So not too long ago, someone exploded and said "I know you're insulting me!"and almost started a fight - when someone called him ang moh.
Honestly... I was a little shocked, especially at his indignant outrage. In fact, everyone was and told him to chill.
Ang Moh - while it has derogatory CONNOTATIONS....... (Connotations: an idea or feeling which a word invokes for a person in addition to its literal or primary meaning)
WAS NOT. And I repeat. IS NOT, meant to be a racial slur.
I have NO clue where some people get the idea that ang moh means a red devil or red ghost. Or something worse. No my dear friends. Stop reading whatever weird guidebook some other friend passed to you. Ang Moh, is not meant to be a slur or insult.
Ang Moh literally means RED HAIR. It's Hokkien. Ang = Red. Moh = hair. Really. It's that simple.
But, just like every other word, can take on/infer different meanings depending on the usage and delivery. (see **definitions below if you need help) Just like the sentence, "You're a dog." - cool/ugly/disgusting etc - it all depends on the usage.
More often than not, when in Asia, and Caucasians are far and few between. So the term is used more as a factual description/ identifier. Just like how we go around the world, and are called Asian. That is what we are.
An Asian could be say, a British Indian and identify himself as British. And yet people will ask him where he is REALLY from.
The thing is, if you are a Caucasian, and you say you're American, we don't ask you where you are really from. When fact of the matter is, you're probably an immigrant like the rest of us in our respective countries too. Just that in Singapore, we use the term ang moh, because truth be told, we can't always tell if you're an Italian from America, or a Swede from London. ( In fact, some of my pals don't know their own lineage either! ) Like we're lumped as Asian when we are abroad, it can be hard to tell if someone is from China, Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan, Philippines, Malaysia etc.
In Singapore, if you've stayed long enough, you might be able to, and will possibly say something like, "Yes, my lovely Indian friend invited us over for Deepavali." Or, "That Malay man over there dropped his wallet, please pass it to him." You might be able to tell and differentiate between the races based on their names, how they dress, or even physical characteristics. Well, good on you!
And we would do the same if we would, but, like it or not, with this global economy.. it can be hard to tell based on accents or physical characteristics anymore! Take a friend of mine for instance, born and raised in Australia, to a Swedish Mom from Norway and Italian Dad from the UK.
O_O I mean....
Wait till he and his Malaysian-Chinese wife have babies.
(And sidenote: Malaysia, is a country. But Malay, is an ethnic group. A Malaysian is from Malaysia. But a Malay person, might not necessarily be from Malaysia. Just like there are Chinese people all over the world. Indonesian-Chinese. Singaporean-Chinese. American-Chinese. Parisian-Chinese.)
But before we get into a debate on Nationality, Ethnicity and Race... (which I can talk about for hours...)
Like it or not, we are who we are. I am probably "That Asian chick with blonde hair" - now. And I don't take offence to that.
Honestly, whether or not Ang Moh is used as an insult, or is derogatory, is really determined by tonality. Tone Pitch. Delivery.
Just like 'hey' can be used in a variety of ways, and have different meanings conveyed.
Can make a world of difference from someone being curt. Someone yelling at you to get out. Two friends who are excited at bumping into each other unexpectedly. And well... a little flirtation even.
In almost every part of Asia, the terms used on Caucasians, have probably mostly been coined a long time ago by people who usually were more fascinated to see someone exotic to them, with fair skin and different coloured hair.
So... Ang Moh... Can range from being neutral descriptor, to, well, yes...... an insult.
But you'd usually know if I (or anyone else for that matter) is insulting you. Depending if my tone is friendly or dripping with disdain.
I actually went around, and asked a total of 31 people - both local Singaporeans of all races, and, Caucasians... about the term "Ang Moh".
While it is the Caucasian pals who are definitely more sensitive to the term and feel it is derogatory, those who have lived here for longer, don't seem to think so as much. And almost all the Singaporeans never thought of it as a slur or an insult. Just a factual categorisation. Many put Ang Moh - in their heads, as a racial category, alongside Malay. Chinese. Indian.
Sounds much better than the previously used official government term "Others" - don't you think?
Of all the Singaporeans I spoke to. Slurs and derogatory and insults, were deemed to be things like: Slitty eyes. Chink. Darkie. White trash. Bai-yii. Mengali. Frogs.
Offensive terms because they poke fun at certain traits, stereotypes or characteristics. They are in essence, coined with mean-spirited attitudes. Not factual fascination.
So, the next time, if someone in your neighbourhood smiles and refers to you affectionately as ang moh - wear the term like a badge of honour.
Just like... MFAM - My Favourite Ang Moh (you know who you are)
Or like a friend of mine, who stayed with me for a while, did, and should.
When the hawkers around my house went, "Eh, your that ang moh friend never come with you ah?" - I knew that my pal had been accepted as one of them. Someone they had started to look forward to seeing on a daily basis.
Stamped. Guaranteed. Chopped. Approved. Accepted.
Here's what most of us Asians, constantly have to put up with when we're on the other side of the world. (Heck, I still get some of these even here in my own backyard! Even the classic line at 0:17)
And FYI. According to Wikipedia:
**Ang mo (simplified Chinese: 红毛; traditional Chinese: 紅毛; pinyin: hóng máo; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: âng-mo͘) or Ang moh is a racial epithet describing Caucasian (White people), mainly in Malaysia, Riau Islands and Singapore, and sometimes in Taiwan. It literally means "red-haired" and originates from Hokkien (Min Nan). The usage is similar as in the Cantonese term gweilo (鬼佬, "ghost man").
Other similar terms include ang mo kow 紅毛猴 (red-haired monkeys), ang mo kui 紅毛鬼子 (red-haired devil), ang mo lang 紅毛人 (red-haired people). Although the term had some derogatory connotations, it has entered common usage in Singapore and Malaysia and refers to a Caucasian person or, when used as an adjective, Western culture in general.
During the 17th century, the Spanish people and Dutch people had colonized Taiwan and built Fort Santo Domingo in Tamsui, Taiwan, also known as "City of the Red-Haired" (Chinese: 紅毛城; pinyin: hóng máo chéng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Âng-mn̂g-siâⁿ) in Taiwanese Hokkien. This city was built by the Spanish in the 17th century. Following that, Dutch people were known in Taiwan as "Ang mo lang 紅毛人" (red-haired people) inTaiwanese Hokkien. This is most likely because red hair is a common trait among the Dutch. This historical term "Ang mo lang 紅毛人" continues to be used in the context of Taiwanese history to refer to Dutch people.
The Chinese characters for ang mo are the same as those in the historical Japanese term Kōmō (紅毛), which was used during the Edo period (1603–1868) as an epithet for (northwestern European) white people.
Don't mean disrespect to anyone.
Don't mean to throw no shade.
Just, telling you like it is.