What constitutes a racist word
Lately the word keleng has appeared more often than usual and quoted as a racist term used by the non Indians on the Indians. The Indians have also often been called mama or mamak, also seen as racist by some Indians. Are these words really racist in intent? What were their origins? Actually I don’t know. Some relate the word keleng to Kling, a battery of Indian soldiers during the colonial days. Today I heard it was from the word Kilinga or Kaligina, an Indian warrior tribe, which cannot be derogatory. I could still remember a long long time ago when I heard my mother referred to the Indians as kelengna. And when she used the word, there was not the faintest trace of racism or dismissal. It was just a word to call the Indians by the illiterate.
Many tend to forget that the early immigrants here were mainly from the uneducated peasant class who knew of very few things and words. They just adopted and made use of whatever words in their limited vocabulary to get by their daily lives. And in those days, people were simply hungry and had no time for anything but just to work and sleep. Racism was not in the mind of hungry migrants. It is not a luxury of the pseudo affluence or nouveau riche.
Just like the word mama or mamak. It was just picked up in the pasar by the non Indians without even knowing what it meant, a convenience of ignorance. Fortunately when I later found out, it was meant to be uncle in Indian. But the illiterate and unschooled would not know and would not know if it is intended to be racist. And it is unbelieveable that some Indians took offence for being called mama or mamak. I hope some can enlighten on this perception.
I used to call the Hongkongers Hongkie for convenience. But Hongkie was used by many with a tinge of insult. I used it for convenience just like I substitute Singaporeans, a tongue twister to Sinkie, sometimes with full innocence, sometimes with a tinge of mischief.
You are so cheena. Now that word is used in the right sense, not very friendly. The word China was traced to all kinds of origins by apologetic scholars not to offend the Chinese, linking to Chin Dynasty and some other craps. But it was used by the Brits to insult the Chinese as a people as breakable as clay. And since they wrote the maps, they conveniently used it, China for a country that the Chinese used to call Zhongquo or by dynastic names, never China. China was never a Chinese word except used by the Brits to describe a kind of porcelain. Likewise India was likely to be a British creation like they called the American natives Red Indians. Some said the word Indian is derogatory too. Of course the same apologetic scholars will link it to something like the Indus River or something like that.
Many words were created or used by users without knowing what they originally meant. But to the receivers, depending on how sensitive or highly sensitive they are, they can be offended and think that it is an insult or racism. Hongkie is in a way less naughty than chinky or chink. Chink or chinky will definitely fall clearly to the derogatory category and more so than Keleng or mama or mamak.
How many Chinese are called PRC chink or Sinkie chink and just ignored it without screaming racism? Many a time, such words were uttered by an individual against another, and yes, sometimes with racist bias. A laundry tag is racist mind you, if one understands its origin and the context when it is used. The Brits have a lot of racist terms incorporated into their dictionary as acceptable usage but really racist in origin and intent. Yellow culture, yellow press and turning yellow are their racist terms for anything Chinese. But many banana Chinese are using these terms happily without knowing why.
So, what is a racist word will depend partly on how racist a person is, the user and the target. Sensible people would not relate every word said to racism. Often it may be due to ignorance or density.