filter to prohibit use of every word which might offend anyone:

"I have been trying to fill every chink and nook and cranny."
I'm sorry, Dave, I can't let you use the word "chink". It could offend people of Chinese ancestry.

"Of course, like the legendary dutch-boy, I could put my finger in the dike to stop the leak."
I'm sorry, Dave, I can't let you use the word "dike". It is deeply offensive to lesbians.

"I took my bitch to the dog show today and she won the blue ribbon! I love my dog!"
I'm sorry, Dave, I can't let you use the word "bitch". It could offend women.

"My grandfather spent his life working in a shipyard, and then was diagnosed with pneumoconiosis."
I'm sorry, Dave, I can't let you use "pneumoconiosis". People descended from Welsh coal miners are sometimes uncomfortable talking about that disease."

"When it comes to fixing the California power system, I believe in revolution and not evolution."
I'm sorry, Dave, I can't let you use "evolution". Fundamentalist Christians are offended by the idea that we might be descended from animals."

"Why do you always try to make every issue black and white? Don't you believe in gray?"
I'm sorry, Dave, I can't let you use the word "black". May I suggest that you use "Person of Color" instead? And instead of "white", may I suggest "Stinking Racist European Slime"?

That's what we need!
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:06 PM on April 6, 2001

The Racial Slur Database might come in handy...
posted by shinybeast at 10:29 PM on April 6, 2001

shinybeast: password required?
posted by pnevares at 9:53 AM on April 7, 2001

I love how everytime someone points out a legitimately offensive term, the conversation always wanders to someone who, in the name of "bravely defying political correctness," complains that they don't get to be insensitive anymore.

No one would ever censor a word out of context on MeFi, and not even in most places online. Setting up some straw man (Straw Matt?) to complain about words that no one is saying you can't use seems pointless.

I have to reiterate: Those that pride themselves on being politically incorrect are usually more accurately described as rude. If your mother didn't teach you that calling someone by a word they find offensive is a bad idea, then she must have been quite a bitch.
posted by anildash at 10:58 AM on April 7, 2001 [1 favorite]

Steven, Likey isn't a word, so your example doesn't really work. Girlhacker is getting a bad feeling because she feels the people using it may be mocking the chinese. Whether that has merit or not, I don't know, but everyone would be pretty upset if somebody responded to a post: Yessuh, you sho be right, Massa Steven. Them sho be smart things you done said.
posted by Doug at 11:22 AM on April 7, 2001

Maybe the solution is for people to lighten up and stop being so sensitive. I think there's a bit of a difference between "I'm bothered by that ugly sentiment" and "I'm a little worried that this particular phrase might conceivably offend someone else".

The person using the phrase "no likey", to take this particular example, wasn't making an attempt to run down the Chinese, or any ethnic group at all for that matter. It was just a figure of speech being used to suggest that the speaker being characterized might have a bit of trouble thinking or speaking. It was intended to suggest "the speaker is stupid" -- not "the speaker is Chinese". Lest we forget, the post in question was about Linus Torvalds, a Finn, which is just about as far from being Chinese as it's possible to be. Now maybe, just maybe, it could have been considered a racial slight if it had been applied to, say, Yo Yo Ma. But Linus Torvalds?

Maybe it wasn't clever. But there's nothing wrong with being prosaic.

No, I am not honestly suggesting that a filtering system looking for words out of context be instituted; my post was precisely intended to suggest that this was a silly concept. But it was equally intended to suggest something else, which was apparently too subtle. So let me spell it out, without any attempt at humor.

Human-level filtering which also doesn't take context into consideration is just as silly.

What I don't want to see is a situation where everyone has to stop after every sentence they write and say to themself "Hmmm... is there anyone that any word or phrase I'm using here might conceivably offend? Maybe I better rephrase that, or not post at all. I wouldn't want to step on the toes of any ethnic group or downtrodden minority." I don't want to have to keep a list of ethnic groups in my head beginning with Albanian and ending with Zulu which I have to run down in my head after everything I write. And I don't want anyone else to, either.

If I know that a fellow poster is, for instance, descended from Africans and if I deliberately call that person "nigger" and am deliberately intending to cause harm by my use of the term, then I am over the line and deserve censure. But equally I would contend that such a case would stand out and be obvious.

But there's a great distance between that and stomping on someone for using a phrase like "gyp" who wasn't even aware that it was an obscure reference to Gypsies. He (?) didn't mean anything by it -- and that is the point. I'd like censure to be based on attitudes, not on words. If no harm is meant, then no harm is given. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt, until such time as it becomes obvious that they don't deserve it.

So let's take some topical examples, shall we? For instance, the use of Haiku to describe a Twinkies might be offensive to some Japanese people. The Haiku form is traditionally considered high art in Japan; the use of it for stupid purposes is a bit demeaning.

A preposterous proposition? Of course it is. I seriously doubt if anyone of Japanese descent (or anyone else, either) is offended by the use of Haiku this way. (Anymore than anyone was offended by the use of sonnets to describe the angst of Gen-X yuppies in a book whose name I can't recall right this moment. It came out about 1985.)

At a certain point, sensitivity to racial slights -- or any kind of sensitivity at all -- becomes a weapon of tyranny. Someone can't say to me "don't write that because I don't want anyone to read that concept" because I'll tell them to go to hell. But it seems to be correct (politically correct) to say "Don't write that because it might offend someone in thus-and-so ethnic group." This gives people a weapon to use to suppress anything they don't like, with which they can blackmail us into only writing what they themselves approve of.

So they can still go to hell.

Since I believe in free speech and free expression even when the speech is offensive then I object to this. I don't like and don't have to like everything I read -- and neither does anyone else.

If the only speech which is free is completely inoffensive speech, then there is no freedom. If everyone has veto power over everything that anyone else says, then we are all locked in cages.

The reason "political correctness" gets such ridicule is that on one level people understand that it is a form of tyranny. It's a weapon that people in a minority (no matter what minority, even if they have to imagine a minority like, say, red-heads [such as me]) use to control the speech, and they hope the thoughts, of those around them.

Take what someone writes the way they intend it to be taken. Judge intents, not words. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Reserve your anger for those who express vile attitudes.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:17 PM on April 7, 2001

I would like to suggest that, if you (anyone, not you specifically, girlhacker, and you said you did this anyway) have a problem with something like this someone has said, you should take it up with them personally. Let them know it offends you, and ask them if they will, in the future, refrain from making such comments, for the purposes of civility.
If it continues to be a problem, then bring it up in metatalk. We're all(?) grownups(??) here, we don't need to make every issue public.
I don't think anyone has an obligation to tread lightly on gilded eggshells. I do think that, as a civil person, you should try and avoid hurting other people's feelings if you can.

Steven-- I concur :)
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:38 PM on April 7, 2001

Sheesh - a very civil post about a term someone found objectionable, with explicit disclaimers like "nor am I asking that anyone be condemned for using it"; we all learn something interesting about the etymology of this phrase; nowhere in any post is it suggested that the term be banned or prohibited in any way; and still, people are foaming at the mouth.

Maybe the solution is for people to lighten up and stop being so sensitive.

posted by varmint at 2:22 PM on April 7, 2001

I agree with girlhacker.

When I hear the expression I think of a westerner (a gwailo) imitating a Chinese speaking English. Specifically, it's an American stereotype in the same genre as "No tickee, no shirtee".

Of course, it really depends on the context, how it's used and who (if any) it was directed at. For example, I would hate to see it used in the threads on the current US/China spy plane debacle (unfortunately, some pretty bad things have already been said on Mefi along these lines).

On a lighter note, it's far more fun (and insightful) see how Chinese parody themselves for their own amusement. My wife is Chinese and she loved this site: 102 Ways to Tell if You are Chinese

posted by lagado at 11:39 PM on April 8, 2001

I'd just like to say, in response to the comments citing this post as an example of excessive sensitivity, political correctness, or what-have-you: I had never thought about the origins of the "no [verb]ey" usage, and vaguely thought of it as a baby-talk signal of (usually) self-deprication. However, when I read this post, I thought, "Duh! Of course that's where it comes from! How could I have failed to realize that!" And I was very glad it had been pointed out, because now I can avoid being unintentionally rude, and I like to be polite when I mean to be polite.
posted by redfoxtail at 3:58 PM on April 10, 2001 [1 favorite]

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