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Super Mech Pilot
03-20-2013, 07:18 AM
I read on this thread where someone was talking about how when people talk ask where they are from that it's rude because when they say America they so no where are you really from and while it brought up an interesting discussion it wasn't actually on topic so I thoght I'd add it here.

My personal take on it was that just asking where someones from isn't rude, and alot of people are ignorant and think that because someones of a different skin color that they just got off the boat from some other country people like that do need to be more educated but I don't think most do it to be rude.

Now I also want to point out that I personaly always have been curious about people from other ethnicities who are from other countries because they are definately different from the people over here, regardless of your skin color everyone does seem to take on a degree of American culture. But this doesn't mean I assume every black person knows something about Africa it's just when I see a guy in long red robes and he's speaking something that's deffinately not english I get really curious (New York travel plaza was freaking cool).

I've also wondered If African Americans feel any special connection to Africa or if their blood line has lived in America so long that they just don't really care, again I know that answer varies and probably depends on how many generations have lived in America, also my curiosity extends to other people too I just used Africans/African Americans as an example.

Anyway thats a couple of thoughts there so what does everyone else say?

cornflake
03-20-2013, 07:44 AM
I read on this thread where someone was talking about how when people talk ask where they are from that it's rude because when they say America they so no where are you really from and while it brought up an interesting discussion it wasn't actually on topic so I thoght I'd add it here.

My personal take on it was that just asking where someones from isn't rude, and alot of people are ignorant and think that because someones of a different skin color that they just got off the boat from some other country people like that do need to be more educated but I don't think most do it to be rude.

Now I also want to point out that I personaly always have been curious about people from other ethnicities who are from other countries because they are definately different from the people over here, regardless of your skin color everyone does seem to take on a degree of American culture. But this doesn't mean I assume every black person knows something about Africa it's just when I see a guy in long red robes and he's speaking something that's deffinately not english I get really curious (New York travel plaza was freaking cool).

I've also wondered If African Americans feel any special connection to Africa or if their blood line has lived in America so long that they just don't really care, again I know that answer varies and probably depends on how many generations have lived in America, also my curiosity extends to other people too I just used Africans/African Americans as an example.

Anyway thats a couple of thoughts there so what does everyone else say?

Honestly, my first thought is that intent isn't the measure of whether or not something is rude.

I've known people from cultures in which bluntness about certain things is more acceptable. That doesn't mean it's not rude to go up to someone in America and say gleefully 'wow, you are really fat and quite ugly! HAHAHA!' Even if the person saying it just finds that amusing - still rude.

If I put my shoes up on a couch in a home in a country which that's considered extremely rude, it's really rude. People should endeavour to be aware of the basic conventions of the people/culture they're immersed in.

Also, just fyi, don't assume a guy in robes or anyone speaking other languages isn't native. I know some people here on work visas, who are decidedly not American but you'd never guess that; their English is flawless and almost accentless. I also know people who were born here who wear religious or other garb and who grew up in a household in which English was not spoken. :Shrug:

As to the African American thing, best response I've ever heard to that type of question was when a reporter asked a black NHL player how he felt about being the first African American to whatever and if he thought something about it relating to heritage or culture yada yada. The guy looked at the reporter and said, paraphrased, 'African American? My parents are Jamaican and Canadian and I'm from [western Canada]. I dunno shit about African American anything.'

In short - I think identity is different things to different people. People tag their identity to their race or ethnicity or heritage or country of origin or religion or ability to hear or not or hair colour or belief in something or other or love of hamsters. I don't know many people who give a lot of thought to ethnicity or tag it to their personal identity. Which isn't to say people don't, of course people do, but don't assume someone does, you know?

Kitty Pryde
03-20-2013, 08:48 AM
To you it's not rude to ask where someone's 'really' from. Perhaps put yourself in the place of an American from America who is constantly assumed to be foreign due to an accent, brown skin, hard-to-identify ethnicity, or unusual clothing. Maybe that line of questioning would be more troubling to you. The implication of that is that American means standard mall-clothing-wearing white person. Ignorance doesn't excuse rudeness, nor make insulted people feel better.

It's fine to be curious or interested in people who are different...but it's not really polite to interrogate strangers about it.

slhuang
03-20-2013, 11:42 AM
I read on this thread where someone was talking about how when people talk ask where they are from that it's rude because when they say America they so no where are you really from and while it brought up an interesting discussion it wasn't actually on topic so I thoght I'd add it here.

My personal take on it was that just asking where someones from isn't rude, and alot of people are ignorant and think that because someones of a different skin color that they just got off the boat from some other country people like that do need to be more educated but I don't think most do it to be rude.

Now I also want to point out that I personaly always have been curious about people from other ethnicities who are from other countries because they are definately different from the people over here, regardless of your skin color everyone does seem to take on a degree of American culture. But this doesn't mean I assume every black person knows something about Africa it's just when I see a guy in long red robes and he's speaking something that's deffinately not english I get really curious (New York travel plaza was freaking cool).

I've also wondered If African Americans feel any special connection to Africa or if their blood line has lived in America so long that they just don't really care, again I know that answer varies and probably depends on how many generations have lived in America, also my curiosity extends to other people too I just used Africans/African Americans as an example.

Anyway thats a couple of thoughts there so what does everyone else say?

SuperMechPilot, I understand that you're not trying to be othering, but reading your post I could feel my blood pressure rising slowly.

Point #1: Making assumptions about a person's culture based on the fact s/he is POC is diminishing, whether or not you consider those assumptions positive (e.g., "he looks like he's from somewhere else; he must have something to teach me!").

Having conversations with people about heritage and culture is great; I do it all the time. But making assumptions about people's culture because they are non-white -- whether that assumption is that POC must have some amazing ancestral story, or have some really cool heritage/culture to share with you -- can be both flattening (reducing people down to a stereotype) and exoticizing (thinking of people as Exotic Foreigners with Exotic Different Cultures instead of, y'know, people, who love and live and laugh and strive and bleed just like you do), neither of which are good things. And the wording your post uses treads very close to that, for me.

Consider the following statements. Do you think they are offensive?

"Oh, cool, you're Native American! I have so much respect for Native Americans; you guys are so close to nature!"

You (rhetorical "you") might consider this a "positive" thing to say. But it's flattening the person down to a stereotype of her ethnicity and simultaneously categorizing her human experience as "different" -- flattening and exoticizing simultaneously. Maybe the woman you're talking to is a tech wizard with no use for the outdoors. Hell, maybe she's an aggressive CEO of an oil company. Or maybe she does love long walks in the woods because the woods are pretty, and it has nothing to do with her Native American heritage. Or maybe she is invested in her tribal heritage and is sick of white people taking her rich, complicated cultural traditions and values and turning them into, "oh, you're so in tune with NATURE!" All the vastness of human experience, and you've reduced her to a cardboard cutout of something you find pretty.

To an Asian-appearing person: "I've always admired the Asian work ethic."

Again, you might consider this a positive thing to say. But you're making assumptions, stereotyping, and othering. Not to mention that the Asian-appearing person is suddenly burdened with the assumption he is a workaholic, rather than a human being who might not be a great worker but might have great comic timing and be the life of the party, or who might be a firm believer of working-to-live and going home at 5pm to spend time with his husband and children, or who might be a hard worker but might rather be appreciated as a filmmaker for his creative artistic genius instead of assumed to succeed because, hey, he must've had a Tiger Mom. There is so much variance among humanity; when you pigeonhole people you're automatically cutting off the consideration they might have a different human experience, one that is just as rich and complex and human.

The sort of thing cornflake mentioned:

As to the African American thing, best response I've ever heard to that type of question was when a reporter asked a black NHL player how he felt about being the first African American to whatever and if he thought something about it relating to heritage or culture yada yada. The guy looked at the reporter and said, paraphrased, 'African American? My parents are Jamaican and Canadian and I'm from [western Canada]. I dunno shit about African American anything.'The reporter made some ridiculous assumptions, leaving the interviewee in the awkward situation of just having been asked something completely inapplicable to him. There's also the point that doing something impressive should be impressive because it's impressive; a lot of POC don't like being considered more "impressive" because they happen to have a certain skin color while doing something. There can be a subtext of "that's impressive FOR YOUR RACE (/GENDER/ETC.)" rather than, "hey, that's IMPRESSIVE!"

"You're so exotically beautiful."

Again, might be considered positive, but many ethnic women become tired of this kind of statement. Does her beauty have to be qualified as "exotic"? Is she so alien and foreign? Why can't she be "beautiful," full stop, the way a white girl can?

"What ethnicity are you?"

Most white people don't get asked this on a regular basis. I promise you.

More scenarios:
- The assumption that POC speak another language
- The assumption that two POC of the same ethnicity are dating / should be set up with each other
- Asking POC if they do a particular activity or play a particular sport stereotypical to their ethnicity, or assuming they'll be good/better at it than others (assuming an Asian-American person will naturally be better at martial arts, or that an African-American person will automatically win at basketball)
- Assuming a POC must enjoy an entertainer or piece of media because of the person's ethnicity (assuming an Asian-American person likes kung fu movies or an African-American person likes Chris Rock)

Etc.
Etc.
Etc.

Yeah, I'm venturing far afield into institutional racism / stereotyping as a whole. But that's what the problem is. When you "express interest" about someone's "country of origin" or ask about a "special connection" that person has with Africa / Asia / what have you, you're asking the question within a larger context of a society that makes assumptions based on people's skin color all the damn time. And it doesn't matter whether you think those assumptions are "positive" or "neutral" rather than negative -- they're still assumptions and stereotypes that flatten out the possible variations in the person's human experience, and are thus all problematic.

Thus, if you see someone with an Asian appearance and think, "I want to ask about the Special Asian Traditions her family must have!", or you see a Black person and think, "I want to ask whether he feels a Special Connection to Africa!", or you see someone you assume is foreign and you think, "he must have something to teach me!", you are already making diminishing assumptions.

Also, I should mention:

Point #2: Context makes words have different meanings. The same question to a white person and a POC does not necessarily have the same meaning.

It doesn't matter whether you say you ask the same questions of white people, because the societal cultural context is biased, so your innocent-feeling curiosity about culture has a different meaning when you make inquiries of different people. If you, upon meeting people for the first time, express fascination in learning a white person's culture versus learning a POC's culture, the default cultural connotation of your questions is very different. Chances are the POC receiving your question has experienced othering because of her race. Maybe often. Can you see why your question might have a different meaning in that context?

Point #3: Just because you don't mean to be rude doesn't mean you're not being rude.

Cornflake and Kitty articulated this well. And I'll add that just because you think a question shouldn't be rude doesn't mean it isn't.

Point #4: The good news is, you can be curious about culture without being diminishing.

The relationship with the person you're talking to, conversational context, how much you actually know (know, from knowing him, not assume from seeing his skin color) about the person's life all matter. I have never in my life thought it appropriate small talk to ask someone's ethnicity or cultural background upon meeting her for the first time. But I find it perfectly appropriate to discuss heritage and cultural differences with my friends. I find it appropriate to ask my Swedish friend questions about Swedish culture and my Indian friend questions about Indian culture because we've discussed our cultural backgrounds many times in the course of knowing each other as friends, and I know how closely linked they feel to those cultures and how it affects their family lives. But again, it's in the context of long relationships in which I know them as human beings.

I think being curious about culture is great. But remember that "cultures" are made up of humans -- normal, funny, smart, stupid, scared, striving humans. We're not paper dolls from the cultures we come from; it's the other way around -- culture is a piece, a small piece, of each person's human experience. And there's no telling what a person's cultural background is, or how important it is to him/her, or how much, if at all, it relates to his/her ethnicity or ancestors or country of birth, until you get to know the person as a human being.

Dandroid
03-20-2013, 11:51 AM
In my line of work I encounter all sorts of different ethnicities...and sometimes knowing the the ethnicity is a factor in my work...if I ask about it, it sounds something like,"hey, what's your cultural background?"

cornflake
03-20-2013, 12:26 PM
"What ethnicity are you?"

Most white people don't get asked this on a regular basis. I promise you.

I was once in a class in which identity came up as a topic. I was raised and was in this class in a large, urban, very ethnically, culturally, racially diverse city. One of the participants in the group I ended up in has light brown skin and could, I suppose, be considered 'exotically beautiful.'

We were discussing how people choose or are brought up to define and classify themselves. She said that she grew up in the same place and never gave her racial background any thought, and that it had never, to her recollection, been a topic of conversation among her friends or anyone else she ran into, ever.

Then she spent the summer a couple of years before the class in a different area of the country and was asked apparently fairly endlessly (she said it seemed nearly every day, sometimes multiple times a day), where she was from and what mix of races she is. She thought this was due to the lack of diversity in the area (though she said it didn't seem entirely white, but much more white and much more defined when some other race) and found it bizarre and seriously offputting. She couldn't figure that this was how people were defining her, when neither she nor anyone she knew had ever used it as a means of definition.

Which is all to say that using race or ethnicity as a means of defining people when they themselves may not use it that way can be a minefield for the obvious reason and also because of the quoted - it makes clear that the person asking that way is defining the people they're asking as 'other.'

Putputt
03-20-2013, 02:47 PM
Thirding (fourthing?) what others have said. Just because you don't think it's rude doesn't mean it isn't.

I spent about eight years of my life in Singapore. I went to a high school with 3,000 students and one white girl. She was born and raised in Singapore and had the thickest Singaporean accent, but every friggin' day someone would ask her which part of America she's from. I can tell you she got sick of that pretty fast. She went from explaining how "I'm not from America. I actually know nothing about America." to straight-out ignoring the person who asked the question and/or telling them to eff off.

You can be as curious as you want, just don't be surprised when the person you're curious about is less than keen to answer your personal questions.

Super Mech Pilot
03-20-2013, 06:09 PM
It seems to me that most of you are stereotyping me, I didn't say a word to the guys I saw at the travel plaza, I have social anxiety disorder I'm to scared to talk to anyone regardless of their skin color. I didn't assume anything about those guys other than they were deffinately not like any of the other colored people I had met or seen. I guess it would depend on how the question was asked but I'm really detecting that most of you already have oversensitivity to this conversation due to your past experiences, it seems like your assuming everyone who asks the question of where your from has the same intent.

"SuperMechPilot, I understand that you're not trying to be othering, but reading your post I could feel my blood pressure rising slowly."

You see I thought this was a forum where we could discuss things in a friendly manner, disagree with me sure but why feel the need to get mad? Why are so many of you getting so sensitive over my comments when your here to talk about concerns relating to people of color? I'm telling you now white people aren't going to hang around a People of Color section if they see everything they have to say is going to end in everyone getting offended and the whole point in coming here was to try to avoid offending people of color.

"SuperMechPilot, I understand that you're not trying to be othering, but reading your post I could feel my blood pressure rising slowly."
Well to late I suppose

Kitty Pryde
03-20-2013, 07:38 PM
and...we're done.

Let the corpse of this thread lie here as a cautionary tale to please read the sticky entitled "STICKY: PLEASE READ". This forum exists for everyone to respectfully discuss issues. It does not exist to tell PoC that their experiences are incorrect or invalid, nor does it exist to reassure white folks that racism in its various forms is not present in the 21st century.