Westerners?

Developed countries are shown in blue (Accordi...

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Since the fall of Communism, there are two basic types of countries, those with fully developed capitalist economies, and those without. There are many shorthand terms for these two types, including First World and Third World, Oriental and Occidental, developed and developing, rich world and poor world, North and South. Many of these are considered outdated and/or insulting.

Developed and developing is most commonly used, with the understanding that it is imperfect and some countries (such as Singapore and South Korea) that used to be developing, and may still be referred to as such, are actually now developed.

There are other terms used to refer solely to developed countries, such as OECD or Western. Western is the most commonly used term, as it is the most easily understood. It, of course, is also imperfect, as Japan is commonly included in a list of developed countries but of course is not a Western country.

Today I do not wish to argue the merits of lumping developed countries with Western culture, but rather to argue that it is time to find another term for the United States and Canada.

Undeniably Western in outlook, and definitely developed, it seems a little silly to refer to them as Western, particularly when talking only about their citizens. Look at any map and you will realize that they are only Western countries when looked at from the perspective of Europe. If you look at the world from Asia, they now become Eastern countries.

I found this terminology to be particularly striking in a book I just read, Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women. In the introduction, the editor, Paula Gunn Allen, wishes to distinguish between Native American culture (or Indian culture, as she refers to it) and that of the non-Native people who now populate the Americas. Instead of non-Native (admittedly a new term from the last 5-10 years and this book is from 1989) or some other term to refer specifically to the people who invaded these continents from Europe and their descendents, she chooses to use the word Western. I find this to be somewhat absurd, as oftentimes she does not refer to people still in Europe, but solely to those now in the Americas.

I have seen this terminology used elsewhere, too, such as in The Economist.

For Native Americans, Ms. Allen does have a valid point, that Native Americans, and their culture, are under siege from the oppressors who have stolen their land. But for the rest of us, isn’t it time to let go of colonialist terminology, and find new words for those of us who live in North America?

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