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Ableist Word Profile: Mongoloid

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18 responses to “Ableist Word Profile: Mongoloid”

  1. Tera

    Yes. Thanks for this post.

    In his paper “On the Ethnic Classification of Idiots,” J. Langdon Down actually came up with a whole bunch of racist classifications, including “Ethiopian” and “Malay.” And he doesn’t know what to do with black people who have Down Syndrome, because, according to his racial hierarchy “Mongolian” is more “evolved” than “African”–thus, his whole “Mongolism as racial regression” hypothesis falls apart.

    To me, Dr. Down’s ideas are a fascinating (if horrible) example of how conditions are not just discovered, but invented. Doctors’ descriptions are going to be influenced by their biases (their interest in “ethnography,” let’s say). These things have an effect on how they frame us, and what they notice.

    Dr. Tony Attwood once asked Hans Asperger’s daughter if his description of autistic kids was influenced by the T4 program and Nazism in general. His daughter said she thought he was. (This is in The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, for those playing along at home). And in light of Asperger’s focus on his patients’ strengths and writing that “for success in science and the arts, a dash of autism is essential,” perhaps he was trying to combat Nazi thinking that PWD led “ballast existences” and such. (Not that the strengths he noted don’t exist–but perhaps the political climate influenced how he wrote about those strengths).
    .-= Tera´s last blog ..*Squeak!* It’s open thread time! =-.

  2. kaninchenzero

    Wikipedia is helpfully wrong; the Big Five racial group labels are problematic because they’re racist and were meant to be — when the terms were created they were done so with a very clear hierarchy (with the patently superior white northern European folks at the top, of course). They shouldn’t be used at all since they’re meaningless in any context that isn’t racist. Which doesn’t take away from the point made that the word under discussion today is both racist and ableist — you get double the offense for your effort!

  3. Lis

    The last time before this I heard anybody use the term “Mongolian” referring to facial features was when a professor assigned T. H. White’s “The Troll”–in it, the troll is a fearsome monster that eats women, and the narrator says it has “Mongolian” features and looked like a “perfectly normal golliwog”. I think I dropped the paper in shock because it was so obviously racist.

    No one else in the class thought it was problematic. But then, this was a class that simply could not understand how the experience of contracting a debilitating illness could have informed Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” or how public ugliness laws for PWD could be seen in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” so maybe I was hoping for a bit much.
    .-= Lis´s last blog ..How not to have Disability Awareness Month =-.

  4. Ouyang Dan

    I have never, until now, heard “Mongolian” used this way. I don’t know that it extends that far, or if I live in a box, because it is really common to hear the Chinese describe people from across the country according to region, so I am really used to “Manchurian”, “Canton”, “Huigar”, and Inner or Outer “Mongolian” as descriptors of the subtle variances in Mainland Chinese appearances. The connection was never made for me, so had I not read this, I may not have ever known the history, because my experience is completely formed by Chinese people in a Chinese classroom. How odd, but now I know. I wonder if that is just something that doesn’t make the translation well, because I also remember having to explain why using the term “Orientals” was not OK to one of my teachers. I guess language learning helps and hinders me…

    ETA: It is possible that this is some kind of institutionalized racism in China that I am not aware of, that doesn’t translate well at my level of understanding, which would not surprise me one bit.

    FYI, the military, when I enlisted, used the Big Five for classification (or some variant of it anyway). As in, I was completely stumped, and had to ask for help, because I am Native American, and it was, obviously, not an option. Some weird lecture later I was told that I am basically Asian and just to mark either Caucasoid or Mongoloid, neither of which really made sense to me.

  5. Halloween Jacqueline

    Thank you for this series, I appreciate a critical break-down of these terms. “Mongoloid” seems to be only very rarely used in English (sadly, I have heard it used in French, but I think its usage there is also declining), but the intersections of racism and ableism in its history are horrifying and important to note. One small wording that stuck my as awry, however, was the following:
    “Since people historically noted that individuals with Trisomy 21 shared some of the facial characteristics associated with people in the Mongoloid racial grouping, they referred to the condition as ‘Mongol’ or ‘Mongoloid Syndrome.’”
    I’d just like to point out that they didn’t “note” the similarities, they “perceived” them. Suggesting that they noted them seems to me to imply that that was a natural connection to make, which, as this post illustrates, was not the case but rather the offshoot of a unique, racist project of classification.
    I look forward to checking out more posts on this blog.

  6. Evamaria

    When I grew up (here in German-speaking Switzerland) kids commonly used “Möngi”/”Mong”, abbreviations of “Mongoloid” (which was the clinical name for people with Down’s back then) as an insult, the way many English-speakers use “retard”. I didn’t like it even then, and I’m kind of hoping it’s not used anymore, although that’s probably hoping for too much. :/

  7. Claire

    I thought usage of these terms was fairly rare, then I considered my stoner friends, who love to ‘mong out’.

    That was a really interesting post – I had wondered before the link between Down’s and the old racial classification. Now I know it references racial throwback ideas it’s even more outright offensive.

  8. lauren

    Great post!

    I have vague memories of a movie a saw as a pre-teen in which the term “mongoloid” was turned on its had a bit.

    The protagonist was a young man with Down Syndromm, and throuhout the film, the term “mongo” was used as a slur against him and his girlfriend, who also had Down Syndrom. As far as I can recall, the movie ended with him telling the bullies of and then there was a dream-like sequence in which he and his girlfriend were part of a mongolean riders troupe. They looked like heroic figures, in historical costumes with broad swords and battle axes. Back then, I saw it as him turning the insult into something that made him strong, that enabled him to fight back.

    I wish I remembered the movie’s name, because I would love to check it out again, now that I am older and a little more educated on ableism.

  9. Rosemary

    Any Glee watchers here?

    The show is rife with many ableist, racist, sexist, homophobic, fatphobic, etc. remarks by characters we are clearly supposed to judge for saying these things, but still – they’re in there all over the place.

    Anyway, there was a comment in a recent episode by the character Terri, the glee club teacher’s wife, that a pregnant teen’s frequent morning sickness was a good sign because it meant the baby wouldn’t be a mongoloid.

    I think that was the first time I’d heard the word used in that way in many years.
    .-= Rosemary´s last blog ..Feminism and Disability stuff =-.

  10. abby jean

    rosemary – several of us watch glee and i believe we’re planning a series on it here for precisely the reasons you identified.

  11. Tera

    Hi, Rosemary!

    Along with the resources meloukhia offered, Sarah of Cat in a Dog’s World has a post on Glee as well.
    .-= Tera´s last blog ..*Squeak!* It’s open thread time! =-.

  12. Rosemary

    I look forward to checking out the links and definitely to reading the series of posts here about it! I admit, I love the show. I can’t help it. I love musicals and teen shows and camp so much. But there is an awful lot of problematic crap in the show that makes me cringe. Sometimes it makes watching a show more enjoyable to watch it critically, and sometimes I want to brush away the critical lens and just enjoy it. I haven’t decided which way I’m watching Glee yet.
    .-= Rosemary´s last blog ..Feminism and Disability stuff =-.

  13. urocyon

    Interesting. I did not know that John Langdon Down specifically described things in terms of “regression”. This view was implicit in the Carrie Buck case; I’ve linked to that more than once on my blog, because very few people are aware of some of the issues (nor think it’s relevant, argh).

    I just ran across this blog yesterday, and have been enjoying this series!
    .-= urocyon´s last blog ..Some things I’ve been reading =-.

  14. Glasses. « Urocyon's Meanderings

    [...] and that photo looked like we could have been sisters. Gotta love the attitudes that produced the “Mongoloid” label! (‘But there’s more! The man for whom Down Syndrome is named, John Langdon Down, [...]


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