Labeling Your Selfie “Chink Eyes” Is Not Cool, & Never Will Be

Photographed by Sunny Shokrae.
I'm cool with selfies. (I'm a twentysomething working in the digital beauty industry, after all.) If you're feeling good about yourself, how you look, and you want to share that — so long as you're not hurting anyone, do it. You do you. The key distinguishing factor here is, perhaps, the last part: "You're not hurting anyone." But today, Buzzfeed pointed out that there are tons of people using a racist and derogatory ethnic slur to describe their eyes in selfies. That term? "Chink." Let's be clear here. By definition, a chink is "a narrow opening or crack, typically one that admits light," and that's how Shakespeare used it in A Midsummer's Night's Dream, in which the fictional lovers Pyramus and Thisbe communicate through a chink in a wall. But that's not how it's being used on the 'gram, Snapchat, or Twitter. Starting as early as the 1900s, the term was popularized as a racial slur against Chinese immigrants — and eventually numerous other Asian ethnic groups. While the official etymology is unclear, some theorize the term refers to the narrow, monolid eyes many Asians have; others suggest the word might be an onomatopoeia for the clinking metal-on-metal sound of Chinese laborers working on the railroads that were instrumental in the American expansion westward. (At the time, Chinese immigration was viewed as a threat to Americans.) Either way, the term is surrounded in controversy. In 2012, an ESPN journalist was suspended for using the phrase "chink in the armor" in reference to Asian-American NBA point guard Jeremy Lin. He later said that it was "...not done with any racial reference." Which is a long way of saying, maybe, just maybe, some people are that ignorant.
Tanya Chen over at Buzzfeed pulled out many examples where the term "chink eyes" was used by non-Asian Tweeters as a misguided term of endearment ("Happy birffday to my fave chink eyes") or simply as a way to describe what happens to eyes when you squint or smile ("Chink eyes are my thing"). And it's true that some Asian-Americans have reclaimed the word — similar to how Black comedian Larry Wilmore used the N-word in reference to President Barack Obama at the White House correspondents' dinner as a way to " turn that [word] upside down and to use it in the way that we've used it inside the community." Still, many find the term deeply offensive, especially when it's used by someone of non-Asian, or specifically non-Chinese, descent.
As an Asian-American, I have never colloquially used this word in my life. I have never called anyone this word, and I have never used it to describe myself or anyone I know who identifies as Asian. I was lucky to grow up in a predominantly Asian community, so the only time I've ever encountered "chink" has been in incidents like this: when I'm writing about it because someone somewhere thought it was a stupid, dumb joke, and one instance in which a commenter decided it was an appropriate term to call me. Which is to say, I can't speak for everyone, but I've never had a positive experience with this word. I've also never been called a chink to my face (at least, not that I can remember). Realizing that this term is still alive and well, and that people are just throwing it around casually, wasn't exactly infuriating — it was more exhausting. Because it's not funny, it's not smart, and it's definitely not cool, even if you're talking about loving your non-Asian yet "chinky eyes," and even if Urban Dictionary has a definition that says "chinky eyed" refers to how people look when they're high. It's still a slur, and it's tied to discrimination against Asians, and it always has been. Shouldn't people know this by now?

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