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Chink is an English-language ethnic slur usually referring to a person of Chinese descent. However, the word is also indiscriminately used against people who look and have an East or Southeast Asian appearance. The use of the term is considered highly offensive and racist, and its inclusion in modern works of literature or media has sparked controversies.
Various dictionaries provide different etymologies of the word chink; for example, that it originated from the Chinese courtesy ching-ching, that it evolved from the word China, or that it was an alteration of Qing (Ch'ing), as in the Qing dynasty.
Another possible origin is that chink evolved from the Indo-Iranian word for China ultimately deriving from the name of the Qing dynasty. That word is now pronounced similarly in various Indo-European languages.
Around the turn of the 20th century, many white North-Americans perceived Chinese immigration as a threat to their living standards. However, Chinese workers were still desired on the West Coast due to a persistent labor shortage. Chinese butcher crews were held in such high esteem that when Edmund A. Smith patented his mechanized fish-butchering machine in 1905, he named it the Iron Chink which is seen by some as symbolic of anti-Chinese racism during the era. Usage of the word continued, such as with the story "The Chink and the Child", by Thomas Burke, which was later adapted to film by D.W. Griffith. Griffith altered the story to be more racially sensitive and renamed it to Broken Blossoms.
Although chink refers to those appearing to be of Chinese descent, the term has also been directed towards people of other East and Southeast Asian ethnicities. Literature and film about the Vietnam war contain examples of this usage, including the film Platoon (1986) and the play Sticks and Bones (1971, also later filmed).
The terms Chinaman and chink became intertwined, as some Australians used both with hostile intent when referring to members of the country's Chinese population, which had swelled significantly during the Gold Rush era of the 1850s and 1860s.
Assaults on Chinese miners and racially motivated riots and public disturbances were not infrequent occurrences in Australia's mining districts in the second half of the 19th century. There was some resentment, too, of the fact that Chinese miners and laborers tended to send their earnings back home to their families in China rather than spending them in Australia and supporting the local economy.
In the popular Sydney Bulletin magazine in 1887, one author wrote: "No nigger, no chink, no lascar, no kanaka (laborer from the South Pacific islands), no purveyor of cheap labour, is an Australian." Eventually, since-repealed federal government legislation was passed to restrict non-white immigration and thus protect the jobs of Anglo-Celtic Australian workers from "undesirable" competition.
On July 19, 2020, a man in Calgary was arrested after spitting on a woman of Asian descent and shouted the racial slur "stupid chink" while riding on his bicycle. The man identified as Justin Riaz Williams was a basketball manager at the University of Calgary who was sacked from his job before the COVID-19 pandemic after staff found screenshots of him using homophobic and racial slurs on his phone. Jessica Lau, the victim, uploaded the video on her Instagram account and she told Global News, “In my 27 years of living in Calgary, I’ve never experienced any kind of racism in my life. It was a big reality check for me and just kind of pointing out this is a thing that’s happening in the world right now. From the sources I’ve heard from, this isn’t the first time he’s done something like this. But it’s going to be his last.” The Calgary Police said that Williams was taken into custody and charged with three counts of assault and one count of possession of a weapon dangerous to the public.
In India, the ethnic slur chinki (or chinky) is frequently directed against people with East Asian features, including people from North-East India and Nepal, who are related to Tibetans and Burmese people. However, they are often mistaken for Chinese.
In 2012, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs recognized use of the term "chinki" to refer to a member of the Scheduled Tribes (especially in the North-East) as a criminal offense under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act with a penalty of up to five years in jail. The Ministry further warned that they would very seriously review any failure of the police to enforce this interpretation of the Act.
The 1969 top 3 UK hit single for Blue Mink, "Melting Pot", has the lyric: "take a pinch of white man/Wrap him up in black skin. [...] Mixed with yellow Chinkees. You know you lump it all together/And you got a recipe for a get-along scene/Oh what a beautiful dream/If it could only come true". Whilst at the time expressing racial harmony, a modern audience may find the use of the word insensitive, undercutting the song's intent.
In 1999, an exam given to students in Scotland was criticized for containing a passage that students were told to interpret containing the word chinky. This exam was taken by students all over Scotland, and Chinese groups expressed offence at the use of this passage. The examinations body apologized, calling the passage's inclusion "an error of judgement."
The Pekin, Illinois High School teams were officially known as the "Pekin Chinks" until 1981, when the school administration changed the name to the "Pekin Dragons". The event received national attention.
New York City radio station Hot 97 was criticized for airing the "Tsunami Song". Referring to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, in which over an estimated 200,000 people died, the song used the phrase "screaming chinks" along with other offensive lyrics. The radio station fired a co-host and producer, and indefinitely suspended radio personality Miss Jones, who was later reinstated. Members of the Asian American community said Miss Jones' reinstatement condoned hate speech.
Sarah Silverman appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in 2001, stirring up controversy when the word chink was used without the usual bleep appearing over ethnic slurs on network television. The controversy led Asian activist and community leader Guy Aoki to appear on the talk show Politically Incorrect along with Sarah Silverman. Guy Aoki alleged that Silverman did not believe that the term was offensive.
A Philadelphia eatery, Chink's Steaks, created controversy, appearing in Philadelphia Daily News and other newspapers. The restaurant was asked by Asian community groups to change the name. The restaurant was named after the original Jewish-American owner's nickname, "Chink", derived from the ethnic slur due to his "slanty eyes". The restaurant was renamed Joe's in 2013.
During early 2000, University of California, Davis experienced a string of racial incidents and crimes between Asian and white students, mostly among fraternities. Several incidents included "chink" and other racial epithets being shouted among groups, including the slurs being used during a robbery and assault on an Asian fraternity by 15 white males. The incidents motivated a school-wide review and protest to get professional conflict resolution and culturally sensitive mediators.
In February 2012, ESPN fired one employee and suspended another for using the headline "Chink in the Armor" in reference to Jeremy Lin, an American basketball player of Taiwanese and Chinese descent. While the word chink also refers to a crack or fissure and chink in the armor is an idiom and common sports cliché, referring to a vulnerability, the "apparently intentional" double entendre of its use in reference to an Asian athlete was viewed as offensive.
- Also chinky, chinkie, chinki, chinker, chinka, or chinkapoo
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