President Obama signed a bill into law that will remove the words "Negro" and "Oriental" from federal laws and replace them with the terms "African American" and "Asian American." The bill, H.R.4238, passed the House of Representatives unanimously, offering an elusive showing of bipartisan support for the use of inclusive language.
In a statement released after the president signed the bill, New York Rep. Grace Meng said she found two references to the term "Oriental" from the 1970s when doing routine research on Title 42, part of the U.S. Code that deals with public health and civil rights. Meng then drafted a bill to remove the term from federal documents. Her bill had 76 cosponsors, including the entirety of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
The bill will also replace the terms "Indian," "Eskimo," and "Aleut" (the previously used term for Alaskan Natives), replacing them with "Native American" and "Alaska Native." Similarly, the shift will expand legal language to include other ethnicities, including Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanic people.
Meng, who is Chinese-American, sponsored a similar bill during her time in the New York legislature that removed the term "Oriental" from all New York state documents.
"The term 'Oriental' has no place in federal law and at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good," Meng said, adding that many Americans might be unaware that the term "Oriental" is considered derogatory.
Interestingly, some people mistook news reports about the new law as a law making use of the terms illegal.
Much of the confusion over the law came from the conservative news site Breitbart, which posted about the new law in vague language couched in "anti-political correctness" rhetoric that pandered to fears of censorship.
Despite misinformation about the new law, it's undoubtedly a step forward in the growing trend towards disuse of derogatory terms against minorities, from the furor surrounding the name of the Redskins football team, to the continued cultural conversation on who gets to use anti-black slurs. While some may mock the rise in discussions about offensive language and actions and even cry "censorship" when told they're being offensive, the disuse of derogatory language only serves to make America greater — you know, that thing that Donald Trump keeps talking about so tactlessly.