The Slants

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Mar 9 17:24:13 UTC 2012

I've lost track of this.  Are you-all saying that "slant-eyed" as a
slur is recent, at- or post-Vietnam?  Are you-all saying it is rare,
or that it was rare at the time of the Vietnam war, or that it was
rare before then?  Do you-all make a distinction between a "(racial)
slur" and "just" a derogatory usage?

I have faint traces of "slant-eyed" as a slur from either World War
II or the Korean War (which were not too far apart).  Is that "old as
dirt"?  But I assume those who are researching this must have checked
those periods.  Perhaps one has to look in comic books rather than
newspapers.  (Or the New Yorker, where two Chinese boys are reading
about sinister, round-eyed Johnny.)

So I've looked a little bit.

I would like to see more context for the OED's earliest quotation --
      1865    Daily Telegr. 17 Nov. 5/2   A slant-eyed, saffron-coloured race.
Might it be derogatory?  On the other hand, I suppose
      1870    J. G. Whittier Miriam 126   The slant-eyed sages of Cathay.
is complimentary.

But 19th Century U.S. Newspapers has:
     1880 March 20 St. Louis Globe-Democrat -- THE San Francisco
Merchant tells a remarkable story about a Chinese inroad into Montana
and Idaho, in which the slant-eyed Mongols sent out pickets to find
out what goods were in demand, and what prices were paid.  [The SF
Merchant story is that Chinese merchants are sending wagons with
merchandise into Idaho and Montana, to support Chinese peddlers
selling tea at a lower price than "white merchants".  The
Globe-Democrat comments "If the worst offense of the Chinese is
furnishing the miners with tea at cheaper rates than they have
hitherto paid for it, we hardly expect the miners to join in the cry,
'The Chinese must go.'"]
      1893 April 24 St. Paul Daily News -- [An article about a troupe
of "thirty-four celestial sons of the flowery kingdom", Mongolians
members of a "Chinese theatrical troupe which is to give the
slant-eyed drama in sections of ten hours each" at the Chicago
world's fair.  Somewhere between a condescending attitude from a
superior race, and a racial slur.]
      1894 May 7 Rocky Mountian News -- A Chinese Trick Slant-Eyed
Individuals Have a Way of Beating the New Law, and Allowing Their
Friends to Come in with Papers.  [Article datelined Washington about
registration of Chinese under the exclusion act.  Some legal
immigrants are registering more than once, "and as a photograph of
one Chinaman might readily pass for another", the duplicate
certificates can be sold to those not entitled to register.  Surely
derogatory at least.]

And Google Books between 1940 and 1956 has (allegedly), just in the
first 20 of about 2,060 --
      1941 Sept. Boy's Life -- "A slant-eyed youth in a dirty smock
appeared from below."  [Within a story titled "Golden Peril"  Without
attempting to read tiny print, from the illustrations I assume the
peril comes from evil Chinese, perhaps pirates.  "Golden" seems to
refer to the metal, but perhaps also in a double sense to the
Chinese.  Before Pearl harbor, but during the period of Japanese expansionism.]
      1943 Jan. Boy's Life [date at top of page]  "DIMLY outlined in
the murky darkness of the passageway was a leering slant-eyed
Oriental. He was creeping stealthily forward with a service .45 in
his hand, obviously with the intention of catching the pilot
unaware."  [After Pearl harbor.]
      1943  Library of Congress, Musical compositions, part 3 [date
at top of previous page] -- "You slant -eyed yellow bums.
3383"  [Index of song titles?]
      1951 Robert William O'Brien, Readings in general sociology --
"For example, if all drug addicts were slant-eyed, and if non-
addicts were not slant-eyed, then all we would have to do to
determine that a person is or is not a drug addict would be to look
at his eyes."  [An interesting, to say the least, choice for a
logical argument.  GBooks also reveals a similar syllogism using
"slant-eyed" in a book on psychology.]
      1952 Aug. 11 Life [magazine] "Vigorous, brunet faces, strong
black eyebrows and dark eyes, and candid expressions mark the tribe.
They do not look Oriental in any slant-eyed or "sinister" sense but
most of them are very distinctive people."  [So others, although not
Life, must have associated "slant-eyed" with "sinister"in 1952.]
     1956  Selected works of Ly Hsun [pseud]  "We need not mention
illustrations in novels; even textbook illustrations often have
children with caps askew, slant eyes, fleshy jowls and the look of
hooligans. Among our new hooligan artists is Yeh Ling-feng^_Mr- Yeh
has plagiarized ..."  [Snippet]

There is much more in this period.  Some is "slant-eyed" as sinister
without *direct* reference to Asians, but I think that is the unstated origin.


At 3/9/2012 06:53 AM, Ronald Butters wrote:
>I note that Wilson protests that "SLANT-EYED" is "old as dirt." That
>may be, but it doesn't appear to be all that old as a putative
>racial/ethnic slur. In any case, why would he think that the
>relative scarcity of "anti-slant-eyed" worth reporting, except to
>demonstrate that "slant" itself is an ethnic slur? I find only 5
>Google hits for "anti- yellow skinned"--so what?
>JL's comment that he found only second-hand attestations to actual
>usage during the Viet Nam era is interesting. If there wasn't much
>actual usage, that would further strengthen my argument that SLANT
>is of negligible importance as a slur--and hasn't even been used
>that way since the 1940s. Of course, one wonders why the sources
>that do indicate a Viet Nam War usage were saying that it was.
>Surely someone somewhere had heard it used disparagingly. Because
>there were so few of them, it would not be surprising if there were
>very few quotes from Viet Namese Americans in the 1970s saying that
>they found the term offensive.

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