A (not) funny thing happened back in 2014 when an Asian business delegation arrived at the Minneapolis airport. The delegation got off the plane and almost immediately caught sight of a sign hanging at the terminal. The sign said, “Kill Asian Carp.” It was a reference to the drive to eliminate the invasive species that’s been flooding the waterways and wiping out many indigenous species. But because it said “Asian” it was apparently offputting. Two state senators, Foung Hawj and John Hoffman jumped into action, convincing the state wildlife agencies to start referring to the fish as “invasive carp.” In April of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service similarly changed its name for the fish. And they may not be the last ones. (Associated Press)
“We wanted to move away from any terms that cast Asian culture and people in a negative light,” said Charlie Wooley, director of its Great Lakes regional office.
The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, representing agencies in the U.S. and Canada that are trying to contain the carp, will do likewise Aug. 2, he said.
The moves come as other wildlife organizations consider revising names that some consider offensive, including the Entomological Society of America, which this month dropped “gypsy moth” and “gypsy ant” from its insect list.
The linked article goes on to provide a history of the invasion of American waters by these carp and I’ll grant you that they are a major problem. Our own biologists brought the four species of carp to the United States more than half a century ago to clean up Southern sewage plants and ponds of algae and weeds, along with various parasites. Having no natural enemies, the carp starting taking over the waterways almost immediately.
But the bigger question here is how anyone managed to be offended by the collective term “Asian carp.” The fish came from Asia. You’ve got to make one heck of a mental leap to get from there to an assumption that people are saying Asians are invasive or bottom-feeders or whatever else you want to say to describe carp. And yet the change is already happening.
Is black coffee next? Okay, that’s probably a bad example because almost everyone likes coffee (as opposed to carp). I’ve already dug into the question of why we’re still using the phrase “Chinese restaurant” in this age of wokeness. Surely someone must have been offended by that, right? Of course, there’s actually a better argument in favor of abandoning the term because the food served at most Chinese restaurants in America bears little resemblance to the authentic dishes prepared in China.
If you cruise through most neighborhoods of New York City you will see any number of “authentic Jewish delis.” (How definitively “authentic” they may be is left to the pallet of the diner.) In that same city, tucked inside of Carnegie Hall, you will find a storied restaurant named the Russian Tea Room. It’s considered among the best in Gotham.
How is it that we don’t see protests about all of these names? I’m pretty sure I can answer that one. It’s because the adjectives are not offering commentary on the race or ancestry of any people. They are simply describing the geographical origin.
But that answer may not wash for the natural world. For more than a century we’ve been trying to figure out ways to wipe out the Japanese beetles that were accidentally imported to our country in the early 1900s. More examples abound. But just as with the restaurants of New York, there’s nothing offensive about the names of these creatures. Those names are simply reminders of where they came from originally.
Now… don’t even get me started on the titmouse or the blue-footed booby.