Hey there! I'm Vivian. Sometimes I write about life and sometimes I write about teaching.

I really love my book club. I can’t remember how many years we’ve been together, but there are many. And because we’ve been together for so long and have a genuine love and caring for each other, our conversations are easy, even when we talk about difficult topics.

During our last meeting, the topic of racial slurs came up. For background, we are made up of two white women, two Latinx women, a biracial woman who’s parents are Mexican and Japanese, and me, a Chinese-American woman.

For some reason the phrase, “chink in the armor” came up. A couple of the members of the book club had never heard that phrase before. I shared that a white member of my family had been telling a story when the phrase came up, just as I joined the conversation. Knowing that the context had nothing to do with my race/ethnicity, I jokingly said, “Hey, that’s racist!” The look of horror on the storyteller’s face told me that they weren’t convinced I was joking.

This anecdote got my book club discussing and researching the origin of the phrase and the current use of the phrase. According to one source, the phrase isn’t used much because of the use of “chink” as a racial slur. I don’t find much use for it in general, but it didn’t occur to me to stop using it. However, given the lack of nuance in public discourse these days, I’m thinking it may be the right move to retire it.

What do you think? Are there other phrases we should reconsider?

  1. FMc says:

    Oh! I thought chink was a gap, like lets the wind through a window. Or the gap where the sword gets in. I appreciate your humor and the trust built in your book group. I am thinking maybe you get to decide whether the phrase is ok to keep or not.

    • Vivian Chen says:

      Yeah, it does mean that! I’m thinking about the continued use. Right or wrong, if someone is hurt by hearing it, I think I can let it go.

  2. This is a timely post for me. I was reading from Dr. Kim Parker’s book Literacy is Liberation this morning, and she was discussing words that do harm to POC. I’m also subbing in an eighth grade class in which students are working on idioms, so I looked through the materials to see if there are racist ones there. Fortunately, I found none. However, there’s an entire scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream about the “chink in the wall, “ and now I’m wondering how that sits w/ Asian students.

    • Vivian Chen says:

      So glad it came at a good time! I would be curious to know how other Asian students react. I know it’s not something I hear much these days, in either context.

  3. Amanda Potts says:

    We had a discussion like this recently about the phrase “to call a spade a spade”. Although the phrase has origins in the 1500s (well, in English – it dates back to Latin hundreds of years before that!), some people now consider it racist because the word “spade” was sometimes used to refer to Black people beginning in the 1920s (although W.E.B. DuBois used the phrase itself as late as 1919). So… do we retire a perfectly good phrase? It’s interesting because at first I was frustrated by this, but even though I know the history of the phrase is not racist, I find that I am reluctant to use it. After all, why would I do something that might hurt or offend something when I can just say something else?



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