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June 26, 2015


Thank you for your thoughtful post.

Yes, everyone is flawed. Everyone.

And racism isn't just on thing, one clearly defined phenomenon. (nor is it the sum total of a person).

I think that the reason people have a hard time seeing racism in themselves is that they see racism as evil but don't see themselves as evil, therefore they cannot be racists. Or they see racism as this overtly nasty stupidity, a crude attitude clearly displayed, and, since they don't behave that way themselves, then they don't see their more subtle thoughts as problematic.

Sometimes people think that to be racist, one has to have negative assumptions about ALL members of the target group. So maybe they confabulate excuses for the deaths of Trayvon and that little boy in Detroit (because scary black males) but are genuinely shocked by the deaths in church because the victims, while African-American, didn't trigger the stereotype embedded in their imagination.

And I'm pretty sure racism is learned behavior, which means that it is a condition inflicted upon someone at a vulnerable time, probably when young.

Self-awareness, self-examination, the ability to acknowledge one's issues and try to fix them...not everyone has that, but some do, and people like that I really admire. To be able to change is a valuable quality.

This is a lovely post and I'm so happy to see both wonkie and JanieM /waves/

If anyone has not watched, I recommend the eulogy that Obama delivered for Rev. Clementa Pickney


I'd disagree that racism is 'learned' in one particular sense. Learn is a funny word, in that it can imply both conscience effort and perhaps the more psychological sense of learned behavior, where one's environment is the trigger. We 'learned' to pull our hand back from a hot object, but on one level, it is so natural that one hesitates to call it 'learning'. In linguistics, we speak of language 'acquisition', which gets at it a bit better for me, because it is like baggage and you often end up carrying it around. There's a quote by Emerson, I think, where he says something like the problem with owning things is that they can often end up owning you, which is why racism as baggage is an image that gets across a lot of things.

Anyway, thanks again for a wonderful guest post, would love to see more!

Conditioned response, then, rather than learned?

What is "learned," versus what is "natural," is complex on several levels.

For example, the language that you speak is clearly learned. That's why we speak different languages. But there is a natural feature of human beings which causes them to learn some language. So language is both learned and natural.

Similarly with prejudice. We come naturally with a tendency to see the world as "us" and "them." But how, exactly, those terms are defined is learned. You may learn to define all other races as "them," or you may learn to define only some other races as "them." Or you may learn to accept members of any race as "us," and use some other criteria to define "them." For example, you mkay learn that other nationalities are "them." Or you may decide that a different gender is "them."

Once you have "people like us" and "people not like us" defined, the next step is to learn what (negative) characteristics are typical of "them." Again, those are pretty much arbitrary. You can decide that "they" commit crimes. Or that they are immoral in some other way -- sex being a common way. Or that "they" smell funny. Or that "they" are naturally stupid. Or that "they" do something else that you associate with negatives.

Wonkie, I think that you can say that all of this is natural and all of it is learned, and be pretty right. We've got very complicated potential, which gets shaped and constrained in equally complicated ways.

And yes, if I were to do a TL,DR version of this, it'd be: You can be a good person in some ways and still be doing a lot of harm in others, and this is normal. Don't hate yourself; don't hate others. Understand all you can, mitigate all you can, keep learning.

Also, thank you, LJ. :)

I think this post describes an idealized situation, where an accusation of racism is simply pointing out a flaw in a person's behavior that needs to be corrected, some unconscious bias that they weren't aware of having and which they need to fix. But I think often the accusation is meant to discredit the accused--that's not to say that the accusation isn't sincere, it usually is, but there is also the intent to discredit the person's view and in some cases it is meant to make the accused a social outcast for holding a particular set of views. That is how it is perceived on the receiving end and that's a big part of why people usually deny it. Yes, they may also have a narcissistic view of themselves and see themselves as perfect, but in that case they will also react the same way to every form of criticism.

Ideally, yes, people should make the accusation with the intent of pointing out behavior or assumptions that need to be changed, but in practice the accusation is also a rhetorical weapon, the worst thing you can possibly say about a person. Sure, some people don't mean it that way, but I think that in most cases that's how it perceived on both ends.

On an issue I follow, the I/P conflict, accusations of racism from one side and accusations of anti-Semitism from the other are a normal part of the debate and I don't just say that cynically--the accusations are generally sincere and in some cases merited, others not. I But merited or not, they are nearly always meant to discredit the person and his (or her) views on the subject. People naturally reject the accusation because they recognize that there is more going on than someone saying "Oh, you slammed the door on that person's thumb. "
I think that the prevalence of such accusations is why people often hate discussing this topic. You might see yourself as a liberal non-racist, but no matter what stance you take you can guarantee that someone will think you are some sort of bigot. (And while I'm describing this as though from the outside, in fact I do think certain stances on this subject make you a bigot or at best innocently unaware of the facts.)

And at this blog, we see this play out every time we discuss race in America.

I agree with what Bruce is saying in that what he says should be the way such accusations are made and received, but I don't think that he is describing the norm.

Here's what concerns me: people who are labeled as racist or sexist can often be fired for it. So the folks who blow their tops at being called racist or sexist have a more important point, in my opinion - even if the other group has a more realistic analysis of the way life actually is.

I don't see how we can use the same terms as both casual analytic criticisms and firing offenses. Especially when there are less fraught ways of talking about these phenomena - terms like 'bias', 'systemic racism,' etc. Why, exactly, do people not want to use them? Isn't it *because* 'racist' and 'sexist' have a heavier weight of social condemnation behind them? In which case, it is really disingenuous to criticise people on the receiving end for acting as if they've just been called something that society condemns.

Anecdotally, several years ago I was accused of being racist here at OBwi, not the first or last time, and I was incensed enough to me too it to my son angrily. He chuckled actually, and dais Dad, that word doesn't mean what it did when you were young. Everyone is a racist now, even the people calling you one.

He was right, a racist when I was young was the equivalent of today's white supremacist. So my reaction to the accusation was based on my view of what a racist is, and processing that I decided that was a big issue with discussing race. Everybody reacts to the accusation based on their internal definition.

Donald: But I think often the accusation is meant to discredit the accused— (etc.)

There’s one dimension to the issue of racism and its vectors that to me gets overlooked – that while such charges are often meant to be a part of consciousness-raising about racism itself, also assumes a collective guilt that gives an edge to such charges but blunts the consciousness-raising.

If we are to have a meaningful dialog about racism, yet want to cling to the idea that the vectors of it are so baked into our culture that everyone could be assumed to be racist towards someone at one time or another, then discrediting the accused would understandably – as Pat’s 07:20 shows – raise defensiveness on the part of the accused. I am not saying they have a right to that defensiveness, for such a stance may indeed betray a genuine guilt that the accused has not seen to be there, and refuses to face facts about. But such an inbred phenomenon, with all its visible attitudes and practices, would seem to imply that not only is it pervasive, that it’s nuanced - enough to require an equally nuanced approach that really educates rather than stops at the accusation.

What I dislike about terms such as “white privilege” is that it assumes guilt before any chance of innocence, an original sin even Christians didn’t come up with. That doesn’t deny that it exists – just that the use of such a term cancels out any chance of absolution, where it becomes a flipped prejudice wherein one group of people are to be judged in advance of any facts about them. That is precisely how those traditionally “marked” were treated, and we have to be extremely careful how we wield these terms.

I’m not disagreeing with Bruce at all. It’s a welcome post that adds a new voice here. Only chipping in my two bob on how the urge to gird our loins for socio-cultural combat often overpowers a far better gambit to dialog and educate, with the understanding that such dialog and education begins with talk and schooling with ourselves.

One point that strikes me as being worth raising, which touches on both sides of the original post as well as DJ's comment, is that it's very frequent to see identity-political and sociologically-informed understandings of racism bandied about whereby the only racial bigotry that rises to the level of "racism" - which again, is a singularly awful sin - is systematic or structural racism, or interpersonal racism that runs parallel to systematic or structural racism. This redefinition, IMO, is highly problematic for many of the same reasons Bruce Baugh mentions in the "first approach" of the post - if racism is something that a particular person cannot be guilty of, they tend to be less inclined to consider how casual actions on their part can betray ingrained bigotries, and further, it strongly suggests that not only is it possible for some people to be good people in this regard, but it is utterly impossible for others to do so, because well-meaning actions will manifest inherent privilege, etc. This is also problematic for the reasons DJ mentioned, because very frequently accusations of racism of this sort are thrown out to stifle debate, and it's extremely convenient to re-define racism as something one cannot personally be guilty of if one intends to use it as a rhetorical cudgel (this touches on what Marty mentions as well; racism is a fairly broad term at this point, and most people can be reasonably accused of it, because at the end of the day it's very natural for us to engage in othering, and appearance is an easy means of doing so). An intersectionalist perspective may help to move towards the second approach by acknowledging that there is not one single unique hierarchy, and that one can be simultaneously privileged and disadvantaged, but it may also lead to efforts to stack as many different oppressions as possible to prove that one is more put-upon (and thus less capable of evil) than one's opponents.

Which is a long way of saying that the two approaches in the OP are not perforce distinct, and that one doesn't become a good person simply by striving for the second outlook.

Some of this quite looks like a rift between deontological and consequentialist understandings of morality as well. Though again, the two camps are not cleanly delineated, as e.g. I've seen more than a few examples over the years of individuals adopting consequentialist standards to damn those who disagree with them, while judging their own goodness by essentially deontological standards - actually this is fairly depressingly common.

I like NV's point: if we talk about structures, rather than individuals, we can have a conversation that is a little less likely to get polarized right off the bat.

And there is a stereotype of racists: Southerners. Just being white and from the South can trigger that assumption. I saw an interesting map somewhere--can't remember where--of racism. The researchers used over expressions of racism, like the use of the word "nigger" or other derogatory terms as their measure. Based on that, on very overt expressions of racism, the most racist part of the US turned out to be northern Appalachia and parts of the Rust Belt.

Of course that's a very unsubtle measure to use, but I did think it was interesting.

Maybe instead of talking about racism, we should talk about bias.

Everybody reacts to the accusation based on their internal definition.\

I think Marty makes a good point, but I would like to expand it a little. I think everybody also uses accusations of racism (or sexism) based on their internal definitions. So something that would cause one person to accuse you of racism might seem, to another person, like not worth even starting the discussion over.

Yes, that could be due to the second person being a racist, whatever that means objectively, as well. But it could also be due to the first person having an internal definition such that everybody (or at least everybody in a particular demographic), in everything they do, is guilty.

So any time we get into this kind of discussion, we need to try and figure out where everybody else is coming from.

I am a racist. I am aware that my expectations of people are affected by the external differences we call "race", and I'm aware that those prejudices are continually reinforced by selection bias.

The first girl I went out with regularly was black. I had black NCOs in the Army who I respected and trusted. My granddaughters are mixed-race, and identify black. We celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas every year with two or three friends who are black, and I regard them as family.

Yet I am a racist, and have to watch myself lest my internal racism produce racist behavior. Sometimes I fail.

Great OP, just wanted to say that first, before heading off on tangents. I have two (rather different) comments to make, so will split them up, since otherwise they might start fighting each other.

First, in among the USSC rulings in the past 2 days, was one about housing discrimination and "disparate impact", I think it was called. The upshot of the ruling, as reported by NPR in what seemed to me to be rather uncharacteristically harsh language: "If it's something a racist would do, it counts as racist, and we don't need to look to motivation."

Yeah, I was saying sorta similar things in a previous post, unaware that it was an issue for the USSC. But more aimed at individuals, and how they should make an effort to distinguish their motives. Government bodies should be held to a higher standard.

Second, from Jared Diamond's "The World Before Today" (IIRC), mentioned how 'bands' in New Guinea reacted on their first encounter with Westerners.

They wept with fear, expecting to be killed at any moment. In their culture, that's what happens when 'strangers' appear, and can't be fought off. Their tiny little isolated bands existed in a constant state of warfare with neighboring bands; alliances that could shift at a moments notice, mostly low-level violence, but occasional genocides.

If you want an anthropological explanation of racism and xenophobia, there you go.

BTW, after getting over the paralyzing fear, those 'bands' much prefer having 'big government' eliminate constant warfare over minor disputes.

In their culture, that's what happens when 'strangers' appear, and can't be fought off.

Not to mention that, in some cultures, the Evil Eye was traditionally a blue eye. Guess how they reacted when the first Scandinavians showed up.

Most whites do not think of themselves as "racist", but most have conscious or unconscious racial biases (myself included). Given our history and our position in society "as a group" (privilege) we continue to act abominably "as a group" when it comes to race, and this biased group action continues to manifest itself in public policies.


What I dislike about terms such as “white privilege” is that it assumes guilt before any chance of innocence

But that's not what "privilege" is supposed to mean, it's not supposed to be about *guilt*. "X privilege" simply means "you don't experience difficulties that are normal for people who are not-X". And it means that because you don't experience those difficulties, it may be hard for you to see that they're there, that they're a real thing.

How does that make you guilty?

I do wonder what effect different flavors of Christianity have on where one lands on the OP's dichotomy.

I was raised Catholic, and the idea of "original sin" is deeply familiar to me. I'm no longer Catholic, but the idea that everyone comes with sin pre-installed, that no-one can expect to be always right, is a Catholic attitude that I've kept.

The Catholic part of me was actually shocked when I learned about preservation of the saints and other tenets of the Holiness movement (including Methodism, but it's also leaked over into Baptists and other evangelical Christian denominations). Catholics believe that all humans, including Saints, will continue to sin during their lives -- hence the recurrent need for Confession/Penance for *everyone*. I find the idea that "sinner" is the opposite of "saint" illogical and possibly dangerous.

What do those of you who were raised Protestant see?

"How does that make you feel guilty?"

The normal human reaction to being accused of having privilege is to be defensive about it--if you don't have that reaction it is probably because you have trained yourself not to have it, because you have read enough lefty theorizing to understand it isn't about your personal guilt.

Though then again, sometimes it is about personal guilt--we may not have given thought to some issue when we should have. I really squirm when I think of some moments in my life when I was unconsciously insensitive, because I should have known better. And also, in the real world when someone is accused of privilege the accuser sometimes does come across as someone trying to score a point, or as someone who is making a personal accusation. The accusation may be accurate.

The world is not full of people who are up on the lefty views of how people should react when accused of saying something racist or sexist or of having privilege, and the world is also not full of people who make these claims with the sole intent of enlightening the person who has the privilege. In the world that I'm familiar with, people are often trying to establish that they have the moral high ground and that the other person is a jerk.

If people are not to react with defensiveness when unconscious bigotry is pointed out, everyone will have to understand the issue the way you do Dr Science.

I don't know. I agree with a lot of this post - we're all a bit racist, we all need to try harder not to be dicks, and to make things right when we are, and cop to it when it's pointed out, and I'm an asshole, etc. All true.

But the notion that the 'unmarked' among us (sorry, linguistics) tend to be the ones with a simplistic, benign sense of their moral self... well I mean it might be true, but then again, it might not. Has it come from anywhere? I mean anywhere where the sun shines? (Sorry, that was uncalled for.)

Because I can certainly think of quite a few unmarked down my way who appear from the outside to have a complex and brittle self-esteem. And at least one who would apologise to an oatcake if he cracked it. And I grew up with some heavily marked sorts who genuinely, as far as I could tell, didn't give a shit. Certainly not about saying prejudiced things.

Sorry for the anecdotes. And for not having better ones. I don't have any data. Does anyone? There's that psychology concept - Beneffectance, was it? - that I seem to remember being bullshitted about by social scientists years ago. Maybe one of those guys correlated it to status.

How does that make you guilty?

It's more about usage than about meaning. Accusing someone of privilege is often used as shorthand to accuse someone of narrow-minded, blind, self-important ignorance; I've seen it interpreted as an accusation of laziness and gaming the system as well (i.e., "you didn't earn what you have/accomplished"). See also "Oppression Olympics"; basically it can be taken (or presented) as a claim that all other things being equal, the unprivileged individual's accomplishments are more worthy than the "easier" accomplishments of the privileged.

This is mostly a problem of assigning a very particular technical meaning to a term that has a different-but-not-wholly-unrelated vernacular meaning, and then using the jargon and (mistakenly) assuming that everyone else holds the same understanding of your usage.

What do those of you who were raised Protestant see?

I agree completely about how it sounds; hubris is the word that pops straight into my head. However, I was raised in a pietist/Anabaptist-descended tradition (specifically one that schismed in a different direction than the Methodists), so I suppose there are those who might argue I wasn't raised as a proper Protestant (or possibly even a real one).

I am very very far out on one tail of the "those were raised Protestant" distribution, but you asked.

What do those of you who were raised Protestant see?

A bunch of words with no referents in the real world -- a map for which there is no corresponding territory.

Evil I understand to be a realy thing, but to me, the whole Roman Catholic concept of "sin" is a semantic null.

I was just browsing the patheos website and found the perfect example of how discussions of white racism and privilege tend to go, at least online. First the blogger gives a rousing denunciation of white racism in our country, sort of like a Ta Nehisi Coates piece without the detailed study and facts. I agree with the gist of it, but it is not the kind of thing that will reach people not yet convinced, And then look at the first reply--white privilege exemplified. I don't know what would reach a person like that, but he is a jerk.


People don't discuss this issue calmly and rationally--I wouldn't expect them to,

I generally think of myself as having been raised Protestant. But I recall the day we stopped going to Sunday School.

On the way home, Mother asked (as usual) "What did you learn today?" And one of my siblings replied, "I learned we were born evil." To which Mother responded heatedly, "Well you weren't!" And that was the last time we went to Sunday School.

So I guess that leaves me rather outside the Protestant mainstream....

This post reminds me of listening to Christians explain why people sin. I think it has the same chance of being believed by non adherents as those explanations did. I take this post as being very informative about how OP views the world, and not slightly informative about the world itself.

Truthfully, I don't have a lot to say about much of what folks are talking about in the comments. Do people use rhetoric as a weapon? Well, yes, they do. We're a communicative species, it happens.

On the whole, though, being told that you've got some habits of thought you don't like is way better being not white and facing the criminal justice system in most of the country, or not being gender-norm-conforming in your appearance and needing medical care, or having been sexually assaulted by someone rich and well-connected and trying to get anything done in response to it, and so forth and so on. And Coates has done the careful research on multi-generational consequences of all this stuff. It's theoretically possible, I guess, that in another generation, white people like myself could begin to suffer any measurable fraction of what we've collectively inflicted - or, for most of us, allowed to be inflicted or been blithely unaware of what was being inflicted - on others. But I don't expect it.

I have a general rule to not waste a lot of time on people who seem to me to be arguing in bad faith, so I'm not around for a bunch of the debates I hear about. I'd have shrugged and left well before. Pretty much what all of what I know about advantage, disadvantage, bias, and the like, and ways of responding to it, I've learned from friends who were willing to teach some and to point at others doing the same. But it wouldn't have worked if I weren't already prepared to admit unintended screwups and a willingness to accept help. Maybe I have an advantage in lifelong disability there, which shatters a lot of illusions about self-sufficiency? I know I have to count on others for so much.

Adam Rosenthal: I think it's easier to be relatively unmarked and think yourself a Good Person because you have fewer people telling you "you suck" with the power to enforce your inferior status.

Well, you might be right. All I'm saying is it's not much to go on, as a theory of something as multi-faceted as this interaction of self-esteem, social status, moral virtue and propriety, that you're talking about.

People are damn complicated, as you allude to in the bit about internalised bigotry. I just don't know that the 'unmarked' are any simpler, in the way you imply, or less cognizant of the trail of harm they leave behind.

Not sure if this is related, but the idea of marked and unmarked comes from the Prague school of linguistics and is a way to try and explain asymmetries, because simply talking about binary features leads to a impression that there is generally going to be a 50/50 split. In that sense, unmarked is actually a way to understand power asymmetries, in that it postulates that if the situation were reversed, you'd see the same effects, just in the opposite direction.

Yes I'm only familiar with the term from linguistics.

So final /d/ in most varieties of English is unmarked for voicing, even though in other contexts it can be marked for voicing. Is this equivalent to someone who is, say, mixed race in a predominantly white area, but lighter-skinned than the rest of her family? Or am I pushing the metaphor too far?

Don't pick at the metaphor, you'll leave a scar...

Though the idea that markedness varies on social context is probably an important observation. The claim that racism doesn't exist (or is a something that is no longer a problem) probably stems from places where markedness is 'nullified' to borrow another linguistic term.

Do you mean neutralised?

sorry, yes, you are right. should have checked.

Adam R: I'm not committed to particular phrasing, most of the time. And as someone who's unmarked myself in several social dimensions, I don't think that my interior life is simpler in those regards - it's just free of a bunch of challenges to my self-worth, self-esteem, from people with the clout to put me in the inferior position they think I deserve.

I very much agree that it's a complex, and dynamic, array in many dimensions. That's what the concept of intersectionality aims to point at and keep present in people's thinking, that there's always more going on, and that factors can add up in one way for one person and quite a different way for another.

I wish I knew more linguistics. :)

i am a 54 year old, white texas native. i have been teaching school here for 20 years, all but one year of it in sixth grade. over the years i have been accused of racism by a student exactly two times, once by an african-american child and once by a white child. in the first instance i asked for a conference with his grandfather who was raising him and when we met and talked over the situation he became very angry with his grandson for i had already taught two of his older siblings and the grandfather knew well how mightily we had labored to get the child's older brother through sixth grade and how i had encouraged and helped develop the leadership skills of his older sister who had gone on to become a member and leader in several of the organizations at the high school. their grandfather knew that i was a fair and consistent individual who would not suddenly become a racist from one child to the next. over the course of the year i stayed in close contact with him and by the end of the year the child spontaneously apologized for his original accusation.

the other instance a white child who was from a fairly prominent family accused me of racism against whites because instead of taking his word that african-american or hispanic children he accused of causing the disruptions in his area, i investigated and became more watchful and discovered he was making those accusations to cover his own misbehaviors. that conference did not go well but my principal backed me up and i was able to maintain some control over the situation. i have been unafraid of accusations of racism because i have done my level best to live a life of impartiality to race with sensitivity towards those who have found themselves on the wrong side of the system whether because of their race or because of their socio-economic status. at times i have despaired of white coworkers who almost exclusively discipline the black children or the hispanics, often for things they ignore in the white children. when i first began teaching i spent three years in east texas where the white teachers thought nothing of referring to our black colleagues or students with the n-word when only white people were around. i generated some hard feelings when i made it clear that it wasn't acceptable around me.

two years ago i discovered a fascinating way of getting some measure of my bias or lack thereof--


this test allows one to see one's implicit, subconscious biases regarding race. when i took it my results showed a slight bias in favor of african-americans. i tend to think that i probably started with no bias one way or the other and then having biracial grandchildren for the last 14 years skewed my bias in that diirection.

I have to say that I am a bit dubious of any test, the results which suggest that I have a "mild preference for Reagan over Obama." Granted, I far prefer Reagan to the current leaders of the Republican Party. But still....

@ Bruce

I think we're probably basically in agreement.

When I think about my own trail of minor offence, clearly the 'marked' group I've been most oblivious with is women - I must surely have said thousands upon thousands of presumptive things over the course of my life.

Also gay people. I can remember several painful occasions when I realised later - usually in the hours between 1 and 4, traditionally reserved for silent screaming about decades-old idiocies - that what I'd said to a gay friend essentially just assumed they'd been magically replaced for a minute by a straight one.

But the other one, that's not much mentioned, is foreign people. In particular, asking "Where are you from?" (I don't mean the really crass case where someone from the same country but not caucasian is asked the question. I mean when they have a foreign accent.)

It could be different in the US, where everyone is from somewhere. But that question pisses many people off quite a lot. And yet I can't help myself. I love talking about different languages, especially, but also places and cultures, so I try to stop myself but always end up asking.

Adam, if you don't mind me asking, where are you writing from? That question of where you are from is kind of standard one for Japanese to ask me and other foreigners and there is a notion about these sorts of things, classifying them as 'microaggressions'. I don't particularly agree with that, as I feel you can't define the questions as 'aggressions' if you don't know the context.

One feature of the US being as big as it is: when you ask someone "Where are you from?" there is no implication that they are necessarily from another country. The question is a natural one about where in the country you are from. And a substantial number of people (especially here in California) are from somewhere else in the country.

Plus, you can have some amusements with your friends. My boss moved to Indiana from India with her family when she was 8 (and spoke no English at all) -- her mother was picking up a PhD in Math. I keep telling her, "You can't fool me! You're a Hoosier and that's all there is to it." No offense intended or taken.

Sure, questions about where someone is from could be microagressions. But the certainly don't have to be more than minor curiosity. And, at least in my experience, they usually are.

@liberal japonicas

I'm from England.

It was something surprising to me too when it was pointed out to me, I wouldn't have expected it to be offensive.

I don't know about microaggression - I'm long out of academia and not an activist so have no real understanding of call-out culture. But being around immigrants a lot, it's something I've heard them talk about to each other as an annoyance.

It's not just accent actually - it's often to do with people finding out their name, when they are either second-generation or an immigrant but very well assimilated. They often find it very annoying that the person picks up on their name and says 'Where are you from?' I think they just feel excluded, or 'othered' as Nombrilisme Vide put it.

@ wj

Yeah the state thing seems a really useful social tool to have at your disposal. It's such an easy way of being irreverent without being rude. I've heard Americans at bars shout "Hey, Texas" when they want a complete stranger to pass their beer over or whatever.

"Hey Lancashire" or "Oi London"... not going to work. And "Oi Scotland" in an English accent might will likely you glassed.

Heard 1st hand, from a friend originally from India, fully integrated, but physically tall, fit.

Asked at a party: "where are you from?" he replied "I'm Indian." "Really, what tribe?" (thinking that he was Native American).

He was very amused.


when you ask someone "Where are you from?" there is no implication that they are necessarily from another country

-- if you're white, obviously African-American, or have a thick regional accent, maybe. But when an Asian-American is asked this, it doesn't matter how many generations their ancestors have been in the New World, the question is about their ancestry. Often helpfully amplified by "No, where are you *really* from?"

I've seen a number of Asian-Americans say that Birtherism helped push Asian support for Obama, because one of the few things all Asian-Americans have in common is dealing with people who refuse to believe that they're "really" American.

Asian-Americans born in the US often complain about people asking that question with the assumption that they're immigrants, often with a peculiar insistence:

"Where are you from?"
"Where are you really from?"

Dr S,
Somehow, I haven't heard that particular complaint from any of my in-laws.

Lots of complaints about other stuff. Not least the internment, of course. And my father-in-law seemed particularly put out that the 442nd was required to stop for a couple of days, so some other outfit could go in first to "liberate Rome."

But never that one.

The political distribution of Asian-Americans is quite interesting. I would say that Japanese-Americans tend to be Democratic with a liberal bent, though I have relatives who were staunch Republicans. Filipino-Americans and Chinese Americans I have known tend more to conservative, and Vietnamese have tended to be even more so, but with more points of commonality and contact, it is a lot smaller selection of non Japanese-Americans and I tend to open up more to Japanese-Americans and so there is probably a strong self selection bias here.

Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi-Americans, I don't actually know any, all of the people I know with that background are British.

This link has some stats

I'm wondering if the factoid of 82% voting for Romney in Louisiana is a combination of conservative Vietnamese (a lot in Louisiana) and the effect of Jindal with Indian Americans.

But maybe not this time.


It may well not be currently relevant. But I recall from the days when Hawaii first became a state, the Chinese-Americans were Republicans and the Japanese-Americans were Democrats.

It seems like people who came to the US after fleeing communism or socialism are more likely to go Republican. I don't know if that's a documented phenomenon, but it's something I've tended to think was true.

most of the time i leave questions like that politely unasked but if my curiosity does get the better of my tact i usually ask something along the lines of "where does your family trace its heritage to?" and i freely admit that my family traces back to england and scotland.

There's few things I find so annoying as an initial paragraph setting up a false definition in order to "prove" later rhetorical points. Stopped reading after one paragraph on this one, obvious deceit and lies. Overall impression of ObWi just went down a big notch.

There's few things I find so annoying as an initial paragraph setting up a false definition in order to "prove" later rhetorical points. Stopped reading after one paragraph on this one, obvious deceit and lies. Overall impression of ObWi just went down a big notch.

There's few things I find so annoying as an initial paragraph setting up a false definition in order to "prove" later rhetorical points. Stopped reading after one paragraph on this one, obvious deceit and lies. Overall impression of ObWi just went down a big notch.

Maybe if we posted everything twice, we could fool you into reading more than one paragraph? Or would that take your opinion of ObWi down an even bigger notch? We surely wouldn't want you to actually read, think, and take part in a reasonable discussion, as that would be an imposition on your valuable time.

Maybe if we posted everything twice, we could fool you into reading more than one paragraph? Or would that take your opinion of ObWi down an even bigger notch? We surely wouldn't want you to actually read, think, and take part in a reasonable discussion, as that would be an imposition on your valuable time.

Dad, that word doesn't mean what it did when you were young. Everyone is a racist now

IM very humble O, if you make assumptions about people or treat them differently in some way because of the color of their skin, that is, definitionally, racism.

By that definition, most folks are racist, in some context or other. By "most folks", I probably mean almost everyone.

So yes, Marty's son is more or less right, everyone is a racist now. And everyone has been racist for most of the history of the human species. It's an almost instinctive response to be suspicious of people who aren't like you.

What we're talking about when we talk about white supremacy - or whatever supremacy, it comes in many flavors - is something beyond racism per se. At the point that we talk about "supremacy" doctrines, we are talking about an ideology, built upon a foundation of racism, but extending it significantly. Not just extending it, but making of it a virtue.

All IMO.

Another aspect to all of this is the presence, or absence, of animus. I.e., do you harbor a negative affect to people who are, somehow, distinguishable from you in some obvious physical attribute, especially skin color. Which can happen anywhere along the spectrum from instinct to ideology.

To continue down the path of belaboring the thread with MVHO, it seems to me that there is value in recognizing, acknowledging, unpacking, and addressing the kind of instinctive, second-nature racism that most of us experience. Both as the subject and object of the racist impulse.

It's helpful in that project if we can *also* recognize that not everyone that has any kind of racist impulse, however conscious or unconscious, holds or intends and animus toward the folks that prompt that reaction.

And, it's also helpful to recognize that, for the vast majority of people, no "supremacist" ideology is involved.

Back in the 80's, I would give a VERY wide berth to any white guy with a shaved head. Because my first reaction to a skinhead was "violent Nazi punk". Which was, absolutely and definitionally, a prejudice, and to make assumptions on, and act on, that prejudice was a species of bigotry.

Because not all skins were violent Nazi punks.

Just an example.

We all are prone to making assumptions about each other based on flimsy evidence. In evolutionary terms, it's probably an adaptive response. But it's important, as always IMVHO, to try to be aware of our knee-jerk responses, to acknowledge and address them beginning with when we find them in ourselves, to not be instantly or overly judgmental when they appear in others, and in general to try to move beyond them and deal with each other as individual human beings.

No need to point fingers when we're all in the same, or at least a similar, boat.

And, no need to tolerate ideologies that are built on lies.

and, anecdotally, typepad is making me nostalgic for the days of usenet.

The Web would be totally different if one had the trn killfile capability, suitably generalized.

Well, there's the Global Killfile, but that's supposed to be a secr#@k2&! NO CARRIER

not that a killfile might not be a good idea (although we do have cleek's pie filter nowadays), but what I was mostly responding to was the "no root for comment" bidness.


In general, I always remember usenet basically working without exhibiting weird barfiness. At least, weird technical barfiness, content is another issue altogether.

I know that, compared to news readers, browsers are a much more feature-rich environment. I'm just not sure how many of those features are all that relevant to having conversations with people.

The simplest thing that could possibly work always has a huge appeal, to me.

Thus endeth the rant.

I've toyed with the idea of finding a browser that ignored everything but text, just to make the tubes more tolerable to my sensibilities, at least for use when I'm strictly in information-seeking mode. I know, not the same thing, exactly, but still applying the KISS principle.

HSH: lynx

although we do have cleek's pie filter nowadays

i had one for obwi. i wonder if it still works.

Thanks, Snarki. It just occurred to me that I now generally use an iPad at home, and have no control over what browser I use at work. But I'll check it out to see if it will work on the iPad and to install on the wife's laptop for the now-rare occasions that I do use it. Maybe she'll want to have a simplified browsing experience at times, anyway.

In an aside to russells comment, I harbor animus to those people who are distinguishable by their utter disdain for the idea that anyone might look as good as them. More animus when they are correct.

Now that I wrote that, it dawns on me it may be true.

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