Wednesday, October 29, 2008

To youn or not to youn

I left a post on another website detailsaresketchy on how some of the Cambodian Bloom women would refuse to sell used aluminium cans to Vietnamese rubbish collectors, saving them only for a Cambodian collector (when I had the cafe, I would give the cans to the Bloom women to sell for them to buy fruit or snacks to share). When I asked why, these women would tell me because "youn ot-la-or" ("Vietnamese no good") or "m'nu koick" ("bad people").

Anyway, this post led to a response from a person (obviously Khmer) who blustered on about "hate" and how "youn" is just a descriptive term and different languages have different words for the same object and stop picking on the word "youn" as used by Cambodians.

It's not worth going into. The only thing worth pointing out is intent and context is important is determining Hate Speech--speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person (definition from wikipedia).

The word "youn" is not racist in itself (I have been told it comes from the Vietnamese word that refers to the Vietnamese rice hats). Words are just words until they are used in context, when intention comes into play. The word "bitch" as it occurs in a dictionary is just a word, until it is spat by a man at a woman. This is why it is ok for a black (African or African American) person to use "the N-word" when addressing another black person, but not acceptable for a person from another race to address a black person in this manner. It is because in the latter instance, the intent is suspect.

In the example I used, I say clearly the context: not selling the cans to one group of people versus another. The intent is referred to when I said the Cambodian women told me why they would not sell the cans, because Vietnamese are "ot la-or".

So if a Cambodian uses the word "youn", make sure you know what context it is in and also his/her intention. And hand on heart, dear Cambodian reader, when you use the word "youn", are you sure it is not a loaded term for you?

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