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flipping the script
July 16, 2014 10:42 AM   Subscribe

A viral video series uses role reversal to humorously highlight casual insensitivities & stereotyping: If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say - If Black People Said The Stuff White People Say - If Latinos Said The Stuff White People Say (YouTube; each video ~2 min.)

reactions & more context for each video on Identities.Mic:

*Watch What Happens When Asians Say the Things White People Say to Them
(includes videos from artist Ken Tanaka & slam poet Alex Dang)

*If Black People Said the Stuff White People Say, Here's How Offensive It Would Sound
(includes the video "Shit White Girls Say... To Black Girls")

*If Latinos Said the Stuff White People Say, Here's How Offensive It Would Sound

previously on MeFi:
*Shit White Girls Say...to Black Girls
*But where are you REALLY from?
*What kind of Asian are you?
*"So, like, what are you?" (re: microaggressions)
posted by flex (205 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
Brilliant!
posted by spiderskull at 10:50 AM on July 16


These are pretty effective.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:53 AM on July 16


"A pizzzza pieeeeee. Apizzapie."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:54 AM on July 16 [12 favorites]


these are good. I know this trope has been done a few times before to varying success, but i really got a great feel out of this go-round.
posted by rebent at 10:57 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


One thing I've always wondered is if white people complain about Asian people particularly being hard to tell apart because white people have a much broader range of hair, eye and even skin color. (Possibly even a bigger range of height and build.) We have therefore learned to rely on these traits over, say, face shape or other differentiators.

Think about how Western government IDs are typically arranged for example: Eye and hair color come second only to sex.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:59 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


"This is a corporate office. This isn't a Blink-182 concert."
posted by scody at 11:02 AM on July 16 [11 favorites]


"A pizzzza pieeeeee. Apizzapie."
That is a real thing that happens! I've never really known what to do with that.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:09 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


WONDER NO MORE MY FRIEND! I have the answer right here behind this curtain:



[[[...........That isn't happening here or anywhere really..........]]]


TA DA!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:10 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


One thing I've always wondered is if white people complain about Asian people particularly being hard to tell apart because white people have a much broader range of hair, eye and even skin color....

I think it's perfectly understandable to have an easier time distinguishing among people who most resemble the people you grew up with and have spent most of your life around, for example white people if you grew up in a predominantly white area, and to have more difficulty distinguishing between people of other ethnicities. I think there is even research to this effect, though I admit I am at work and won't go tracking it down right now.

However, it's a whole different issue to complain about it, and is yet more egregious to complain about it to people of those other ethnicities! Like, is it their fault you are getting Asian people confused with each other? Is it their responsibility to, I dunno, help you out with it or hear your emotional anxieties about it simply because they are Asian? Deal with it yourself, don't put it on them. Ick.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:11 AM on July 16 [17 favorites]


In fact, I find that many people, of many ethnicities, will try and impress you with their expertise of vulgarity in a foreign language. It's as natural as a pissing contest, animal cruelty and alcohol abuse.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:12 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Where's the "If white people say the things black people say" one?
posted by CrowGoat at 11:12 AM on July 16 [7 favorites]


One thing that really hit it home to me was when I was at a board game design gathering, and after the sessions, I talked to this one designer who reminded me a bit of this (white) guy I knew around 8th grade...

So, I went up to him and had asked where he was from...

"Well I'm originally from California..."

"Oh cool... ok... Well... (as I was about to explain why I thought he might be from my state)"

"But my mom is Chinese and my dad is..."

"Oh... I ... Oh fuck. No, sorry, I meant that you reminded me of this guy I knew. You never lived in (county I grew up in) then around (years I would have known the guy). I didn't mean it like that at all!"

"Nope."

God damn. I felt so bad, because race didn't enter in the thought at all, but of course, this poor guy has to deal with that bullshit all the time, I imagine... It certainly was an eye-opener. I mean, I know it happens, so it makes sense he interpreted it that way, but damn.

These videos were awesome - I had alread seen the Asian one, but not the Black/Latino one.
posted by symbioid at 11:13 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


You know, if you haven't said any of the things in this video, then you're not the white person being discussed! So you don't have to have a notallwhite people argument! You can simply trust that they have heard this enough from white people for it to be something they wanted to address humorously, because it is neither reverse racism nor is it an indictment of you personally! They probably don't know you!

Exclamation point!
posted by maxsparber at 11:17 AM on July 16 [59 favorites]


I am disappointed that the list of English swears didn't include a few random completely mundane words.
posted by ckape at 11:18 AM on July 16 [17 favorites]


When people do the "no, where are you reeeally from" or "I mean where are your people from" thing, no matter who you are there's really only one answer.

"Africa, same as you."
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:18 AM on July 16 [32 favorites]


Those were hilarious and seemed pretty spot on.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:18 AM on July 16


It's true, it's true! We're so lame!
posted by cmfletcher at 11:21 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


These are pretty funny! I liked "this isn't a Blink 182 concert."

"A pizzzza pieeeeee. Apizzapie."

I'm about as apathetically pseudo-Italian as it gets, and I still have people do that fucking accent with me sometimes because of my olive skin, dark hair and my first name. I can't imagine how pissed off I would be if I actually cared about my ancestry at all.
posted by codacorolla at 11:22 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


"If white people say the things black people say"

Yes what if white people just smiled politely and tried to move on with their lives whenever someone said something hurtful? What would that look like? Guess we'll never know.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:23 AM on July 16 [63 favorites]


When people do the "no, where are you reeeally from" or "I mean where are your people from" thing, no matter who you are there's really only one answer.

"Africa, same as you."


I have to admit that, despite my own tendency to be ridiculously over-the-top, cartoonishly sincere about absolutely everything, that the first thing that crossed my mind upon reading this was "Oh my god, Karen, you can't just ask people why they're white!"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:27 AM on July 16 [9 favorites]


As a white male I really don't understand why white people get so upset and defensive about things like this. This is especially toxic on reddit, where anytime a minor joke against whites is posted you'll see hundreds of people jump on simply to stereotype and offend a marginalized group of people with actual racialized, offensive language. It's disgusting.
posted by gucci mane at 11:27 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Previously?

I've actually had some of that stuff said to me, and I found it infinitely amusing. I went home knowing we ARE all equal, equally dumb.

That, and I'm a white cis-male in today's US, so it had zero bearing on my day.
posted by The Power Nap at 11:27 AM on July 16


This is especially toxic on reddit

Everything on Reddit can become toxic at a moment's notice.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:29 AM on July 16 [10 favorites]


I don't know. I think a lot of these things are rooted in general rudeness/oversimplification of other people (all other people, not just other people of other races).

I am white. I tend to be fairly circumspect in talking about, for example, people I have been romantically attached to. I find that if I say X guy had X hair color and X job, then men who have that hair color or job will think I am hitting on them, like I am saying "I only and exclusively date men with X hair color and YOU have x hair color, so I am already essentially stalking you and have decided YOU are my next SO!" And there does not seem to be any good way out of that, other than just do not go there to start with.

People seem to just be really quick to hang their shit on other people. But, also, this is probably similar to that FPP about conversation openers where no matter what seemingly innocent question you asked, someone was going to be offended and think you were trying to determine pecking order so you could lord it over them or kowtow or whatever. This is probably related to "Um, I actually know nothing about you and I am grasping for straws and just trying to find something to say." Which doesn't make it right, of course, but maybe part of the answer is working out what is a good way to start to get to know people from diverse backgrounds.
posted by Michele in California at 11:29 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


all other people

ALL other people. You guys. ALL of them. You know? What I mean? EVERYONE. Not just, you know. But also, like, them.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:34 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


white people have a much broader range of hair, eye and even skin color.

Than Asian people? Like all of Asia? That's not really true.
posted by sweetkid at 11:34 AM on July 16 [17 favorites]


" This is especially toxic on reddit"

Can we not treat reddit as a single solitary site? It has tens of millions of users from all backgrounds.
posted by I-baLL at 11:38 AM on July 16 [13 favorites]


These are great. Thanks for posting!
posted by insectosaurus at 11:39 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


This is especially toxic on reddit, where anytime a minor joke against...

Heh. I was earlier today in a reddit discussion about Ice Girls in hockey. Even the guys that are against it say "but not because of objectification, but because I don't think women should be paraded around to be ogled by men at a hockey game." I'm going crazy trying to figure out how to explain to them that what they are describing is pretty much objectification, but I guess it's a bad word now.
posted by Hoopo at 11:41 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Can we not treat reddit as a single solitary site? It has tens of millions of users from all backgrounds.

Okay, that made me laugh! Nicely done.
posted by rtha at 11:41 AM on July 16 [21 favorites]


What if Redditors talked like Mefites?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:43 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I thought the accountant bit was funny. "This .. is..my..friend"
posted by sio42 at 11:46 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I think a lot of these things are rooted in general rudeness/oversimplification of other people (all other people, not just other people of other races).

Well, sure, except for the fact that there's this extremely nasty legacy of race relations that's only a generation away for most people and an overabundance of simplistic, reductive portrayals of POCs in media and disproportionate mental and physical health outcomes as demonstrated by a large number of public health studies. None of which are presumably lived realities for like the white dudes with goatees who wear nothing but cargo pants that you go out of your way to date.

So it's a false equivalency, right? Like, you take extra special care to be nice to people who are in a rough patch of their lives because you know it's hard for them. You go out of your way not to be an insensitive prick about their finances or their family life or whatever. For people who are doing all right, you can be as big of a prick as your personality necessitates. But your awareness empowers you to know better and to do better and you can and you should be conversationally astute enough to know how not to bring something that's as historically sensitive as race into everyday conversation.

I mean, I guess there is that burden of being aware of the lived experiences of other people and the historical oppression of minorities in the US and having enough empathy and open-mindedness to care to give a fuck about any of these issues to learn the details in-depth. If you're not taught to think about history as anything but the dominant narrative, then sure, it can be hard to care. But there's like a bajillion resources for these sorts of things out there so there's really no excuse for this kind of insensitivity except for the ideological opposition of progressive politics.
posted by saucy_knave at 11:47 AM on July 16 [8 favorites]


Here we use the more innocuous "what is your background?", and I've never felt that to be particularly awkward.
posted by pmv at 11:47 AM on July 16


The Latino video is really good and quite funny - partly due to the material, but the performers are excellent.

- "Whoa! You went to Princeton? *look of relief* OH, it's because you're white, that's how you got in."

- "Is it true that all white people have small, quiet families? I wish I had that..."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:47 AM on July 16 [6 favorites]


I dunno, maybe I'm old or something but all of the tropes strutted out here are so ancient, and so is "flipping it", it feels like I've seen these skits on SNL in the early 80s but with better performers.
posted by dabitch at 11:53 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


"I dunno, maybe I'm old or something but all of the tropes strutted out here are so ancient, and so is "flipping it", it feels like I've seen these skits on SNL in the early 80s but with better performers."

I agree entirely. That was the point of my "I'm a white person, I am so horrible!" comment. I just think about 90% of the lines in the videos featured here are extremely tired and lame.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:57 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


None of which are presumably lived realities for like the white dudes with goatees who wear nothing but cargo pants that you go out of your way to date.

Sorry for your anger management issues. But you know nothing about whom I "date".
posted by Michele in California at 11:58 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


"It was really sad when Romney lost, huh? Good ol' Mitt. Couldn't do it.... could not do it." :D
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:58 AM on July 16


I dunno, maybe I'm old or something but all of the tropes strutted out here are so ancient, and so is "flipping it", it feels like I've seen these skits on SNL in the early 80s but with better performers.

I'd be very interested to see the skits from SNL from the early 80s, I don't recall any of them... perhaps one with Gilda Radner (70s) that I vaguely remember but I cannot for the life of me recall the subject/message.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:03 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I just think about 90% of the lines in the videos featured here are extremely tired and lame.

Can people stop using them to make daily conversation with minorities then? Because imagine how tired and lame they seem then.

#notallwhitepeople
#notjustwhitepeople
posted by sweetkid at 12:04 PM on July 16 [24 favorites]


Sorry to pigeonhole you there, Michele in California. Sounds like you've been dealt a pretty bad hand.

That said, I still don't think that you can liken insensitivity to race to other faux pas like not liking someone for 'x hair color' or 'x job'. If there were a history of legal and systemic oppressive discrimination against people of a certain hair color and only their hair color going into certain kinds of jobs, sure, but I haven't seen much data supporting that assertion except vague quips about blondes and brunettes and whatever.

Anyway, I too am quite sorry about my anger issues and I apologize for being insensitive.
posted by saucy_knave at 12:08 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Say what you will about me being wrong, but--

Awesome. I think that would be amazing and fun to have this happen more often. If you are a Person of Color (or really just a person, see below), feel free to go at it. I will not get mad with you as long as you're saying it out of innocence/genuine curiosity as opposed to trying to prove a point. Here are some things I "am" that have historically been treated as The Other at some point in human history:

- Irish immigrant stock
- German immigrant stock
- Roman Catholic
- rural [erstwhile]
- trailer trash [erstwhile]
- poor [erstwhile]
- A Northerner
- A citizen of the U.S.

I'm not saying it isn't tiresome for people, and I do my dead-level best to avoid these sorts of interactions, where they even make sense as something someone would do (Who can't tell different Asian ethnicities apart? Why would I ever touch someone's hair, no matter how it looked? Et cetera). I'm just giving you one person for whom it's totally okay to say this stuff to, if you want it. This is your chance!
posted by Poppa Bear at 12:09 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Here are some things I "am" that have historically been treated as The Other at some point in human history

Understood, but we're not talking about "in human history," we're talking about now.
posted by sweetkid at 12:11 PM on July 16 [8 favorites]


My People had a potato famine and also "NINA" so I am going to badger you, PoC, with inane questions.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:11 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


So, do you say "ja" alot? That must be fun...
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:12 PM on July 16


sweetkid, "human history" has a habit of being "now" somewhere, and a lot of communities have long memories.
posted by Poppa Bear at 12:12 PM on July 16


And let's not encourage people to unload all sorts of Irish jokes here. I once lived with a group of skinheads who called me Mike McKike because I am Jewish and Irish, and it still sort of stings.
posted by maxsparber at 12:12 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Jesus Christ. Why do all my stories about my life sound like that?
posted by maxsparber at 12:13 PM on July 16 [13 favorites]


Where's the "If white people say the things black people say" one?

Any given upper-class suburban high school.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:13 PM on July 16 [24 favorites]


SLVA, I tried to make it pretty clear that I work hard to not do that very thing. I apologize for not being clear.

JCIFA (what's up with all these long names?), I do, sometimes! Especially when I'm in German-speaking countries. And you're right, it is pretty fun.
posted by Poppa Bear at 12:15 PM on July 16


As a white male I really don't understand why white people get so upset and defensive about things like this. This is especially toxic on reddit, where anytime a minor joke against whites is posted you'll see hundreds of people jump on simply to stereotype and offend a marginalized group of people with actual racialized, offensive language. It's disgusting.

I've seen similar things on Twitter, where a woman of color (almost always a woman of color) will say something hyperbolic to vent frustration at the white supremacist system she has to deal with every day, and then white men (almost always white men) on /pol/ or Reddit or whatever will get extremely caremad and do everything in their power to drive her offline, doxx her, and generally make her life hard.

It's a very stupid reaction. It's not that hard to show a little understanding and move on. I don't understand why so many people find it so hard.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:15 PM on July 16 [10 favorites]


One thing I've always wondered is if white people complain about Asian people particularly being hard to tell apart because white people have a much broader range of hair, eye and even skin color. (Possibly even a bigger range of height and build.) We have therefore learned to rely on these traits over, say, face shape or other differentiators.

There's some truth to this, although I can't find a cite right now. It's the reason western emoticons typically include a mouth while Japanese ones omit it. We're used to looking at the features that are typically variable.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:15 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


"I'd be very interested to see the skits from SNL from the early 80s..."

Well, check this one which also jokes with a serious tone about racism: Word association at a job interview, a.k.a the edgiest sketch ever where Chevy Chase and Richard Pryer really break the mould.
posted by dabitch at 12:16 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


white people have a much broader range of hair, eye and even skin color.

No. But I'm prolly correct in assuming most of the people you know are white, so it only just seems that way.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:21 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Well sure but has anyone considered how I, as a white male, feel about all of this?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:21 PM on July 16 [19 favorites]


So you don't have to have a notallwhite people argument!

Were some comments deleted, or are you arguing with an imaginary friend? I don't see any of that here.

I like how the videos use humor to approach the topic. And I would love to do a counterpart, a "What if white people said the things X say?" but I just have a feeling that it would go horribly wrong. Or at least, be horribly misunderstood.
posted by kanewai at 12:28 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there a gay/straight version of this a couple years ago, or am I mis remembering?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 12:28 PM on July 16


The Asian one was kinda funny cuz I actually got some of those questions/comments more or less exactly while living in Japan. I think it probably helps a white North American to experience being a minority for a while to get the point here, judging by this thread it's apparently hard to really get it across by a 2 minute video.

Also the "Tennessee" one reminded me of this one time in Osaka I tried to ask this guy with my shitty Japanese language skills how to get to so-and-so and he answers me "I'M FROM TEXAS, MAN" and I was sorta embarrassed even though I really had no way to know that. The worst though was what this Japanese-American co-worker I had in Japan used to have to deal with. He was born and raised in LA, Japanese was a second language for him and not even really spoken at home growing up. He said a lot of people he'd encounter day-to-day couldn't accept he was American and thought he was mentally disabled.
posted by Hoopo at 12:29 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Were some comments deleted

Some were.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:30 PM on July 16


One thing I've always wondered is if white people complain about Asian people particularly being hard to tell apart because white people have a much broader range of hair, eye and even skin color. (Possibly even a bigger range of height and build.) We have therefore learned to rely on these traits over, say, face shape or other differentiators.

Can't speak for ALL white people, obviously, but I, a white person, find white people (and especially white men) really hard to tell apart. This is a complete PITA when watching movies, because like 90% of the cast is often a white male and I am constantly mixing up who is who. Anyway, so I doubt that white people are ~just easier~ to tell apart or whatever.

Here we use the more innocuous "what is your background?", and I've never felt that to be particularly awkward.

Super awkward and weird. It's probably not meant this way, and probably people who don't get asked questions like this often or [white] people who are (to me, bizarrely) comfortable describing themselves as a "mutt" (HATE THAT) or "from the Mayflower" or whatever aren't going to get it, but questions about ~background~ (aka, what "blood" you have in you) are pretty much always going to feel like creepy racial purity tests, at least to me, and I don't think they're frankly ever appropriate. Well, maybe in INCREDIBLY SPECIALIZED/RARE circumstances they're appropriate, like if you're going to a doctor and she's asking you about family history of cancer or whatever, she's probably not being a discomfiting asshole. But not appropriate or respectful in the ordinary course of things.
posted by rue72 at 12:31 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


EQUALLY GUILTY OF PERPETRATING RACISM:

[_] Black people pointing it out
[_] Racists

Pick one.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:33 PM on July 16 [9 favorites]


Eh, I think the black kids shouting "Jungle Fever" while I was walking with my SO were pretty racist.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:35 PM on July 16


Wasn't there a gay/straight version of this a couple years ago, or am I mis remembering?

There was a TON of these videos two years ago or so. The same type of (some true, some not true) stuff gets reposted a lot.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:36 PM on July 16


White American male here. I've had people ask me "what is your background/nationality" based on my somewhat unusual Scandinavian last name. People are curious sometimes.

I used to work in restaurants in Miami Beach with a lot of people from Haiti, Jamaica, and other places. Several times they wanted to touch my hair to see how it feels. I remember one woman touching my hair and saying "It's like the color of wheat!"
posted by jeff-o-matic at 12:39 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


One reason I found the sketches to be so effective is that the actresses and actors did what I thought was a nice job in conveying the sense of awkwardness that goes along with their questions and comments.

In my own experience as an American that had immigrated to and was a permanent resident of a different country, people would sometimes ask me "Where are you from?" and I would tell them the city where I was living and working, and they would be like, "No--you're from America, right?" or "Are you American or Canadian?" But it wasn't awkward or weird at all, because I had the privilege of being a white American guy, so even if there were some kind of implied "and you really don't belong here" in their question, it was easy enough for me to shrug it off.

I was also reminded of times when I was traveling to places where people would actually stare at me because I looked so different, or want to touch my skin or hair, and would freely comment on my appearance. And the same dynamic was at play--I was sufficiently privileged that this didn't feel threatening or othering.

So I thought the sketches were spot on in that they didn't just flip the script and pose the same questions or comments that Asian, Black, and Latino people so often hear, but they flipped the script regarding--to some extent at least-- the awkwardness and unpleasantness that such questions and comments create.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:40 PM on July 16 [7 favorites]


White American male here. I've had people ask me "what is your background/nationality" based on my somewhat unusual Scandinavian last name. People are curious sometimes.

And the privilege of being a white American male would probably make this no big deal to you; can you imagine how people who aren't white American males might feel?
posted by MoonOrb at 12:42 PM on July 16 [7 favorites]


Is Lib-splaining a thing?
posted by themanwho at 12:44 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I usually ask people, "Where did you grow up?" I don't think that's offensive.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:44 PM on July 16


The only way I'd see asking someone about their background as offensive is if the people were strangers, or only vaguely knew each other. I find asking questions like that just part of conversation.

These were co workers who I had daily interactions with. I was flattered. It was simply genuine curiosity coupled with the fact that they trusted me to an extent, versus a stranger on the street.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 12:44 PM on July 16


OK, "rural music" is awesome. That's what I'm calling it from now on.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:47 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


Reminds me of the remedial stuff that use to get bandied about in any non-whitey get together from the 80s, kind of like Margaret Cho when she was first out of the gate.

Personally, I like to tag team with a Latino so we can cover more ground by handing off the slap:
"So you're really all the same, right?"
"Dude, that's like you just asked if Dominicans are really Mexicans, I can't even start--"

Leave the "educating" to the kids and newly arrived who still feel generous about this crap and step up your game, or there is the standard, "I do deeply apologize, but I don't understand a whit of English and it would be so lovely if you weren't here."

Too. Much. Material.
Must stop before I get to "the plight of the white man" and the "I was a minority once"--
posted by provoliminal at 12:49 PM on July 16


For musical interlude (and script-flipping fun) here's some rural music from my hood, yo. Parasita - by Glesbygdn sung in Arvidsjaur-bondska.
posted by dabitch at 12:51 PM on July 16


Little known fact: when white people cry when it comes out it is Chardonnay.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:58 PM on July 16 [14 favorites]


That's why we do it so much! Our tears are delicious!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:00 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Look, this happens to white people, too. My dad's boss in the 1980's, when seeing a picture of my mom (who has blond hair) on his desk, asked why he had intermarried. When my dad finally figured out what the hell this guy was talking about, he learned that his boss had never met a Jewish person who had light hair, and did not think it was possible.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:00 PM on July 16


undrinkably oaky chardonnay amirite
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:02 PM on July 16 [7 favorites]


things beige people say: beige
posted by clvrmnky at 1:08 PM on July 16


Look, this happens to white people, too.

I don't doubt it does, but it happens to me a lot as an Asian American person (who doesn't "look Asian" per stereotype but not per facts), and it's not just white people doing it. Still, if a nonwhite person watches the links and recognizes this behavior in themselves, it would be cool to stop it. Also, if a white person watches the links and doesn't recognize themselves in it, that's fine too.

Personally I try not to say people don't LOOK ITALIAN even if I think that because I know it's not cool. Even if some other white person has given me the OK.
posted by sweetkid at 1:09 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


You know, once all the various minimum conditions for decency are met (I didn't just meet you, you are not yelling at me on the street, you phrase your question appropriately instead of "What are you," etc), I actually kinda like chatting about my ethnic background. I'm proud of it and I've got some cool family history going on, and sometimes it can be a good chance to correct people's weird misconceptions.

But I think a conversation I had once with a friend's mother sort of illustrates why this stuff is so much more fraught for Asians. She asked what my ethnic background was, and I told her my mother was Japanese American, and she asked if I spoke any Japanese, and I said that oh, well, I'd studied some but my mom didn't speak a word because she was born in the States and so was her mother, and she laughed and said "Well, you're more American than me, then! My grandparents were immigrants." And we had a little laugh over that. She's a nice lady and I didn't want to make her feel bad, and there wasn't a single thing that was offensive about that conversation, but a small part of me still wanted to respond to that with "Yeah, I know... so what's it like to be treated like you belong here?" It's the perpetual foreigner thing. White people talk about their ethnic backgrounds for sure, but if you tell someone you are Irish American, everyone knows what that means and no one is going to ask if you grew up speaking Irish at home or whatever. But somehow it's surprising and a little ha-ha ironic that I could be "more American" than a white person, even though a lot of yall's families got here a lot later than 1905.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:10 PM on July 16 [43 favorites]


Wow, those were great. I lost it at the "wanna see some pictures of me at orphanages in Europe?" because oh my god, half of the people under 30 on my facebook have these photos and I'm always just like FFS.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:11 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


I am pretty sure the fact that many (maybe all!) of us can think of that one time that some white person we know (possibly even ourselves!) was the subject of an awkward and racially insensitive comment does not in any way compare to the experience of a person of color who hears this tone-deaf insensitive bullshit from, like, half the people in their lives every single day.

The fact that you totally survived that one time it was super awkward for you without getting all bent out of shape about does not give you the right to tell other people how they should/should not feel about/respond to these kinds of things.
posted by Kpele at 1:12 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Is it never appropriate to ask people about their ethnic backgrounds? Maybe I'm old [43], but this has never occurred to me as being a Bad Thing to do. Of course it's not the first or second topic of conversation. But is it always a rude thing to do? I find it as being curiosity and a genuine interest in another person.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:13 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Look, this happens to white people, too.

Yeah, but when it happens to white people it's pretty much like Who Gives A Fuck? because saying this kind of stuff isn't likely to make a white person feel unwelcome in his own country, or it's not something he probably hears on the order of a bunch of times a week or more, and so on.

Lots of us white people can probably remember like, these several times something like this happened to us, too, but it's just not quite the same.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:13 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Yeah, on a pedantic in theory level, it's the same to ask a white person or non-white person what their ethnic background is. But in reality, one of these situations has racist undertones and the other is just dumb white people at a party small talk.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:15 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but when it happens to white people it's pretty much like Who Gives A Fuck? because saying this kind of stuff isn't likely to make a white person feel unwelcome in his own country, or it's not something he probably hears on the order of a bunch of times a week or more, and so on.


My father (again, seriously) was told that his interview at Princeton was perfunctory because they had quotas for "you people." I'm pretty sure he gave a fuck.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:16 PM on July 16


Is it never appropriate to ask people about their ethnic backgrounds? Maybe I'm old [43], but this has never occurred to me as being a Bad Thing to do.

I err on the side of never asking people anything more personal than what they think the weather is going to be like tomorrow, so I am biased. Nonetheless I think yes, it's a bad thing to do unprompted. If someone says something about their heritage you can follow up with a question along the lines they indicate, but it's touchy and best avoided.
posted by winna at 1:17 PM on July 16


The same thing being said to two different people does not mean they are having the same experience and majority doesn't have to do with percentage.

Why does this need to be said in perpetuity.
posted by provoliminal at 1:21 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


My father (again, seriously) was told that his interview at Princeton was perfunctory because they had quotas for "you people."

Your father is of Jewish heritage and/or culture, as you mentioned earlier? Isn't that a minority?
posted by FJT at 1:21 PM on July 16


Isn't that a minority?

Yes. But I mean, he's white.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:23 PM on July 16


I think in that instance they are probably not using 'you people' to refer to his whiteness?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:24 PM on July 16 [9 favorites]


Is it never appropriate to ask people about their ethnic backgrounds? Maybe I'm old [43], but this has never occurred to me as being a Bad Thing to do. Of course it's not the first or second topic of conversation. But is it always a rude thing to do? I find it as being curiosity and a genuine interest in another person.

If it's the first thing you ask, yes, especially if someone is a visible minority, but really in any case..

Here is a story about a recentish experience I had with this sort of thing and how downright ugly it can feel.

I agree with this sunset in snow country though:

You know, once all the various minimum conditions for decency are met (I didn't just meet you, you are not yelling at me on the street, you phrase your question appropriately instead of "What are you," etc), I actually kinda like chatting about my ethnic background. I'm proud of it and I've got some cool family history going on, and sometimes it can be a good chance to correct people's weird misconceptions.


It's not that I mind talking about it, it's the fact that people ask right away, have no interest in anything else about me and argue with me about my answer.
posted by sweetkid at 1:24 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


My father (again, seriously) was told that his interview at Princeton was perfunctory because they had quotas for "you people."

Yeah, I think this has a lot more to do with the very sordid and fucked up history of Jews and the Ivy League...
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:26 PM on July 16


OK, that guy was being a complete ass. I never asked anyone anything like that, that's so over the top and not even in the same hemisphere of what I meant.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:27 PM on July 16


Is it never appropriate to ask people about their ethnic backgrounds? Maybe I'm old [43], but this has never occurred to me as being a Bad Thing to do. Of course it's not the first or second topic of conversation. But is it always a rude thing to do? I find it as being curiosity and a genuine interest in another person.

Ehh, I'm 41 and consider it definitely a step in the wrong direction, because it's so easy to parse the question as built on the assumption that the person can't possibly be from where you are, and is therefore an Exotic Person with a Tale to Tell and not just, y'know, a person.

If I'm genuinely curious for one reason or another, I usually have a specific reason for the curiosity that I can ask about. If somebody is wearing a shirt that says "BOLIVIA FOREVER", and calls himself Jim "The Bolivian" Smith, I feel comfortable saying "So I guess you're a big Bolivia fan" and taking whatever information is shared and being happy with it. But yeah, I generally don't probe.

Satisfying my curiosity is far lower on the totem pole than doing my best to ensure that somebody doesn't feel weirdly othered, is I guess my bottom line here.
posted by Shepherd at 1:29 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Hm. I wouldn't ask someone right away of course. But having daily conversations and jokes with people at work for instance, about everything from movies to weekend plans, spouses, kids, etc., I don't see how asking about their family history is so terrible.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:32 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


You know as white people who may sometimes, without intending to offend or annoy, ask questions or make comments like those lampooned in the sketches, the take away could perhaps be more along the lines of "Oh, wow, now that I see it from another point of view I see why it's uncomfortable" than along the lines of "wait, as a white person this doesn't bother me if someone asked me something similar."
posted by MoonOrb at 1:32 PM on July 16 [8 favorites]


That said, I still don't think that you can liken insensitivity to race to other faux pas like not liking someone for 'x hair color' or 'x job'. If there were a history of legal and systemic oppressive discrimination against people of a certain hair color and only their hair color going into certain kinds of jobs, sure, but I haven't seen much data supporting that assertion except vague quips about blondes and brunettes and whatever.

That's a really wild mischaracterization of what I said. It isn't even close to the point I was trying to make.
posted by Michele in California at 1:33 PM on July 16


Honestly I never ever ask people what their ethnic background is. Like ever. It's really not that interesting (it's certainly not interesting to them, right?). I was once surprised to find out that a girl I was dating was black. I'm just way more interested in getting to know someone, like where they grew up, what they do, what their opinions is about the NBA Basketballs team I likes. They get asked dumb shit enough that it probably stresses them out to start down that road, and I don't have anything that interesting to say about their race. "Oh you're Korean? OK. Welp..." As in every other conversation, just try not be boring and you'll be fine.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:33 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


It's really not that interesting

On what planet? Someone's ethnic background might be a major influence on their lifestyle, the holidays they celebrate, their traditions, values, etc.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:35 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I don't see how asking about their family history is so terrible.

Literally off the top of my head an example would be if they were adopted in a closed adoption.

There are just better ways to get to know people.
posted by winna at 1:35 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I don't see how asking about their family history is so terrible.

It might not be. But it's going to be very context-dependent, and some of that context might include stuff you don't know or aren't aware of (and couldn't possibly be because it might be part of the other person's very personal context).

If you want a blanket rule, you're not going to be able to have one. If you accidentally step in it, that is okay, everyone accidentally steps in it sometimes; the quickest way out is to apologize for stepping in it.
posted by rtha at 1:37 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


It's really not that interesting

On what planet? Someone's ethnic background might be a major influence on their lifestyle, the holidays they celebrate, their traditions, values, etc.


it's really not that interesting.

"What's your ethnic background?"

"Um...my parents are from India, but I was born here."

"That's so interesting!!"

"Ok."

It's not always that interesting for the person always getting the question. I'm tired of fascinating people all over the Eastern seaboard because of the way I look and where my parents were born. i like, do stuff,too.
posted by sweetkid at 1:38 PM on July 16 [14 favorites]


The thing is, it mostly doesn't matter what you meant if you're doing stuff like asking people about their ethnic backgrounds--especially if you're occupying a position of privilege (which if you're white, you are, and if you're a white man you for sure are).

It matters how the people you're asking perceive it, and, as evidenced in this thread and many other similar conversations, people of color can and often are made to feel excluded, other-ed, objectified, and generally shitty by comments and questions like that. So do to run a quite substantial risk of being That Guy because you're "just curious", or would you prefer to ask the nice stranger who may or may not be Filipino about what they do for a living instead, since presumably if you're curious about them as a person and not just a Person Who Is Not White you're curious about their job and interests, and not just their skin color, right?

If someone's ethnic background is important to them and/or is a major part of their lifestyle, there is a solid chance they'll tell you about it sooner or later anyway, and then you'll know! Problem solved!
posted by Kpele at 1:39 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


jeff-o-matic, I don't think it's always so terrible, but like anything it's just really context and relationship dependent. The trope of asking an Asian person 'where are you really from?' is one of those things that happens as like an ice-breaker, which is a way different thing than asking an Asian person you are really getting to know to tell you about their family, etc.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:39 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


On what planet? Someone's ethnic background might be a major influence on their lifestyle, the holidays they celebrate, their traditions, values, etc.

Exactly. Topics should be taboo if we are not 100% certain that someone might be offended or hurt? What if a family member is deceased and you didn't know? Is it bad to say happy father's day in anyone's presence? What if their mother was killed from a tooth infection? Should we keep from discussing dentist visits?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:40 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


It's okay to think someone's ethnic background is interesting and also simultaneously realize that maybe they don't think it's as interesting as you do, and perhaps even that they're tired of being asked about it all the time as a conversation starter.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:40 PM on July 16 [10 favorites]


Well agreed 100% that it's a horrible conversation starter.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:41 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Topics should be taboo if we are not 100% certain that someone might be offended or hurt?

So just so we're all on the same page you're arguing that your idle curiosity is more important than all the people in this thread who've said they really don't like being the target of idle curiosity?
posted by winna at 1:42 PM on July 16 [11 favorites]


I always thought the issue wasn't one single question per se, but rather hearing the same question over and over again.

Asking about someone's background might have a racial subtext. It might be a clueless question. But it also might be an attempt to look for something in common, or for the start of a conversation. I've had taxi drivers talk to me about their family back in Afghanistan, about their experiences in Port au Prince after the tsunami, about who has the best be bim bap in Honolulu, and about why Taipei is the coolest city in Asia.

All these started with a simple "where are you from?" I learn quite a bit about the world that way. And I can't buy into the concept that if one is white, or part of the majority, that these conversations are denied us.
posted by kanewai at 1:44 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Also: Holy shit, that Alex Dang slam video (embedded in the "Watch What Happens When Asians Say the Things White People Say to Them" link) is fierce and awesome.

Watch if you haven't.
posted by knownassociate at 1:45 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


wait is singing superbass a white people thing? (or is it just when it is to black women?)
posted by likeatoaster at 2:01 PM on July 16




Asking about someone's background might have a racial subtext. It might be a clueless question. But it also might be an attempt to look for something in common, or for the start of a conversation. I've had taxi drivers talk to me about their family back in Afghanistan, about their experiences in Port au Prince after the tsunami, about who has the best be bim bap in Honolulu, and about why Taipei is the coolest city in Asia.

All these started with a simple "where are you from?" I learn quite a bit about the world that way. And I can't buy into the concept that if one is white, or part of the majority, that these conversations are denied us.


Were these taxi drivers speaking with foreign accents in the US? That's kind of different. I'm from the suburbs of Virginia and don't know how much I can teach people about "the world," white or not, especially when I just want to relax at a party or something, or am in a work meeting (where this kind of thing comes up a lot).
posted by sweetkid at 2:02 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Someone's ethnic background might be a major influence on their lifestyle, the holidays they celebrate, their traditions, values, etc.

I bet if it's that important to them, you probably won't have to ask about it.
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:03 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


The Asian one was kinda funny cuz I actually got some of those questions/comments more or less exactly while living in Japan.

I've lived in Japan going on a decade and I can attest to relating to this as well. I'm not going to claim to be the victim of racism like minorities in the U.S. experience, but given a long enough timeline, uncomfortable situations do pop up. But mostly funny ones.

By far the most common comments are one: "Your Japanese is sooo good!" which is a saccharine lie because my Japanese still sucks, but this is the default response from any Japanese person even if you can barely manage to say konichiwa.

And two: "Oh, you use chopsticks really well!" as if chopsticks don't exist outside the east. At least one of my friends will counter with the line right in that video: "Thanks! And you use a fork and a knife really well, too!"
posted by zardoz at 2:06 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I AM CURIOUS BEIGE
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:10 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


> the take away could perhaps be more along the lines of "Oh, wow, now that I see it from another point of view I see why
> it's uncomfortable"

Another possible take-away, and perhaps a more likely one, is "Damn, there's no way I can open my mouth to a POC and not stick my foot in it somehow. Better not. Just.better.not."
posted by jfuller at 2:12 PM on July 16


If White People Said the Stuff Black Women Say
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 2:12 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


By far the most common comments are one: "Your Japanese is sooo good!" which is a saccharine lie because my Japanese still sucks, but this is the default response from any Japanese person even if you can barely manage to say konichiwa.

I got told "Your German is so good" when living in Germany.

My German is not good. But it sucked less than that of other Americans there.

(I also got mistaken for a native German at times, because I am half German so I look somewhat German. This mistake was fairly often made by Americans who assumed I was local and tried to greet me in German.)
posted by Michele in California at 2:13 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Were these taxi drivers speaking with foreign accents in the US? That's kind of different They were, and agreed, it's a different thing than asking someone with an obvious American accent where are you really from?

There's an extra level of irony for the What if Asian ... video, as an older generation of Asians in Hawai`i ask haole those same questions all the time. And it's very interesting to see how white visitors react. It's either:

1. Smile and say yes, I do know how to eat with chopsticks, like dried fish, want my soup Thai-hot, burn in the sun, and prefer bread to rice.

2. Tense up and become convinced that everyone here is racist against whites
posted by kanewai at 2:14 PM on July 16



Another possible take-away, and perhaps a more likely one, is "Damn, there's no way I can open my mouth to a POC and not stick my foot in it somehow. Better not. Just.better.not."


That's okay.
posted by sweetkid at 2:15 PM on July 16


Damn, there's no way I can open my mouth to a POC and not stick my foot in it somehow. Better not. Just.better.not.

If the foot fits...
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:15 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


What if when you opened your mouth the first thing that came out of it had nothing to do with the fact that they're a POC? Have you any conversation starters that you use with people who are not noticeably ethnically different from you? Maybe try one of those?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:20 PM on July 16 [13 favorites]


Another possible take-away, and perhaps a more likely one, is "Damn, there's no way I can open my mouth to a POC and not stick my foot in it somehow. Better not. Just.better.not."

Well, sure. This is basically the takeaway that aggrieved white folks like to defend. It's pretty well-established that some white people prefer this takeaway. You're not really breaking new ground here by pointing it out.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:21 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Is a huge part of all of this a distinct lack in people's conversational ability/rudeness?

Apparently these aren't as much of an issue in some places where they just don't ask personal questions right off the bat if ever.

Introducing yourself to an Asian person with, "I love fried rice!" is different that doing the same to an African person, but there's the same, "Why're you telling me this?" reaction that you better follow up with something interesting to that person. The former has certain suspicions.

If the only reason you want to talk to a person is because you assume they are an exotic creature, that's not the same as thinking they are an interesting human being, but lots of people are generally crippled in the word department.

For some reason people will immediately ask if i have children and I'm constantly fighting the urge to tell them they've all recently died in a fire to see if this will register at all.

Then there are incidents like when i was told to see this neuropsychologist who very quickly realized this was completely unnecessary on the part of the referring neurologist, said he would clear it all up and then proceeded to ask me about how long I'd been in the US and pepper me with questions for an hour. That was only run of the mild irritating until I got charged for the appointment. I still want to not only get my money back but charge him the same fee.

Someone I know once opined that racism was a form of rudeness, which it is in this rubber meets the road case. So i wonder if there'd be more traction in pointing of the breach of etiquette instead of the mess that spawned it.
Similarly, there could be bits about questions of occupation, such as not asking a janitor to clean your toilet at a dinner party or a therapist about your kinks or a doctor about your bowels.
posted by provoliminal at 2:30 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Exactly. Topics should be taboo if we are not 100% certain that someone might be offended or hurt? What if a family member is deceased and you didn't know? Is it bad to say happy father's day in anyone's presence? What if their mother was killed from a tooth infection? Should we keep from discussing dentist visits?

I don't even see where anyone has accused you in particular of asking offensive questions, and it sounds from your descriptions in this thread like you are actually pretty sensitive to context and relationship, so I don't understand why you're displaying this aggrieved "what, I can't even TALK now??!?" defensiveness. You seem to already be someone who knows how to not be a boor. Just keep not being a boor. If someone says "Ouch, yeah, father's day is not good since my dad died a year ago," then I'm guessing you wouldn't tell them you're offended they're trying to censor you, right? You would just be all "Oh, jeez, I'm so sorry."
posted by rtha at 2:30 PM on July 16 [11 favorites]


You know what pisses me off about it? That as an Asian looking person you're not allowed to not answer.

So conversations like these never happen:
"Where are you from?"
"Town X."
"Ah, ok."
Instead it's "no but really, where are you from? What's your background? I meant, where is your family from? NO, ORIGINALLY?"
It's like we owe you an answer because you're "just curious". And no, when I say "town X", it's not because I'm too fucking obtuse to get what you're driving at. The hundred other people before you asked me exactly the same thing, of course I know what you want to hear! If I answer in a way that does not satisfy your curiosity it is because I do not wish to satisfy your curiosity.
But white people never let that count. They bother you and badger you until you're satisfyingly pigeonholed. It's as if they're historically accustomed to having the right to question people of colour. Oh, right.

The sad thing is, I'd enjoy talking about my heritage, if I got the choice over what and how much I get to say about it.

Oh wow, didn't realise I am that pissed off about it.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:31 PM on July 16 [11 favorites]


So I'm an incredibly white guy, and I watched these videos and thought they were funny, but did have twinges of sympathy for the rude questioners. So I get how it makes people feel defensive, because a lot of this stuff seems... innocent?

What it kind of makes me think of though is- and I can't think of concrete examples, but some kinda kids' TV/afterschool special vibe. Like, the new Ethnic person shows up, and the other kids blurt out their preconceptions, and then they all patiently talk it out and find out eventually that We're All the Same deep down inside, but hey, 'enchiladas aren't scary, they're great' so yay Diversity!

Whcih is pretty nice, yeah. But I get it, too. Not every POC wants to be Your First Black/Asian/Mexican friend, not everybody wants to be your Diversity Starter Kit all the time, people maybe don't want to spend their lives patiently doling out Life Lessons or Cultural Merit Badges. So... maybe they shouldn't have to.

I can't say I really get it, but as far as being stereotyped- I used to drive cab in the Twin Cities, on the East side of the Mississippi. I had very long hair at the time, which I cut really short after a while because I got tired of people CONSTANTLY trying to buy pot off of me. So I got a buzzcut, which didn't cut down on the drug questions much, but caused people to regularly think I was a fellow white supremacist. So yeah. you can't win!
posted by hap_hazard at 2:37 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


That's funny, Omnomnom, because i'm always a bit surprised at how immediately pissed off I get at this stuff.

I feel very much allowed to not answer, but if I don't make them ridiculous, I'll ask why, or something like, "Is this for a bet?" and then demand the prize. it all depends. Homeschooled girl with 17 siblings gets a different response than anonymous drunk guy on the street and whatever my mood is.

To a white guy, hap_hazard, it is innocent. That's why you are the majority.
posted by provoliminal at 2:41 PM on July 16


Another possible take-away, and perhaps a more likely one, is "Damn, there's no way I can open my mouth to a POC and not stick my foot in it somehow. Better not. Just.better.not."

I am a pretty stereotypical straight white middle class guy and my next door neighbors are black. So, I find myself at their parties and am frequently the only white person there. We have probably all said about 90% of the "If Black People said..." lines to each other. Except for the hair-touching stuff, that's just weird. Plus nobody seems to want to touch my hair.

Anyhow, inappropriate familiarity, isn't this pretty much what this is about? I can bust my friends' chops and vice versa, but from a stranger... well, it's the start of an unfriendly conversation, to say the least. I feel like that's the best way for a white person to understand it.

You establish a little trust first, then, you can step in it - and people will just laugh and move on. If you commit some egregious error you might get called out, but I promise if that happens you will not fall apart into a million pieces.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 2:45 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


These are great. The Latino one had me cracking up.

I've lived as the temporary minority (but with a lot of privilege) and even then these questions get old. Subtract both the temporary and privilege aspects and all the fun comes right out of it.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:47 PM on July 16


"Damn, there's no way I can open my mouth to a POC and not stick my foot in it somehow. Better not. Just.better.not."

Or, you can open yourself up to the subtlties of communication with people that have different backgrounds than you.

As a couple people upthread have mentioned, asking someone who isn't obviously white "Where are you, really, from?" is wildly different than asking "Where did you grow up?"

You can ask about someone's background and get to know them without being a weird, inappropriate asshole, but it can take effort, especially if you don't have exposure to doing it. It's like working a muscle. You might not be that great at it, but learning how to 'read the room' as it were is just an important skill for getting around in social situations. Being non-offensive takes a bit of practice in some situations, especially if you're not used to that kind of situation.

If you're feeling like you're having trouble talking to people with other ethnic backgrounds than yours, approaching it with a 'welp, shouldn't talk to people, might offend them' that's really self limiting. You can do better than that.

If someone simply doesn't want to do better than that, or even attempt to grow as a person…well, thats where assholes come from.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:49 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I-baLL: "" This is especially toxic on reddit"

Can we not treat reddit as a single solitary site? It has tens of millions of users from all backgrounds.
"

Not ALL redditors!

(note: I'm a redditor ;))
posted by symbioid at 2:49 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Provoliminal, I usually go with the shortest answer possible, and then go, "why, where are you from?"
Then I watch them stutter their way through things as we discuss the fascinating background of the local town they hail from, and whether it has a football team, too. You can see their bafflement at the turn this conversation took.

I can't actually be openly rude as I get asked all the time by business aquaintances - people I'm supposed to network with.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:49 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Yeah, you can complain, nobody ever asks me about my Native American great-to-the-eighth grandmother and it's a bitch finding a way to work it into the conversation all the time.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:56 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Om, I sadly have extensive practice at being gracious in extreme circumstances, but generally, once it's clear to people other than the clueless questioneer, it's a relief to the other parties present when I cut the line.
I find to more irritating to deal with the people who are shocked at how racist people are. Kind of like dealing with other people's reactions to one's own bad news. Yes, you are so upset that I have cancer, that's what we really need to deal with right now.
posted by provoliminal at 2:58 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


[white] people who are (to me, bizarrely) comfortable describing themselves as a "mutt" (HATE THAT)

So like how white are we talking here? I mean, I'm a half-breed that "passes" most of the time, but I used "mutt" for years since it takes a lot less time than saying Hawaiian-Filipino-Japanese-English-Swedish-Jewish-German.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 3:04 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Instead it's "no but really, where are you from? What's your background? I meant, where is your family from? NO, ORIGINALLY?"
It's like we owe you an answer because you're "just curious". And no, when I say "town X", it's not because I'm too fucking obtuse to get what you're driving at.


At this point, I kind of delight in making people admit what they're really asking. There are ways to have the "tell me about your ethnicity" conversation that I'm perfectly fine with, but the second we get to "where are you REALLY from" territory, I get annoyed. I get it, your motives might be totally pure and not racist at all.

But people inevitably try pushing past the 100% factually accurate answers I give them: "I'm from ___ town in California. Oh, but I lived in ___ town when I was younger. Where am I really from? I was born in Germany." This is the point at which I can literally see them thinking "But you don't look German." And it's true, I do not look German. I look vaguely ethnic. This is when people change tack and ask, "oh, but where is YOUR FAMILY from." And, because at this point I masochistically want to see if this can get more awkward and/or terrible, I give them the real answer. At which point I frequently get the response "but you don't LOOK Afghan at all!" OH REALLY. THANK YOU FOR THIS TOTALLY NEW OBSERVATION. So I say, sort of jokingly, "And what do you think Afghan looks like?" Things descend into awkward laughter and subject changing at this point.

It's obvious the not at all hidden subtext is "you don't look brown," and "you don't have an accent." I don't get why so many people can't read the obvious conversational cue that is my originally limiting the answer to where I've lived in this country, of which I'm a citizen. I'm happy to tell someone my ethnicity if they ask in a multitude of other ways (usually by asking about my name), but the "where are you really from" conversation is just such a pain in the ass and full of so many moments where I feel uncomfortably othered. The one time I IRL expressed this discomfort, it turned into a huge "I'm not BEING RACIST how dare you" thing.
posted by yasaman at 3:07 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


Regarding the "no, where are you from" thing, I was once asked this by a judge. A JUDGE. IN COURT.
posted by naju at 3:09 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


But white people never let that count. They bother you and badger you until you're satisfyingly pigeonholed. It's as if they're historically accustomed to having the right to question people of colour. Oh, right.

Oh, come on.
I have the same conversation every time I take a taxi in Japan.
posted by sour cream at 3:11 PM on July 16


These videos were okay, but since I'm white, I already knew all of these offensive and annoying ways to interact with people of other races. Anyway, I was really hoping to culturally misappropriate some new ways to irritate and micro-oppress, so I'm hoping there will eventually be a "If Asian People Said The Stuff Hispanic People Say".
posted by tew at 3:13 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


Oh, come on.
I have the same conversation every time I take a taxi in Japan.


Cool. Now stay there for 100 years and if your half-Japanese great-grandchildren are still having this conversation, give me a call.
posted by sunset in snow country at 3:16 PM on July 16 [20 favorites]


Doesn't go far enough to be really interesting. I want "What If East Asian People Said What White American People Think African-American People Say to South Asian People's Faces" and permutations and expansions along those lines
posted by Bwithh at 3:17 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


But nobody's going to ask why white people smell like wet dogs?
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 3:25 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


When my current boyfriend and I went on our first date I didn't know what race he was. I didn't ask! But by the end of the evening I knew he was half-Hispanic, half-white, that his mom was from Canada and his dad's family had lived in Texas since it was Mexico. This stuff comes up really naturally when you're getting to know people talking about family history. Ethnic identity is indeed very interesting but everyone should be in control of how much they share about their own ethnicity and never be subject to badgering about it.

These days I more often come across the problem of wanting to know where someone grew up/lived before (I'm in Portland; we have a lot of transplants) but I don't want to ask "where are you from???" like some sort of nosy geneticist.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 3:29 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


I was once surprised to find out that a girl I was dating was black.

What - what?
posted by Faintdreams at 3:32 PM on July 16


But nobody's going to ask why white people smell like wet dogs?

We can't help it! Sorry!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:36 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


What - what?

What is your question?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:44 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Now stay there for 100 years and if your half-Japanese great-grandchildren are still having this conversation, give me a call.

Are we giving the Japanese a racism handicap?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:50 PM on July 16


Potomac avenue - uhm, how is it possible to not know the ethnicity of someone you are dating?

Unless, perhaps you hadn't met irl for a large chunk of the relationship?
posted by Faintdreams at 3:51 PM on July 16


There's more difference inside a "race" than between them.
posted by provoliminal at 3:55 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


We can't help it! Sorry!
Folks here are just so polite! One of the things I like about this place, really.

Seriously, though, the "wet dog" question is the only one I've heard for white folks that's even close to being discomfiting on the level of, say, "Can I feel your hair?" or "Is it harder to see out them squinty little eyes?" And white privilege probably takes a lot of the sting out of that one.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 4:00 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


But nobody's going to ask why white people smell like wet dogs

It's because of the one drop rule.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:02 PM on July 16 [8 favorites]


It's probably not meant this way, and probably people who don't get asked questions like this often or [white] people who are (to me, bizarrely) comfortable describing themselves as a "mutt" (HATE THAT) or "from the Mayflower" or whatever aren't going to get it, but questions about ~background~ (aka, what "blood" you have in you) are pretty much always going to feel like creepy racial purity tests, at least to me, and I don't think they're frankly ever appropriate. Well, maybe in INCREDIBLY SPECIALIZED/RARE circumstances they're appropriate, like if you're going to a doctor and she's asking you about family history of cancer or whatever, she's probably not being a discomfiting asshole. But not appropriate or respectful in the ordinary course of things.

While I'm sure that kind of thing is usually meant innocuously, it is definitely a potentially very racist conversation shortcut in a couple of ways:

1. Essentialism, i.e. you are 'from' there/are this religion/etc., so you must be like this and know about this. (Marc Maron does this all the frigging time on his podcast and boy is it ever starting to get old.)

2. Baggage handling, i.e. what racist bullshit can I get away with in front of you, and is it something about you I can joke about to your face, or should I stick to my material about other races?

That "to your face" part might sound insane, but bear in mind that white people -- in North America anyway -- do this shit to each other constantly. White people can say very, very racist shit about other white people, and do, very often, because it is relatively socially acceptable since there's none of the, you know, actual racism (systematic discrimination, etc.) giving any of it real weight. It's all just 'my grandma/your grandma' history of Europe bullshit where no one's really invested in it.

The problem comes when white people who are used to having these interactions with white people meet someone who is not white and think the same rules still apply (or, more likely, fail to think at all) and things get super awkward super quick.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:04 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


It's because of the one drop rule.
Weird, I was just about to say that in response to the questions about the girl Potomac Avenue was dating...
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 4:09 PM on July 16


... but its relevance to my bit has me scratching my head. Are we thinking of different one drop rules?
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 4:12 PM on July 16


But nobody's going to ask why white people smell like wet dogs?

Hi! Say, is it an Alsatian you smell like? I like white people who smell like Alsatians, they're good at memorizing the names of alternative music subgenres and always seem to know where the newest craft brewer is. What? Dalmatian? Sniff, sniff... I didn't pick up on that. So, are you good at rock climbing like other white guys who smell like you?
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:18 PM on July 16 [8 favorites]


> So, are you good at rock climbing like other white guys who smell like you?

Not that I know of. But I'm sheer death on Cruella de Vil.
posted by jfuller at 4:24 PM on July 16


Weird, I was just about to say that in response to the questions about the girl Potomac Avenue was dating...

A Love Doll is not yet considered a real person in most counties.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:30 PM on July 16


There's more difference inside a "race" than between them.

That may be, but "black" is common vernacular for someone who is visibly non-white, hence the confusion on Faintdreams' part.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 4:37 PM on July 16


From a previous comment of mine:

I talked once online to a woman in an interracial marriage. I honestly don't recall if she was white and her spouse was black or vice versa. They had a child together. She had German relatives. We talked once about the racism of our relatives and she agreed with my observation that my olive skinned German mother was very similar in color to many light skinned African Americans. She noted that her daughter was also very similar in color to some of her olive skinned "white" relatives and how much it bothered her that they rejected the child for her skin color.


Ethnicity is not always obvious. And "color" does not define it.
posted by Michele in California at 4:44 PM on July 16


Can't speak for ALL white people, obviously, but I, a white person, find white people (and especially white men) really hard to tell apart. This is a complete PITA when watching movies, because like 90% of the cast is often a white male and I am constantly mixing up who is who. Anyway, so I doubt that white people are ~just easier~ to tell apart or whatever.

Haha, when I was little I never watched action movies because my general perception was that they were all basically about white people in suits and sunglasses running around with guns. I couldn't tell who was supposed to have already died and who was still alive. I'm better at telling white people apart now, but I still do find it easier to tell Asian people apart than white people apart. (I'm Asian-American.)
posted by gemutlichkeit at 4:44 PM on July 16


All kinds of people are all kinds of racists; there's this special window of "blank enough" where one gets to see it live and in person. I've always been somewhat aware that I got to see something different than most, but I've cross checked it quite a bit by now, and people are drop jaw horrified at things I've casually deal with and witnessed and I'm firmly over any anthropologist field study tendencies my acceptable otherness affords me.

Once people feel you are not judging them, which usually means they think you are either like or harmless, they pretty much let loose with whatever and if someone gets upset that there's an Other in the room, they will get calmed or secretly apologize.

No one ever thinks I'm black as a non-white except online as a reflex to the non-white revelation. I don't know where you are but black is never a common vernacular for all non-white people in most of the US I've been to, which is most of the US.
posted by provoliminal at 4:47 PM on July 16


Kind of interesting as PSA announces. Sort of a Henry Higgins effort to help white folk translate a core of genuine kindness into the wider world.

That is to say, sure, the lines are clueless, sure, and clearly silly, and no doubt tiresome at the very least to those they are spoken to. But they are also overwhelmingly without malice.

Which is worth a bunch of points in my mind, at least. Kind hearts worth more than coronets and all that.

But then, I'm a glass half full kind of white guy, always looking for the best in people.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:23 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


A number of months ago, an "article" on "microaggressions" in Japan made the rounds among my expat friends, depicting the oppressive plight of well educated white men who were occasionally inconvenienced by being complimented too much. "I now have a notion of how difficult it must be for visible minorities in America, though obviously to nowhere near a comparable extent," it then conspicuously failed to continue.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:27 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


IndigoJones: There was a study or workshop done years ago where they learned that blacks know the rules of both black and white culture but whites only know the white rules. I guess it is a little like how Americans can speak English in all kinds of other countries and that makes it actively difficult to practice the local language and get fluent at it, even if you very much want to. Of course, knowledge is power so the minute the researchers asked the group members to start listing the differences and it became obvious that only the "lower" group (the blacks) knew both of them, the blacks got very uncomfortable and clammed up. So there is good reason to believe that most of the time, the whites doing such things are basically oblivious. And it does not help things to assume malice, be ugly in response, or "politely" let it pass either. All of those fail to educate the clueless.

Yes, I am white. But I am also a woman. Women are pretty much subjected to the same kind of thing when men make dumb assumptions. I deal with this kind of thing a lot and I have not found it helpful to assume malice on the part of men. I also have not found it helpful to "politely" go along or whatever. That just helps preserve the status quo by leaving people in power in ignorance, to keep committing the same mistakes. So I try to focus on the part where men are simply oblivious to a lot of things women go through and the only way this is going to change is to try to inform them without leveling ugly accusations. I have seen decent results with that approach.
posted by Michele in California at 5:35 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I did not mean to say that in the US, "black" is used to refer to literally any non-white as that's clearly nonsense, but I'm not the world's best writer.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:36 PM on July 16


Potomac avenue - uhm, how is it possible to not know the ethnicity of someone you are dating?


I'm not trying to be all Afterschool Special, but do you know the ethnicity of every person you see automatically, or do you have some kind of chart that shows how different someone is? What do you picture when you hear "black woman"?

I had no idea what ethnicity she was until our 3rd date, for no particular reason. Then it came up, and I was like Oh. And she thought it was funny that I didn't know, but she probably also thought it was weird. Then we dated some more, and it was cool. I admit I have a dumb sense of pride about that experience, and I can be dumb about race too obviously, but on the whole, despite it being a story about how dumb I am, that's actually kind of a more normal way to be about race and I'm glad to have casually stumbled into a positive mindset on it.

The point is: relax about race white people. Just freakin, like chill the heck out about it. If you make a mistake, apologize. Treat everyone with dignity. Assume that your acquaintances are not overly interested in you being white. Be curious about them as human beings. You'll be OK.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:36 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Does the whole white people saying there's nothing to be offended by from white people thing never strike white people as... oh, wrong?

"These are white people being kind! They mean well! That man was flattering you with his attention! It's a complement!"

Where is your evidence for any of this besides thinking what you want to think is reality is in fact true?

Oh, I have been assumed black before, for whatever cockamamie reason people have also assumed I'm Irish or Native American or whatever: not thinking much, caring less.
posted by provoliminal at 5:42 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


That is to say, sure, the lines are clueless, sure, and clearly silly, and no doubt tiresome at the very least to those they are spoken to. But they are also overwhelmingly without malice.

That's not really the point. Embedded racism is often unthinking. The oft-cited 'but where are you really from?' is no less hurtful to the subject of the question for being uttered thoughtlessly and without specific ill intent.

Which is worth a bunch of points in my mind, at least. Kind hearts worth more than coronets and all that.

The intent is known only to the speaker, not the listener. The listener doesn't know that there is a kind heart behind the statement. From the listener's perspective, there's no difference between unthinking racism and intended racism. It's still racism.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:01 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


A number of months ago, an "article" on "microaggressions" in Japan made the rounds among my expat friends, depicting the oppressive plight of well educated white men who were occasionally inconvenienced by being complimented too much.

I'm guessing none of your friends were, say, Korean.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:29 PM on July 16


Well, none of them could relate to the horrors of being frequently complimented for minor things by Japanese people (since they look Asian and are just sort of assumed to be from Around Here), so they had no particular interest in passing around an article wherein a white man describes his oppression.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:13 PM on July 16


ChurchHatesTucker, I took your "racism handicap" response to me as a throwaway silly/funny comment, but now I'm not so sure. Do you mind elaborating?

For what it's worth, I am in no way saying that racism is not a thing in Japan, or that if a white family did stay there for four generations and assimilate that no one would ask them if they could use chopsticks. (Oh man. The chopsticks thing. So annoying.) But it kind of cheeses me off when a white dude who has been in Japan for a hot minute thinks that his experience is equivalent to mine. If you missed my earlier comment, I mentioned that I am a Japanese American whose family has been in the U.S. for over 100 years. I am American through and through. I spent a couple of years in Japan and my expat friends there also did some heavy sharing of that microaggressions article. Now they're all back in their home countries, enjoying the privilege of not being asked stupid questions based on their ethnicity. I don't have anywhere like that to go back to.
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:31 PM on July 16


DoctorFedora, there's a few things I want to avoid with this comment because we're getting off-topic but while what I experienced was far from intolerable due to my short stay (would have stayed longer but things were drawing me home), I experienced far worse things in my couple of years in Japan than "frequent compliments" right down to police harassment and being chased down the street by a gang of yankis and having an umbrella thrown at me by a guy ranting about gaijin while I was minding my own business, and a fair number of my "white educated" friends that are still there face significant barriers to career advancement and job prospects based on being foreign. I have no idea whether it's comparable to a minority in the USA or Canada or anywhere else and it doesn't matter. when Nova went under a lot of my friends that had put down roots in Japan for a decade or more were hurting pretty bad and it's probably not great to diminish what they've been going through as just "frequent compliments".
posted by Hoopo at 7:42 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


ChurchHatesTucker, I took your "racism handicap" response to me as a throwaway silly/funny comment, but now I'm not so sure. Do you mind elaborating?


Well, the comment I was replying to seemed to ignore the history of Japanese racism.

Not that it gets Western White Guys a pass, but it's not as provincial as many people think.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:43 PM on July 16


These days I more often come across the problem of wanting to know where someone grew up/lived before

As someone who grew up, and now lives in, an area with a lot of transplants I've found "so did you grow up in the Bay Area/Northern California/etc " is a pretty good way of asking that. It's inclusive, not exclusive, a simple no doesn't imply the person doesn't belong. Probably would be a bit more othering in an area that wasn't full of transplants.
posted by aspo at 7:48 PM on July 16


Apropos of the "where are you REALLY from" question for Asians, a thought I just had:

My ancestors (all European) have migrated to the United States, and I only know how / when 3/8 of them came here (one of them from Canada, and all three of them about 100 years ago), the rest are in the distant pre-20th century past, though I have some evidence that a distant ggggggrandfather came here in the 17th century.

On the other hand, while some Chinese were here by the late 19th century, an Asian living in the United States probably has an ancestor who came here in living memory. And that's a more interesting story than what I could tell you about the other 5/8 of my ancestors.

In ordinary conversation, the "where are you REALLY from" question could be an attempt to learn that story and thus learn a bit more about you.
posted by Hatashran at 8:10 PM on July 16


In ordinary conversation, the "where are you REALLY from" question could be an attempt to learn that story and thus learn a bit more about you.

You are about the tenth billion person in this thread to suggest that.

Are the lot of you that arrogant that you think your explanations, presented as something novel that people of color couldn't have possibly have thought of independently before, have enough explanatory power to dispel the underlying patterns of racism?

You snip and cut and hack away at bits of our identities, bits of our experience, until we have no words to articulate the realities of racism. You gaslight us over and over again, so we are forced to spend countless nights turning trauma over and over again in our minds, having been told that it must have somehow been our fault and we must have somehow misinterpreted it, over and over again until we began to believe it. And then when we have no more words to tell you about what racism is having been able to muster nothing that surpasses the impossible barrier of white people setting themselves as arbitrary judges of racial experiences, you tell us we aren't doing well enough to educate you.

This is what happens whenever we discuss any racist behavior in North America.

I was tailed by the shopkeeper in a store I went into.
"Well, lots of people who look like you end up being thieves, you can't blame a poor independent grocer for taking precautions. Nothing against you personally."

I have an ethnic name and was passed up for several jobs with no interview despite being perfectly qualified. Meanwhile, the white co-worker who applied with me with the same credentials got several interviews and offers.
"Hiring practices are weird, they read like 200 resumes a day so maybe you just got unlucky."

I'm constantly fetishized and exoticized and demeaned in my romantic relationships.
"Well, I went to Japan once and I was treated the same way, so you're kind of equally at fault here."

One of my kind was brutally murdered, with the bystanders doing nothing and the court system entirely condoning the murderer, leaving us all to live in terror of who's next.
"There's a few bad apples out there, but it's not all white people. You can't constantly be suspicious of nice, normal people. Besides, there's plenty of PoC-on-PoC violence so this isn't a racist thing at all."

You cut and you cut and you cut, as if you manage to highlight the vanishingly small uncertainty in every experience we own, we can all stop calling how we're made to suffer daily "racism" and instead redefine it as our own faults for not being charitable enough, not being smart enough, not seeing things the right way.

I have no more words to tell you, because you've cut my tongue right out.

Perhaps that means racism no longer exists to you.

It certainly doesn't, to me.
posted by Conspire at 8:56 PM on July 16 [32 favorites]


Instead of trying to think of ways in which something is possibly not racist, could one consider that people who usually deal with this can distinguish this mostly from the nature and/or lack of conversation as well as lots of experience?

These are not coming up during a genealogy convention. If there was any neutralizing context it wouldn't be an issue: that's the issue.

If someone walked up to you in a bar and said, "Hey, you're so much fatter than everybody here! How come you're so fat? Why are you here? Are your parents fat? Are they from someplace filled with fat people? Why aren't you with other fat people? I demand to know because I'm wondering why a fat person is here. I'm just trying to make conversation with a fat person because I'm curious and open minded--" what context makes that acceptable?

Substitute fat with ugly or stupid or poor or disabled or "different in a way where I can say whatever I want however I want because you are not like me."

"Maybe they meant this. Maybe they thought this. Well, I'd never do that! I'm not that way! Don't lump me in with those people! I'm an individual! I don't deserve to to treated this way! I was uncomfortable for a bit! How dare you! What does irony have to do with anything?"
posted by provoliminal at 9:18 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


We're all racist, every one of us, to the core.
Some of us are aware of this, and try not to be assholes about it.
posted by signal at 9:41 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Someone's ethnic background might be a major influence on their lifestyle, the holidays they celebrate, their traditions, values, etc.

Yeah, but I never really spend a lot of time asking other white people I meet about their ethnic background and how it influences their lifestyle, the holidays they celebrate, their traditions, values, et cetera. So why would I do that when I meet a person whose skin is not white? It's not like I'm Margaret Mead, ffs.
posted by palomar at 9:50 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


In ordinary conversation, the "where are you REALLY from" question could be an attempt to learn that story and thus learn a bit more about you.

Round and round the wheel goes. You may find it helpful (in understanding why some of us have such a visceral reaction to this) to read the thread on this specific issue from a while back. There are a lot of users in that thread who set out why this argument doesn't work.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:56 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


In ordinary conversation, the "where are you REALLY from" question could be an attempt to learn that story and thus learn a bit more about you.

Actually, this comment from that previous thread perfectly illustrates why that argument fails.

The asker is making an assumption, based on the person's ethnicity, that they are not 'from' where they say they are. That assumption is racist.

Further, the asker is denying the accuracy of answer they have just been given, which boils down to denying that person's characterisation of an aspect of their own identity.

You, as the asker, don't get to decide how someone else characterises where they are from. You don't get to decide where they are 'really' from. And when you try, it's never not going to be offensive.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:13 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


[white] people who are (to me, bizarrely) comfortable describing themselves as a "mutt" (HATE THAT)

ugh, hate this too, it's like, "no, you see, you're special, whereas I'm like a normal mix of normal peoples so boring and standard they're not even worth mentioning".
posted by threeants at 11:17 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I'm half Italian-American, and while nothing I've experienced holds a candle to what any Latin@ or Black or Asian American deals with, when I've been trapped into the "heritage" conversation, I sometimes describe myself as a mutt because some people don't quite consider Italians white, and because I don't want to talk about how I don't look Italian.
posted by gingerest at 11:56 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Which is "passing privilege", but that still doesn't mean I owe any True Whites my background just because they asked.
posted by gingerest at 11:58 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Oh, they let out the "Where are you from" part from the Latino as well.

That was my conversation a week ago.

"Where are you from?"

"Here"

"No, before coming here"

"I was born here"

"No, your parents, where are they from"

"They were born here"

"No, where are they from, you know, which other country"

"THIS ONE!!!!"
posted by kadmilos at 12:15 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Seeing the video with the woman of color asking the white woman about Taylor Swift hit a bit close to home. Realizing you were and probably continue to be a super clueless white person is always a bit embarassing...

More relevant to the conversation up until now: reading Conspire's comment gave me a bit more of a clue what the problem is with a lot of responses from privileged white folks. It's really simply that we fail to listen. I think the thing is that, no matter what you (you meaning a privileged person meaning me, potentially) can say as someone with privilege, it's most likely that you're going to put your foot in your mouth and say something hurtful. In fact, the mere fact that you don't want to listen and want to somehow assuage your own guilt means you are turning the conversation from being about that person's experiences to being about your own hurt and pain. And while I'm sure there are people out there who are willing to hear about your hurt and pain (say, a paid therapist), the person you are talking to--the person who has had to put up with systemic oppression their entire lives--is not that person.

So it's pretty simple: just shut up and listen. Don't try to explain or whatever. And then think about what it means that someone has experienced these things, and think about how you can help fix things.

Regarding Japanese being racist and whatnot: they are, they are ignorant and ask dumb questions very much like the ones in these videos. It's a pain in the ass. But it doesn't invalidate anything that people are bringing up in this thread about how stuff works in the states and it's pointless to compare a white male's experience in Japan with that of an Asian-American. I will say that being a white dude in Japan has given me a tiny sliver of appreciation for what it may feel like for someone who is not at the top of the food chain. But that's all--the only thing I can carry over to the discussion when we shift to the context of the U.S. is that I should shut up and listen because I know better that that's the right thing to do. It doesn't all of a sudden give me the right to tell people I know how they feel, or make suggestions about what they SHOULD do or give excuses or whatever.

That's my two cents, for what it's worth...
posted by dubitable at 12:17 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I guess that was a bit off topic since we were talking about introductions, and I was talking about what happens AFTER the introductions, but Conspire's comment got me thinking...hopefully it's not totally a derail.
posted by dubitable at 12:23 AM on July 17


I describe myself as a "mutt" because my ancestry is "vaguely white european". I've got a great-grandmother and great-grandfather who were Irish and English respectively, and my last name is Swiss, but there were a lot of other people in there mixing together who I don't really know or care enough to track down. It's not really something of any importance to me and I use the word to be dismissive and help change the subject, maybe offering a cute anecdote about my weird last name and telemarketers.

I had no idea people disliked this turn of phrase. What should I use instead?

If it helps, I don't think I've ever asked somebody what their ethnicity or origin is, I figure if they want to discuss it they'll bring it up themselves.
posted by Feyala at 5:49 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I look 100% like what I am, a middle class Chilean male (in Chile, as in much of LatAm., class==racial mix to surprising tolerances), but have a Central European last name. Whenever people start really digging into my family history with the 'where are you really from' thing, I take it as their wanting to know if I'm Jewish. I usually don't satisfy their curiosity.
posted by signal at 6:47 AM on July 17


That may be, but "black" is common vernacular for someone who is visibly non-white,

What? No it is not. I'm not white but have never been called black, ever.
posted by sweetkid at 7:52 AM on July 17


I had no idea people disliked this turn of phrase. What should I use instead?

I have somewhat mixed European heritage as well. So if anyone ever asks about my heritage, which is vanishingly rare, I tell them I'm mostly Irish, and if they press me on the "mostly" part, then I can tell them that actually my heritage is Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, German, French, and Italian.

But no one ever, ever, EVER asks me that unless we're having a discussion about geneology, and that happens maybe once a decade. On the rare occasions that someone asks me about my heritage, answering that I'm mostly Irish is enough to satisfy them. Have you ever tried describing yourself as "vaguely white European"?
posted by palomar at 8:05 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


In the meanwhile, I won't shut up about my ethnicity. I even teach a class about it.

But that's definitely a privilege. I can choose to make a fuss about it, or I can choose to just vanish into the anonymity of whiteness. Nobody will press me on it if I do the latter. Nobody will demand to know if I came from someplace else, even though I am only a third generation American. I don't have conversations that incessantly remind me that I am not American. Even my ethnicity is hyphenated to include the word -American in it, which theoretically is true of Asian-Americans as well, but in practice I tend to hear it more often with the -American dropped.
posted by maxsparber at 8:35 AM on July 17


And that's a more interesting story than what I could tell you about the other 5/8 of my ancestors.

So? I've got lots of interesting stories, some of them involving people who contributed to my genetic code, and am absolutely under no obligation to tell them to anyone. Neither is anyone else, regardless of how boring the person asking finds their own background. It doesn't matter what you, I, or any other person finds interesting, people get to choose what they share about themselves and when they share it.

It shows a huge amount of unquestioned assumptions on someone's part if whenever they come across another person who (they think) should have an exotic or exciting story involving ancestry, they have a right to hear that story, no matter if it's otherwise appropriate in the bounds of the relationship and setting.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:41 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


>comfortable describing themselves as a "mutt" (HATE THAT)

Part of the problem is that "white" is not an ethnicity in the same way that Italian is. Other overly broad pigeonholes like "black," "asian," "native American," "arab," act to erase identity but are still qualitatively different than "white" because "white" means that your cultural background and identity has been 100% subsumed into the mainstream. People who self-identify as "white" have no touchstone for their ethnic heritage and that is both a privilege and a tragedy. My family became "white" on Ellis Island when our family name was deemed too foreign and was therefore replaced with something more bland.

That is all to say, someone making a side-comment about being a "mutt" has likely had no control over losing their heritage. They may be dodging the question out of their own sensitivity to that loss.

Ethnographers believe that in the coming century, the average American will have much darker skin tone. It's conceivable that those future people will actually call themselves "white." Maybe not, and it's no skin off my nose what people call themselves, but that future culture will be the inheritors of White/mainstream culture and, without our deliberate intervention to create a mainstream appreciation of diverse culture, cultural erasure will continue long after low-pigmentation skin is rare.
posted by Skwirl at 11:32 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I'm half Irish, half Eastern European. I look much more like the latter The last time I was in Ireland a British couple asked me for directions. Just looking at home while smoking on a corner convinced them I was a native. They were visibly shocked when I started speaking American.

Not entirely sure of my own point here, except that other cues come into play when determining ethnicity.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:13 PM on July 17


I was an India wearing Indian clothes with my Indian born extended family and strangers would come up to me and start speaking English. They knew I was foreign/American. How...don't know but my guess is a different way of carrying myself? People in India didn't tell me I don't "look Indian" though Indian-American people say that all the time.
posted by sweetkid at 12:18 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


In one of the first meetings I had with an executive at a company I'd just started with, he kicked off by asking me about the origin of my surname. Actually by speculating that it was [a different European country a time zone away with a different root language]. I said no, actually it's from [the same country as his own readily-identifiable surname]. I told an Asian-American friend about this and he got all irritated and said "that was a very inappropriate question." I said, you're probably right, but it didn't occur to me at the time. I suspect a person with an Asian-soundlng surname would feel differently.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:43 PM on July 17


I had no idea people disliked this turn of phrase. What should I use instead?

Maybe something like "my ancestors came from a bunch of different places". Or whatever. One reason I feel like "mutt" can be uncomfortablemaking for people is because there's a lot of weird historical baggage around race and animal metaphors, and even using the term on one's self kind of brings all that noise into the conversation.
posted by threeants at 4:09 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


I was an India wearing Indian clothes with my Indian born extended family and strangers would come up to me and start speaking English. They knew I was foreign/American. How...don't know but my guess is a different way of carrying myself?

Yeah, this has happened to me too. It must be body language, posture, carriage, because what else could it be?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:20 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Okay, these gave me a lot of laughs. I needed this perspective, too.
posted by AaronDaMommio at 6:21 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


This was linked in one of the previously threads but not a post in itself, but...Hari Kondabolu on "Where Are You Really From?"
posted by sweetkid at 7:00 PM on July 17


Maybe something like "my ancestors came from a bunch of different places". Or whatever. One reason I feel like "mutt" can be uncomfortablemaking for people is because there's a lot of weird historical baggage around race and animal metaphors, and even using the term on one's self kind of brings all that noise into the conversation.

Yes, exactly. Hearing someone refer to his own ~heritage~ using language from dog breeding has a likely-unwitting-but-there-nonetheless racist edge to it, at least to my ears. I feel similarly when I hear someone refer to himself as a "mutt" as I do when I hear men use words like "bitch" or "pussy" as an insult. I don't think that someone who calls herself a "mutt" is necessarily racist, just like I don't think that men who use words that refer to women as casual insults are necessarily misogynistic, but there's a sting to the words anyway. At least to me, someone who is likely more "mixed" than the person calling himself a "mutt," more feminine than the person calling himself a "pussy," and who then *definitely* doesn't want to go into detail about that after hearing them use that kind of language toward themselves.

People who self-identify as "white" have no touchstone for their ethnic heritage and that is both a privilege and a tragedy.

I don't understand this. I self-identify as white, but not because of some mysterious lack of touchstones? It's a racial identity, not a cultural one.

I was an India wearing Indian clothes with my Indian born extended family and strangers would come up to me and start speaking English. They knew I was foreign/American. How...don't know but my guess is a different way of carrying myself? People in India didn't tell me I don't "look Indian" though Indian-American people say that all the time.

This could be off-base or not a general thing, but it seemed to me when I visited India, that the Indian version of Americans' "what are you?" was "what religion are you?" At first I was dumb and thought people were actually asking about my faith, and said things like "I don't really have a religion." Every time I said that, people would look at me blankly and the conversation would halt. Finally, I realized that they were asking for my ethnicity and I was able to answer sort of more clearly.

Can people tell that your parents have been living in the US for a long time, if/when they visit? A friend of mine, her parents have been in the US for long enough that even though they spend significant time back in India most years, everyone there always seems to be able to tell at first glance that they're American rather than Indian now. A similar thing happens to my dad when he goes back to his birth country (France) -- everyone there tends to assume he's foreign, even though he seems "foreign" and people find his accent very heavy here in the US, too.

Another thing that's strange and that I wonder about w/r/t to people going back to their parents' birth countries is -- my father and his family clearly get read as "lower class" in their birth country (where all but him have always lived and still live), but since I have an American accent and any faux pas that I make can be written off as me being a "foreigner," I seem to be assumed to be middle class or higher by basically everyone when I go there. It's very strange being there hanging out with my cousins or somebody and being treated very differently (better, more warmly, and more respectfully) by people in general. It actually took me a very long time to realize what was happening and why, but eventually (with family members' SOs, especially), it became obvious, and now I can't un-see it. I wonder how class gets read (in their parents' birth countries v. in their current countries, and in comparison with family members who immigrated later in life or who never left their birth country) for other 2nd gen people.
posted by rue72 at 10:01 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Can't speak for ALL white people, obviously, but I, a white person, find white people (and especially white men) really hard to tell apart. This is a complete PITA when watching movies, because like 90% of the cast is often a white male and I am constantly mixing up who is who. Anyway, so I doubt that white people are ~just easier~ to tell apart or whatever.

I agree. For example, there were three guys on Enterprise that I could only tell apart by the accents.

I honestly can only tell some white people apart only by the different hair or eye colors. And when it comes to non-white people, when you describe EVERYONE as having black hair and brown eyes, that rules out a lot of what helps me to tell the difference. And I don't want to have to describe someone as "Asian" or "black" right off the bat when describing them because that just sounds horribly racist and awkward. But if all I can think of to describe someone is "Asian" (let's say it's someone who looks pretty generic otherwise, boring hairstyle, dull outfits), UGH. I hate being that vague.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:37 AM on July 18


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