Why is half-caste so offensive?

So this is one of those questions that is widely asked around the internet but with barely any detailed or intelligent responses.

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I’m grateful that we are living in an age where people are becoming increasingly interested in how not to offend each other and so here is my attempt to include mixed-race individuals into that unoffended category.

Firstly, my disclaimer on all terms where their offensiveness is in question – which is pretty much any word ever used to describe another human being – is that it is 100% the discretion of the term’s recipient as to whether or not they are offended. There is often the situation where one party, in this case me, a mixed race body is called half-caste and objects to the label. The name-caller then immediately, in that way that humans do to save face, starts to ramble on about how they have another friend who completely doesn’t mind the word and in fact self-identifies as such! Well, good for them! It is completely their choice, and although in my opinion, a bad one, to identify that way but I prefer that if you insist on entering into the dangerous territory that is a discussion about my race, that you use the word mixed-race.

Here is where I introduce the Platinum Rule. We all know the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. That’s all well and fine until you realise we are drastically different humans with different desires on how to be approached by others. The Platinum rule, taught to me by my boss but also trending across the mouths (and fingertips) of many people from social justice activists to business entrepreneurs (and that’s not to say you can’t be both). It’s this: Treat others as they wish to be treated. Really wasn’t that hard was it?

As I mentioned, I like to keep my explanations simple and understandable so I’ll explain this briefly. Think of the Indian caste system. It’s basically a hierarchy of humans meaning that where and to whom you are born, determines your position in life; your job, your spouse, your income etc. The higher the caste you are, the more fortunate and revered you are and therefore, a half-caste individual would be very low in the rankings and signify a lesser person. That’s strike one.

Strike two is this: the historical progression. History plays an enormous part in trying to understand the origins of racial discrimination and so the word half-caste has its fair share of stories. During the time when slavery was legal, when a child was born to a black slave and a white slave owner, they would be named half-caste in order to deliberately exclude them and thus the term continued on as offensive. Uses of the word peaked and fell throughout time and reared its ugly head about the time my mother was the only mixed-race kid in her school.

The etymology of the word also has some negative connotations. It comes from the Latin, castus, meaning pure. So the word means half-pure? That makes my skin crawl in the same way that anything remotely Neo-Nazi does. To summarise, remember how Malfoy calls Hermione a ‘filthy mudblood‘ in the Chamber of Secrets. Yeah, now imagine that without creepy diaries, pointy hats and a back-firing slug charm. Very, very wrong.

To any non-Harry Potter fans, shame on you. 

Don’t understand the Harry Potter references? Click the links in green.

Sources:

http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?p=440

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Half-caste

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