America’s Maps Are Still Filled With Racist Place Names
We have a naming problem.
According to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (the division of the U.S. Geological Survey that maintains “uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government”), there are 29 place names in the United States that contain the word “Chinaman.” They include Chinaman Trail in Oregon, Chinaman Bayou in Louisiana, Old Chinaman, a mine in New Mexico, and Chinamans Canyon in Colorado. In Texas and Oregon, hikers can still summit peaks called Chinaman Hat, probably named after the conical cap worn by Chinese laborers in the late nineteenth century. Even California, a state that prides itself on its wokeness, has a Chinaman Creek.
“Chinaman” is a derogatory term for a Chinese person, and it’s shameful that this word dots the American landscape. The reasons for changing these place names, and reckoning with their histories, are both ethical and strategic. The ethical is obvious: The term denigrates people of Chinese heritage. (Comparing “Chinaman” to the terms “Englishman” and “Irishman” isn’t apt, because those words aren’t wielded as insults.)