On 17th November, French rapper Aurélien Cotentin – known as Orelsan – released a song «Odour of gasoline» as part of his album ‘Civilization’. The song already has over 9 million views on YouTube and is expected to be a contender to win the World Music Awards. Orelsan has a major tour planned from 15th January 2022 in France, Switzerland and Belgium. Orelsan repeatedly uses the word 'Mongol' pejoratively in this song. This use has roots in the pseudoscience of ethnic classification and phrenology widely used in the West in the 19th Century. John Langdon Down used these approaches when he classified people with Down’s Syndrome as ‘Mongolian Idiots’. This classification was based on his belief that people with Down's Syndrome shared the facial characteristics of the 'Mongoloid' - the ethnic classification developed in the West to describe people from Mongolia, China, Japan and the rest of East Asia.
Since the 1960s, organisations including the World Health Organisation and the United Nations have worked to eradicate the links between 'Mongol' and 'Down's Syndrome' and to address the racist and ableist attitudes inherent in using the word as a synonym for 'idiot'. When we heard L'odeur de l'essence, we were disappointed to hear repeated use of the word Mongol with the pejorative meaning established through the racist, colonial attitudes of the 19th Century. This was especially disappointing as this is a song that encourages us to break away from the errors of the past. The term Mongol, used in this manner, is offensive and insulting for the Mongols, their ethnic origins, their history, their dignity and even their very existence.
‘Mongol Identity SCIO’ is a non-profit charitable organisation which was established to challenge and change the pejorative uses of ‘Mongol’. Through education, it seeks to promote an understanding of Mongol culture and to address the racism and discrimination that underpins the use of ‘Mongol’ as an insult. In the spirit of discussion that the song aims for, Mongolian communities in different countries would very much like to work with French speaking communities to help break down the racism that people of Mongol origin face - and the discrimination that those with Down's Syndrome also face - when the word is used as an insult.
We are concerned that the French language has misappropriated the word ‘Mongol’ and our identity as Mongols. It is concerning to see that young people and pop culture have accepted this use as the norm. Orelsan has over 1.6 million followers and subscribers on social media. As such, he is an individual of influence. We believe that our voices must be heard and we must educate people and put an end to this misuse, especially considering that today - Friday 10th December 2021- is World Human Rights Day.
We would like to encourage people to use the word Mongol in its original and authentic meaning. Nothing about us is without us.
Please call us Mongols because we are.
MONGOL IDENTITY TEAM