DeKalb County Online Judicial System classifies Asian man’s skin as ‘yellow’
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines complexion in four different ways.
One definition is “the combination of the hot, cold, moist, and dry qualities held in medieval physiology to determine the quality of a body.” A second is “an individual complex of ways of thinking or feeling.” A third is an “overall aspect or character.” The fourth is “the hue or appearance of the skin and especially of the face.”
One DeKalb County agency is using the latter definition on its website, often toeing racial lines.
On March 1, Dunwoody resident John Cho was booked into DeKalb County jail for a misdemeanor crime. Like other inmates, his charges (driving under the influence), height (66”), weight (161), race (Asian), hair color (black) and eye color (brown) are all listed online through the county’s Online Judicial System (OJS) for public viewing.
One more characteristic is also listed on DeKalb County OJS—complexion. Cho’s listing reads “yellow.”
According to Asian American blogger Koji Stevens, who writes about issues faced by Asians in America, the term “yellow” to describe Asians is both offensive and racist.
“People of all races come in a broad range of skin colors and hues—to think otherwise is ignorant,” Stevens said. “In fact, if you have yellow skin, Asian or otherwise, you might have jaundice. If you don’t have jaundice, there are 432 causes of yellow skin.”
Stevens said the origin of the term is based on the works of Carl Linnaeus and his protégé Johann Blumenbach, whose work—now referred to as scientific racism by experts—attempted to anthropologically define race as Caucasian or white, Mongolian or yellow, Malayan or brown, Ethiopian or black, and American or red.
Linnaeus and Blumenbach’s work attempts to create racial hierarchy between the races based on physical similarities.
According to Jiang Tsu’s Failure, Nationalism and Literature: The Making of Modern Chinese Identity and Tim Yang’s The Malleable Yet Undying Nature of the Yellow Peril, when people from Asian countries began to immigrate to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it was classified by nationalists as “the yellow peril,” “the yellow terror” and “the yellow spectre.”
When scanning other entries on OJS, complexion descriptions vary.
Inmates whose race is listed as Black, for example, are described as “fair skinned,” “black,” “dark brown,” “dark skinned,” “medium brown,” “medium,” or the description is left blank.
Hispanic inmates are either listed as “olive,” “light skinned,” “light brown,” “medium” or left blank. No description is put down for white inmates other than “light skinned” or “light brown.” Races listed as “other” range the entire spectrum.
Cho’s complexion is the only one described as “yellow” in the month of February. Others classified as Asian were listed as “fair skinned,” and “olive.”
According to DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cynthia Williams, the description for Cho’s March arrest has been deleted. In addition, Williams said DeKalb County is in the process of switching to a new operating system that will be easier to use and use different classifications.
“The personal identification description to which [inquiries] referred to has been deleted from his files,” Williams said. “We regret that this occurred and will reiterate with our officers the use of standardized terminology when processing individuals into the jail database.”
Cho’s previous arrest, which occurred in November 2015, still retains the complexion description.
As of press time, Williams did not clarify who originally makes a complexion description, if such a description is checked or what safeguards is used by the agency to prevent such descriptions from occurring.
According to the New York Daily News, a description of Shamir Allen as a “dark negro” by the Lockport Police Department in Illinois caused controversy in 2014. At the time, county legislators, authors and NAACP officials called the description insensitive, ignorant and disgusting.
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