Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Is flip-chart a racist term?

The potential problem is with the word flip. A 1998 Postcolonial Studies web article from Emory University by Reshmi Hebbar titled Filipino American Literature (referenced in the Wikipedia article on Anti-Filipino sentiment) says that:
“….American-born-Filipinos are referred to as ‘Flips,’ a term whose origins are unclear. The suggestion that this term comes from a World War II acronym for the phrase ‘f*cking little island people’ has caused some to shy away from the term. Others have reclaimed it and changed the acronym to mean ‘fine-looking island people.’ Others still find it more plausible that the term is just a shortening of ‘Filipino.’ ”

I think it’s just a shortening. An article by Edgar Snow in the March 16, 1946 Saturday Evening Post titled The Philippines Cry for Help stated that:
“Juan de la Cruz is what we used to call any Filipino before the American soldier came along and cut him down to the laconic ‘Flip’ – not a very nice name, but meaning no offense, we hope.”

Over in the Philippines there was a 2011 web page from their Red Cross which still used the word Flipcharts.   

It looks like political correctness complaints about flip-chart being derogatory first popped up 25 years ago, and have reappeared sporadically ever since. Sometimes the complainers suggest an alternative term, but other times they did not bother (and therefore should be ignored).

A 1994 book by Marlene Caroselli titled Continuous Learning in Organizations (which you can find at Google Books) says on page 109:
“As a trainer, for example, I have been advised not to call the flipchart a flipchart because the word ‘flip’ is a derogatory reference to citizens of the Philippines.”

A table in a 2001 web article by Lenora Billings-Harris titled Politically Correct Language
says that flip chart should be replaced by the vague term easel (since flip is a derogatory word referring to Filipinos).

A 2008 book by Paul J.J. Payack titled A Million Words and Counting: How Global English is Rewriting the World (which you can find at Google Books) says in a section on The Top 10 politically Incorrect Words of Recent Years:
“4. Flip chart: The term flip can be offensive to Filipinos, who consider it an ethnic insult. California has issued sensitivity guidelines to avoid using the term flip chart for easel pads or writing blocks.

A 2010 web article by John McCrarey titled Concerning Diversity Training had the following discussion:
 “Anyway, as an example of insensitivity the instructor solemnly informed us that the visual aid commonly referred to as a ‘flip chart’ was offensive.  Seriously.  You see, ‘flip’ is a derogatory term applied to Filipinos.   And so according to the trainer we should henceforth call the flip chart a rip chart.

To our credit, we didn’t let the trainer get away without asking some clarifying questions.  Like, it is wrong to ‘flip a coin’?  Is it permissible to ‘flip through the pages of a book’?  Or how about if someone cuts you off in traffic–can you ‘flip them the finger’?  Yeah, it’s true.  We were certainly being ‘flip’ about the subject.”

On May 18, 2018 in the New York Times there was an article by Nellie Bowles titled Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy which included the following anecdote:
“Why did he decide to engage in politics at all? He says a couple years ago he had three clients in his private practice ‘pushed out of a state of mental health by left-wing bullies in their workplace.’ I ask for an example, and he sighs.

He says one patient had to be part of a long email chain over whether the term ‘flip chart’ could be used in the workplace, since the word ‘flip’ is a pejorative for Filipino.

‘She had a radical-left boss who was really concerned with equality and equality of outcome and all these things and diversity and inclusivity and all these buzzwords and she was subjected to — she sent me the email chain, 30 emails about whether or not the word flip chart was acceptable,’ Mr. Peterson says.”

Which of those alternative terms are useful? Easel pad is, since a Google search on Images leads to catalog pictures of flip chart pads from office supply stores. Rip chart is not.

But please don’t call it a writing block! A Google search on that term leads to images about writer’s block (which even is a TV Trope), including an infamous Calvin and Hobbes cartoon whose gist is shown above by another image.

When I looked up scholarly articles about flip charts at JSTOR, I found one by Everett B. Lare titled Nonprojected Visual Aids in The Clearing House, Vol. 33, No. 4, December 1958, page 255 which refers to a turnover chart or flip chart. Regrettably turnover already has several other meanings, including the pastry shown above.

Am I going to stop using the word flipchart? In general, no. If I knew I was going to be speaking to a predominantly Filipino-American audience, then perhaps I might call it an easel pad.

A cartoon of a man pointing at a flip chart was modified from this one at Wikimedia Commons.

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