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All exotic white girls look the same to me
August 28, 2012 1:16 AM   Subscribe

"I think exotic white people are beautiful and their culture is fascinating. But it upsets me when they tell me, “Wow, you look so white, are you sure you’re not?” I know they think it’s a compliment." -- It's not quite p.c., but exotic white girls is a genuine celebration of white culture by somebody who has long been fascinated by this proud people and their strange ways.
posted by MartinWisse (210 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait, by genuine you mean satirical, right? And by "not quite p.c." you mean to spoof the blasé attitude of usually white people who celebrate "edginess" at the expense of critical race awareness, right? Honest questions, I think I'm not quite understanding the subtext of this FPP (or else I have misunderstood this blog, a possibility).
posted by stoneandstar at 1:35 AM on August 28, 2012


(I am totally assuming you're extending the joke, but couldn't parse that second thing.)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:40 AM on August 28, 2012


Its been done
posted by mjklin at 1:53 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wanted to start calling white girls exotic so they’d understand what it felt like.

Merely calling them exotic, in a larger culture that doesn't consider them exotic, isn't going to make them feel the same way.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:08 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


They're so well-spoken.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:16 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


“The key is to use exotic to describe white as non-mockingly as possible and as often, so that exotic can stop meaning non-white essentially."

The problem with this theory is that until you arrive at point B, you are only mocking.
posted by three blind mice at 2:16 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's getting so I don't know anymore if the people in pointy hats are members of the Klu Klux Klan or just dunces.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:18 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


This blog's been killing me for days. Completely love it.
posted by whitneyarner at 3:19 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah yes, more "Reverse racism isn't really racism" tit-for-tat "two wrongs" bullshit posing as satire. Just what anti-racism needs. This'll help a lot.
posted by Decani at 3:29 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Decani, I think it could help by being spread around, and making people think, "oh yeah, I would find that weird if someone said that about me, I'll watch out for saying it about other people".

Why don't you think it's useful?
posted by iotic at 3:35 AM on August 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


Just what anti-racism needs
posted by eustatic at 3:55 AM on August 28, 2012


Racism is bad, right? Shouldn't reverse racism be good?
posted by LogicalDash at 3:56 AM on August 28, 2012


I'm with Decani and TBM here - sure, I'm all for efforts to stop racism, but I'm concerned that the tone here might make some white people uncomfortable, thus making the it just as bad as the KKK or something
posted by ominous_paws at 4:04 AM on August 28, 2012 [62 favorites]


I laughed, I resembled.
posted by hwestiii at 4:04 AM on August 28, 2012


I'm all for efforts to stop racism, but I'm concerned that the tone here might make some white people uncomfortable

Oh les pauvres. Won't somebody think of the white people?
posted by iotic at 4:10 AM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


ominous_paws, I am white, and I am uncomfortable.*

* Though I think that has more to do with the chicken sandwich I had earlier. Clear way!
posted by maxwelton at 4:18 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish people would quit using the phrase 'reverse racism'. We live in a society which treats being white as being the default for beauty and goodness, and in which the odds are heavily stacked in favor of white people. You could call me a cracka with all the virulence in the world and it still wouldn't be reversing a single inch of that.

That aside, this blog isn't hatin' on whitey. It's a bunch of pretty benign jokes about white folk eating salad and dressing in polo shirts, aimed at highlighting the way language is used against people of colour, by people who are often well meaning and oblivious. If it makes them uncomfortable? Well, good? Realizing that having this language used to describe you makes you uncomfortable will hopefully keep decent people from using it to describe others.
posted by emperor.seamus at 4:35 AM on August 28, 2012 [44 favorites]


Er, just to clarify, my comment was meant to be taken with a large dose of hamburger and I am not actually concerned for the poor offended feelings of white people
posted by ominous_paws at 4:37 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Whoops, haha - sorry ominous_paws, need to dial up my irony sensitivity
posted by iotic at 4:39 AM on August 28, 2012


Never bring satire to a satire fight, you'll only get hurt.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 4:39 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


That was clear, ominous_paws. Well played.
posted by Fichereader at 4:39 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know that when I want some exotic food, I make meatloaf.

(Not kidding, no one I knew growing up made meatloaf. My mom started making it when I was a teenager "to try something new and different.")
posted by oddman at 4:49 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


God, I've had multiple "friends" pull that "I want to adopt an Asian baby girl 'cause they're so beautiful and oh yeah, 'cause I care about feminism and it's evil over there" to me, to my face, knowing I am an adopted Asian female. Always said with this solemnity, putting on airs of superiority and pity. Pisses me right the fuck off. So it's nice to see someone call that shit out, is what I'm sayin'. Most people I talk to, when I tried venting about it totally didn't understand why that infuriated me.
posted by ifjuly at 4:55 AM on August 28, 2012 [32 favorites]


Someone told me my wife is "cute and exotic" once. I cant express how offensive I found it. It completely caught me off guard, but it seemed so one dimensional and oddly sexual. I'm not sure that this person realizes why I never talk to her anymore.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:57 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I get what they're doing, and it's clever, but I wish they'd left out the bits about learning to use a fork and knife. Sadly, when I lived in South Korea, I worked with a guy who complimented a very pretty Korean co-worker of ours on her use of a knife and fork at a staff dinner. I'd forgotten about it til I read the blog, but it was probably the first time I ever wanted to apologize for my race.
posted by peppermind at 4:57 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's getting so I don't know anymore if the people in pointy hats are members of the Klu Klux Klan or just dunces.

The two are not mutually exclusive.
posted by Area Man at 5:07 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


My name is blue_beetle, and I am exotic white.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:15 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Decani: Ah yes, more "Reverse racism isn't really racism" tit-for-tat "two wrongs" bullshit posing as satire. Just what anti-racism needs. This'll help a lot.

I really dislike reverse racism, but I'm not seeing any here. Rather, this is semi-mockery, trying to express a message in a way that resonates for white people. You're supposed to take it seriously, but not, perhaps, in the way you're perceiving. The primary target for the blog is the people being mocked.

The problem with most reverse racism is that it's still racism, just with the polarities flipped. But here, the the goal is to educate, not to perpetuate racism in a different format.

Honestly, this strikes me as healthy and productive.
posted by Malor at 5:15 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


You're supposed to take it seriously, but not, perhaps, in the way you're perceiving. The primary target for the blog is the people being mocked.

Which is generally not a good way to drive traffic to your site. I don't see any "reverse racism" either - if something like that even exists - my charge against it was that it totally failed in its attempt to be "as non-mockingly as possible".
posted by three blind mice at 5:30 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


My name is blue_beetle, and I am exotic white.

Not professional white, surely? ;p



I laughed and burbled. You have to live with being "exotic" to truly enjoy the humour in this, I think.
posted by infini at 5:33 AM on August 28, 2012


I have actually been on the receiving end of being the exotic in Nicaragua, when I was dating a local girl down here for a while. She was educated, liberal, had a law degree, her friends were all cosmopolitan and smart, but she was completely fascinated by my light colored arm hair, said "you're so Gringo" or "so chelo" as a compliment, and her friends would say things like "wow, he's pure Gringo", right in front of me, and I get called chelo a lot by random people (and I don't even really have blonde hair). I've also been told to try not to look like a gringo in fairly dangerous situations by locals (not easy when I'm a foot taller than everyone else). It's interesting experience to be an obvious minority, and to know that people are looking at you first and foremost as your race before they look at you as an individual. (though I think obviously easier for a white guy from America because of the money and power differential and the fact that I can go back to the us whenever I want).
posted by empath at 5:45 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


My name is blue_beetle, and I am exotic white.

Actually, weren't you replaced by a superior hispanic version recently?
posted by MartinWisse at 5:48 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


My name is blue_beetle, and I am exotic white.

My name is blue_beetle, and I am exotic rainbow.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:52 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also laughed and burbled! I guess I'm a reverse racist according to some because I thought this was very funny.
posted by rtha at 6:05 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because of this blog I now know about that Megan Lochte interview. Holy shit!
posted by Navelgazer at 6:12 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


FWIW, all americans are exotic to this european.
posted by Sourisnoire at 6:14 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


What this blog needs is outraged comments.
posted by postcommunism at 6:16 AM on August 28, 2012


Oh, there they are. (One or two.)
posted by postcommunism at 6:21 AM on August 28, 2012


Can someone tell me what reverse racism is?

I understand racism to be the systematic oppression of a minority by a majority, and so "reverse racism" would be the systematic oppression of a majority by a minority which isn't possible since if a is oppressed by b then b cannot oppress a!

What definition are you others using?
posted by kiskar at 6:30 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a funny definition of "oppression" that basically means "attack" or "bother".
posted by LogicalDash at 6:37 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've actually copped a little "exotic white"-ism myself, teaching English over in Japan. You're definitely a novelty, especially in the more countryside areas.

As someone non-asian-looking from the UK, US, Aus etc., the consequences of any prejudice / ignore you face are nearly always irritating, insane or tiresome at absolute worst. Lots of comment about the size of your manbits, or a friend being asked what colour his blood was (!), or how handsome big western noses are.

Compare this to the situation of an actual disadvantaged racial minority in Japan, say ethnic Koreans, and it becomes immediately apparent how important context and power is when evaluating this stuff. It was an instructive time.
posted by ominous_paws at 6:39 AM on August 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


Reverse racism: giving benefits to people who are perceived as 'disadvantaged', based on their skin color/ethnicity, rather than actual need.

It's the separation by skin color that's the problem, so reversing the polarity compounds the problem, rather than reducing it.

And it's not just white people that get discriminated against; colleges all over the country have much higher bars for Asians than for other ethnic groups. In that case, it's basically affirmative action for white people, and it's noxious. Asians are doing the best, so they should get the spots. If the whites and blacks and Hispanics can't compete, then they can go to second-tier colleges; it's not like there's a shortage of available space. Those guys and gals earned those slots, and they should get the opportunity to excel at the highest levels.

Help people because they are poor, or because their local schools are bad, or simply because they're not doing well in school, and you will automatically start to repair the problems of racism, without perpetuating it. If a given minority is disproportionately poor, then helping poor people will also disproportionately help that minority, without making the minority class the central status symbol for citizens. The important thing about a person needs to be that they are American, not that they are black or white or Latino or Asian.

We are all one tribe.
posted by Malor at 6:43 AM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


kiskar: reverse-racism is when an oppressed minority complains about being oppressed or does anything to try to remedy their situation.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:43 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


or, that's not totally fair. A slightly more generous way to put it would be that reverse-racism is anything that diminishes, no matter how slightly, majority privilege.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:45 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


What definition are others using?

The real one: "Racism is generally defined as actions, practices, attitudes, or beliefs that reflect or support the racial worldview: the ideology that humans are divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called "races". This ideology entails the belief that members of a race share a set of characteristic traits, abilities, or qualities, that traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural behavioral characteristics are inherited, and that this inheritance means that races can be ranked as innately superior or inferior to others."

Racism is a mindset and/or an attitude. The oppression you describe is what happens when you get a lot of racist people together.

So reverse racism is a bit of an oxymoron. But it seems to be used (when it is used in good faith and not snark) is when the minority group holds racist views about the majority group.
posted by gjc at 6:47 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


No, reverse racism is when you shift your race-car into reverse while doing 90 on the information superhighway.
posted by postcommunism at 6:48 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh my god this is fantastic.
posted by naju at 7:03 AM on August 28, 2012


kiskar: reverse-racism is when an oppressed minority complains about being oppressed or does anything to try to remedy their situation.
and
or, that's not totally fair. A slightly more generous way to put it would be that reverse-racism is anything that diminishes, no matter how slightly, majority privilege.

That definitely happens, but I don't think people who use it that way are using it in good faith. They aren't trying to convey a concept, they are trying to name-call or get out of trouble. Sort of like "I'm an asshole? Oh yeah? Well, you're a reverse-asshole for pointing it out!"
posted by gjc at 7:10 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


And at their more formal ceremonies they even serve these little pieces of melon wrapped in bacon.

Do I get a pass if I wrap melon with prosciutto?

love this tumblr tho
posted by davejay at 7:14 AM on August 28, 2012


So what's wrong with the word exotic exactly and why would someone be offended by being termed that? Surely it's used as a compliment so why not accept it in the spirit in which it's proffered?
posted by zeoslap at 7:18 AM on August 28, 2012


what's wrong with the word exotic?
It's needlessly superficially othering. It says of the subject that their physical differences are somehow fascinating, while ignoring who the person is.
posted by smirkette at 7:25 AM on August 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


So what's wrong with the word exotic exactly

How is it a compliment?
posted by sparklemotion at 7:26 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


oddman: I find meatloaf exotic too! I was once at a food court in Denver with some friends (mostly White American, I think we had a Korean and a Mexican come too - we were part of a youth travel group). They're all eating Korean food; I'm getting super excited about meatloaf.

(the 'you're soooo exotic' thing pisses me off to no end. my way of retaliation is to find American diner and Southern food exotic since they haven't travelled over to my part of the world yet. well, that, and a number of artistic/activist responses.)

see also Suheir Hammad's Not Your Exotic
posted by divabat at 7:27 AM on August 28, 2012


So what's wrong with the word exotic exactly and why would someone be offended by being termed that?

The word means, basically, "excitingly foreign," and I'd think it would be kind of easy to see why a person would get irritated to hear their features described that way when they're from the same country as the person using the word; the author of this tumblr is annoyed because she keeps hearing the word used to mean "non-white." You hear it enough times and you start having a very low tolerance for it.

Surely it's used as a compliment so why not accept it in the spirit in which it's proffered?

"You're really articulate for a black person" is used as a compliment too. Meaning well is all fine and good, but meaning well isn't enough to make up for forgetting that the person you're talking to is, in fact, a human being.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:29 AM on August 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


"exotic" is just a "nicer" way of saying "You don't belong here - but hey I get to objectify you since that's all you're good for". You're no longer a person, you're the Oddity.
posted by divabat at 7:30 AM on August 28, 2012 [20 favorites]


So what's wrong with the word exotic exactly and why would someone be offended by being termed that?

Really simple: it makes it super-obvious that a person is focused only on my race and what separates me from the majority 'default' culture. It makes me feel like an outsider in my own country. It makes me aware that I'll never be just "one of the guys" in a group, that at best for you I'm a justification to say "one of my best friends is [ethnicity]!"
posted by naju at 7:32 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


As to "it's a compliment, shut your whining": I can't help being exotic. I can't help that I'm always Othered no matter what steps I take to assimilate. If you're going to compliment me at least make it based on something I have some control over.
posted by divabat at 7:32 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


So what's wrong with the word exotic exactly

I dunno man, when I'm in another country and people follow me around whispering to each other for like 10 minutes before asking that I pose for pictures? Or if I do something and the reaction is "oh yes, look at that strange thing he did, just as we expected" and to me it was just an ordinary thing? Or the reverse, where I do something they think is normal and it's all "wow, look at that normal thing he did, that was so clever and unexpected, let's praise him" and again it was just, you know, an ordinary thing?

Yeah, I guess I'm kind of flattered that people are paying attention to me, but even before it starts to get old it makes me think: "hey now, I'm just doing a thing, stop making all these assumptions" and then when it continues my reaction becomes "holy moses, it would suck to be thought of like this always, in the place I lived."

On preview: beaten like woah, sorry for jumping on you zeoslap
posted by postcommunism at 7:34 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here's a question: doesn't "exotic" tend to be used for women more? And why? I feel like there's a strange gendered / sexual component to it that I can't fully figure out.
posted by naju at 7:39 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


So what's wrong with the word exotic exactly and why would someone be offended by being termed that? Surely it's used as a compliment so why not accept it in the spirit in which it's proffered?

It's a form of objectification.

The best example I can think of is on The (US) Office when Michael Scott meets the Karen Filippelli character (played by Rashida Jones), and says something like "wow, you're exotic looking. Was your dad a GI?"

How can a word that means "originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country" be a compliment? Would "wow, you're from nearby" be a compliment? No, of course not. Exotic, when describing a person, can only be a compliment if there is an implication that goes with it of "you're different, but in a way I approve of." There is also a lascivious sexual connotation when used to describe women.
posted by gjc at 7:40 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


@famous monster "You're really articulate for a black person" - that isn't the same at all because what you are really saying is that black people aren't usually articulate which is indeed insulting.

@divabat I also don't think 'exotic' means you don't belong, it just means that your look is not the norm which is most likely true. People get complimented on all kinds of things outside their control, being tall, having great hair etc etc.

@naju "it makes it super-obvious that a person is focused only on my race" - I think that's unfair, just because someone isn't doing a Steven Colbert-esque "I don't see color" thing doesn't mean that is all they see in a person
posted by zeoslap at 7:41 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


How can a word that means "originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country" - because the person mentioning it wouldn't say anything at all if he/she didn't perceive that as a desirable/attractive trait.
posted by zeoslap at 7:43 AM on August 28, 2012


Here's a question: doesn't "exotic" tend to be used for women more? And why? I feel like there's a strange gendered / sexual component to it that I can't fully figure out.

I've definitely seen it used more towards women, but the concept certainly exists in the other direction.

The sexual thing seems like an implication that the object is, by virtue of their having come from an exotic locale, more experienced, more talented and less inhibited at the sexual arts than a non-exotic.
posted by gjc at 7:45 AM on August 28, 2012


There is also a lascivious sexual connotation when used to describe women. that doesn't make it racist though, the same could be said for any compliment regards how a person looks.
posted by zeoslap at 7:46 AM on August 28, 2012


Zeo, if you are really asking a genuine question, why not take some of the answers (from people who have actually suffered the term themselves!) on aboard, instead of rapid fire rebutting the lot of them from the hip?
posted by ominous_paws at 7:46 AM on August 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


zeoslap: "nice tits" is a compliment, too, but not one that you can expect everybody to take kindly to. "Exotic" is basically, "that's so fascinating that you don't belong here," which could be pretty tiresome, I'd think.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:46 AM on August 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


* on board. Oy.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:47 AM on August 28, 2012


that isn't the same at all because what you are really saying is that black people aren't usually articulate which is indeed insulting.

It's the same in the sense that the person saying it means well, but meaning well isn't enough. Certainly it's got different connotations but, again: the similarity is in the way that one can't really take it in the spirit it was given.

I also don't think 'exotic' means you don't belong, it just means that your look is not the norm which is most likely true.

This is pretty much the crux of it: Telling a black person their look is not the norm - that's insulting. It might work a little differently in a place where, say, no one had ever seen a non-white person before* but not so much in the US or wherever. In any event it's an othering thing to say, and to a person who isn't white, othering is something you get your fill of pretty quickly.

* True story: An aunt of mine is from a little countryside village in Italy. The first time she ever saw a black person was in the 1940s: an American GI who came round to knock on doors and tell everyone their village was no longer under fascist rule, something like that. My aunt answered the door, saw him, and fainted.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:49 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem is in the implicit statement about majority culture that comes with it: "my culture is the default and completely normal. It isn't even worth commenting on or noticing - it just is. We don't even think about it, that's how much I fit in here!"
posted by naju at 7:52 AM on August 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


FM - one of my uncles was raised in Italy for the first few years of his life, and in the exact same situation was paralysed completely to the spot, having to be picked up and removed from the room...
posted by ominous_paws at 7:52 AM on August 28, 2012


@ominous_paws - would you prefer that I didn't take the time to engage the folks that were kind enough to reply to my original comment? Here's me thinking that metafilter was about discussion...

I'm merely presenting the flip side of the issue. Sure I could just take the position that if people are offended it must be racist but perhaps that reaction is misplaced.


@famous monster In any event it's an othering thing to say, and to a person who isn't white, othering is something you get your fill of pretty quickly. - fair enough, I still feel as though it's unfair to brand someone who would say such a thing a racist though.
posted by zeoslap at 7:54 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


How can a word that means "originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country" - because the person mentioning it wouldn't say anything at all if he/she didn't perceive that as a desirable/attractive trait.

It's just like "wow, you're tall" or "wow, you're skinny" or "wow, what large breasts" or "wow, nice penis bulge" or "wow, what big feet" or "wow, look at all that curly hair".

The person offering these "compliments" may be sincere, but they aren't being thoughtful. The physical characteristic you find attractive might well be something they are self-conscious about. Plus, it isn't much of a compliment to point out something that someone had no control over.
posted by gjc at 7:56 AM on August 28, 2012


My favorite satirical examination of whiteness has always been "Stuff White People Like". Alas, it did not get a positive reception when it was posted here (hit too close to home, methinks).
posted by schroedinger at 7:57 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]



Here's a question: doesn't "exotic" tend to be used for women more? And why? I feel like there's a strange gendered / sexual component to it that I can't fully figure out.

Its when you're told that you'll be attractive to the local men for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the individual that you are. It makes "you" invisible.
posted by infini at 7:58 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


zeoslap: I don't think I'd call someone saying "exotic" a "racist," because that's not really what we're talking about here. This blog is pointing out all of the well-meaning things that white people often say about people of color, and showing how unintentionally alienating they can be. It seems to me to be written specifically for the people who say things like this and maybe don't realize the effect it has.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:59 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


So what's wrong with the word exotic exactly and why would someone be offended by being termed that? Surely it's used as a compliment so why not accept it in the spirit in which it's proffered?

It's a form of objectification.


That's the point of compliments though. The provider of the compliment comes up with something they think is nice to say based on some object-qualiy of the recipient of the compliment.

Has it been terribly rude for me to tell people that their new haircut looked nice, or that they made a funny joke? Is there some deeper difference I'm missing here, or is it just that "exotic" is a term that's now being absorbed into the fugue of racism?
posted by elsp at 7:59 AM on August 28, 2012


So what's wrong with the word exotic exactly
The exo- prefix means "outside". Calling someone exotic is the same as calling them an "outsider." Also, it conjures memories of colonial times, when "exotic" was a synonym for "backwards and frightening, but in an exciting way."
posted by deathpanels at 8:01 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Zeo, not at all. But in this particular case you've asked why people would be offended by the term, and folks have answered, and in some cases have told you why they personally were offended, in actual real-life cases.

So when you come back with just a sentence telling them that they are incorrect to feel as they do - it feels like you didn't really want to know why they were offended, you just thought that they were foolish and/or wrong, and wanted to point that out to them.

Which may be fine, but it's not quite the same thing as wanting to understand why they were offended.
posted by ominous_paws at 8:02 AM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


eslp: People have a say in their haircuts and the jokes they tell. Complimenting them on stuff like that is great! It's the compliments on stuff they had no control over and can't change that make people uncomfortable.
posted by peppermind at 8:05 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


We live in a society which treats being white as being the default for beauty and goodness.

You clearly don't live in Britain, where the default now seems to be orange.
posted by ComfySofa at 8:05 AM on August 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think there's an element of the word that makes it similar in usage to "oriental", too - I'd feel totally comfortable using "exotic" to describe cocktails or cuisine or weapons or, I dunno, decor and all of that. But describing a person as "exotic" feels a bit "Well, aren't you just a fascinating little thing, hmm?"
posted by ominous_paws at 8:06 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Has it been terribly rude for me to tell people that their new haircut looked nice, or that they made a funny joke? Is there some deeper difference I'm missing here, or is it just that "exotic" is a term that's now being absorbed into the fugue of racism?

"Wow, that was a funny joke!" is a compliment which usually has no extra baggage.
"That haircut looks great!" is a compliment which usually has no extra baggage.
"Wow, you look so exotic!" is intended as a compliment but carries the baggage of the assumption that the person being complimented looks foreign, looks different, looks like an Other.

One of these things is not like the other.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:06 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think that's unfair, just because someone isn't doing a Steven Colbert-esque "I don't see color" thing doesn't mean that is all they see in a person

Well, the problem is that maybe the person they're talking to has probably been given the default 'oh hey, you're not white' running commentary their entire life and, if you can imagine, they are likely to be well aware of it and the general shallowness of that conversational gambit.

What comes into play behind all of it is this identity thing and being unique in a way that's fully in that person's control and not in the hands of others. If I may draw a parallel to GLBT issues, calling someone 'exotic' is a little like Starcraft obsessed nerdlings (here's looking at you, comment section of sc2casts) who absolutely refuse, to a point of vitriol, to call an MtF transgendered player 'female' because her birth certificate says otherwise. And while there's this moronic truth to referring to her by the masculine pronouns, it completely ignores what she so obviously wants.

The genderist part of this comes from the professed ignorance of these often sensitive pronouns and descriptions; it's not a big deal to you because it's just a conversational gambit. It's like what you would do with, say, an uncle's big nose or something. To your recipient though, it's this identity bubble that's been poked and prodded by all sorts of weird strangers their entire lives. I've got a friend who came close to hitting that seven foot tall ceiling and he says it's hard not to feel like kind of a freak when he knows exactly, almost verbatim, what everybody is going to say to him. If the human brain is this excellent pattern recognizer and the prevailing topic of conversation with you is height or race, then you're going to think that's how you're being seen.

It's sort of the same thing with race and while it's not racist in any purposeful way, like with hate or prejudice, it's still institutionally racist to rely on such an obvious cue. In a comment like 'you're exotic' the embedded racial signifiers that have been pretty well illuminated above are telling the person you're talking to that you are, after all, commenting on how they look different. And to expect everyone to laugh about it and to be okay with the fact that you're focusing in on the one thing that they can never change no matter how hard they try is, at the very least, insensitive.
posted by dubusadus at 8:06 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I saw the title of this and assumed it was going to be about white ladies who are considered "exotic" within whitedom because they don't look quite white enough (or are at least not of an easily identifiable ethnic strain). That's more annoying than brutal and life-altering, of course, but if I had a goddam penny for every time someone quizzed me on where I was from--no, really, you know what I mean, from--when the midwestern city I was born and raised in was not sufficient...I probably would have flung them all at the folks who went dead silent and stared at that little diner deep in the West Virginia hollers where we made the mistake of stopping--as a "mixed" family, my mother sufficiently german-polish, my father dark and ethic but neither eye-talian nor greek--on the way down to Disneyland.
posted by availablelight at 8:07 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Your thoughts are very exotic.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:09 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is probably useful to point out that someone can think in racist ways and say racist things without necessarily being bigoted or discriminatory about it. Nobody is saying it is the worst thing in the world to call someone exotic. We are saying that it carries meaning that people might not have thought of. This blog, by turning the idea inside out, points these things out.

Please note: I didn't read much of the blog, but what I did read was pretty much word-for-word accurate for things I've heard people say to people of color. And by people, I mean my grandfather.

Unlike "things white people like", which I find to be mean and actually racist, this blog appears to simply be pure satire. They don't seem to be adding any commentary. The blatant obviousness that appears when you reverse the races is all that is necessary.
posted by gjc at 8:16 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Way back in the 90's in Boston, the occasional Saturday night would find me hanging out at the clubs frequented by Asians and Asian-Americans, brought along by my Asian friends from college.

On my first night out with the crew, as I was bellying up to the bar to order a drink, a dude standing next to me said, "Now you get to see what it's like to be 'exotic', huh?" Unspoken, but communicated by the wry smile he flashed me, was the sentiment that I would not find it to be a pleasant experience.

He was right. At no point on any of my nights out did I feel like I was in danger or even unwanted, but something about being an object of fascination just feels off. Even if it means people you don't know buy you drinks and attractive people flirt with you and no one ever says anything blatantly offensive, it's just...off. And I say that as someone who cultivates an "I'm different" appearance and demeanor.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:18 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


is it just that "exotic" is a term that's now being absorbed into the fugue of racism?

It isn't new. Some not-small number of us have been made aware of it whether we like it or not for much of our lives. It's tiresome. I can't do a damn thing about my "exotic"-ness. And I'm not terribly exotic: I have dark hair and brown eyes! My skin is (depending on the time of year) olive or brown! What sets people off is my name, which is Hawaiian. Then I get the "Oh you're so exotic, hula is such a beautiful dance" blahblahblah.

If someone needs to compliment me, don't call me exotic. It's not original. It will not make me think well of you. I'm not going to assume you're an unrepentant racist, but you just started the race to be my friend at a distinct disadvantage.

How many more people who hate being called "exotic" and don't think it's a compliment do we need to get in here before we get to be taken at our word, and not have to have our own experience explained to us by people who haven't had it?
posted by rtha at 8:20 AM on August 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


Great idea. I only wish it was funny.
posted by Muppetattack at 8:30 AM on August 28, 2012


I still feel as though it's unfair to brand someone who would say such a thing a racist though.

This is always the problem. No matter how you try to tell some people to stop doing things that are hurtful and racist, whether you say it nice and polite, or use satire, or shout angrily, some of them will always think, "How dare you call me a bad person?" instead of "Maybe I should stop doing that thing that hurts people."
posted by straight at 8:33 AM on August 28, 2012 [32 favorites]


I understand racism to be the systematic oppression of a minority by a majority, and so "reverse racism" would be the systematic oppression of a majority by a minority which isn't possible since if a is oppressed by b then b cannot oppress a!

I love the Orwellian redefinitions of words. You can't be racist to the majority because I've redefined the word so that it excludes that possibility! Next up: hatred -- defined as the systematic oppression of a minority by a majority. Greed -- defined as the systematic oppression of a minority by a majority. Stupidity -- ...

Very helpful when you can rewrite words to mean exactly what you want them to.
posted by shivohum at 8:34 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


This tumblr is satire, pure and simple. In fact, it will only make its desired point to people who aren't racists, just perhaps... unaware?

Tumblr: Look, I know you aren't a racist asshole, so I'm going to point this out to you: (insert reverse cliche).
Reader: Wow, that does seem strange/creepy/uncomfortable.
Tumblr: So, maybe don't do that type of thing?

...And knowing is half the battle!
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 8:34 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The comedy sketch they link to of Indian people in Bombay going to an "English" restaurant is pretty funny.
posted by straight at 8:34 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


> You can't be racist to the majority because I've redefined the word so that it excludes that possibility!

Academically, a whole lot of words go into talking about racism as exactly that, probably because it encompasses and helps explain individual interactions which, while apparently isolated, are inflected by race in predictable and specific ways. Just like those two other traditional example of power imbalances, gender and class, do when they're looked at as overarching patterns rather than small, disconnected events.

Outside of academia, varying usages and conversational maneuverings might shake the definition of 'racism' around to fit (or avoid) any given context, but there's long precedent for talking about it as a majority/minority power system.
posted by postcommunism at 8:53 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


How many more people who hate being called "exotic" and don't think it's a compliment do we need to get in here before we get to be taken at our word, and not have to have our own experience explained to us by people who haven't had it?

Shhh, we're being Explained to...
posted by infini at 8:54 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Has it been terribly rude for me to tell people that their new haircut looked nice, or that they made a funny joke? Is there some deeper difference I'm missing here, or is it just that "exotic" is a term that's now being absorbed into the fugue of racism?

I think it's really psychically tough to say to yourself "this thing that I have always assumed was okay to say and think actually isn't okay and I need to change". It's tough whether you need to admit that times have changed (and times changing is scary!) or whether you need to admit to yourself that all along you've been saying something kind of rude. It's really tough to let go of your old habits and self-conception, even on a small level like that.

As a white person (and I address this to other white people, since it's not the job of people of color to worry about Oh How Will White People Process Their Whiteness!), here is what I think:

I'm not going to lie - some of that SWPL and "exotic white people" stuff hits home with me. Most of it's just a politically-awesome laugh, but every once in a while something hits me where it hurts ("But I enjoy locally-sourced sandwich ingredients!"), and I feel disliked [for my race] or vulnerable or ridiculous [because of my race] or just observed by unsympathetic eyes - and that's something that I as a white person am socialized to expect not to feel. I'm used to feeling that my race is not up for discussion, it's the norm. I move through the world as if my race were invisible - not because it is, but because the people who see my race are generally forbidden by custom and power structures from commenting on it.

It's actually incredibly rare IME for people of color to say negative things about white people where white people can hear - but white people feel much, much freer to comment on people of color.

So when I am named as a white person, it's sort of a shock. And it makes me realize that all along my race has been visible - it's not that no one ever noticed, it's that they never said. And that's uncomfortable! What if all the "white" things about me - my preppie stylings, my extremely 'white nerd' speech patterns, my haircut, my build - have been just a little bit ridiculous all along? What if the little stupid things I do - the microaggressions that I commit, the times when I say something that shows how provincial I am and how little I know about people of color - what if people notice all that stuff? That too is uncomfortable.

One of the aspects of privilege is to never have to think that you might be seen, to never have to think that you might be ridiculous or weak or look silly from that angle. That's why comedy, satire and vulgarity are good weapons against the powerful. [Note here that as a person assigned female at birth, I routine experience "being seen" as a woman - I just don't experience "being seen" as a white person very often because of white privilege.]

Again, speaking as a white person - I find it helpful to think of this stuff like stretching. When I feel uncomfortable about being called out for White People Stuff, I imagine the discomfort as discomfort that I can just slowly, gently stretch through - like I'm warming up my brain. I want to stretch through that discomfort, because I know that Capital-W Whiteness is a huge problem - it's a huge problem for me, because it keeps me from acting in an anti-racist manner, and it's a huge problem for our whole society because it supports white supremacy. My "discomfort" is a bad mental habit, not a part of my character that I want to preserve.

My brain sometimes tries to trick me - it tries to make get all worked about "oh noes this is reverse racism" and "but...but it's not fair to say mean things to white people because [various bad historical rationalizations]". My brain tries to make me care about my Feelings About Being White. My brain tries to make me think that it is an Important Political Point to be able to call people exotic because [free speech, etc]. My brain tries to convince me that even if many people of color report bad experiences with a word or a practice, there is some kind of Important Platonic Absolute Truth that means that their feelings don't count.

But I can say "actually, I don't really want to call anyone exotic especially if it makes them feel bad and " and "actually, I don't really need to wear a bindi as part of my Halloween costume" and "actually, I don't need to have an opinion about [headscarves or other forms of clothing not worn by people of my background]". I don't have to be attached to Whiteness. I can let go.


(Also, I am not into "you have redefined 'racism' in a nefarious way" thing. The meaning of 'racism' is being contested; there is a possibility that we can name two different things ('racism' and 'prejudice') so that we have a finer-grained way of talking about social relations. Being able to talk about social relations in a more sophisticated way is great!)
posted by Frowner at 8:56 AM on August 28, 2012 [51 favorites]


Er, that was perhaps a little too long. Sorry about that.
posted by Frowner at 8:57 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I appreciate reading things like this because it gives me some uncomfortable sensations I as a white male normally wouldn't encounter, and that is very instructive. Puts a few things into perspective.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:01 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


My brain tries to convince me that even if many people of color report bad experiences with a word or a practice, there is some kind of Important Platonic Absolute Truth that means that their feelings don't count.

Thank you for that very insightful comment Frowner, feel free to write longer comments if they're to be of this quality.

The above words articulate well why I feel that the Danes claiming free speech as a reason to mock someone else's religion are in the wrong.
posted by infini at 9:04 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has it been terribly rude for me to tell people that their new haircut looked nice, or that they made a funny joke? Is there some deeper difference I'm missing here, or is it just that "exotic" is a term that's now being absorbed into the fugue of racism?

In your examples you're complimenting something on a personal trait; calling somebosy exotic looking however is judging them against a whole class of people they themselves don't belong to no longer judging them on their own worth.

There are also compliments that go the other way of course, congratulating somebody for doing something you yourself would not find worthy of compliment: Obama sure is articulate, the for a Black man left unspoken.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:09 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can't be racist to the majority because I've redefined the word so that it excludes that possibility!

Or maybe it's harder for people in the majority to see that racism is more than just unfairness or prejudice or discrimination. Racism is unfairness, prejudice, and discrimination that have become so entrenched in the culture that it's constantly in your face. It has infected they way you're treated by employers, governments, restaurants, schools, law enforcement, the media. It's not just individuals being unpleasant. There's real power behind it.

When someone says something is racist, they're not saying "You're mean" or "You're a bad person." They're saying, "Whether you realize it or not, you're aligning yourself with the crap that's been attacking me my whole life. Are you really siding with them against me?"
posted by straight at 9:18 AM on August 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


Well, I called Obama articulate, right here on MeFi, back when we first started really hearing about him. I didn't (and don't) mean 'for a black man', I just mean articulate, period. He's a far better speaker than I am, with a much, much better working vocabulary. Of the Presidents I remember, he's probably the most professorial and articulate of any of them, by a long shot. Clinton might have been smarter (it's hard to judge, because both of them are so much more intelligent than I am), but I don't think he spoke nearly as well.

I don't know a better word for 'has a large vocabulary and uses it precisely'. If you have a suggestion, I'm all ears.
posted by Malor at 9:23 AM on August 28, 2012


Also, when I called Obama "colored" it's because his skin really is darker than other people. I don't know of a better word for "has more color in his skin."

Malor, you can't just point to dictionary definitions and ignore the connotations words have.
posted by straight at 9:27 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just because someone is offended doesn't necessarily mean that those feelings are justified or that the comment that offended is indicative of prejudice on the part of the person who offered it.

When someone says something is racist, they're not saying "You're mean" or "You're a bad person."
If a person who is honestly absent of prejudice or malice is accused of racism you better believe that's going to be taken as indicating you think they are indeed mean/bad, to think otherwise is nuts.
posted by zeoslap at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2012


I don't know a better word for 'has a large vocabulary and uses it precisely'. If you have a suggestion, I'm all ears.

See, this is where one needs a sense of social context.

Yes, Obama is an extremely gifted speaker (and that's how I would put it). And it's true that "articulate" captures some of "gifted speaker". But it is also a famous example of a compliment/insult offered to African-Americans. You can't get away from that - that echo will always be there and we need to find another phrase. An aspect of politeness and complimenting is sensitivity to social norms and history - not just the dictionary definition of the word.

I also worry that, just as there are some white people who are obsessed with finding an occasion when it's appropriate to say [racial slurs] ("But what about this unlikely situation? Could I say it then? Or what about that unlikely situation?") there may well be people who get a kick out of saying "but Obama is articulate!" precisely because it's a kind of transgressive and contrarian thing to say.

I mean, why not say that the guy writes great speeches? Or speaks with passion? There are lots of ways to get your meaning across.

Think of it this way: when one is a fat or awkward girl growing up in these United States, well-meaning people will often say "you have such pretty eyes!". It's something they say whether your eyes are pretty or not - because they feel that they have to compliment girls. When you hear "you have such pretty eyes" you know that it says zero about your eyes and a lot about how the speaker thinks that your body and everything else about you are unsatisfactory. It's a downer of a thing to hear, and kind of a joke among those of us who grew up Officially Unpretty. Knowing that, you're kind of a jackass if you break out "you have such pretty eyes" to a random fat girl - you know that compliment has a lot of bad history behind it, and you know that it's going to provoke an unpleasant twinge of memory even if the girl in question really does have beautiful eyes. So you say something else instead, because that's how you show that you are a thoughtful and sophisticated speaker. (And you could even describe Obama that way!)
posted by Frowner at 9:34 AM on August 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


"even if the girl in question really does have beautiful eyes" - oh jeeze, so just on the off chance that someone used to be fat, eye compliments are now off the table?

There comes a point when you need to be able to take a compliment in the spirit in which it's offered.
posted by zeoslap at 9:41 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Zeoslap: who are you to tell me my dislike is unjustifiable? Who are you to overrule my claims that just because I seem like a freak to you doesn't mean you're justified in calling me 'exotic'?
posted by divabat at 9:42 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


If a person who is honestly absent of prejudice or malice is accused of racism you better believe that's going to be taken as indicating you think they are indeed mean/bad, to think otherwise is nuts.

I know. I just hate it when Japanese tourists in front of me on a escalator suddenly realize who might be behind them and clutch their purses a little harder under their arms. It hurts to be taken as a potential criminal even when one might not be one. Nuts, I tell you, nuts.
posted by infini at 9:42 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you hear "you have such pretty eyes" you know that it says zero about your eyes and a lot about how the speaker thinks that your body and everything else about you are unsatisfactory. It's a downer of a thing to hear, and kind of a joke among those of us who grew up Officially Unpretty.

Wow, this is the first time I've ever heard this, and I was definitely Officially Unpretty in high school. Maybe this is region-specific? I would never think twice about saying this or hearing it.
posted by randomnity at 9:44 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


There comes a point when you need to be able to take a compliment in the spirit in which it's offered.

Please come live my life so that you can tell me exactly when that point is. Thanks.
posted by rtha at 9:44 AM on August 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


And why is it so much worse to tell someone "what you did is racist" then to do something racist?
posted by divabat at 9:44 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just because someone is offended doesn't necessarily mean that those feelings are justified or that the comment that offended is indicative of prejudice on the part of the person who offered it.

So now at least we're out with it; you came here to explain to people that they were wrong about their own experiences, and that their own feelings were not justified.

I'm not sure people who have been offended by being exotic will care that much about justifying their offense to you, really. But if your default reaction to people taking offence at this sort of term is not "didn't expect that, maybe I'll dial it back a bit in future", but "don't be so silly, that could not possibly be offensive, you are wrong and moreover how mean of you to call someone racist" - well, I don't know if I'd expect a lot of positive things to come from this approach, really.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:45 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


There comes a point when you need to be able to take a compliment in the spirit in which it's offered.

There also comes a point when you need to stop dictating to people who don't share your experience what their experience "should" be.
posted by blucevalo at 9:46 AM on August 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


*being called exotic. My standard of posting care today has not been high.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:50 AM on August 28, 2012


randomnity:
"Wow, this is the first time I've ever heard this, and I was definitely Officially Unpretty in high school. Maybe this is region-specific? I would never think twice about saying this or hearing it."
And that's kind of where all this heat is coming from in discussions like this. There are some words that everyone knows is racist and saying them is an explicitly racist act. There are other words though, like "articulate", where people are told that there is a racist element to them and their reaction is either, "but I didn't mean it to be racist" or "what? Since when? No, fuck you!" The former tends to get the "racist acts are separate from intent" speech while the latter devolve into arguments about linguistics.
posted by charred husk at 9:50 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just because someone is offended doesn't necessarily mean that those feelings are justified or that the comment that offended is indicative of prejudice on the part of the person who offered it.

If you accidentally step on someone's toe and she says, "OW!" I hope you just apologize, rather than getting into a big, defensive argument about whether that really hurt or if she's just being dramatic and obviously you didn't mean to hurt anyone so why is she making you feel bad by saying "OW!" so loud.
posted by straight at 9:51 AM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Just because someone is offended doesn't necessarily mean that those feelings are justified or that the comment that offended is indicative of prejudice on the part of the person who offered it.

How many people need to say "this offends me or makes me uncomfortable," before those feelings are justified? How often do we need to say, "you know, your good intent is great and all, but it doesn't change the fact that that thing you just said offended or hurt me"? This comparison has been made before, but I'll make it again: it's like when someone steps on your foot. Sure, they didn't mean to do it, maybe it wasn't their fault because there's a huge crowd jostling them, but it's still the polite thing to do to stop stepping on someone's foot and apologize. The correct response isn't "well, you're mistaken, not only did I not step on your foot, but even if I did, I'm sure it didn't hurt that much and I don't need to apologize."

Being called exotic is far from the most offensive thing people say to people of color. But it's part of a pattern that frequently annoys us, because it's yet another example of pervasive othering. And at least in my case, it's very frequently followed by the tedious "where are you from?" conversation. Why is this conversation tedious? Because when I inevitably (truthfully) answer with some variation on Southern California or the town I'm from, I get "no, but where are you really from?" When I (truthfully) expand my answer to say, "I was born in Germany," I can see my well-meaning conversation partner thinking something along the lines of "you don't look white/anglo enough for that/you look too exotic for that." Sometimes I take pity on them at this point and clarify that my ethnicity is Afghan, at which point they invariably say, "but you don't look Afghan!" the subtext being "you look too white to fit my conception of Afghan." I often jokingly ask "what do you think an Afghan person looks like?" which always makes them uncomfortable, and sometimes leads people to actually say, "but you're so pale!" And ugh, I do not exist to give lectures on the numerous ethnic groups of Afghanistan, or to justify my vaguely exotic-to-you appearance.
posted by yasaman at 9:54 AM on August 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


Just because someone is offended doesn't necessarily mean that those feelings are justified or that the comment that offended is indicative of prejudice on the part of the person who offered it.

Well, it doesn't mean that there was any offensive intent, but if a room full of people are telling you that the action offends them anyway, maybe it's worth listening to them.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:54 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with Frown on the usage of "articulate". I've been referred to as articulate before, so I didn't realize it was a racially charged word until I saw something a movie discussing the issue. Would never have crossed my mind otherwise. So while you can be forgiven for using the word "as the dictionary intended", now that you know the historical context it's probably best to find a different way to express the sentiment.

It's kind of like that scene in Be Kind Rewind where Jack Black's character shows up in blackface, simply because he really, really wants to play the role of Fats Waller in their film. Up to that point he's actually completely ignorant of the history and connotations of blackface --he actually has no idea why everybody else is giving him these cold hard stares so Danny Glover's character takes him aside for a short history lesson...and next scene the makeup is gone.

It's probably not possible for most people to know all racial/sexist/body image/basic prejudice trigger-words, phrases or actions, but when someone does tell you that the thing you're doing or saying is problematic, it tends to be good form to listen to what they have to say and not insist on a literal, context-free usage of the word from the point on.


There comes a point when you need to be able to take a compliment in the spirit in which it's offered.

Oh sure, maaaaybe. But we're already past the point when someone pushes back on something you did or said, your immediate response shouldn't be "well you took it the wrong way." We need to cut that shit out immediately. I have absolutely no right to tell others how to "take things". That's just not ok.

Just because someone is offended doesn't necessarily mean that those feelings are justified or that the comment that offended is indicative of prejudice on the part of the person who offered it.

Sure, but should that be the basic assumption every time someone says they're offended? Doesn't seem like a very healthy way to engage with fellow human beings. Humility is hard, but worth it. When someone takes offense at our words we really don't have to immediately defend ourselves. The world is not going to end if we listen to what others have to say before getting all fighty.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:55 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I got called exotic at a party last weekend for being Canadian. I don't think the person meant it ironically, but the temptation to think she was being sarcastic was really really strong.
posted by painquale at 10:01 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


How many people need to say "this offends me or makes me uncomfortable," before those feelings are justified? How often do we need to say, "you know, your good intent is great and all, but it doesn't change the fact that that thing you just said offended or hurt me"?
posted by infini at 10:04 AM on August 28, 2012


Reverse Racism isn't good. It's just Racism coming the other way.

I'm trying to get a handle on how to notice differences between (and among) any given persons or even groups of persons, without being able to use terms that illuminate the difference. Maybe what I'm seeing are various conflicting, mutually obviating, opinions about what those differences actually are. Who can't jump? No, wait, if not about biology, then it's cultural, but how come...hang on here, I'm just now coming to grips with the notion that North America was already inhabited when The Great Navigator found those Indians in the Carribean. Wait, can't call them Indians?

I come up with so many thorny issues: If I don't get to tell you what offends you, then you don't get to tell me what items I can include in my vocabulary. My personal sense of Impeccable Universal Order forbids me from abusing this regulatory caution, but I'm not so sure about those assholes with the pointy hats. You'll just have to trust me.

This doesn't count the opinions of the Thought Police, who want us to all get along, without actually having to account for the fact that we, after all, don't.

Now, let's get busy and find those inherently racist words and expunge them from our thoughts and minds.
posted by mule98J at 10:06 AM on August 28, 2012


Now, let's get busy and find those inherently racist words and expunge them from our thoughts and minds.

Well that implication is a bit of a straw-man, isn't it? I mean, coming as it does right after some people explained how it's cultural context which gives certain words their edge ('articulate'), not their stone-engraved definitions.
posted by postcommunism at 10:13 AM on August 28, 2012


Weird things happen when you have a conversation about a word with one meaning that describes enormous social forces, and another meaning that describes people's ideas and attitudes, and you're concerned with both of them, but not far enough to qualify each and every use of the word.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:16 AM on August 28, 2012


The problem with all this focus on offense and feelings is that it stifles the very thing that would help cure the underlying social ills: honest discourse. People are terrified of being accused of being thought racist, so they refuse to talk about what they really think.

The truth is that even educated, liberal people stereotype based on race, gender, and other characteristics. All of these stereotypes have certain elements of truth and falsehood. Instead of being able to talk openly about these beliefs and potentially make their views more accurate and nuanced, people keep quiet because they worry about being branded offensive -- because this is a culture where that is a serious social faux pas.

Tact is good and fine, but honesty is far more important. We've lost sight of that fact.
posted by shivohum at 10:21 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is not an either-or situation as you're setting it up, shivohum. Plenty of people here have expressed the appropriate way to react to these situations. Try going back and digesting what they've said, instead of simply reacting to it.
posted by PigAlien at 10:24 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


There comes a point when you need to be able to take a compliment in the spirit in which it's offered.

I kinda get what you're saying. I think many of us who have known people who were so militant in their otherness that no one they perceived to be from the oppressing class was ever allowed to even try to say nice things about them: they interpreted everything in the least charitable way possible.

On the other hand, that sentence of yours above is used , for example, by a lot of asshole guys to justify their anger -- sometimes threatening anger -- at women who take issue with being leered at and being hit on. "Damn, you should take it as a compliment that I'm trying to pick you up, what's wrong with you, huh? Or are you trying to say something is wrong with me? Are you? Think you're too good for the likes of me?"

On the other other hand, I'd hate for people to think they couldn't tell me that I was eloquent or a good dancer or a good basketball player because of the baggage associated with connecting those traits with someone who is black. And I've seen white people wince after they've paid me those compliments, like they expect me to respond with some fist in the air denunciation of whitey or report them to HR or whatever.

It's tough, man. Sometimes it sucks that we have to be so conscious of what we say and do with other folks all the time, even when our intentions are good. I don't know if there is an easy solution other than to be willing to listen when someone objects to something you've just said and to be willing to accept some mild chastising. And on the other other other hand, I think people who feel they have been slighted should be willing to accept some pushback if the first line of response is to always immediately bring the fire and thunder and accuse the speaker/doer of perptuating centuries of hatred and oppression. People screw up sometimes, and unless there's a pattern of such behavior, I'm in favor of flagging it and moving on.
posted by lord_wolf at 10:30 AM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


I also don't think 'exotic' means you don't belong, it just means that your look is not the norm which is most likely true. People get complimented on all kinds of things outside their control, being tall, having great hair etc etc.

What is "the norm" and how do we determine what looks are inside it, and what looks are outside of it?
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:39 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This blog manages to be funny and pointed without being mean; well done. Thanks for linking to it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:42 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tact is good and fine, but honesty is far more important. We've lost sight of that fact.

In the case of the OP tact is more important, assuming your aim is to not make someone else's day worse than it has to be. For example, if I honestly think person X is amazing because they are exotic status Y, instead of honestly chirping my amazement at them I can tactfully refrain.

And hey, knowledge of that tact and how to use it comes from, like in this thread, an honest discussion of how words like 'exotic' are received by the people on whom they are bestowed.
posted by postcommunism at 10:42 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tact is good and fine, but honesty is far more important. We've lost sight of that fact.

Then, fwiw, it seems to me that some people are amused by teh tumblr and some are uncomfortable with the way it makes them feel. The wide variation in responses of the latter group are highly informative.
posted by infini at 10:54 AM on August 28, 2012


For the record it wouldn't occur to me to call someone exotic - I live in the Bay Area and work in San Francisco, folks come in all shapes and sizes and you'd have to be sporting antennae for me to think you looked even remotely exotic. Just as people here are asking folks to be careful of how they categorize/identify/compliment you, you also need to apply that same logic to your own reactions and perceptions and be wary of double standards.
posted by zeoslap at 11:16 AM on August 28, 2012


billyfleetwood:
"What is "the norm" and how do we determine what looks are inside it, and what looks are outside of it?"
"The norm" is probably not the right word to use in relation to exotic as my understanding is that it is a more personal thing. Any non-white person may be exotic to a rural Kansas farmer while here on MetaFilter it would probably take a Canadian wearing a kimono riding a platypus. The important question is whether you voice that opinion or not.
posted by charred husk at 11:18 AM on August 28, 2012


Why is it so important for you to point out that I am different from you?
posted by divabat at 11:25 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


divabat:
"Why is it so important for you to point out that I am different from you?"
It isn't. I said, "The important question is whether you voice that opinion or not." If someone is exotic to you it isn't necessarily a good idea to voice or act upon that opinion. Or are you objecting to being singled out as a Canadian wearing a kimono riding a platypus?
posted by charred husk at 11:30 AM on August 28, 2012


Vis-a-vis "but why can't I call you eloquent?"

Tact is good and fine, but honesty is far more important. We've lost sight of that fact.

"Honesty" is always social.

I think one of the features of privilege is the experience of getting to say whatever you want whenever and however you want to say it. In extremely misogynist situations, men call the shots about how they talk to women - they can say "but I mean 'hello beautiful' as a compliment" and "I just want to be able to tell women that they are attractive" and "women are so emotional" and "are you on the rag today" and the women can't really do anything about it. Men get to say quite a lot of what they want to say about women whenever they want to say it - they don't need to have much of a filter between brain and mouth, because there are no real consequences for rudeness. Some men may be nice and polite and gentlemanly, but that's always just one choice among many, a choice of habit similar to a choice of clothing, a fashion in behavior. It's not equality. And the more misogynist the situation, the less men have to think about what they say about women - to the point where maybe they don't even realize that they have that freedom.

So when women gain power and culture changes, the men think it's a big pain. "Why do I have to do this extra mental task of being aware of social settings and appropriateness and the feelings of those around me," they think. "It's a big burden and no one should have to have that burden, people should just say what they want." The men frame it as a fall from Eden, where before they could speak absolutely freely and now the PC police are pestering them. But in reality, there was no realm of absolute freedom - there was only a realm of male social power over women. "Absolute freedom to say whatever you want to say with no unpleasant consequences" only happens when your social group has the power to control the discourse. It can't happen in a climate of equality.

Similarly, I think many white people are accustomed to never having to think through what we say about race, so it feels like this huge thing if we suddenly have to keep track of "compliments that are back-handed and rude and we shouldn't use them. It feels like "those whiny PC people have gone too far, they expect me to think about everything I say, and that just can't be right". But it is right. That's how we live in the realm of equality - we learn different ways of speech, we learn different vocabularies, we learn new forms of courtesy. It's how everyone else has lived all along, only now they can speak to us directly and with truth instead of keeping quiet.

I find it helpful to think of my various Whiteness habits and emotions as something I am challenged to overcome. It's like you've spent all your life with bad posture and you have to do exercises to get rid of it, and you have to remind yourself "stand up straight now", and it's uncomfortable and you're using new muscles. The old bad posture may be unhealthy and destructive in the long run, but in the short run it's comfortable and easy and familiar and the new posture feels like a strain and like it's unnatural - but it's really the posture you should have had all along.

On another note: in life, both as a bearer of white privilege and as a person marginalized in some other ways (gender identity, gender assigned at birth, sexuality, being kind of fat), I have noticed that building personal relationships first is a great way to deal with language. If you say something sort of dumb to a friend, your friend has both the incentive and the traction to correct you. And if you say something that could be interpreted two ways, your friend knows you and knows that you are always talking about how there are hardly any articulate politicians any more and thank goodness for Obama, or whatever. It is very rare that you need to pay a compliment to a random stranger to the point where it's worth risking insulting them. "When in doubt, don't" is a motto that has served me very well when I am a privileged person wondering "can I say that? can I wear that? can I do that?"
posted by Frowner at 11:35 AM on August 28, 2012 [22 favorites]


zeoslap: If a person who is honestly absent of prejudice or malice is accused of racism you better believe that's going to be taken as indicating you think they are indeed mean/bad, to think otherwise is nuts.
No such person exists, so your statement is meaningless.

However, many people who are somewhat racist are not bad people at all, and many people who are somewhat malicious in thought are not bad at all, because they refrain from behaving maliciously, and they don't let racist assumptions prevent them from treating each person they meet as a true individual, instead of as a representative sample of a group.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:36 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


The comedy sketch they link to of Indian people in Bombay going to an "English" restaurant is pretty funny.

That was from Goodness Gracious Me (title taken from this particular bit of yellowface comedy), "the Asian Fast Show". It was utterly brilliant even when most of the cliches they'd merrily skewer are new to you, as they were to me.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:47 AM on August 28, 2012


I also worry that, just as there are some white people who are obsessed with finding an occasion when it's appropriate to say [racial slurs]

In other words, niggardly has nothing to do with you-know-what, but if you only use it when talking about Black misers, people gonna wonder.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:51 AM on August 28, 2012


"but I'm concerned that the tone here might make some white people uncomfortable."

Hasn't that always been the problem with talking about racism in this country? It makes some white people uncomfortable? How tragic.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 11:52 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Fine if you want to be pedantic.

If a person whose actions are honestly absent of prejudice or malice is accused of racism you better believe that's going to be taken as indicating you think they are indeed mean/bad, to think otherwise is nuts.

Being perceived as exotic does not mean that the person who thinks such a thing is classifying you as a representative sample group. - thinking that the person doing a Thai traditional dance looks exotic is not a racist act.
posted by zeoslap at 11:54 AM on August 28, 2012


Zeoslap: good intentions does not make your actions harmless. Also why are you so invested in giving the benefit of the doubt to people who have caused harm rather than the people experiencing harm?

(I'be gotten "freak" and various exotification terms in San Francisco.)
posted by divabat at 11:59 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


You really are incapable of listening and viewing the world through other people's eyes, aren't you, Zeoslap? One person's innocent compliment, when repeated over and over again by countless strangers during a lifetime can really get exhausting. Just stop for a minute and think. Is someone who has just received the 'compliment' of being called exotic hearing this for the first time in their lives? What you're saying is that your privileged right to give an innocent compliment carries more inherent value than the feelings of the person who might not be appreciating the compliment. You say that truth is more important than tact, and yet when people try to truthfully share their feelings about this particular compliment, you effectively tell them to take the compliment without complaint. Double standard, you say?
posted by PigAlien at 12:01 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Being perceived as exotic does not mean that the person who thinks such a thing is classifying you as a representative sample group.

Do you just not give a shit what people here are saying? Is it that you don't believe us? Why are you finding it so difficult to give those of us who don't like this the benefit of the doubt?
posted by rtha at 12:07 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Racism is unfairness, prejudice, and discrimination that have become so entrenched in the culture that it's constantly in your face. It has infected they way you're treated by employers, governments, restaurants, schools, law enforcement, the media.

See, I'd call that "institutionalized racism", whereas "racism" refers to any race-based hatred. That terminology certainly the norm outside of Metafilter (requisite pedantic OED definition). (Same thing wrt "sexism", as I encountered in the Epic GirlZone MeTa thread.) So a bunch of white kids taunting a black kid over his skin color would be an example of "institutionalized racism", whereas black kids taunting a white kid over his skin color is simply "racism". "Unfairness" or "prejudice" or "discrimination" neglect the racial aspect of the latter scenario and are insufficient to describe it. (If you want to go with "racial unfairness" or "racial prejudice" or "racial discrimination", well okay, but that's getting linguistically clumsy -- especially when there's a word, "racism", that encapsulates exactly that.)

Or maybe it's harder for people in the majority to see that racism is more than just unfairness or prejudice or discrimination.

I think we all (within this thread, at least) get that institutionalized racism is worse, more insidious, than non-institutionalized racism. To imply otherwise is, I hope, disingenuous. (Anybody still not getting that institutionalized racism is more insidious than non-institutionalized racism?? We need to talk...) Redefining terms just creates a false source of contention and derails conversation.

Don't get me wrong: I go back home to South Carolina and hear cries for "White History Month" and rants against Affirmative Action pretty commonly. (And you really don't want to hear the worst of it... Let's just say The Onion, at its worst, is being charitable.) There's still plenty of work to be done out in the Real World.
posted by LordSludge at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The number of times I've been asked if I know kung fu/karate. The number of times someone has asked what my favorite Chinese restaurant was. The number of times I've been asked about Confucius/Lao Tze/Sun Tzu. The number of times I've been asked if I've seen a Jackie Chan/Jet Li/Bruce Lee movie. The number of times I've been asked about Communism. The number of times I've been asked if I know Mao Zhe Dong (!). The number of times I've been asked about Tibet. The number of times I've been asked about factories/Wal-Mart. The number of times I've been asked if I know how to make egg rolls/wontons/egg drop soup/etc. The number of times I've been asked if I've read Amy Tan/Maxine Hong Kingston/Pearl S Buck (?). The number of times I've been asked if I'm Buddhist/Confucian. The number of times someone has said 'Ni hao!' to me and I've said 'hi' back. The number of times I've been asked if I lived in Chinatown. The number of times I've been asked 'Is it true? Is your penis really tiny or what?' The number of times I've been asked if I can introduce this yellow fever'd motherfucker to some yellow girls. The number of times I've been asked if I were Korean/Japanese. The number of times I've been told that I'm big for a Chinese guy. The number of times I've been asked if I've seen that South Park episode. The number of times people tell me that they're surprised I was an English and History major. The number of times I've been asked if I was good at math (really I'm not; I once failed a math class). The number of times I've defensively responded that I've once failed a math class. The number of times my girlfriend and I get stares because she's white and I'm Chinese. The number of times I was asked if I wanted to be a sumo wrestler (I was chubby in grade school). The number of times someone has said 'ching chong ping pong' to me who then proceeded to ask if they were close.

It just takes a single time, man, for me to automatically group you in that above category. And here I was worrying about how much I'd offend you if I did when you obviously weren't going to return the favor.
posted by dubusadus at 12:16 PM on August 28, 2012 [29 favorites]


@PigAlien & @rtha You seem to be under the impression that I'm saying it's okay to say things that deliberately hurt other peoples feelings and that I go around telling people how exotic they look. That's not what I'm saying at all. I acknowledge and can understand why someone, as has been pointed out numerous times above, could be offended.

What I'm not seeing is any comprehension that a comment or act derived not out of malice or prejudice does not a racist make.
posted by zeoslap at 12:29 PM on August 28, 2012


I hope I'm not being uncharitable, but we seem to be following a pattern that often springs up in topics where white people's behaviors w/r/t minorities are brought to task:

"Hey, what you said just now really hurt me and made me feel othered in an unpleasant way. Maybe examine this thing and look at its effect on the people you say it to."
"So you're calling me a racist? Wow. That's a huge, serious accusation to make."
"Well, I don't know about that, I just want you to think about the impact of your words. You might be well-meaning, but it can still have this insidious effect... [carefully explains the effect]"
"RACISM is really an unfair brush to paint me with. In fact, this is now about me and how unfair you're being to me. You're really overreacting here. Maybe YOU should examine your reactions/offense/hurt and how you're making ME feel."
"But I'm not-"
*white man's tears*
posted by naju at 12:31 PM on August 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


I hope I'm not being uncharitable, but we seem to be following a pattern that often springs up in topics where white people's behaviors w/r/t minorities are brought to task:


Yes, we see that pattern elsewhere too.
posted by ambrosia at 12:34 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I'm not seeing is any comprehension that a comment or act derived not out of malice or prejudice does not a racist make.

I don't know what thread you're reading, then. I said explicitly upthread that I don't automatically assume someone is a racist if they say I'm so exotic; other people have said similar things.

We keep saying we don't like it, and why. I don't really care, ultimately, if a person who says stuff like that is Really A Genuine Racist or if they're just a little clueless but well-meaning. I still get to not like it when someone says that shit to me.

You seem to be under the impression that I'm saying it's okay to say things that deliberately hurt other peoples feelings and that I go around telling people how exotic they look.


I am not under that impression. I am under the impression that you seem to be giving a lot more weight and attention to explaining the motives and mindsets of people who say things like that to those of us who experience things like that being said to and about us. Trust me when I tell you I don't need that part explained. I've experienced it. I've heard it from jerky actual racists and from people who are just inexperienced/clueless.

Honestly, it's like you think the variety of possible motives behind such a "compliment" hasn't occurred to us before. It has.
posted by rtha at 12:38 PM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


What I'm not seeing is any comprehension that a comment or act derived not out of malice or prejudice does not a racist make.

Calling someone "exotic" (or other seemingly positive racial stereotypes, e.g. Asian people are good at math) isn't racist because it's necessarily a mean thing to say. It's racist because it says, "You're not one of us." Based on race.
posted by LordSludge at 12:47 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I first went there because I thought it was about white women who are thought to be exotic. I'm pretty sure I'm mostly white (though would just be considered "passing" in some southern states... seems I've got a distant grandmother of color) but am often stopped on the street to be asked about my "exotic looks", asked "what country are you from?" at least once a month. So I was a little disappointed.


While I didn't go through the whole site, I did read 7-8 pages of it. I was amused. But maybe because I'm used to hearing PoC's talked about in a similar manner quite often. I didn't read any hate, just reflections of the same stupid stuff often said about and to PoCs.

(Though, as someone who's sported a 'mohawk' hairstyle a few times, I must agree that people SHOULD NOT JUST TOUCH (or ask to touch) STRANGER'S HAIR! WTFBBQ?!?!?)
posted by _paegan_ at 12:48 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I'm not seeing is any comprehension that a comment or act derived not out of malice or prejudice does not a racist make.

The intent behind statements is basically worthless because it's only known to the speaker and unverifiable for anyone else. What the audience has to go on is (i) the statement itself and (ii) occasionally, testimony from the speaker as to the intent behind the statement, which is as unverifiable as the intent itself.

Which is a long way of saying: if someone want to demonstrate that he's not a racist, it's probably more effective to not say racist things, instead of saying racist things and then explaining why it's cool, in that instance, since he didn't have the accompanying racist intent.
posted by subtle-t at 12:49 PM on August 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


"Tact is good and fine, but honesty is far more important. We've lost sight of that fact."

What you want is the honesty for racists to talk about their prejudices, but not the honesty for everyone else to tell them that they're being racist.

That's kinda bullshit, dude.
posted by klangklangston at 12:55 PM on August 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


What I'm not seeing is any comprehension that a comment or act derived not out of malice or prejudice does not a racist make.

Dude, come on, nobody here is saying "You said something racist, therefore you are A Racist, therefore you should go off and flagellate yourself until we give you permission to stop." The second two clauses of that sentence exist only in your head. What people are saying is "You said something racist, which you really ought to stop saying, because it makes people feel crappy." That's it. If you think that people describing something you said as racist means that they're describing you as A Racist . . . that's on you, man. It's not like the Scarlet Letter -- it is absolutely possible to look at something you said, think "Hm, that was kinda racist," and not do it anymore. No pound of flesh required.
posted by ostro at 1:06 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


@ostro For the record I never called anyone anything - but I think "You said something which you really ought to stop saying, because it makes people feel crappy" would be a better response because it doesn't brand the person who said it a racist.
posted by zeoslap at 1:11 PM on August 28, 2012


Now that we've talked about the problem with the word "exotic", can we talk about the same problems with the word "ethnic"? It drives me crazy that "ethnic" is a code word for "foreign" and "not white". All food is ethnic food. All people are ethnic.
posted by medusa at 1:20 PM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


When my wife and I (both white) were in China, we each had experiences related to this:

On two separate occasions, men came up to me and started stroking the hair on my arm. One of them subsequently "made a muscle" with his arm and grabbed it to imply that hairy arms were some kind of indication of physical strength.

My wife has green eyes and a number of women came up to her and told her how beautiful her eyes were. On one occasion, we were sitting near the edge of Tiananmen Square and noticed these two little girls edging closer and closer to her. When she looked up to see what was going on, their father quickly took a picture of her with the girls.

In small doses, this was both amusing and fun. But I can imagine it would get a bit tiring after repeated encounters.
posted by Slothrup at 1:23 PM on August 28, 2012


What I'm not seeing is any comprehension that a comment or act derived not out of malice or prejudice does not a racist make.

Yeah, it can and it does. Racism isn't a boolean state with lynching on one side and not-racist on the other. It's a continuum. And working to not be racist isn't passive, it's active. It means paying attention to the ways in which culture sets up some things as normative and marginalizes everyone that doesn't fit those things. And understanding that that causes real pain to real human beings. It means trying to understand those human beings and their pain and trying to avoid furthering it. Hurting out of negligence to consider whether your words are hurtful is still hurting people.

If a texting driver hit your car and said "Sorry, I had no idea you were there", would you think that was okay because there was no malice, or would you think they were a jerk for not looking when they should have been? Even if they said it had never occurred to them that there was anything to look for?
posted by Zed at 1:23 PM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


For the record I never called anyone anything - but I think "You said something which you really ought to stop saying, because it makes people feel crappy" would be a better response because it doesn't brand the person who said it a racist.

I think you're missing the point here. "You're so exotic" pisses people off because it's racist. (Also, often, sexist! But mostly racist.) If the person saying "You're so exotic" doesn't get that that was a racist thing to say, they'll go on saying other things like it (like "You're so clean and articulate!"), and making the world a slightly worse place every time they do, because they won't understand exactly what it is that's wrong with "You're so exotic."

And, to repeat: calling a statement racist is not the same as calling the person who said it A Racist. You are making that equivalence, it's not inherent. Anyhow, why should pissed-off people have to censor their reactions for easier consumption by the person who just insulted them?
posted by ostro at 1:28 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Dubusados: that is pure poetry.
posted by divabat at 1:33 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think people find this more amusing than most of these projects because they don't often run into Native Americans or Native Alaskans so they can feel confident they have never said anything like what this woman feels is so offensive. The problem with stuff like this is, if you truly take it to heart, if you really feel the guilt like the authors intend that you do, you start to be afraid of opening your mouth and restrict yourself to speaking to people outside of your cultural group in minimal, non-engaging ways. I think an end to the conversation is just as bad as a misguided one.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:47 PM on August 28, 2012


See, I'd call that "institutionalized racism", whereas "racism" refers to any race-based hatred...I think we all (within this thread, at least) get that institutionalized racism is worse, more insidious, than non-institutionalized racism...Redefining terms just creates a false source of contention and derails conversation.

I'm pretty sure the original and most common uses of the word "racism" referred to what you're calling "institutionalized racism" and that redefining terms is what happened when white people said, "Hey, prejudice and discrimination aimed at people like us should count as racism too! Racism is such a powerful word, we should get to use it, even if the harm we've experienced from someone stereotyping or discriminating against us is nothing like the harm black people have experienced."

When white Americans claim that being stereotyped or insulted or made fun of by a website is the same thing as racism, it shows pretty clearly that they don't understand what black people have had to deal with in this country.
posted by straight at 1:47 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Foam Pants: "if you really feel the guilt like the authors intend that you do"

Projecting much?

The authors don't want you to feel anything except thoughtfulness for their feelings. Guilt is not necessary. It *is* possible to say, "Oh, I see what you're saying. My bad, won't do it again. Thanks for sharing." Move on, be better friends, understand other people better.

In fact, people in minorities are usually the ones who don't say that their feelings are hurt for exactly the reason that they'll be rebuffed. So what you're concerned about having happen to you is something that minorities are already doing countless times each day.
posted by PigAlien at 1:56 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


The problem with stuff like this is, if you truly take it to heart, if you really feel the guilt like the authors intend that you do, you start to be afraid of opening your mouth and restrict yourself to speaking to people outside of your cultural group in minimal, non-engaging ways. I think an end to the conversation is just as bad as a misguided one.

I don't!

With one exception, my first friends of color were friends I made online, directly as a result of reading and engaging with various anti-racist blogs. In fact, I felt much more confident talking to people of color who weren't my friends because I felt like I was less likely to say something really offensive out of ignorance and I had some confidence that I could accept criticism, apologize and move on. My politics and the friendships that came from them would be totally different without blogs about whiteness, race and racism.

Now, I do have a bunch of anxieties about offending people and tend to beat up on myself a little too much sometimes so from time to time I get into a sort of "OMG, white people are so racist, I am so racist, I will always be a terrible person no matter what I do" spiral, but honestly I get into "OMG everything is [disaster], everything will always be [disaster] and I am doomed, doomed" headspaces about things in general anyway, so it's more a subset of my own anxiety than an autonomous thing. Perhaps if you yourself suffer from anxieties about talking to people that take the form of "what if I say something racist even if I try not to" you could work on the anxiety as a whole and not focus on the specific form? I have found this very helpful myself. It has really helped me to separate my own personal issues with anxiety from the external, not-about-me practice of anti-racism.
posted by Frowner at 2:01 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The problem with stuff like this is, if you truly take it to heart, if you really feel the guilt like the authors intend that you do, you start to be afraid of opening your mouth and restrict yourself to speaking to people outside of your cultural group in minimal, non-engaging ways."

Nah, I just try not to call people of other phenotypes "exotic." It's pretty easy, actually.
posted by klangklangston at 2:23 PM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Somehow this sounds way more familiar than it should. Ever since I was a kid I've had regular conversations along the lines of:

"Where are you from?" "Here. Oregon."
"No, really. Where are you from?" "Born and raised here."
"Well... where were your parents from?" "Portland area and Eugene area."
"Then where's your family originally from?" "Here, going pretty far back. I mean, I guess if you want to go back to like the 1600's or something there's England..."
"Aha! You're English! I knew it! What part? You sound like you're from FOO part. I knew someone from there once!" "... Okay then."

or "When did you move here? Your accent is remarkably good, and you dress almost just like an American. Wait. Lemme guess. You're from BAR, aren't you?"

((The values of FOO and BAR always seem to change, though it's generally always some part of the United Kingdom, and more-often-than-not somewhere roughly Northern.))
I think this must mean I'm so white that I'm exotic-white to other white people. Or something.

((Not that I'm trying to claim marginalization. It's just really weird to realize that something that I've noticed for years as atomic incidents has a greater pattern to it. Then again, that's part of what Frowner brought up in their excellent analyses: I have the cultural privilege to just shrug off comments like that.))
posted by CrystalDave at 2:33 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hope I'm not being uncharitable, but we seem to be following a pattern that often springs up in topics where white people's behaviors w/r/t minorities are brought to task:

This pattern is precisely why I left Metafilter for a time.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 2:34 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure the original and most common uses of the word "racism" referred to what you're calling "institutionalized racism" and that redefining terms is what happened when white people said...

Cite please. (No snark intended.)

When white Americans claim that being stereotyped or insulted or made fun of by a website is the same thing as racism, it shows pretty clearly that they don't understand what black people have had to deal with in this country.

Again, please don't assume that your definition of "racism" matches all other peoples', because, well, it does not. (Even if you think it should.) And you infer a whole lot of ugliness based on that critical difference, when you very likely just disagree on a word's definition rather than a whole social-political reality.

So by my definition: Sure, the website is racist, because it mocks people based on race. But it's clearly not a symptom or example of institutionalized racism -- white people are not an oppressed people. Me calling the website "racist" is not intended to imply ANY endemic, institutionalized societal racism against white people. Whole world of difference there.

It's racist, but silly and not particularly harmful, and not aimed at an already-oppressed people... and it makes a great point that a lot of white folks might not otherwise get, as is its purpose.
posted by LordSludge at 2:47 PM on August 28, 2012


LordSludge: I don't think it's mocking white people per se as it is mocking sentiments like these.
posted by divabat at 2:52 PM on August 28, 2012


I don't think it's mocking white people per se as it is mocking sentiments like these.

Sure, the minor racism is kind of a means to end: mockery of institutionalized racism. Sorry if I implied otherwise.
posted by LordSludge at 3:05 PM on August 28, 2012


What you want is the honesty for racists to talk about their prejudices, but not the honesty for everyone else to tell them that they're being racist.

That depends on context. Accusing someone of racism is now a catchall term with which to hammer and intimidate, to squelch the discussion by shaming the speaker. It's commonly demagoguery, cheap emotional rhetoric. Bringing up any kind of generalization about a race is commonly met with cries of racism rather than reasoned thought about whether what is said is true and to what extent and how. The latter should be the standard in a discussion like this. Of course if someone particular is being harassed, that's different. But in intellectual discussion there should be no views barred, and that is not commonly the atmosphere we have.

Instead, there is a judgment implied that the holder of a racist thought who is courageous enough to cop to it is a bad person. This is the real issue. Thoughts alone do not make people bad. The idea that they do is evil.

It's all very stupid and short-sighted on the part of the politically correct, because the racism doesn't go away. It simply festers unaddressed and secret.
posted by shivohum at 3:42 PM on August 28, 2012


But in intellectual discussion there should be no views barred, and that is not commonly the atmosphere we have.

Tge only view that anyone takes issue with is the view that our experiences, insights, and reactions aren't valid because they make those in the so-called dominant culture feel bad.

posted by billyfleetwood at 4:01 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also take issue with not closing that tag correctly.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:01 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jesus, Shivohum, try reading the goddamn thread instead of just rattling off some pre-prepped grar about how terrible the "politically correct" (ell oh frigging ell) are, would you?

There is SO MUCH emphasis on not shutting people down by calling them racists, but telling people that you think they said is racist and talking it through. There is so much of that. But you've chosen to ignore it, just so you can get your jabs in about how all these terrible stupid short-sighted PC stasis are hammering and intimidating and shutting down discussion. They're really not.
posted by ominous_paws at 4:09 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Instead, there is a judgment implied that the holder of a racist thought who is courageous enough to cop to it is a bad person.

There is no evidence in this thread or the link that complimenting someone by calling them/their hair/their skin tone exotic is an act of courage. It's an act of cluelessness, and occasionally a deliberate act of assholery. I mean, seriously?
posted by rtha at 4:27 PM on August 28, 2012


"That depends on context."

…Okaaay.

"Accusing someone of racism is now a catchall term with which to hammer and intimidate, to squelch the discussion by shaming the speaker. It's commonly demagoguery, cheap emotional rhetoric."

Bullshit. It can be, but more often, it's saying, "Hey, that's being racist. Knock it off."

"Bringing up any kind of generalization about a race is commonly met with cries of racism rather than reasoned thought about whether what is said is true and to what extent and how."

So, just how exotic are the other races? Very exotic? How do they maintain that fabulous exotic complexion?

"The latter should be the standard in a discussion like this."

Really? What kind of deep conversation do we need to be having about how people feel othered by the use of unconsciously racist frameworks that isn't being had here?

Of course if someone particular is being harassed, that's different.

And who defines "harassed"?

But in intellectual discussion there should be no views barred, and that is not commonly the atmosphere we have."

But wait, I thought we shouldn't just be calling people racist. Why do you want to bar that view, again?

Instead, there is a judgment implied that the holder of a racist thought who is courageous enough to cop to it is a bad person."

I assume you were out huffing gas instead of actually reading this thread, because you're inventing this as an opportunity to complain about people being called racists, in general, from a privileged position, without bothering to anchor it at all in the actual text.

This is the real issue. Thoughts alone do not make people bad. The idea that they do is evil.

Aside from the fact that "evil" is a pretty useless phrase for actual conversation, people can have bad/unhealthy/anti-social thoughts, and guess what — most people would be fine if those thoughts were just kept as thoughts and didn't, you know, influence actions or turn into saying racist things.

It's all very stupid and short-sighted on the part of the politically correct, because the racism doesn't go away. It simply festers unaddressed and secret.

Yeah, yeah, that's a nice theory, but in practice, actually calling out racism means that it's less likely to get transmitted and reinforced.

So, yeah, again, you want racists to be honest but everyone else to be tactful and not to tell them that they're being racists because it has the terrible effect of cutting down the amount of racism that people deal with. I don't identify as a person of color — just somebody who thinks racism is bullshit, thanks — but I'd imagine that, much like sexism, people who are actually victimized by it would rather it stop hurting them than making white people feel comfortable expressing their racism and having it be a person of color's chore to absolve them of it.

If you don't like it, too bad. Not everything in the 21st Century is going to be based on the white man's comfort. Getting used to that will help you in the future.
posted by klangklangston at 4:27 PM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Jesus, Shivohum, try reading the goddamn thread instead of just rattling off some pre-prepped grar about how terrible the "politically correct" (ell oh frigging ell) are, would you?

This thread is not an instance of shutting down disussion so much as it feeds the general overemphasis on tact rather than honesty in matters of race, an emphasis that does feed into squelching discussion. Though there is an awful lot of "poor white people" sarcasm, a tone which absolutely suggests their feelings and thoughts are irrelevant.

If you don't like it, too bad. Not everything in the 21st Century is going to be based on the white man's comfort. Getting used to that will help you in the future.

For such a prolific user of judgments couched in terms of feces and sexual fluids (seriously, it's like in every post - what's with the obsession? You think it makes you more like Hunter S Thompson? All edgy? Guess again.), it's amusing what a lot of unwarranted assumptions you make. Don't worry. As long as shrill PC police exist in continually righteous states of indignation, the Republicans will be kept in business. Its just this kind of dismissiveness that people hate -- even people who might otherwise sympathize with some liberal views.
posted by shivohum at 5:03 PM on August 28, 2012


so much as it feeds the general overemphasis on tact rather than honesty in matters of race

You think the honesty should only be pointed one way. Some of us disagree.

Here's my honesty: People who tell me how beautiful and exotic Hawaiian people are can go jump in a lake.

You're so afraid that the poor people who OOPS accidentally say something racist won't be able to be honest, but when people like the ones who made the thing linked here? And those of us who have said right here in this thread you haven't bothered to read put on our honesty pants and say "Hey, we don't like it when you [thing]"? Suddenly we're only supposed to be tactful, not honest.
posted by rtha at 5:21 PM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


This thread is not an instance of shutting down disussion so much as it feeds the general overemphasis on tact rather than honesty in matters of race, an emphasis that does feed into squelching discussion.

What exactly is the honest take on this subject that we're somehow avoiding? Are you saying that non-white people are truly exotic, and to say otherwise is hiding the truth in favor of tact?
posted by billyfleetwood at 5:25 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


"For such a prolific user of judgments couched in terms of feces and sexual fluids (seriously, it's like in every post - what's with the obsession? You think it makes you more like Hunter S Thompson? All edgy? Guess again.), it's amusing what a lot of unwarranted assumptions you make. Don't worry. As long as shrill PC police exist in continually righteous states of indignation, the Republicans will be kept in business. Its just this kind of dismissiveness that people hate -- even people who might otherwise sympathize with some liberal views."

Why would my edgy, gonzo obsession with sexual fluids and feces have to do with unwarranted assumptions? And are you calling me a member of the shrill PC police?

And given that racism is a pretty good predictor for political views, I'm going to argue that race precedes GOP identification for a lot of folks.

(Also, hold on, are you complaining about my lack of tact while simultaneously decrying the emphasis on tact? Sure seems like it.)
posted by klangklangston at 5:26 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"People who tell me how beautiful and exotic Hawaiian people are can go jump in a lake."

Hawaiians are Americans, and a bunch of 'em are real uglors.
posted by klangklangston at 5:27 PM on August 28, 2012


Ain't that the fuckin' truth.
posted by rtha at 5:28 PM on August 28, 2012


*WAVES TO THE CROWD*

black Puerto Rican woman often called EXOTIC, reporting to duty!

i have to comment on this:
Fine if you want to be pedantic.

If a person whose actions are honestly absent of prejudice or malice is accused of racism you better believe that's going to be taken as indicating you think they are indeed mean/bad, to think otherwise is nuts.

Being perceived as exotic does not mean that the person who thinks such a thing is classifying you as a representative sample group. - thinking that the person doing a Thai traditional dance looks exotic is not a racist act.
posted by zeoslap at 2:54 PM
sorry dude, but dead-white-men like Nietzsche spent a lifetime writing about the "unnature" of "Good" and "Evil". what you or even a whole country consider good or innocent or absent of malice doesn't necessarily make it so.


exhibit A


exhibit B


if "you are so exotic" really meant, "you are so beautiful", then why am still the target of othering and exclusion? don't you get that am "flattered" and marginalized for the exactly the same reasons: the way i look and the color of my skin. internalized racism makes people say the darnest things wrapped in the flag of "good intentions" but that doesn't make them immune to either criticism or self-reflection.

i don't have a crystal ball to know the intentions of the person who says to me "you are so exotic". all i know are their actions and the consequences of such "innocent" utterances.

like the time i was at a club with my very good friend who happens to be dark-skinned and got the doozie of "a brotha" coming on to me with that line and nary a word or a hello to her. for a dark-skinned black man to make a pass at a light-skinned black woman, "you are exotic", THAT is an example of internalized racism. so why wouldn't it be for a white person of any kind.

you don't have to believe you are bigot or racist to have your actions manifest unconscious bigotry or racism. people who whine and scream "but i have good intentions" are basically trying to absolve themselves of any self-reflection. and it's those highfalutin feelings of entitlement ("am good, i dont need to be better") that perpetuate the cultural superstructure of racism.
posted by liza at 6:03 PM on August 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


and OMG, THIS RIGHT HERE
So, yeah, again, you want racists to be honest but everyone else to be tactful and not to tell them that they're being racists because it has the terrible effect of cutting down the amount of racism that people deal with. I don't identify as a person of color — just somebody who thinks racism is bullshit, thanks — but I'd imagine that, much like sexism, people who are actually victimized by it would rather it stop hurting them than making white people feel comfortable expressing their racism and having it be a person of color's chore to absolve them of it.

If you don't like it, too bad. Not everything in the 21st Century is going to be based on the white man's comfort. Getting used to that will help you in the future.
posted by klangklangston at 7:27 PM
this is standing ovation worthy.
posted by liza at 6:10 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


btw: just tell me "you're so beautiful" or "LAWD! YOU HAVE PRETTY EYES!" or "i love your shoes". flatter me all you want (i love being flattered). just don't pull the awkward pause and the "youre so exotic" card. kbaithnx!
posted by liza at 6:15 PM on August 28, 2012


zeoslap: "There is also a lascivious sexual connotation when used to describe women." that doesn't make it racist though

fair enough, I still feel as though it's unfair to brand someone who would say such a thing a racist though etc

I just read through a bunch of responses to your initial question. Of the comments I read, no one branded as "Racist!" any hypothetical or in-thread person (or their action) who uses "exotic" to attempt to compliment somebody's non-normative looks.

I think perhaps you are unaware of a continuum that exists in matters relating to race. At one end is KKK Racism. At the other is Honest Offering of Personal Thoughts And Respectfully Seriously Considering Others' Thoughts.

The responses to your initial question explained problems with "Exotic = Compliment." Problems that, I agree, do not mean the complimenter is KKK Racist. The problems do strongly suggest that the complimenter doesn't know much about the targets' points of view on whether this sort of "compliment" would or should be considered genuinely complimentary. (It's fine not to know, at first. We are all ignorant about many fields.) Some may not mind, but we know a lot do mind. They've said so in this thread. They said so and explained why. That means that the "complimenter" now knows they don't consider it a compliment.

Then, remarks like

There comes a point when you need to be able to take a compliment in the spirit in which it's offered.

strongly suggest that the "complimenter" not only doesn't know much about, but also doesn't give a shit about the targets' views. Is that KKK Racist? Course not. Is it 1. uninformed, disrespectful, patronizing, and belittling, 2. on an issue relating to skin colour, 3. where the targets know a lot more about the problems of being targeted for such "compliments" than the "complimenter" does? Yes. See, from my perspective, you've got Honest Offering of Personal Thoughts down. It's Respectfully Seriously Considering Others' Thoughts that needs work.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


As for

I'm merely presenting the flip side of the issue. Sure I could just take the position that if people are offended it must be racist but perhaps that reaction is misplaced.

...Cutting & pasting my comment from a previous thread:

Shelly Tochluk's [book] Witnessing Whiteness talks about . . . the tendency of white people to play devil's advocate, after hearing a POC describe an experience of either deliberate or thoughtless racism:
Without realizing it, I put myself in the psychological position of defending myself as I defend the white person in the situation. Not so subtly to the person of color, I engage in a battle to make sure that any discriminatory act experienced be provable . . . Regardless of intent, these two combined characteristics -- the devil's advocate position and the psychological defense of myself -- create an infuriating experience for the people of color trying to share their story . . . We can better recognize the problem with this if we take an example from our own experience.

"Whenever I start speaking about our need to work against racism, I invariably find a white person just itching to tell me the story of the one time when he or she was subject to a prejudicial act. . . . Not to diminish the pain of this individual [because it] is understandably distressing. Many of us might be able to reflect on some moments where our whiteness was used against us in some way. But we would do well to think about how often this has happened and the degree to which the impacts did or did not alter our life paths. . . . Imagine enduring consistent racist acts over a lifetime and throughout one's family history. . . .

"If we . . . continue to deny the experiences of people of color, dangerously pouring salt in already painful wounds . . . we will remain resistant to a fuller investigation, one that undertaken might just allow us to more consciously witness and name racism when it erupts."
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:40 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm trying to remember where I got this idea from as a kid -- maybe it was in Nat Hentoff's The Day They Came to Arrest the Book? -- but being told you've said something racist is kind of like being told you have some snot on your face. Wipe it off, apologize, and move on.

Yeah, it's embarrassing to be caught saying something racist but it doesn't necessarily mean you're a terribly person. (And, I suppose, if you keep being told you're saying racist things, you might want to see an allergist or something. The metaphor falls apart after a while.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:44 PM on August 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


Thanks for cutting and pasting that here, cybercoitus, I was hoping that extract would find its way over here.
posted by infini at 10:41 PM on August 28, 2012


As long as shrill PC police exist in continually righteous states of indignation, the Republicans will be kept in business. Its just this kind of dismissiveness that people hate -- even people who might otherwise sympathize with some liberal views.

Dude. Duuude.

We've just had four years in which we saw that just the mere existence of a Black president drove Republicans insane, looking for evidence that he wasn't American, or secretly a Muslim, or didn't write his biography, or was the love child of Malcolm X or whatever other batshit looney tunes conspiracy theory you'd care to name was true and you think that if only people would be more tactful they might vote Democrat?

Where have you been?
posted by MartinWisse at 12:26 AM on August 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


> you don't have to believe you are bigot or racist to have your actions manifest unconscious bigotry or racism. people who whine and scream "but i have good intentions" are basically trying to absolve themselves of any self-reflection.

This, like, fifty bazillion times over. Does it make you evil or whatever to refuse to respond with an earnest, open ear to people telling you why these sort of little chip-away incidents of being treated different and Other suck for them? No, but it does indicate a willful desire to be absolved of ever having to reflect on any misstep on your part ever due to fragile ego/defense priority, which is generally not very becoming socially.

(using the general "you", not singling out anyone in particular here)
posted by ifjuly at 4:57 AM on August 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the original and most common uses of the word "racism" referred to what you're calling "institutionalized racism" and that redefining terms is what happened when white people said...

Cite please. (No snark intended.)


According to the OED, "racism" was originally coined as another term for "racialism," which was the doctrine that the white race is superior to other races. It was not just a generic term for excluding minorities or outsiders who are different. The word "racism" was first coined by people writing about German Fascist ideas about Jews.

More recently, "racism" was used in the United States to refer to the systems of slavery and then segregation; institutionalized prejudice and discrimination against non-whites.

It's only very recently, when racism has been almost universally denounced as a bad thing, that white people have started using "racism" to refer to generic discrimination or prejudice or stereotyping of one race by another, as something that could happen to white people. Which is also a bad thing, but it's really not the same kind of thing.

So you should know that when black people use the word "racism," they probably don't just mean, "You're prejudiced because of my skin color." They're probably using the original meaning of the word. They probably mean "You sound like the people who made my great-grandpa a slave, sent my grandmother to the back of the bus, refused to sell a house to my parents, and set the cops on me for jogging in the wrong neighborhood. You sound like the people who assume they belong here and that people like me don't."
posted by straight at 8:14 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


The "-ist" on the end should give you a clue that we are dealing with something of an ideological nature. If you were merely dealing with interpersonal hatred, you'd probably use some form of "hater".
posted by LogicalDash at 9:41 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you should know that when black people use the word "racism," they probably don't just mean, "You're prejudiced because of my skin color." They're probably using the original meaning of the word.

Fair enough, and thanks for that insight, but this presents a real problem when discussing race relations -- especially in an online forum where a person's race may not be readily apparent. Specifically, it's not possible to know whether a person is using the original definition of "racism" or the modern OED definition -- and they're both "correct", depending on how you look at it. And this has all sorts of implications and often (as it has in this thread) leads to all sorts of ugly inferences of social-political differences -- but they're really just two people using two different definitions. Those two people may actually completely (or mostly) agree on the social-political issues but end up arguing past each other because they're using different language.

Seems to be a common Metafilter problem -- ranging from "racism" and "sexism" to "God", people have their own definitions and just assume (or often insist) that other people conform to theirs. Without everybody laying out a list of definitions at the beginning of each thread, I don't know a way around it.

And even then, we'd end up arguing over which definition is "correct"... :-/
posted by LordSludge at 11:38 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's only a problem if we have to decide on some platonic "correct" definition of the word. If all we want to do is communicate with each other, it's just a matter of continuing the conversation long enough until we understand each other. Listen to people who object to being called "exotic" until we understand what they do and don't mean, what they're really asking for.

And that seems to be what most people are doing here.
posted by straight at 11:46 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Strongly disagree. When I say "racism" and you say "racism", we mean two very different things. We have 119 references to "racism" here in this thread (well, 122) and 107 of "racist", and no real consensus on whether each instance means the institutional kind or just the skin color kind. One versus the other RADICALLY changes the meaning of nearly every post here.

I don't want to derail farther. Will open a MeTa when I have the chance.
posted by LordSludge at 2:10 PM on August 29, 2012


A meTa will not solve the problem of multiple definitions and contexts. What would be the point of it? For mefites to shout at each other for several days, and the mods to grow more grey hairs? (Or rip out the hair they have?)

No one here, from what I can tell, has said that anyone who uses the "exotic" thing as a compliment is a racist. We have discussed whether or not or in what ways that is a racist statement, but I don't think anyone has pointed fingers and said "If you use this term as a compliment you're a racist" or anything close to that.

Seriously. What are you envisioning this possible meTa would accomplish? I know how much of it will go: lots of bitter accusations, people feeling ignored/not heard/run over/bullied/etc. and we still will not come to any consensus.
posted by rtha at 2:52 PM on August 29, 2012


For one, it'd get this discussion out of this thread, where it is a derail. Secondly, the issue is not specific to this thread -- this comes up again and again, over a variety of topics. Third, I think a lot of people don't realize they're doing it, and it causes a lot of unnecessary grar -- i.e., "lots of bitter accusations, people feeling ignored/not heard/run over/bullied/etc." Hell, if we could encapsulate that grar in one MeTa thread, then burn it, I'd be happy.

Best possible result: Raised awareness that one's own definition of "racism/sexism/God/etc" may not match everybody else's, so 1. take a little extra time to clarify what you mean, and 2. don't rush to judgement based on your assumption of what the other person means.

Worst result... Hey, grey hair is sexy right?
posted by LordSludge at 3:51 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, LordSludge, but I think those most negatively impacted by racism get to define it before anyone else. Just deal with that reality. It stinks to be told that, but then try being on the receiving end of centuries of discrimination, then choose which you'd rather put up with: being told what the definition of racism is, or trading places with the oppressed.
posted by PigAlien at 4:00 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think it matters how you define the word "racism." The crucial thing is to remember that when a white person complains about being a victim of racism (or discrimination, or whatever you want to call it), they're referring to a vastly different experience than a black person or some other minority who has been the victim of "institutionalized" racism with the full weight of history and culture and power behind it.

I doubt it's possible for a black person to experience simple prejudice or discrimination without there being any connection to the whole history of institutionalized racism. It's just too big of a part of our culture's history.
posted by straight at 4:31 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


LordSludge: if we could encapsulate that grar in one MeTa thread, then burn it, I'd be happy.

Ack, after the Girlzone thread and the Solnit thread I've been hoping that Metafilter would consist of nothing but cat* and dog and cute videos for at least the next week.

Seriously, "encapsulate in one" didn't work in 2009 (at least, it didn't seem to have much effect on a 2011 MeFi thread.) There are probably other threads along those lines that I didn't bookmark.

Which isn't to demand, "Don't do it." It's only to observe that (IMO) it seems like a toss-up whether those threads generate more light than heat. And also, that the issue is perennial so if for some reason you don't get around to opening a MeTa on this subject right now, you will doubtless have many more chances in the future. And also, a long weekend is almost here for US and Canadian-based Mefites (most of the mods are US-based I think) and a MeTa opened now on the subject of institutional racism is guaranteed to hemorrhage through the holiday.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:44 PM on August 29, 2012


I may be totally offbase here, but I thought I remembered from another discussion that LordSludge actually is black. But I could be wrong. In any event, it's maybe better to be a little bit more circumspect in taking the argument to the man, if possible.
posted by klangklangston at 7:47 PM on August 29, 2012


Nope, white male, privileged pretty hard to be honest. But I'd be interested to read the discussion you have in mind.

Yeah I'll just take a break from all this. Never mind me.
posted by LordSludge at 11:23 PM on August 29, 2012


BTW, has there ever been a more succinct example of white privilege that Romeny's joke, "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate?"

It's not possible to be "racist" against Mitt Romney in the way people are racist toward Barack Obama.
posted by straight at 7:36 AM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


more circumspect in taking the argument to the man

Who, me? I didn't think my comment involved any assumptions about race. It was just my 2 cents about utility and timing of that kind of thread.

posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:34 AM on August 30, 2012


Oh, that's right, it's Lord Wolf that's the black dude.

And cybercoitus, no it was more at PigAlien, but also just a general caution.
posted by klangklangston at 8:46 AM on August 30, 2012


I caught the reference, klang :) I was waiting for LordSludge to reply. My response was going to be that, as a White male, I can't speak for any PoCs, but that I thought plenty of them had spoken for themselves already in this thread, and many of them would appear to be in agreement with the most systemic, historic definition of racism. That being said, even members of a minority don't get to diminish the experiences of other members of their minority.
posted by PigAlien at 1:53 PM on August 30, 2012


*more* historic... (not 'most').
posted by PigAlien at 1:54 PM on August 30, 2012


When you describe an act as "racist," it's counterintuitive to guess that you mean it to be functionally or symbolically exemplifying the history and ideologies of racism. It's intuitive to guess that you mean that the act was motivated by the actor's racist ideas, or looked that way.

When there's confusion between the two, it's because someone made a reasonable-seeming assumption, and only rarely because someone is being deliberately obtuse.

The two definitions frequently apply to the same things. This exacerbates the confusion. It's difficult to find things that are racist by one definition but not the other. Yet you need the historical/ideological definition if you want to discuss the big picture. It's not really amenable to easy explanation.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:31 PM on September 1, 2012


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