U.N. Survey on Racism Asks Asians to Identify as ‘Yellow’

Tochbearer Marc Rosset, holds Olympic Flame near the United Nations flag during Day 20 of the ATHENS 2004 Olympic Torch Relay, at the United Nations Palace 24 June 2004 in Geneva. The Olympic Flame travels to 34 cities in 27 countries en route to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. AFP …
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United Nations staff members have accused the organization of racism after it issued a survey to employees on Wednesday that began with a question asking how staff identify themselves, offering “yellow” among the possible responses.

Titled “U.N. Survey on Racism,” the poll was carried out as part of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ “campaign to eradicate racism and promote dignity,” according to a message accompanying the questionnaire, which was emailed to thousands of staff.

The survey’s first question “reflected an historic Western racist view of Asians by listing ‘yellow’ as an option,” several U.N. staffers told Reuters on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

The question also presented staff with the option to self-identify as “black, brown, white, mixed/multi-racial and any other,” according to the report.

“The first question is insane, deeply offensive, and hard to fathom how in an organization as diverse as the United Nations this question was approved for release in a system-wide survey,” an anonymous U.N. staff member told Reuters.

Responding to the allegations of racism on Wednesday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the survey would be “taken off-line and revised appropriately taking into account the legitimate concerns” that had been expressed by U.N. employees.

“We acknowledge the need to formulate these categories with greater sensitivity and will take immediate steps to rectify this,” Dujarric said.

Reuters in its report on the racism survey included commentary by Erica Foldy, an associate professor at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, in which she advises readers on how to properly identify Asians.

“The term ‘yellow’ to refer to people of Asian descent is a slur. It should not be used, period. At the same time, it is useful to remember that language related to race is complex and always in flux,” she said.

“Recently Brown, which had been considered something of a slur (though perhaps never as problematic as yellow) has come into broad use. But I don’t see that happening with ‘yellow’,” Foldy predicted, with the interjection provided by Reuters.

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