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September 11, 2010

ΥΣΑ! ΥΣΑ!
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:45 AM * 421 comments

My great-great grandfather, John “Jack” Foley, left County Waterford in the mid-1800’s. He was fourteen, alone in the world, and all but penniless. He didn’t have a lot of viable choices; his family was dead from the famine and he’d been turned off the farm they’d worked. So he took ship for America and landed in a cesspool of racism and discrimination.

Family tradition holds that he worked in Mississippi for a time, doing jobs that slaves were considered too valuable to be given. He married, fathered a son, and lost both wife and child to disease. He did a stint on the Pony Express, then joined the Army. Somewhere around Yosemite, after some—probably racial or religious—abuse, he left the military in rather a rush (when you fire on your commanding officer, consider yourself discharged, even if you miss the man and only hit the horse). He eventually married again and settled in San Jose, where he made his fortune (ironically) growing potatoes.

It was not an easy life, and though his descendants became lawyers and judges—respectable people—the family stories remain.

Of course, now Irish Americans are seen differently. The funny accents of our ancestors have become charming, their early squalor and destitution is now noble poverty, and that weird religion so many of us still follow doesn’t seem nearly as threatening after all this time. (It has other problems, but respected commenters rarely opine that we’re controlled by a foreign potentate). Almost all of the hateful figures of speech about us have faded from the language. There’s even a day a year when people who aren’t members of our diaspora pretend they are.*

I’ve seen plenty of commentary about how this is the American way, and a thing to be proud of. Immigrants come to the country, have a tough time of it, but eventually become accepted. Muslims, it is said, just need to be patient, and one day they too will be part of the fabric of the nation, like the Irish and the Poles, the Germans and the Russians, the Jews and the Vietnamese and the Koreans. It’s a bonding thing.†

But, you know, here’s the thing: this isn’t actually a very good way of running a nation of immigrants. If it is the destiny of each successive wave of incomers to eventually assimilate enough that it attacks the next set of arrivals, then we are not one of the great dreams of the Enlightenment made manifest. Indeed, we turn out to be nothing more than a glorified college fraternity. Upsilon Sigma Alpha. Go us.

And even the fraternities know better. They’ve been working to ban hazing, because it harms two groups of people: the victims, a certain proportion of whom are injured or killed every year; and the perpetrators, for whom the practice of tormenting and abusing other people is equally damaging. It’s a tradition that creates and strengthens bullies, valorizes cruelty (particularly carefully considered cruelty, the worst kind) and denies the value of compassion.

So why on Earth would we permit, and even celebrate, the same behavior at a national level?

Speaking personally, I can’t and won’t. The ghost of Jack Foley won’t let me, and he was always a ready man with his gun.


* It’s as if, in the future, everyone wore headscarves on Eid Al-Fitr. We’d get it all wrong (men would wear them too). The holovisions would show the parade sponsored by a major and unrelated mercantile empire. The Apple Eid Day Parade. Mark your calendars.
† Except it’s not, because the grudges against earlier bullies never really go away either. Ask the Irish about the English sometime.

Comments on ΥΣΑ! ΥΣΑ!:
#1 ::: Brother Guy ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:44 AM:

Thank you.

#2 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:52 AM:

There's always a few folks who know better...

How MLK Jr. saved Uhura.

#3 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 07:11 AM:

"All right... we'll give some land to the niggers and the chinks. But we don't want the Irish!"
- Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles

Menwhile, I was amused (not!) that LiveJournal refers to 9/11 as the Day the Earth Stood Still. Somehow they miss the irony, considering the first thing that humans do when Klaatu greets them.

#4 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 07:49 AM:

Amen.

Your post is particularly timely seeing as I just spent 5 days in Ireland, land of my ancestors...

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 07:58 AM:

My wife's ancestry includes Germans, Sioux, and Benedict Arnold.

#6 ::: Jim Bales ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:28 AM:

Wow .... many. many, thanks for your striking post.

Best,
Jim Bales

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:41 AM:

Time does nothing but pass.

That's a wonderful post, Abi.

Serge, my ancestry includes African slaves, Jews, and Charlemagne.

#8 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:36 AM:

Fragano @ 7... I for one welcome Fragano, Benevolent Overlord of France.

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:41 AM:

Serge #8: Overlord of the West, Serge, of the West.

#10 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:43 AM:

More to Abi's point, my children's ancestry is mine plus their mother's -- and her's is German and Irish.

#11 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 10:05 AM:

Abi: thanks for the story of your family, it is a history to be proud of.

At a family dinner some years ago, a niece was mouthing off with some rather bigoted comments. IIRC, it was Hispanics that day. I reminded her that her father's family was Irish with some German and English in the mix and that for years the Irish were not exactly welcomed. On her mother's side (my sister) the family is Sicilian and Austrian and that Sicilians were also looked down on both in Italy and here. Everyone looked at me as if I was crazy and being a party pooper for bringing up facts. (I've always been the bleeding heart, commie, pinko, liberal.) They all like to forget our immigrant history.

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 10:53 AM:

PurpleGirl @ 11... Everyone looked at me as if I was crazy and being a party pooper for bringing up facts

Facts, shmacts!

#13 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 10:58 AM:

I love* the baffled looks I get from most folks when I tell them that, green-eyed blond notwithstanding, I'm a member of the oldest surviving minority group represented in modern civilization.

(L'shana tovah, y'all.)


* for values of 'love' approximating 'schadenfreudelicious'

#14 ::: Peter S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 11:04 AM:

This country has never been that welcoming to immigrants.

When my great-grandfather came over from Prague (he had to leave the country in a hurry), he landed in New York, and was trying to get to Philadelphia where he had relatives and a promise of a job. He didn't speak English (he spoke Yiddish, German, Czech, Polish), and he was somehow directed to a conveyance*, taken to Barre, VT, and put to work (as virtually slave labor) in the granite quarry. He ran away, made his way to Worcester, MA, and found a job there.

I love the way the Barre website says that the quarry was so widely known that immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds came to work in it, leading to Barre's multicultural heritage today.

*Possibly a train. Family legends do not supply detail on this point.

#15 ::: strawhat ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 11:12 AM:

A similar thing happened in my own family not long ago. My sister-in-law was carrying on about Mexicans and how they're dirty drunks who get into fights all the time and so on and so on. And I interrupted her and told her that people said the very same things about the Irish (we're of Irish heritage) 150 years ago, and those people were bigots then, and people who talk that way about Mexicans are bigots now.

Abi, you're right. It's a stain on Lady Liberty's gown.

#16 ::: Lin d ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 11:40 AM:

There's a line out of Alien Nation, the exactness of which I cannot remember. Nevermind... I found it:

Det. Samuel 'George' Francisco: You humans are very curious to us. You invite us to live among you in an atmosphere of equality that we've never known before. You give us ownership of our own lives for the first time and you ask no more of us than you do of yourselves. I hope you understand how special your world is, how unique a people you humans are. Which is why it is all the more painful and confusing to us that so few of you seem capable of living up to the ideals you set for yourselves.

#17 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 11:50 AM:

The more I hear these sorts of stories the more I start to wonder what kind of family history wasn't passed down from my grandmother's grandmother's immigration due to the potato blight. Most of the family stories of intolerance I've heard were about a Quaker ancestor who kept getting run out of town for trying to settle in the wrong parts of Kansas in the 1850s.

#18 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 12:27 PM:

In the words of a famous old queen, I am merely English.

What?

Just saying. That's all.

#19 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 12:48 PM:

Some of my mother's family came from England, some from Germany; some of the nominally English we suspect were Scots in fact, and most of the nominally German we are pretty sure came from that part of northern Europe where languages blur and borders move every generation.

My father's mother's family came from somewhere in probably France, to what's now Nova Scotia, then back to France a couple of generations later, then exiled again to a patch of swamp nobody else wanted, and there they remain.

My father's grandfather survived the 1893 Caminada hurricane. We aren't too sure about his family line before that as the records didn't. He married, but that's all we know - the 1880 census has two girls the right age of the right name in the region, but since we don't know what Laura's father's given name was, we aren't sure whether either of them is my grandfather's mother. I'm curious, because one of the 1880 Lauras is White, and the other is Black (according to the census) and that's the sort of thing southern families Did Not Talk About and probably still don't.

I wonder. It would explain a lot. But there being no records, I may never know.

#20 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 01:41 PM:

strawhat (15), I have a large number of children, and they all show strong signs of different parts of their genetic heritage. My "Irish" son, when he heard someone saying bigoted things about "Mexicans" (in this area, often as not third or fourth generation citizens), said angrily, "Look at me. A hundred years ago I was not "a white man" in this country. Two hundred years ago, I was a serf, forbidden to play my native music or wear my native clothing. Now I am an American and so are those Mexicans you're complaining about." His friend was bewildered, perhaps in part because he could not understand how a man whose skin was as white as paper was not "a white man". But in fact, even as recently as when I was young (okay, not so recent, but not quite 100 years ago) people referring to "white men" specifically did not include Irish and Jewish people. The typical American citizen claimed his rights because he was "free, white, and twenty-one".

#21 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 01:46 PM:

What, no-one has quoted the line from Finian's Rainbow yet?

"My whole family's been havin' trouble with immigrants ever since we came to this country" -- Senator Rawkins

#22 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 01:49 PM:

"It has other problems, but respected commenters rarely opine that we’re controlled by a foreign potentate."

I was about to disagree, then noticed you said RESPECTED commenters. Sigh. Yeah, other commentators are still doing it.

I'm also old enough to remember J.F.Kennedy's election and the "Cardinal quarters" that were circulating (at least in New England) -- a red nail-polish "cardinal's hat" painted onto George Washington's head. Whether JFK would be obliged to do whatever the Pope told him was being seriously argued at the time.

Things have improved *somewhat.*

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 02:05 PM:

Chris @22:

It's a fair cop, guv; I pretty much palmed that card in the original post.

But the difference between the way that Kerry, and even Kennedy, have been treated and the way that Ellison is treated (not to mention all the overtly Muslim politicians you don't see in national office) is significant. I stand at least in the near vicinity of my original point.

#24 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 02:10 PM:

abi @23: the difference between the way that Kerry, and even Kennedy, have been treated

IIRC, John Kerry's ancestors in the Old Country were Czech Jews, not Irish Catholics.

#25 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 02:34 PM:

Chris @22, sure, but remember, JFK was elected half a century ago. More recently, when John Kerry ran, there was grumbling from right-wing columnists about the possibility of Kerry being denied communion because of his support for women's ownership of their own reproductive organs, the general tenor of these complaints being that Kerry was somehow religiously inauthentic. In other words, the right was complaining that a Catholic presidential candidate wasn't taking orders from the pope.

(Funny thing -- they didn't grumble nearly as much about Rudy Giuliani, who is denied communion because of his divorce and remarriage.)

#26 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 03:04 PM:

Avram #25: Funny thing -- they didn't grumble nearly as much about Rudy Giuliani, who is denied communion because of his divorce and remarriage.

Oh. I thought Rudy Giuliani would have been denied communion because of his cross-dressing.

#27 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 03:12 PM:

The problem with this "jumping-in" model of American acceptance is that it's a lie.

Yes, there are "now-considered-white" descendants who conveniently forget the struggles of their immigrant ancestors.

But if you're *not* white-in-an-accepted-way, then there's no amount of oppression your ancestors can absorb for you so that you as the descendant are free and accepted. The Chinese and Japanese were here at the same time as the largest Irish influx, and yet their descendants (some of them have been here for FIVE generations) are *still* considered foreigners by the ignorant, because they "don't look like Americans". My ancestors were denied the right of naturalization until after WWII. Thank the Amendments for the 14th, or their children would have been non-Americans, too.

Chicanos (Americans of Mexican descent) face similar issues. Many of their ancestors were in the border states long before those states were part of the U.S. How long is enough?

This myth of "every group goes through it, until..." ? The only thing that ultimately helps a group become part of the conception of America is an active effort of others to be inclusive. Bank of America deciding to court Asian customers, putting Asian faces into BofA ads, did more for acceptance than any myth of waiting their turn.

#28 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 03:35 PM:

On a recent trip to London, my Cab-driver was indulging in the traditional london cab-driver's pastime of complaining about immigrants coming over and taking honest people's jobs.

He was Barbados-born, with a mixed west-indian/cockney accent. The immigrants he was complaining about were Polish. I am still baffled as to whether this counted as assimilation or not.

#29 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 04:04 PM:

Abi, beautiful post.

And Trinker, #27, you nailed it.

I went to a dinner event where Jennifer 8. Lee was talking about her book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Lee talked a little bit about her background, and how people ask her where she's from and, when she answers, they ask...

[I looked at the Asian-American stranger who was sitting across the table from me, and we both said, in unison with each other and with Lee:]

"Where are you really from?"


#30 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 04:22 PM:

I think I could get behind some kind of International Headscarf Day. More than I usually go along with International Pretend You're Irish Day, at any rate. (I'm not into drinking green beer, or any kind of beer for that matter, and don't care to hang around with others while they overindulge.)

#31 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 04:29 PM:

Serge, your wife and I are related and can probably figure out how (Benedict Arnold was a distant cousin on my mother's father's side...). Dave Nee, my founding partner in the Other Change of Hobbit, is one of the relatively few native Californians I know. Though most of my mother's family had lived there for several generations, I was born in DC. So I'm not native to CA.

#32 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:04 PM:

I'm Irish and Bohemian (≈ Czech) on my mother's side and Anglo-Irish† and German on my father's side. Since my mother was raised almost entirely by my grandmother (her father having taken off when she was young, probably because he knew she and my grandmother would be better off), my mother was pretty much Bohemian-American in culture and outlook. Didn't speak Bohemian except for certain exclamations, some of which I mistook for Yiddish when my mother was going through her period of extreme Judeophilia. But even though it's pronounced "yezhuhshmaddia," 'Jesus Maria' means what it looks like, and is very much of the non-Yiddish persuasion.
___
† In this case, that means Irish who moved to England long before emigrating to America, and who blended their blood with that lesser stock the native English.

#33 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:11 PM:

Trinker:

I agree with you. Those who show their unwhite ancestry on their skins are not allowed to meld. Despite BofA and many other ad campaigns the white attitude towards Asian-Americans is that they're too smart to be real Americans. Despite all the claims of post-racialism the white attitude towards African-Americans is that they're not smart enough and too violent to be real Americans. Despite that many families have lived in the same area since before there was a United States, the white attitude towards Mexican-Americans (and anyone who has the same skin tone or speaks the same language or one that sounds like it to unappreciative ears) is that they are too lazy and deceptive to be real Americans.

And some of the white people I know still don't understand how I can have financial problems, because, of course, all Jews are rich; even having white skin doesn't always save you. It seems to me that prejudices ingrained for generations are the hardest of all habits to break, especially when they're so useful to the rich and powerful waging class warfare against the lower classes. And the prejudices don't go away just because there's a new kind of kid in town to pick on.

#34 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:12 PM:

Xopher:

And then there's me, whose immigrant ancestors (three sets of great-grandparents and one grandparent) are all documented as originating in Sweden and baptized into the Swedish Lutheran Church as children... and whose mother and the aforementioned grandparent (my maternal grandmother) were known to occasionally pepper their speech with the odd scrap of Yiddish.

Go figure.

#35 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:20 PM:

Trinker @ 27: "But if you're *not* white-in-an-accepted-way, then there's no amount of oppression your ancestors can absorb for you so that you as the descendant are free and accepted. The Chinese and Japanese were here at the same time as the largest Irish influx, and yet their descendants (some of them have been here for FIVE generations) are *still* considered foreigners by the ignorant, because they "don't look like Americans"."

While I agree with most of what you're saying--that those without "European" features have a harder and slower time assimilating--I think you're moving the goalposts a bit. "The ignorant think you're American" doesn't seem to me to be the relevant standard, or at least not the only or the most important. Things like mainstream prejudice, legal constraints, government harassment and so forth are also important. When you look at the arc of the Asian-American experience, from the days of "Yellow Menace" fear-mongering and quotas for Asian immigrants until now, I think the trend is fairly clear. Discrimination is not zero, and maybe it never will be, but it's certainly moving in the right direction.

debcha @ 29: '"Where are you really from?"'

I think that most people don't get enough practice asking "Where did your ancestors immigrate from?" to do it in an inoffensive manner. I don't think it's an inherently rude question though; do you?

#36 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:38 PM:

heresiarch, 29: "Where did your ancestors immigrate from?" is perfectly fine; in the US, it can be asked of every person who is not Native American. I get it all the time because my last name is neither English nor easy to spell. (The next-most-frequent variant "What kind of name is *that*?" gets up my nose for obvious reasons.)

"Where are you *really* from?" is unacceptable at any time, to any person; the person who asks it is calling the other person a liar to their face.

#37 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:47 PM:

I get "What are you?" "Where are you from?" (My stock answer is "Mars".) Even "How black are you?" That one, I was asked at an incoming freshman orientation in July by a prospective student; she seemed oblivious to the fact that the question might be offensive.

#38 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:51 PM:

My ancestry is mostly English and German, arriving in the US in the 18th and 19th centuries. So the odds are greater than not that they were some of the ones doing the excluding and discriminating. On the other hard, it is documented that the patriarch of one family moved from Maryland to the midwest (Ohio, I think) in the early 1800s because he was against slavery, so I have hope on that front.

Now, my husband belongs to one of those groups mentioned by Trinker (@27). His great-grandparents all left Taiwan and South China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and wound up in Hawaii, not making it into the US because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Their descendants all ended up as US citizens anyway when Hawaii became a state in 1959.

My husband travels a lot on business, and there are places in the US where people can scarcely believe that he was born and raised in the US and doesn't speak any Chinese. In fact, he was in Georgia last year and got to talking with a family (at a restaurant or someplace) - he was the first Asian person their teenage daughter had ever seen in person.

#39 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 06:53 PM:

Fragano, what are you supposed to provide, a graph of albedo as a function of wavelength? An emission spectrum compared to a standard black body at 37'C?

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 07:02 PM:

31
Cool! Benny the rat is a distant cousin of mine, too!
(Something like a fourth or fifth cousin, maybe closer, depending on whether several-times-great-grandfather's mother was the first or second wife. Some people say she was the first wife, but there's a reasonable doubt in my mind, and his father's will is, well, not very helpful.)

#41 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 07:13 PM:

heresiarch: That question, "where are you really from" is an accusation of lying. That the speaker isn't really someone born in the US.

I've watched that bit of dialogue before, and in the dozens of instances it's been played out in front of me, not once do I think it was asked in good faith.

#42 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 07:30 PM:

Joel Polowin #39: I wish it were that simple.

#43 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 07:37 PM:

TexAnne @ 36: ""Where are you *really* from?" is unacceptable at any time, to any person; the person who asks it is calling the other person a liar to their face."

Oops, I was unclear--the question that I was asking whether it was inherently rude is the "Where are your ancestors from?" question, which is (I think in at least in some cases) the question that "where are you *really* from" is trying to be.

Terry Karney @ 41: "I've watched that bit of dialogue before, and in the dozens of instances it's been played out in front of me, not once do I think it was asked in good faith."

You have a very different data set than I do, then: I've seen a lot of people ask "so where are you from?" when what they wanted to know was "where did your ancestors immigrate from?", get an answer like "Tigard," and then, still not able to articulate the question they're trying to ask, say "No, where are you *really* from?"

I always wince when I see this happen, because yes, the implication of that question is "You are a liar," "You aren't really American," and I don't think that's what the speaker meant. Maybe some percentage really did mean "You couldn't possibly be a real American," but in the majority of cases I think the problem is that there's not a good small-talk way of asking "Where did your ancestors immigrate from?" Which is, of course, symptomatic of the larger problem we are discussing.

#44 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 07:50 PM:

heresiarch, that's what I'm saying. "Where did your ancestors immigrate from?" *is* the small-talk version.

#45 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:01 PM:

heresiarch: I think you need to go look at the situation debcha mentioned.

I've never, had someone ask me, "where are you from?"

"Ohio"

"Where are you really from."

And I've never seen it done that way. I've seen it followed with, "Where did your family come from", "what are you?" (which offends me, because it has a host of implicit assumption that where my family came from, anywhere from 100-250 years ago, is a strongly formative factor on me, today), but the "where are you really from?", always implies one isn't actually a native. IME.

That debcha, and the other person could so accurately predict the rest of that joke... tells me at least three other people have seen the same sort of thing.

#46 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:08 PM:

PJ Evans @ 40... Did you know that Benny got his foot wounded in my hometown of Quebec City?

#47 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:22 PM:

heresiarch, #35: "Where are you REALLY from?" carries the same underlying assumption as "American beats out Kwan" -- that someone with Asian features can't possibly be a native-born American, because American = white. It is most emphatically NOT just a clumsy way of asking "What's your ancestry?"

Let's put it this way: I do not sound anything like a native-born Texan. But when I tell someone that I'm from Houston, I have never yet had anyone say, "No, where are you REALLY from?" Occasionally I do get variations on "You don't sound like a Texan," which in my case I wouldn't consider rude because, well, I don't. But even that doesn't carry the flat-out connotation of "you're lying" that the first one would.

#48 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:26 PM:

I've also noticed that many people can smoothly deploy a "where did your ancestors come from" question (mine is "Where are your people from?") when faced with white people, but tend to betray their assumptions when faced with someone they assume to be an immigrant.

I think this comes from an assumption that a white person has two origins: personal and ancestral. For instance, I am from Seattle, while my ancestors are from County Mayo (with some other ancestors from Germany and even a few reviled English). (Probably for old-school African-Americans the same assumption is in effect and the question isn't asked because the answer is assumed to be "slave ship.")

However, someone cast as other-than-American is assumed to have one origin, and perhaps also a place of residence (which isn't important). So when you (playing the role of our insensitive buffoon) ask them "where are you from" and get a response like "Seattle" instead of "My grandparents were from Japan," your first instinct is to repeat the question since they obviously didn't understand. In the same way, if you asked me where I was from and I said "Oh, I came to the party straight from work" you'd say "No, I mean where are you from, not where did you come here from." So when you ask me, the important question is place of origin (and you might separately ask about ancestry) and a response about the last place I happened to have been is irrelevant. When you ask someone you assume to be fundamentally non-American, the question is about ancestry and a response about birthplace is seen as irrelevant in the same way.

Y'know, them furrin folk, they just ain't as complicated as we Merkins. They ain't from one place and descended from another, they just from wherever folk like that come from.

#49 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:27 PM:

In Hawai'i it's not so much "Where are you from" as it is "Where did you graduate from" ("Where you wen' grad?" in the vernacular). Which high school you attended is a serious marker for whether you grew up poor, middle-class or rich. Skin tones other than white are pretty meaningless when attempting to determine background.

Those of us who arrived here long after our high school days were over are often at a disadvantage in these bits of social interplay.

#50 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:36 PM:

I'm currently living among an entrenched enclave (the 1600's) that still and honestly believes all the rest of us are invaders and not really Americans -- and that includes those who came on the Mayflower. Because, after all, the VIRGINIANS were first, and it all belonged to US, and then, bit by bit, traitors stole it from US, including our fame as FIRST, and our claim to bespoke LIBERTY. But the Puritans and the Pilgrims stole all that, and then the Carolinians stole our land, and the Marylanders, etc.

So, I have finally learned what Old Dominion was and why it continues to be invoked.

We had a meet-up with the attorney mother of one our own Listers (who is a lit aqent with Big Name Lit Agency) this evening. She is deep inside this world, but doesn't share certain of the entrenched attitudes. For one thing, like my spouse, her ancestors arrived here -- meaning Virginia and Maryland -- like his did, as Hugenots, fleeing the pogroms of Medici France.

Her advice to us was that we would do well here, as long as the spouse emphasized at the git-go when meeting people, his roots in Virginia, Maryland and Louisiana. Because then he would have put out the claim, which is always honored, 'that I am one of you. Even if I don't agree with you.'

Love, c.

#51 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:41 PM:

Linkmeister @49 - ah, that's true too. Hawaii has many more independent/private schools that educate a larger part of the population than do most parts of the US, so one's high school is a huge class (though not necessarily income) marker. My husband went to the same high school as Barack Obama (although their years did not overlap), so, well, there you are. It doesn't communicate nearly as much once you're on the mainland, though, until you run into other Hawaii people.

#52 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:44 PM:

Myself, however: my ancestors are mere late late late arrivals from Scandinavia. Nevermind that we Vikings kicked EVERYBODY'S ass from Russia to Spain to France to England.*

Love, C.

* Nevermind the indigenes of the New World who did beat us into oblivion during an early invasion ... Or that my ancestors also include the Prussians of the less the better, and the Poles, who, the best riders and dancers and warriors in the world, and who did save the Austro-Hungarian Empire's ass on occasion, also got their own asses handed to them, particularly during cavalry charges against panzers.

#53 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:56 PM:

Constance, #52: I always knew you were good people! ;-)

#54 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 08:56 PM:

Serge @5 & elsewhere: Please tell your wife 'Hi from a distant cousin!' for me; I'm descended from Benedict Arnold's sister Elizabeth.

Ditto PJ Evans and Tom Whitmore.

*Also eyes Xopher* Bohemian? Landed in Indiana? Or maybe North Dakota?

#55 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:21 PM:

Bohemian here too... landed in Indiana and Ohio.

#56 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:25 PM:

*Eyes Terry Karney* Got any Macharts in the woodpile?

#57 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:27 PM:

I hear there's a monument to it, somewhere. Just the boot, apparently, on account of it was put up sometime after he left the area.

#58 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:32 PM:

Renee @ 54... Would that be sufficient for you to apply for the title of Daughter of the Revolution?

#59 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:37 PM:

PJ: The Boot Monument.

#60 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:44 PM:

Constance @ #50, oh boy. I went all through HS in Virginia, coming from Los Angeles. The kids didn't have the attitude so much, but the textbooks were so Virginia-slanted it was comical. All those early Virginia Presidents. Those damned Massachusetts Adamses taking what was rightfully Virginia's position by birthright!

#61 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:53 PM:

Renee: Damnfino. I'd have to poke about my dad's geneology stuff.

#62 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 09:58 PM:

Wow, different worlds. It's always enlightening to hear what crap comes out of people's mouths when they think they're talking to an "inferior". A friend of my sister's (white, with adopted multiracial toddler) had a woman ask her in the supermarket, in front of the child, "Where did that little mongrel come from?" ("She came from between her mother's legs, just like you did!" was the reply, which I am given to understand was uncharacteristically blunt for the mom in question, who had at that point Just About Had It.)

#63 ::: Alan Yee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 10:10 PM:

My dad was born in Hong Kong and came here with his family in the late 1960s. Both his parents were/are ethnic Chinese, although my paternal grandfather was born in North Borneo, in what is now Malaysia.

My ancestors on my mom's side came from various Western European nations--England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France, Wales, and Holland, and doubtless others we haven't found out about yet in our genealogical research. The most recent immigrant on my mother's side of the family came to the U.S. from Scotland in the 1850s. My other immigrant ancestors arrived in the U.S. in the 1600s and 1700s.

Through more than one line, I'm a very distant cousin of William Howard Taft, George H. W. Bush, and Barbara Pierce Bush (and therefore, George W.). I'm also a distant cousin of Ernest Hemingway, Zachary Taylor, James Madison, and General William Sherman. I'm also apparently a direct descendant of Roger Williams. I recently discovered that I am a descendant of Rebecca Towne Nurse and Martha Allen Carrier, two of the "witches" executed during the Salem Witch Trials.

Yes, I'm really interested in genealogy. Why would you think that?

#64 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 10:13 PM:

My mother was born in France, and could have been French if she'd wanted to do the paperwork, but her parents were American students. I don't know her ancestry very well, though it's in a book on my shelf somewhere; some of the family were Huguenots, most were Anglos who'd been in North America for a long time. Some of those are reasonably well documented, and she and my father are about 8th or 10th cousins.

The last Irish immigrant in my father's family came over in 1805, so we don't have potato famine stories. We've got a few Dutch ancestors in North America who viewed spelling as a rather optional practice, even for their own names. The Stewart name is Scots, of course, but we run into the "village in Massachusetts where all the farmers have 10 kids and few first names, so we don't know which John Stewart son of Tom Stewart we're descended from" problem. My brother's done some research and has guesses*, and if he's right there's a village in Scotland where we run into the same problem a century or so earlier, so we're still not sure if we're descended from The Stewart or from some random peasant or bastard.

Most of my father's family were either English, or Germans who'd left home because of religious wars, and went to England to find that their timing could have been better, so they came to North America, in some cases after a brief stop in Holland. (Some of my mother's family were on one of the same boats.) Popular American mythology is that the local folks here treated my ancestors well when they arrived, and they don't often talk about how long it was before we started stealing their land and having wars with them or with other immigrants. And Abi, sorry about the way my ancestors probably treated yours, if we hadn't all moved farther west by then.

* At some point you also run into the high quality of user-supplied documentation on ancestry.com - ostensibly the Scandinaviann branch of my family are also descended from Thor and Odin, and I'll have to finish reading Neil Gaiman's book to know if that's doing them any favors or not :-)

#65 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 11:08 PM:

63
I have an assortment of presidents as distant cousins. (Most of them aren't people I want to claim, unfortunately.)
My sister-in-law has a couple of Salem trial participants on her tree, but one of them was a witness; the other is Susanna North Martin. Her tree is, well, an interesting mix of immigrants, from early Massachusetts to late 19th century eastern European. That last one is interesting: manufacturer and dealer in (mostly-harmless) patent medicines, winemaker, writer on medicine and politics, Jewish community leader ... and all of that between 1885 and 1915, in California.

#66 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 11:23 PM:

† Except it’s not, because the grudges against earlier bullies never really go away either. Ask the Irish about the English sometime.

Well, I've met (younger) Irish people who regard carrying grudges like that to be an unnecessary psychological burden for the carrier, whatever dubious satisfactions can be derived therefrom.

#67 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 11:26 PM:

Terry Karney @ 45: I think you need to go reread my comment, because there is nothing you say here that I am disputing. I agree that this doesn't happen to white Americans; I agree that it happens a lot to non-white Americans. What are you objecting to?

Lee @ 47: ""Where are you REALLY from?" carries the same underlying assumption as "American beats out Kwan" -- that someone with Asian features can't possibly be a native-born American, because American = white. "

I must confess I have no idea why you feel the need to type this, given that I said almost precisely the same thing in the very post you say you are replying to: "yes, the implication of that question is "You are a liar," "You aren't really American,"" Am I being unclear?

My point is that not every implication of every statement is intended by the speaker. Furthermore, there is a well-worn conversational rut that can lead to this particular statement even if the speaker doesn't doubt the other person's citizenship. I do not think it is a safe assumption that every person who says it is secretly a racist who thinks that only white people can be Real 'Murkins. They're racist, certainly, but not necessarily to that extent.

Conversationally, I think that "Where are you from?" often functions as "Fill in the blanks I have about your geographical history." So depending on what blanks the questioner has, the desired answer can be quite different. It depends on context. If you're at an academic conference, the correct answer might be "UCLA," not "California" or "LA."

One of the many blanks this question can be asked in order to fill is "where did your ancestors come from?" or "what are you?" This is relatively uncommon, and it is an act of (albeit minor) racism to meet someone for the first time and think, "this is the important thing for me to learn about them right away." But that a not insignificant number of people think "I wonder where their family is from" but say "Where're you from?", and then when they don't have their question answered say "No, really," is not such a stretch of the imagination.

#68 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 11:27 PM:

Renee 54: Landed in Berwyn, IL, as far as I know. Baloun is the family name.

Lila 62: "Where did that little mongrel come from?"

"And where did YOU come from, where they don't teach anyone manners? Or are you just brain-damaged and lost yours?"

Sometimes only rudeness will do. Unless you can find a way to utterly humiliate the loser with politeness, as I'm sure Teresa could. I have no such talent myself.

Bill 64: Thor and Odin, and I'll have to finish reading Neil Gaiman's book to know if that's doing them any favors or not

Being descended from Thor automatically makes you descended from Odin, of course. Odin fathered monsters and heros both. Of the two Thor is the kinder god from a human perspective, defending us against the Ice Giants, for example.

#69 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 11:50 PM:

Fragano @ 37: I confess that upon meeting you I would be inclined to blurt out: "What an interesting name that is. Where does it come from?" I trust that would be a suitably inoffensive gambit, and hope it would start you talking for several minutes. :-)

#70 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 12:03 AM:

Heresiarch: Color me confused then, because Terry Karney @ 41: "I've watched that bit of dialogue before, and in the dozens of instances it's been played out in front of me, not once do I think it was asked in good faith."

You have a very different data set than I do, then: I've seen a lot of people ask "so where are you from?" when what they wanted to know was "where did your ancestors immigrate from?", get an answer like "Tigard," and then, still not able to articulate the question they're trying to ask, say "No, where are you *really* from?"

I always wince when I see this happen, because yes, the implication of that question is "You are a liar," "You aren't really American," and I don't think that's what the speaker meant. Maybe some percentage really did mean "You couldn't possibly be a real American," but in the majority of cases I think the problem is that there's not a good small-talk way of asking "Where did your ancestors immigrate from?" Which is, of course, symptomatic of the larger problem we are discussing.

Reads to me (still) as if the second question is, in your experience, just clumsy, when debcha, and I, have both seemed to not encounter it that way.

I do confess to not seeing, as clearly as I should that the lying aspect is obvious, but again, I've not seen the secondary question as clumsy, so much as accusative.

I do know about context (when I was in college journalism, "where are you from" meant, "what's your paper/school"), and I;m used to seeing that get misparsed, but the clarifications are pretty simple.

#71 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 12:22 AM:

Ancestry is weird. I don't think it matters at all that most of my mother's family originated in Germany*; what matters is that said Germans arrived in Pennsylvania and stayed. I don't think it matters that my great-grandmother came from Ireland-- that's not where the family's red hair comes from. What matters is Art and Chuck and, "You're full of mush!" and stories about my dad's dad's train sets. It doesn't matter to me what my ancestors were doing a hundred or two hundred years ago. I care about the stories we have, which generally go from grandparents down. The exception is Conrad Weiser, who did some nifty things and has a ship named after him.

This is privilege. I get to ignore or just not know specifics of my family because hey, German (and French and Norwegian and English some and Scotch-Irish probably and then more German): everyone in my family looks pretty much Unmarked Default. Even the Puerto Rican cousins, because really, those Pennsylvania Dutch genes have been gathering momentum for centuries and are basically a DNA steamroller.

*actually, not so much Germany as Wurttemburg. The Weisers left Germany for the US before either existed.

#72 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 12:45 AM:

A woman I worked with, born and raised in Colorado, got a variation of "where are you really from" where people condescendingly would say, "Your English is really good." She'd smile sweetly and say, "Why, thank you, so is yours."

#73 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 12:50 AM:

How about this: "What is your heritage?" I live in a very multiracial area (seriously; I need to take a picture of my church congregation sometime) and I have needed that question. I can usually tell Vietnamese from Chinese from Japanese, but (real examples) Filipino-black and Japanese-Irish can throw me.

My heritage is Polish on one side and American mutt on the other. And I'm Catholic. So I definitely don't fit the WASP mold.

A friend of mine has multiple kids, but the one who is adopted is the one that strangers look at and say, "He looks just like you." (Her husband is Filipino. Just became an American citizen this year, actually... from being Canadian.) She showed me some pictures recently of her daughter and her daughter's cousin— who is ice-blonde with pale blue eyes— and said, "You'd never guess that they were both 1/4 Finn, would you?" Whereupon I pointed out that if you ignored the coloration, they had identical jawlines, smiles, and noses.

Anyway. I grew up believing that MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech had come true... and was very disappointed when I found out it hadn't. I still prefer having had that revelation late in life because when you believe things as a child, it stays with you... and that's one childhood fantasy worth making reality.

#74 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 12:50 AM:

Lila, #62: Oh, SNAP! Tell your sister to tell her friend that I'm impressed.

Being adopted, I'm not terribly interested in genealogy; I have no idea what my bio-ancestry might be, and my mother's is something I very specifically do not want to know about.* On my father's side, we do have a genealogist, from whom I have found out that apparently my paternal ancestor was the only person with his last name to have immigrated here, so that if you meet anyone who has my birth name, they are related to me by birth or marriage. That's an interesting but not very useful bit of trivia.

All in all, I think I'm happier this way.

* My maternal grandfather was the sheriff of Pulaski County, TN in the 1920s. I really, really don't want to know anything about him or any of his ancestors.

#75 ::: emgrasso ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 01:09 AM:

As far as I can tell I'm not related to anyone you have ever heard of.

My father's family arrived in North America from Italy in the 20th century --specifically from Asti and a village nearby named Portocomaro. Ancestry.com is no help whatsoever when it comes to tracking Italian peasants.

My mother's family were French Canadian, and one lineage is traceable back to the 1500's. (They may have been merchants instead of peasants and fishermen. Others, not so much: according to family rumor, there's a matrilineal great-grandfather (or maybe great great) who was born in either Canada or Vermont and made a point of keeping which one ambiguous.

The one helpful thing about my recent ancestors is a tendency toward unusual given names. My father's sister married into a family where all of the men seem to be named Thomas.

#76 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 01:56 AM:

My ancestry is fairly easy to trace back many generations on both sides. I haven't done the work to connect in my Pgreat-Pgrandfather, who wrote a book on heraldry that was still in print last time I looked and not just a POD reprint either; I've got his little book of tracts on matters of interest to those surnamed Whitmore on the table right here. This volume is an interesting example of POD-fail -- there's lots of people offering a POD version of it, but none of them mention that there are two different states of the original 42-copy edition, one with two extra tracts (25 copies), only one of which is mentioned in the Preface, and one without the extras. And none of the offered copies state which version they have. I haven't checked Google Books to see which version they have. That's the side on which I still have a few pieces of silver from his father's wedding in 1832.

My mother's side is the Arnolds, Kents, Thachers and Shermans (yes, WT is also distant, but Roger who signed the Declaration is, I believe, direct). Yeah, I could get into some of those societies if I wanted to. On both sides, I believe.

It's odd growing up mother's maiden names back 3 generations on both sides. It's just part of the background, for me.

#77 ::: TrishB ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 02:26 AM:

It's odd that I know far more about the so-called ethnic parts of my family than I do about the English. Granted, the Italian, and at the time Hungarian names are fairly rare, so a quick search through the Ellis Island database found my forefathers/mothers. It seems that an entire town in Italy came over, and I must be related to everyone with a certain 2 Italian last names in this country. Same goes for the Hungarian, now dare I say Slovak side. On the other hand, searching for Sullivans and Collins from County Limerick gives no such satisfaction. There were only a few thousands. The Irish census was more satisfactory.

#78 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 02:31 AM:

I do have more ancestors than just the one, of course. I'm about as German as I am Irish, with smatterings of French, a bit of English (and Cornish, if you want to separate the two), a sixteenth Czech, and a sixteenth Native American. But the Irish story is the clear one, suitable for framing (or framing discussions).

And touching on the discussion of "what high school did you go to?", in Scotland that turned out to be code for "Protestant or Catholic?" My answer of "Piedmont High School"* was as mud to the waters.

-----
* ironically, the school thought itself Scottish, with thistle designs on the chairs in the library, a kilted mascot, and a fight song that...no, sorry, I can't go on.

#79 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 03:42 AM:

Never have I been so glad to be English, from England, with ancestors responsible for nothing more than working with their hands all the hours of the day. All that baggage...

Though, of course, the Welsh really have never forgiven us for throwing them out in the 6th century...

#80 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 03:48 AM:

I've started to gloss the "where did your ancestors come from" question with "may I ask where your family is from?"

It seems less awkward, and I've never had it called to my attention as problematic... also, I like that it provides the out to not discuss it at all, which I think is a totally appropriate response to an admittedly nosy question.

#81 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 04:13 AM:

Bill Stewart @ 64
At some point, we worked out that under my maiden name, I was Chosen, a child of light and descended from Mars. I've spent a considerable amount of time attempting to convince the skeptics in my life that this is Clearly Significant.

#82 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 05:04 AM:

Alex @ 79

The Welsh, yeah, some grudges there. Oh, and the Irish. And the Boers. That nice Gandhi fellow, he wasn't too fond of Englishmen for some reason. The Chinese had some kind of problem with Her Majesty's drug dealers, too. It seems the Scottish and French grudges have mostly been forgiven and forgotten, but I'm sure you could find a few die-hards there. Then there are crimes that get blamed on someone else, like the British role in establishing and protecting the triangle trade (to be fair, that's mitigated by their role in ending it as well).

Maybe your particular ancestors were as gentle as lambs. (Hopefully so!) But it's not because of their Englishness. No nation in the world can show bloodless hands, but there are plenty who can honestly claim to be better than England.

#83 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 05:14 AM:

@34 Summer Storms: Did you know that Yiddish is, to this day, one of the official languages of Sweden?

Also, before Yiddish became part of the New York dialect and a prominent feature of a certain style of TV comedy, it used to show up in peddlars' cant. If your Swedish Lutheran ancestors were of a social class to mix with tradesmen, market stall keepers, travelling sellers etc, they probably mixed with Jews, or people who knew Jews, and thus picked up smatterings of Yiddish.

#84 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 05:42 AM:

abi @82: "a bit of English (and Cornish, if you want to separate the two)"

I had the interesting experience of living in Cornwall during the last census for which the campaigners failed to get Cornish listed as a valid answer to the nationality question. There was quite a bit of bitter sentiment about that one, and I can only imagine the celebrations when, next time around, they got what they wanted.

#85 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 05:56 AM:

To make the point rather more pointy - I was married to someone of Russian Jewish descent. He grew up in Moscow, and came to the U.S. in 1975, as an adolescent. Having an ear for languages, his English is pretty darned fluent. He's got blue eyes.

I was born here, and so was my paternal grandmother. I learned my English from WASPs (Methodist church ladies who taught my preschool), and so various people here who've met me in person can vouch that my English is pretty much native, too. There are some very, very slight tells, which might well be geek-accent, rather than foreigner accent. (I tend to be less sloppy than my generations-American peers.) But my family's originally from Japan.


Guess which one of us was always taken for "an American" ? Guess which one of us, when asked, "Where are you from?" could get away with "I grew up in L.A.", and not get asked, "NO, where are you *really* from?"

I like to answer that one with, "how well do you know L.A.", just on the off-chance that this is someone who knows the greater L.A. area well enough that they want a specific suburb, rather than "greater metropolitan Los Angeles". Sometimes I'm right, and it's a pleasant thing. Usually, I get somewhere between a bewildered and a very, very cross look, and if I'm feeling charitable, I rescue them with, "did you want to know where my family was originally from?"


And by the way. When my husband revealed that he grew up in Moscow...people say, "you mean, like in Russia? Damn, I'd never have believed that. Really?!"

He doesn't get asked for proof of citizenship. I do. It's racism.

#86 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 05:59 AM:

Serge re: DAR membership: I have no clue, as I don't know what the membership requirements are. (*Goes and checks*) Yes. Rufus Mackintire was a private in the Revolution, ergo I qualify for membership.

But I'm also descended from Loyalists who were running the blockade to supply New York, so...

Xopher: I have Kubals and Macharts and Dloybarts and Ployhars and Valeks and a bunch of others, but no Balouns. This makes me sad.

#87 ::: Harry Payne ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 06:04 AM:

"Except it’s not, because the grudges against earlier bullies never really go away either. Ask the Irish about the English sometime."

Two points:

1. I've found that asking the Irish about the English generally results in not much more than a "well, you know...". Asking American Irish, or London Irish, on the other hand...

2. As an English kid growing up in South Cork in the late 60s / early 70s, I never had any trouble except for one isolated incident after a particularly unfortunate event in the North. While finishing my education in England in the mid-70s, I was "toughed up" on a regular basis for being a "bog-wog". They knew I was English-born, but didn't care.

#88 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 06:28 AM:

My great-aunt Margaret, (my father's father's sister) who did the research 'way, 'way back when you had to inspect baptismal registers in little country churches, established to her satisfaction that we were descended on her mother's side from Gruffydd ap Llewyllyn and on her father's from the monks of Margam Abbey.

A likely story, my mother used to sniff. They were just another shower of Morganwgs, and no credit even to that degraded branch of the Cymri. Now, she, on the other hand, was from Myntwrog, hard by Harlech Castle. That's where proper Welsh people come from.

Of course, those who live out by Criccieth, on the Lleyn Peninsula, are certain that the Merionethshire crowd are no better than they ought to be, and about as Welsh as Shropshire, anyway.

Hey-ho.

#89 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 08:59 AM:

Some days I'm so glad I'm adopted I can't say.

#90 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 09:22 AM:

Dave Luckett @ 88... A likely story, my mother used to sniff. They were just another shower of Morganwgs, and no credit even to that degraded branch of the Cymri. Now, she, on the other hand, was from Myntwrog, hard by Harlech Castle.

And he who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the holy grail in the Castle of Aaauuuggghhh...

#91 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 09:33 AM:

individ-ewe-al @ #83:

Yiddish is also joined by Romani Chib, Finnish, Sami and Meänkieli (Tornedal Finnish) and "not obviously an official language of Sweden".

There's some Swedish derived from (at least) Finnish and Romani, although some of it is probably classed as slang rather than "proper" Swedish (although "pojke", from the Finnish poika and tjej, from Romani's chai, can both be considered "proper" by now).

#92 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 10:06 AM:

Mark #69: You'd get "It's an Italian surname. However, in my case, my father made it up."

You have to understand that I've had decades worth of people making similar comments about my name. I've also had it misspelled in quite a few creative ways, which is why all my academic publications are as F.S.J. Ledgister (and why I took my doctorate under my initials rather than my name).

#93 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 10:36 AM:

Tangential to the "where are you from" (and variants) discussion, does anyone besides me get the sense that that's a really impertinent question to be asking a stranger? I know there's a lot of variation in how much personal information people seem to feel entitled to request of a new acquaintance, so maybe that's just me.

I do suspect, however, that certain categories of people (including pregnant women) are somehow regarded as part of the day's entertainment for all passersby, and expected to answer any damn thing anyone asks. Not to mention being expected to allow total strangers to grope them.

(Why yes, I am still pissed as hell by that tendency, 18+ years after my last pregnancy--but I value it as giving me some insight into what less privileged people go through lifelong, e.g. "can I touch your hair" or "say something in sign language!")

#94 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 10:40 AM:

Fragano, Mark:

Commenting on anything comment-worthy about someone's name is likely to have this effect -- they will have heard it before, many, many times.

Umberto Eco wrote a nice essay about this phenomenon (in his collection 'How to travel with a salmon')

#95 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 10:51 AM:

Lila, it is impertinent... but it works to start a conversation if you don't screw it up. Not a spectacular conversation, usually, but it does get people talking.

#96 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:09 AM:

My parents, and Debbie's parents, are both mixed marriages: Litvak and Galitzianer.

#97 ::: bentley ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:12 AM:

My accent is pretty much unplaceable and for a long time tended to drift every three years or so, so I'm used to the question, "Where are you from?" I know that 90% of the time what they really mean is, where my accent is from, so, after double-checking the real question, I ask them where they think it's from.* Then I give them my standard short, non-specific, answer ("Growing up with three languages in three countries and three states, plus lots of BBC"), they laugh at the BBC part, and we're done.

*Over three decades and several accent drifts, guesses have included Russian, Polish, German, South African, British, Scottish, Irish, Colombian, Quebecois, Amish, and Deaf.

#98 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:21 AM:

Lila, #93: Yes, I do think it's rather nosy under many circumstances. The thing that's most likely to trigger me asking is hearing an unusual accent, and including some variation of "If you don't mind my asking" in my query is reflex. Asking about ethnicity would be put off until I knew the person better, or it became germane to the conversation.

The pregnancy thing absolutely outrages me, and I've never been pregnant! I probably would have gotten myself into a lot of trouble by smacking impertinent hands and/or shouting "Get your goddamn hands OFF me!" in public places.

#100 ::: bentley ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:23 AM:

(The Deaf guess came from a small group of people whom I'd met for a couple of hours. After I left, they tried to figure out my accent and Deaf was the closest they came to a consensus. I became friends with all of them soon after and I heard about that conversation years later.)

#101 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:34 AM:

Lila @ 93: No, you're not the only one. It's nosy as hell to prod further than the hometown/state level (or Lee @ 98's asking about accent, but that still needs to be handled with extreme care). It also usually comes across as really rude for reasons Trinker @ 85 went over.

Regardless of the intent of the asker, the assumption that it's okay to ask people of colour about their ancestry if you just ask in the 'right' way ties into their existing marginalization and othering by the dominant culture. I see no right way to ask; better off to realize it's not actually any of your business and to keep your curiosity to yourself unless and until ancestry comes up in conversation.

#102 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 01:12 PM:

((a new personal record for comment hooks!))

For reference, I'm typical American-Ashkenazic Jewish, descended from people who immigrated in the late 19th century, so there's a wide range of countries a generation or two before that. Two of my grandparents were born in America, two were brought as infants.

Constance @ 50 I once had a conversationally graceful opportunity to ask John Guidry about his family. His grandmother is a "Founder of New Orleans" . . . I mentally counted on my fingers and said, "That trumps the D.A.R." He answered, "Oh, she's that, too."
I'm startled to find that several fans I know are (or qualify for) D.A.R. The situation that taxes my imagination the most is the descendant of an indentured servant on the Mayflower.

Mark @ 69 re Fragano @ 37 A place I run into the most very recent immigrants is the clerks in the supermarket, who wear name tags. I pretty regularly ask, "I've never met a [whatever] before. Where is it from?" My curiosity is honest and non-hostile, and I usually get a very positive response.

individ-ewe-al @ 83 To this day, in the vicinity of the former outdoor Maxwell Street Market in Chicago, there are a few blacks(*) who speak fluent Yiddish.
(* I don't use seven syllables when one will do.)

Lila @ 93 The other place I encounter the most recent immigrants is as cab drivers. I can guess the nationality of a cab driver pretty accurately unless (a) his name is Mohammed or (b) he's an African who's not Nigerian. It's also become a conversation starter, and though one is generally courteous to a customer, I get into some nice conversations.


Finally, there is a cultural attitude which is remarkably consistent across otherwise diverse regions. The English partitions of Ireland, Cyprus, Palestine, and India left remarkably similar feelings among the informed (i.e., privileging fact at least as much as myth or prejudice) populations of each.
I can see both the humor and the pathos in translating I.R.A. jokes to P.L.O. jokes so easily.

#103 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 01:34 PM:

I've been known to ask "You have an interesting accent—where did you grow up?" Of course the canonical response to that is "I don't have an accent, I talk regular!"

abi 78: a bit of English (and Cornish, if you want to separate the two)

If only we could! Alas, that ship has sunk long since (the language, at least, which as far as I know has no native speakers, unlike the other five main Celtic languages).

alex 79: Though, of course, the Welsh really have never forgiven us for throwing them out in the 6th century...

Not to mention stealing their Prince's title for your royal heir. I can barely forgive that myself, and all my Celtic ancestry is Goidelic.

Devin 82: It seems the Scottish...grudges have mostly been forgiven and forgotten, but I'm sure you could find a few die-hards there.

Including some who aren't Scottish at all. "The English steel we could disdain/Secure in battle stations/But English gold has been our bane/Such a parcel of rogues in a nation" echoes in my brain whenever this subject comes up...as does the fact that there are toxic waste dumps in Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall-that-was, but none in England proper.

Renee 86: I think Baloun is a German name (it's German for "balloon"), but I don't know how far back. Lots of borders changing back and forth in those parts.

Neil 102: I'm typical American-Ashkenazic Jewish...I don't use seven syllables when one will do.

So you're a EuroJew? (There's a one-syllable word, but my point is humor, not insult, and I won't let it pass my lips. Or keyboard.)

#104 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 01:35 PM:

Summer Storm @ 34

I use "oy" and its more emphatic variations, and have gotten the occasional, "I didn't know you were Jewish." I cannot begin to express my extreme crogglement at the cognitive dissonance of that statement.

*sigh* So I ask, "I didn't realize marvelously descriptive words were limited to their culture of origin." Most people realize how utterly stupid they sound. Most. It's a start.

It does show how deeply cultural biases sink in, and how little we think about them until we, and I count myself in that, have our jaws smacked, thus causing us to bite our own foot.

(returning now to our regularly scheduled reading of the thread)

#105 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 01:46 PM:

Renatus @101: Regardless of the intent of the asker, the assumption that it's okay to ask people of colour about their ancestry if you just ask in the 'right' way ties into their existing marginalization and othering by the dominant culture. I see no right way to ask; better off to realize it's not actually any of your business and to keep your curiosity to yourself unless and until ancestry comes up in conversation.

This is where I stand on the whole thing. I put it in the same category as such personal questions as "Did you vote for X?" and "Do you have a boyfriend?" and "What did you score on the test?" If it's relevant to the conversation, I may hope to elicit such information by volunteering my own personal information. My conversation partner may choose to respond in kind, or not, but I've no right to grill anyone. Even "may I ask" and "if you don't mind" still put the person asked on the spot for telling someone to mind their own business.

#106 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 01:52 PM:

Neil@102 - My mom could have joined the DAR except for the problem that they were right-wing crazies, so she only did Mayflower Society. After my parents retired, they spent a while driving around upstate New York checking out county courthouses and libraries for records - all the counties got realigned some time in the 1880s, IIRC, and there was one relevant courthouse that had burned down, so it took them a while to find some of the people.

#107 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 01:56 PM:

I will occasionally ask people what language they're speaking, if it's not one I can identify. Most recent I recall, they said "Touareg -- do you know where that's from?" They seemed surprised that I'd know it was a language of nomadic tribes from the Arabic peninsula....

Small cheat on accents -- if you're not sure if someone is Australian or NZ, always say NZ, because Australians are much less likely to be insulted if you think their from NZ than vice versa.

#108 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 01:59 PM:

Bill Stewart @ 106... My mom could have joined the DAR except for the problem that they were right-wing crazies

My wife just told me that she could have been a Daughter of the Revolution and a Daughter of the Confederacy, had she so desired. She did not so desire for some strange reason that might have to do with her politics.

#109 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 02:02 PM:

106
It happened often enough back then (because of heating with wood or coal stoves, IIRC) that I've been known to refer to 'courthouse arsonists' who always get the one you want shortly after the date you're looking for.

#110 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 02:28 PM:

Tom Whitmore #107: "Most recent I recall, they said "Touareg -- do you know where that's from?" They seemed surprised that I'd know it was a language of nomadic tribes from the Arabic peninsula...."

Especially since it's spoken in Algeria and Mali, neither of which is anywhere near the Arabian Peninsula.

#111 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 02:33 PM:

Xopher, 103: ObPedantically, it's "valour's station."

#112 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 02:39 PM:

TexAnne, I guess I was ObMondegreening it!

#113 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 02:50 PM:

re rude personal questions: I get one, every so often, which boggles.

"Have you killed anyone?"

The more appalling variants I leave to your imaginations.

The most polite reply I can make is, "That's none of your business".

I confess to saying that in a tone which implies that if they push, one more will be added to any present count I might be keeping.

#114 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 03:29 PM:

Gah. I would be very tempted to respond to that with a growl and a hint that the n for that population might be about to go up by 1.

I have been fortunate in that I do not get asked rude questions often - but if someone implies that I have either lied or been dishonorable, I am known for being Distinctly Unamused. At volume.

#115 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 03:41 PM:

BTW, speaking of my own privileged position--I qualify for the DAR, but follow my mother's lead--when they wouldn't let Marian Anderson sing at Constitution Hall, she was permanently through with them. Now there's an ancestry I'm proud of.

#116 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 03:49 PM:

Terry @ 113: At least you have the wherewithal to tell such people to stick it in their ear. I keep getting stampeded into *answering* these things. My students are frequently guilty of demanding each other's test scores; the social taboo against telling someone to their face to MYOB is apparently strong enough that, even when I intervene, the student asked will usually still cough up private data.

Miss Manners' official correct response is to answer some other question than the one asked, one that would have been appropriate. E.g., people announcing an engagement to be married who are quizzed about their plans for children should go on instead about deciding on a venue for the wedding. Me, I never have that much sheer presence of mind.

#117 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 04:04 PM:

individ-ewe-al @ 83: Did you know that Yiddish is, to this day, one of the official languages of Sweden?

It's an official minority language. Swedish is, since 2009, that country's official language. Before then it was just the default, and there was a nice trick question to put in a quiz: "Which is the only country to have Swedish as an official language?" The answer: Finland.


Bill Stewart @ 64: ostensibly the Scandinaviann branch of my family are also descended from Thor and Odin

Cool! We're related! Well, if I'm to believe my ancestry goes back to King Harald Fairhair and his ancestry goes back to Odin and the lot...

The question of where I'm from is easily answered - I'm a local guy. There's a few outsiders here and there in the family tree, but most of my ancestors had sort of congregated on the island of Karmøy and the nearby mainland by the year 1600.

#118 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Xopher: I now have an image of your ancestors being intrepid aeronauts, in a race for fame against the Montgolfier brothers...

#119 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 04:43 PM:

Xopher@103: as does the fact that there are toxic waste dumps in Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall-that-was, but none in England proper.

Umm... what definition of toxic waste is being used here? (Toxic can't mean 'nuclear' here, as there's the LLW repository at Drigg in Cumbria in England...)

#120 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 04:47 PM:

116
I think that a lot of people are somehow not even aware that there is such a thing as 'private information'.
I hear way more stuff, commuting, than I really want to know about my fellow commuters and their families and friends (and sometimes the families of their friends).

#121 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 04:49 PM:

I get asked about my accent occasionally, as nobody can figure it out. That comes of overlaying Long Island (NY) and Boston over two or three speech impediments! (Hard-of-hearing, autistic spectrum, and a "family" one (from Dad's mother) which may in actually be the autistic impediment.

#122 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 05:08 PM:

Steve, 1) I meant conventional poisonous stuff and 2) it occurs to me I heard that a while ago. Also, 3) I have no idea where Cumbria is.

#123 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 05:20 PM:

Steve @ 119: I am an awful, evil person who is going to Hell, as proven by the fact that my knee-jerk response to your query included the word 'chavs'.

#124 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 05:44 PM:

You gotta watch that ethnic blood. It makes you have dangerous ideas. The highly learned and intellectualish Newn Gingrich announced that President Obama is governing based on Kenyan anti-colonial worldview.

Because, you know, Obama's father was a Kenyan, and that kind of inheritance is so powerful it made the president a devotee of Kenyan anti-colonialism despite being both in Hawaii and being raised by white midwesterners.

Now I'm afraid I'll have a compulsion to dig coal and spell things oodly, because my father's side of the family is Welsch.

#125 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 06:20 PM:

Xopher@122: I fear that whoever told you this little factoid was, unfortunately, indulging in a little anti-English racism, which is no nicer than any other kind... Seriously: if people want to dislike us, we can offer plenty of well-documented historical reasons for doing so. There's no need for anyone to make stuff up. ;-)

(At 32 you used 'Anglo-Irish' for Irish-living-in-England; I'd only ever seen it used to mean Protestant Ascendancy living in pre-partition Ireland, but I see it's used widely elseweb in the other sense too... never noticed that before.)

#126 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 07:08 PM:

TexAnne, #36, a much less offensive event that's similar -- I was at a con and someone I know only online came in and just inside the door asked me what color I used on my hair. I told her it was natural and she said "No, really, what color is that?" I went over and bent my head to her and said "Look how wonderful my hairdresser is -- she's put all those little silver hairs in the front!" I think she still thought it was artificial for a while.

Fragano Ledgister, #37, In A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School by Carlotta Walls Lanier with Lisa Frazier Page, Carlotta talks about her first year where a lot of people wanted to touch her and her hair. Some of them thought her skin and hair weren't even the same as white folks' skin and hair.

My paternal ancestors are Coast Guard/Navy and my maternal ancestors are farmers/teachers. One of my great-uncles, more than 20 years ago, made a track back to the first Layman in the US, who was Frederick Layman, a Prussian fighting for England in the Revolution. The other thing I thought important enough to remember is that we had people on both sides of the Civil War. I just don't care much about the rest of it.

#127 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 07:37 PM:

Marilee #126: My father, on his first trip to meet my mother's family in Spain, in 1959, encountered people who came up to him to touch him. They wanted to find out if the black would rub off. Nobody looking like him had ever been seen in the village in living memory.

#128 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 08:07 PM:

I ask about people's background and heritage all the time. I try to be polite about it. It's not that I mind being asked about my own ethnic background, it's the very, very strong subtext of "because it's not *American*" that accompanies it.

The confusion of ethnicity and nationality appears to be pretty common globally, though. I've gotten it from francophone Belgians, among others. (They really should have known better, but being told I was Japanese to the point that I was physically brandishing my U.S. passport is not a conversational success on either side.) People reducing Americanness to white (normal), black (oppressed) or Native American (vanquished), with everyone else as newcomers, irks me greatly. My ancestors were a vital part of the building and history of the U.S., too!

Neil @ 102 - I'd appreciate it greatly if you'd use the three syllable version of my ethnic heritage label rather than the one syllable one, thanks. I'm just *barely* willing to have that discussion with Aussies, but I'm damned if I'm going to have it with a Chicagoan. (There are better reasons to use "black" than the one you gave.)

#129 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 08:22 PM:

Terry Karney @ 70: "Reads to me (still) as if the second question is, in your experience, just clumsy, when debcha, and I, have both seemed to not encounter it that way."

What does anything you wrote @ 45 speak to the question of whether this conversational pattern is clumsy or evidence of profound disbelief? Furthermore, how does debcha and her Asian-American dinner partner's familiarity with this pattern speak to the question of whether it is clumsy or disbelieving? Frequency doesn't imply either interpretation.

"I do know about context (when I was in college journalism, "where are you from" meant, "what's your paper/school"), and I;m used to seeing that get misparsed, but the clarifications are pretty simple."

Clarification is easy with a moment's thought: people have suggested several alternatives that are clear and uninsulting. But the number of different suggestions shows, I think, that there isn't a standard form for that inquiry. On the other hand, "Where are you from" is the second standard getting-to-know-you question, and "No really" is the standard I-didn't-get-the-answer-I-wanted response, and I think thoughtlessness is at least as good an explanation as a conviction of brown-skinned people's fundamental unAmerican-ness for their use.

#130 ::: pronetolaughter ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 09:06 PM:

[occasional lurker, very rare poster, chiming in. Abi, I really enjoyed this post.]

heresiarch#129: On the other hand, "Where are you from" is the second standard getting-to-know-you question, and "No really" is the standard I-didn't-get-the-answer-I-wanted response

I quibble....I would think "No, I meant..." is the standard not-what-I-was-looking-for response. Small difference, but putting the onus on my mistake, not your untruth, and "I meant" connotes fumbling for words, having misspoke.

But that's moot, because people aren't really asking "where are you from?" They are asking "what's your ethnicity?" And that is *only* a standard getting-to-know-you question for non-white people.

a conviction of brown-skinned people's fundamental unAmerican-ness

Except, if people are expecting to hear that you are from a different country, how can that *not* be a belief that you aren't American? Honest question---I don't know how else to read such an expectation.

#131 ::: pronetolaughter ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 09:35 PM:

Whoops, I contradict myself, moving between taking "where are you from" at face value and not. Let me rephrase: if I don't take "where are you from" literally, it's a pushy question about heritage, not standard chit-chat; if I do take it literally, but people expect to hear another country for the answer, it's an assumption of non-Americanness. Heresiarch@129 seems to want to have it both ways at once, neither pushy nor judgmental. I'm unable to follow how that can be.

#132 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 09:48 PM:

Heresiarch - is your point, "...but it's not malicous, it's just clumsiness!" ?

Yes, it's clumsy. No, there's no malicious intent. But what there is, is an unexamined assumption about who is an American. It's a diffuse conspiracy with no defined head.

These people don't ask, "no, where are you really from?" to whites, asking them to pinpoint their European origins. They only ask this of non-whites. Clumsily.

I have discovered over the years that a startling number of Americans really have an abysmal ignorance about some very basic points of civic knowledge, and that many of them are unaware that the law of the land in the U.S. is jus soli, with jus sanguinis for those born extraterritorially. Most assume that we're purely jus sanguinis (although they don't know the term.)

I've also encountered a peculiar sort of illogical racism - people who hold that an American is a person of mixed heritage, but at the same time, hold that "races" shouldn't mix. So in their minds, Americans have mixed English/German/Swedish/Irish/French heritage, but non-whites shouldn't marry whites. Boggling.

#133 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 10:34 PM:

heresiarch: If I am asked, "Where are you from?", and someone, when told, "Los Angeles" asks me, "No, where are you really from.?" I will assume they think I've lied to them.

I don't assume they are asking after my ancestors place of origin. They didn't ask that. If they meant to ask that the first time, it has been my experience they say that.

If they have some other reason for being surprised at my answer (if I've been with non-native speakers I tend to have a decided shift in accent), they have always said something to the effect of, "Really? because the way you speak, etc. made me thing you might be from some Europe somewhere."

I have never had the, "No really" response, without further explanation/justification.

I have, however seen "No really..." be effectively (and sometimes blatantly) "no, you weren't born here". I recall someone, on being told, "I am from Los Angeles," get, "Yes, but where were you born,". Upon getting the answer, "Our Lady, Queen of the Angels" [a local hospital], "Is that in Mexico?". I have only seen this sort of thing done to people who aren't white.

The tone of voice, in the word, "really" is the tip off.

Marilee: I have been accused of dying my hair. One woman insisted, at length, that I must (her questions started as, "May I ask a personal question? Why do you dye your hair."

It wasn't until she refusedseveral offers to go to someplace a bit less open than the greensward we were on, and show her that all the hair on my body was red, that she stopped insisting on my dying it.

While making it plain she thought I did.

#134 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:00 PM:

Trinker@132: It's a diffuse conspiracy with no defined head.

White privilege, innit.

It's difficult to talk about 'cos it gets people's backs up something fierce, show 'em a privilege checklist and they will not as a rule be all "Hmm, maybe you have a point there". I'm trying to work up something about Japanese male privilege as an illustration - *some* Japanese guys here get all the power on a formal level, but when you look at the social and psychological price the society (and the men in particular) pay overall you *really* wouldn't want any.

#135 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:13 PM:

Adrian @ 134 -

You're right about the "white privilege".
I've stopped using the phrase, as it nets me no fish.

I'm glad that the respondents at Making Light are sufficiently civilized, so that I'm not getting the usual, "but people in Japan..." rejoinder.

#136 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:30 PM:

I'm oftenasked where I'm from, but I don't mind because my answer usually nets me a compliment about my accent. :-)

#137 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:39 PM:

As far as I know, I'm one-quarter Romanian Jewish -- but probably really Russian Jewish, because there's a family legend about my great-grandfather swimming a river to get out of being drafted by the Tsar's army -- one quarter Lithuanian Jewish [and probably the same caveat there!], one-quarter Northumbrian, and one-quarter Alsatian. Actually I suspect the Northumbrian and Alsatian bits are just a mixed lot of general American-English-Scottish-Irish-and-maybe-Germans. The shorter version of all this is "half Jewish, half redneck." I was asked once if I was "a guinea." Since I had no idea (at the time) what that meant, I think I just stared at the person.

#138 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:48 PM:

Tehanu, 137: Guinea, indeed! You're a sovereign at the very least.

#139 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 11:53 PM:

Trinker @ 132: "is your point, "...but it's not malicous, it's just clumsiness!" ?"

My point is that someone asking "No really, where are you from?" doesn't necessarily imply that the person asking that question is under the impression that the other person is a foreign national. It could also be that they think "where are you from?" means "tell me what I want to know about your background; in the case of you brown-skinned person, your ethnic heritage." I'm not even arguing that the second case doesn't involve racism or insult, because it obviously does. All I'm arguing against is the idea that this phenomenon is concrete, unassailable evidence of the belief that only white-skinned people can really be American.

I am emphasizing this perhaps minor point because a lot of people on this thread seem to be arguing "There are lots of crazy racist people in the US; see this stupid racist question that is evidence that plenitudes of people don't even think that non-white people can really be citizens." I do not think that is true: I think that the most prevalent kind of racism in the US doesn't deny that non-whites can be citizens*, but insists that non-white citizens must be marked citizens, when non-white citizens don't have to be. They therefore assume that the country-of-origin of minority Americans ought to be as prominent in the minds of those minorities as it is in their own, and thus when they ask "Where are you from?" it ought to be patently obvious what they mean. This is a classic example of white privilege even without the intention to deny brown people American citizenship.

Honestly, I'm very tired of this topic. What I'd really like to know, and have non-white commenters share their opinion on, is if asking about heritage/ethnicity/ancestry whatever is necessarily rude like Renatus argues @ 101, or if it can be asked in a socially acceptable manner and just rarely is.

* Though obviously there are those who do believe that.

#140 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:03 AM:

Eek. Apologies for disappearing after bringing up the "Where are you really from?" question.

heresiarch, it's clear from your most recent post that we are fundamentally on the same page: that being non-white isn't always about being non-American, but it's certainly always about being a marked American. And the lines between the two can get awfully blurry.

It's actually kind of fun to get asked those questions when I'm traveling:

"Where are you from?"

"Cambridge, Massachusetts."

"No, where are you really from?"

"Toronto, Canada."

Worth it just for the look on their faces as they struggle to figure out how to ask what they really want to know.

#141 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:06 AM:

Lin D (#104): I use "oy" and its more emphatic variations, and have gotten the occasional, "I didn't know you were Jewish."

I made and brought a loaf of challah to a meeting once when I was in grad school, and was asked if I was Jewish (I am of South Asian descent).

I had to resist the urge to say that I was from the really, really lost tribe of Israel.

(And yes, I know that there are Jewish communities in India. Not sure they eat challah, though!)

#142 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:09 AM:

I'm adopted. So no one in my family looks like one another.

Then i went to ireland when we were on our way to the Glasgow Worldcon. For the first time in my life I saw people with my face. It was pretty weird and wonderful. And very affirming.

#143 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:33 AM:

Re: the comment I've seen in a few places, that "white people don't get asked this question." Just to add a data point, my background is (visibly) Generic European Mutt, and I get asked fairly frequently because my accent is ... somehow nonstandard, I'm not sure. I was born and reared in Northern California (and have lived here all my life), so I'm pretty confused by all the confusion over where I'm from. I've spent quite a bit of time learning to blend that out, with mixed results...

For that matter, I've had most of my detailed discussions about various ancestries with various of my caucasian friends, who tend (yes, admittedly, from a position of privilige) to think it's just an interesting topic... and my grandmother used to be able to walk into any room and find the one other person interested in genealogy who also had ties to her hometown.

I see how it can be a way to make people aware of their otherness. But I've also seen it used to include people -- to find connections and similarities and to explore interesting differences in a supportive, friendly, genuinely interested way.

#144 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:40 AM:

Terry, #133: Heh. I'd have taken you up on that offer in a heartbeat. (Of course, you wouldn't have had occasion to make it to me.)

#145 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:50 AM:

Tehanu, #137: "Guinea" is an outdated and (I think) somewhat regional slur for an Italian. The back of my brain is saying Northeastern US, but don't quote me on that without checking.

heresiarch, #139: My personal opinion that it can be asked in a non-rude way, but not of someone you've only just met. It's the sort of thing that might come up after you've been hanging out with a person for a while. But I'm white, and will happily defer to the opinions of those of color whose experiences differ from mine.

debcha, #141: ...from the really, really lost tribe of Israel

I'd have paid money to be there if you'd said that, just to watch the reaction.

#146 ::: Nicole Fitzhugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:03 AM:

WRT Paula's post @ 142--

I also got to see people who looked like me in Ireland when I did Junior Year Abroad in college. When I borrowed a friend's jacket, I even got asked for directions by people who were very surprised when I answered in an American accent.

I felt the irony deeply because I look much more like my Lebanese mother than my Scotch-Irish father! Also, because I was raised Catholic, I had a more-than-passing familiarity with many customs and references, and was often painted with the "Americans all think Ireland has leprechauns" brush. But my Catholicism came from my Maronite Christian Lebanese family, and when I was asked where my Irish roots were from, I had to grit my teeth and say "Ulster." (The Scottish Plantation. Yay King James, nice going.) I guess the moral is to make no assumptions.

#147 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:17 AM:

Heresiarch -

As I Said = I ask about people's background and heritage all the time. I try to be polite about it. It's not that I mind being asked about my own ethnic background, it's the very, very strong subtext of "because it's not *American*" that accompanies it.

Others have suggested possible better phrasings, too. It's the "Go Back To Where You Came From!" that it echoes (however unintentionally) that makes it sting.

And...There's a vast difference between wanting to discuss genealogy - a desire to find *connection*, and the desire to validate a sense of Otherness.

Many people do indeed feel that only whites are American. They may grudgingly include blacks, but they very rarely talk about race relations in the U.S. as having other components. They may not even be aware of their assumptions. They're shown in rather stark relief by the phrasings they choose.

Are you interested in hearing my observations, and debcha's and the observations of people like Terry who've been watching and taking it in? Or are you more interested in blowing sunshine at me?

#148 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:19 AM:

KayTei @ 143 -

You don't get asked, "No, where are you *really* from?" do you?

You get asked, "Where are you from?" and if you answer wrong, they mention your accent?

#149 ::: Nancy ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:23 AM:

My dad has lived in Australia for about 35 years, but still has a US accent. When he is asked where he is from, he generally responds with the name of the suburb where he lives. The follow-up to that is pretty much always some variant of "where are you really from?"

#150 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:23 AM:

I don't know much about my ancestors, but I know that my great-grandparents were born in at least six different places that are geographically quite distant from each other (at least by the standards of the time when my great-grandparents were born) and from everywhere I've lived. Sometimes I think that one of the biggest divides when it comes to ancestry might be between people who are like me in that regard, and people who can trace most or all of their ancestors for centuries to a few towns and villages very close to the place where they were born. There are probably some aspects of the outlook of someone who grew up with that knowledge that are very difficult to imagine for me.

Stefan Jones @124, one of my great-grandfathers was a longshoreman. Hmm, if I'm genetically one-eight longshoreman, does that mean that on average, one in sixteen words I say should be a swear word?

Marilee @126, I knew someone in school who has exactly the shade of blond usually associated with hydrogen peroxide as her natural hair color.

#151 ::: pronetolaughter ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:30 AM:

heresiarch@139: I don't think it's always necessarily rude to ask "where is your family from?" "where is your name from?" "where is your accent from?" or even "what's your heritage?" I ask other people all the time, though I rarely ask unaccented white people. I think it's natural to wonder---humans classify, it's a hard habit to break, and indeed, a useful one. But it's not an entry-level question like "where did you grow up" (the usual meaning of "where are you from")---when I've asked people I just met, the topic has already come up, eg, they've referred to immigrant parents, etc. If I'm really just being nosy (and sometimes I am), I try to show both knowledge and lack thereof---"your name sounds Eastern European but I don't know enough to recognize the country?" I also assume I have a little more leeway to ask roll-your-eyes questions, to be honest.

"Where are you *really* from?", I suspect, is largely the burden of Asian-Americans; people of ambiguous ethnicity get "what are you?" rather more often. It's no better.

What does make me pretty furious---people who are interested enough to guess/claim, but too ignorant to actually know. Eg, "Oh, you must be Dominican." And when I say, "no" they say, "are you sure you're not Dominican? I bet there's Dominican in your family somewhere." Aside from the implication that I'm lying/don't know who I am/lack authority over my own life history, note the specificity---there is nothing about me that signifies Dominican any more than Puerto Rican, Brazilian, and a multitude of other heritages, but despite having some sort of stake in believing they know other people's ethnicity, these people are totally ignorant about the varieties of the African diaspora to recognize what they want to know. And frankly, that is not difficult knowledge to acquire, all you have to do is pay a little attention. And these are adults, middle/upper-class, have lived in multiple states---I can only assume they are having similar conversations with more people than just me, but yet, have neglected to educate themselves and still refuse to acknowledge their own lack of expertise.

I do not, however, argue that buying into a default assumption that non-whites are not "really from the US" makes people crazy racists. Unexamined subconscious != crazy racist. I don't think it's too much to expect that the second try at a question does better than the first, but even racist question != crazy racist. But that is an interesting explanation, about equal prominence.

#152 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:46 AM:

pronetolaughter @ 151 -

Did anyone say "crazy racist" ?

If you mean by that what I do by the phrase, crazy racists don't bother with the question. Most people are not crazy racists, they're just participating uncritically in their surrounding culture, which is steeped in the trope I've outlined previously.

You may be right about the "where are you *really* from" being primarily Asian American. I don't have any data on that. What I do know is that my kid brother, who is half Japanese and half Mexican (and with an unusual, hard-to-identify surname), used to get, "what *are* you?" (His standard response was, "I'm human. What are *you*?")

I note that my life has gotten easier since starting to use my husband's surname. It reads as "unidentified non-Mediterranean European" to most people, so I get white privilege by proxy. Useful, but icky.

#153 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:55 AM:

A friend of a friend (of Chinese extraction) was a student at Otago University in Dunedin, NZ. There were many overseas students from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong etc there at the time. She got tired of being asked 'How long have you been in NZ', and started to respond with 'Four generations'.

#154 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 03:07 AM:

Trinker @ 148

Sure, it's happened. For that matter, I've had people look me in the eye and say "But you have to be [something], you don't [talk like whatever they think I should talk like]."

The more subtle inquiries come in the form of a determined effort to figure out where I and my family have lived for the last three generations so that they can try to track my accent that way.

I agree, I think it's different, in that my accent doesn't overlap or worsen my oppressions. It's definitely something I'll be more aware of in future -- this has been an interesting discussion, from that standpoint. I just wonder if it isn't a little more complicated than always being a way to "other" people and put them in their places. In my interactions, it seems to be more the desire to categorize, as mentioned above. I don't "fit" their existing framework, and they can't be comfortable until they can slot me in somewhere that makes sense to them. As soon as we hit that "ah, now I know where to put you in my mental filing cabinets" moment, they visibly relax, and stop pursuing it so obsessively.

#155 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 03:26 AM:

I get the "where are you from?" occasionally - I seem to have acquired a few vowels that make people think I'm Canadian or something (though I'd be more likely to blame Minnesotans and/or the BBC), which have added on to my East Coast generic Midatlantic (the US definition, not the Anglo-American definition...)

I've got a friend whose grandparents moved to the US from Japan, where they were ethnic minorities, IIRC from up north somewhere; there are maybe half a dozen people in the world with her last name. People would occasionally walk up to her on the street and ask directions in Chinese, which she didn't speak. (Her French was fluent, thanks to Illinois public schools; her Japanese was mostly limited to kitchen talk from grandma.)

#156 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 05:03 AM:

Sounds as if your friend might be Ainu:

The Ainu (also called Ezo in historical texts) are the indigenous people or groups in Japan and Russia. Historically they spoke the Ainu language and related varieties and lived in Hokkaidō, the Kuril Islands, and much of Sakhalin. Most of those who identify themselves as Ainu still live in this same region, though the exact number of living Ainu is unknown.

#157 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 05:06 AM:

Qu. Which of the following have you experienced?

a. "Where are you from?"
b. "Where are you really from?"
c. "Your English is really good."
d. All of the above

Ans: d.

Generally, I don't get wound up about it unless I detect malicious intent. And generally, there is no malicious intent, just honest curiosity, clumsily worded. I tend to find that once we're engaged in conversation people are forced to look beyond my features, skin tone or name. It's getting past that first assumption that's the thing.

I have managed to use my distinctiveness to my advantage, and being proactive helps neutralise any negatives. It also helps that I live in a very cosmopolitan city & work in research which also tends to be very cosmopolitan.

#158 ::: Dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 05:10 AM:

Apparently "where are you *really* from?" isn't only a US thing. The other day I was having dinner with some friends who live in Taiwan but were here on business. (Where "here" = Eindhoven, Netherlands.) They brought along a bunch of their online friends, from a travel group. I asked the guy next to me, "So, what are you doing here?" because people usually only come to Eindhoven for business or university, and he responded with the entire story of how his parents had immigrated from Indonesia but he was born here.

I guess he must get asked that question a lot. It was kind of funny to have to explain that I only meant "right here, in this city, right now. Turned out that he'd come by train from Utrecht just meet up with my friends for the dinner anyway!

#159 ::: Mary Margaret ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 05:32 AM:

You hit the nail on the head, Abi. I share your diaspora, and was brought up with tales of it, just as I tell those tales of hardship and injustice to my children. And if you say "English" in the same sentence as "Irish" (or worse, "Orange") I can feel anger and resentment and frustration--even through I grew up in a Canada where no one seemed to remember the days when "Irish" was an epithet. But my mother remembered her mother telling her tales that HER mother told her. And my long-dead grandfather is spinning madly in his grave because my Australian husband is mostly English in his distant ancestry.

I know it's silly, and I hope I don't really mind the English, but it amazes me how easily I internalized the results of bullying that took place before I was born.

#160 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 06:00 AM:

My wife (entirely Irish for practical purposes) was raised in the United States but has lived in England for nearly 40 years. And she is always getting asked suspiciously about her background on the basis of her accent. I can't hear what's odd about it myself - too used to it, and it sounds standard BBC to me - but clearly it doesn't fit the preconceptions of people who care about this stuff.

I have noticed that almost as soon as she's through customs in Dublin she slips into a Dublin accent, and after a week or so in the US she was standard American for a month.

#161 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 07:23 AM:

Carol Kimball at #72 writes:

> [...] where people condescendingly would say, "Your English is really good."

To my shame I've been on the wrong side of that. On the night I met my ethnically-Chinese-but-Australian-born girlfriend-to-be we were supposed to be having dinner with a friend of a friend, just arrived from Shanghai, and I assumed that was who I was talking to.

She's never let me forget it either.

#162 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 07:33 AM:

Tom Whitmore at #107 writes:

> Small cheat on accents -- if you're not sure if someone is Australian or NZ, always say NZ, because Australians are much less likely to be insulted if you think their from NZ than vice versa.

Same rule for Americans and Canadians. But it's easy to spot Kiwis - they talk funny.

#163 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 07:55 AM:

My cousins got the "faces like mine" thing when they visited India, to the startled enlightenment of their mother. Their father's an immigrant from India. (Ironically, he's since been bleached by vitiligo, and can no longer pass for native when visiting family there.)

#164 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 07:55 AM:

Three friends - one of them a mailman from Africa - are having an argument that becomes more and more hated.

"Why don't you go back where you come from?!"
"Tanzania?"
'No! The Post Office!"

(1975's Canadian series King of Kensington")

#165 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 09:22 AM:

Trinker @ 152, pronetolaughter was using heresiarch @ 139's words, I am emphasizing this perhaps minor point because a lot of people on this thread seem to be arguing "There are lots of crazy racist people in the US; see this stupid racist question that is evidence that plenitudes of people don't even think that non-white people can really be citizens." -- to which I can only say, "What."

Heresiarch, it's institutionalized racism: it's a thing none of us can get away from 'cause we've all been swimming in it since birth, and like it or not it informs the assumptions and perceptions of every last one of us (yes, me too!). However, we can be aware of it and correct for it -- which includes being sensitive to the idea that maaaybe asking people of colour where they're 'really' from or bringing up their ethnicity upon meeting or short acquaintence of them is rude due to how that institutionalized racism already affects their day-to-day lives. It does not require any harmful intent of the asker for it to be rude.

Pointing this out does not equal waving a pointing finger about wildly and shouting "OMG RACIST."

#166 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 09:50 AM:

I do get a certain amount of questioning about my background, mostly I'm reasonably sure because of my accent.

I was born in Indiana, we lived there until I was 6, then moved to Minnesota. (Well, we spent the 1958-59 and 1966-67 academic years in Zurich, but that's probably not what causes people to ask.)

My mother is a native Californian (I don't know much about her family beyond her parents and sister, the ones I've met).

My father was born in England; his parents moved the family to the Vancouver area after WWI, and then his mother moved to California, and Germany (before WWII; my father was in highschool there), and back to California. And then my father did his PhD at Harvard, which has something of its own regional accent.

So I'm reasonably certain it's bits of accent learned from my father that cause people to ask.

I'm not very good with accents; growing up in a college town, and not listening to radio or having a TV until I was 8 or some such, I just didn't get the idea that people talked alike. What I heard was that people talked somewhat differently. And as a young child I didn't always know where people came from (or perhaps heard the college they worked at previously rather than where they learned to speak), so I didn't establish a clear correlation between locations and ways of speaking (except for England, where I'd visited relatives and friends a few times by then).

#167 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 10:08 AM:

Tehanu @ 137 -- By ancestry, AFAIK, I'm half Lithuanian, a quarter Ukrainian, one-eighth Dutch, and the rest I don't know. Pretty much all Jewish. And family legend is that one of my Lithuanian great-grandfathers hiked over mountains after defecting from the army of the Tsar.

I've occasionally been asked where I'm from, while visiting the U.S., usually based on my accent. (Which can be slightly fluid, based on what I've been hearing recently.) When I'm at home, I'm occasionally asked about my ancestry, based on my name.

#168 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 10:11 AM:

Let's see: scots-english, german-jewish, czech-german-nazi (not exactly an ethnic group, but there were some party members on that side of the family).

But what I wanted to comment on is the whole thing about white privilege in forgetting about all these divisions and the rotten treatment that many immigrants suffered. Perhaps the sign of true assimilation isn't when you start doing it to the next group, but when you start denying you ever did it...

And at the same time, the stuff that everyone else has forgotten doing to your group stays fresh in memory (e.g. the secret shame of my grandfather being baptized as a lutheran 130 years ago).

#169 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 10:21 AM:

The beautiful thing about Maine is that, when asked where I am from, I can simply reply, "Away," and that's all most people care to know.

(If the questioner looks quizzical, I can expand to "Most recently...? or longest time...? or originally....?" with long pauses. If they don't change the subject, I pick one and send the conversation off to "But you don't have a southern accent!" land, which is, for me, an entertaining way to share some harmless personal anecdata.)

(I don't have a particularly marked appearance in anglophone north america, but in Germany and Britain I noticed that I stood out as American. it was very peculiar to suddenly have a visible ethnicity. I try to remember this.)

#170 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 11:05 AM:

I'm told I look French, though most of my ancestry is Italian--granted, half of that is Milanese, which is essentially Frenchmen who ended up on the wrong side of the Alps. My maternal grandmother's family is British Isles Mutt.

Meanwhile my surname is Lithuanian, with a German spelling, by way of my one Jewish great-grandfather. There are a couple dozen people with my surname in the world, so far as I can tell; about half of them live in upstate New York, and one's a Swedish pop singer. Around here, it's me and my parents.

#171 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 11:05 AM:

"If it is the destiny of each successive wave of incomers to eventually assimilate enough that it attacks the next set of arrivals, then we are ..."

...mammals who run in packs. What? We're supposed to be better than that? Better tell the kindergarten teachers....

#172 ::: in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 11:28 AM:

Trinker @ 128 -- I acknowledge and agree that the general label for the descendants of the American slaves is complex and thorny. In my immediate context, that was a side issue. Slightly more generally, I am cynically amused that people who would be hostile to high-falutin' $2 words, insist on "African-American" rather than anything shorter. (An immediate example of the linguistic mess is that President Obama is precisely "African-American", but not from the milieu or subculture(s) of the descendants of the slaves the term is generally used for . . . )
If you have a preferred term, I'll be happy to use it. I was referring to a side issue to what I was talking about.

#173 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 11:53 AM:

Neil in Chicago @172:

Slightly more generally, I am cynically amused that people who would be hostile to high-falutin' $2 words, insist on "African-American" rather than anything shorter.

I am at a loss how to parse this with any charity whatsoever. The best I can do is ask if you meant to come across as someone of such blind privilege that you not only don't care what other people want to be called, but make assumptions about what vocabulary said people otherwise prefer as well?

Or was it just bad luck? In which case, maybe you might want to take another run at that.

#174 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:04 PM:

I've been enjoying making prople twitch by telling them that I'm related to Pres. Obama. Our mothers are both decended from Nathaniel FitzRandolph (b. 1642), and we're 12th or 13th cousins, depending on which "cousin calculator" you use.

Many of the same people twitch if I also point out that, for purposes of eligibility for presidential election, my mother is considered a "natural born citizen" even though, like John McCain, she was born outside the US.

#175 ::: Quercus ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:30 PM:

I always thought the standard response to bitching about immigrants was to say "You know, my friend Running Bear thinks the same thing!" Ideally, this makes the point, but lets everyone laugh and change the subject. There are probably times for laying down the serious smack though, too.

Also, you can still see lots of bars in Boston (though fewer than 20 years ago) with signs on the wall along the lines of
"Remember when!
'NO IRISH NEED APPLY'"
Of course, the bars with these signs are usually the ones where a Black person shouldn't bother applying for any job openings.

#176 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:31 PM:

Thena: I tend to say, "originally?" in response to "where are you from", anymore. Because that lets me avoid the ancestry issue.

When I've been in Europe I seem to blend in (Ukraine, two parts of Germany, Scotland, London). I don't know if this is good luck in looks/body language, or a lack of sense of being lost as I wander around.

Now, when I've been in Korea, that's when I stood out.

#177 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:32 PM:

abi@173: Your message reads as if you thought there was a clear consensus about "what people want to be called" in this case. That's not nearly so clear to me.

My impression is that, during my life, polite terminology has moved from "negro" to "black", started to move to "African American", and partially bounced back (probably due to the 1 vs. 7 syllable thing); so that now both "black" and "African American" are in common use, with perhaps a preference for "African American" in more formal writing.

(I'm referring specifically to American practice here.)

#178 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:35 PM:

Terry Karney@176: If people bite on "originally?", do you then answer "Africa"?

#179 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:43 PM:

Serge @108 -- Another potential DAR/DOC here, never been interested in joining either.

My family for the most part immigrated to southwestern Virginia from the Bristish Isles in the several waves from 1607 onward. Among my great-grandparents there is one immigrant who was Swiss. And one of my great-great-grandmothers (Mom's side) may have been Native American (right about the time of the Trail of Tears). A relative of my father's has traced that side of the family back to Anglesey. Pretty much white-bread all the way... (Dad's surname: Huff)

Constance @50: What you're running into from the Virginians is the bitterness of being writen out of the history taught in schools after the Civil War. So Plymouth is given pride of place "First Thanksgiving" when Berkeley Plantation had the first thanksgiving December 4, 1619. You can see hints of this in "1776" in some of the dialog between T.J. and Adams (or Light Horse Harry).

When Disney's "Pocahontas" premiered I spent a lot of time explaning to outraged Yankees on a Disney newsgroup, that yes, the first settlers (Jamestown 1607) did indeed come for "glory, God, and GOLD(!)" and not religious freedom.

Hell, they didn't know that the colonies founded on true religious freedom were Maryland (Catholic), Pennsylvania (Society of Friends), and Rhode Island (Protestant) -- not Puritan one-religion Massachusetts, whose citizens cancelled Christmas, and had to leave the Netherlands because they couldn't get along with their neighbors!

#180 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 12:48 PM:

ddb: No, because I am 1: trying to avoid a conversation about ancestry, and 2: not trying to start a conversation on politics, or religion.

re your comment about african-american v black. There is, IMO, a difference between choosing to use a word, because it is the things to use, or because there are choices, and refusing to use one.

I, by and large, tend to use black. I won't however, refuse to use african-american, and I'm not going to throw down a gauntlet about how I won't use it.

Why? Because, at that point, intentionally, or not, I've moved from my usage, to politics.

#181 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:02 PM:

ddb @177:

Your message reads as if you thought there was a clear consensus about "what people want to be called" in this case. That's not nearly so clear to me.

Not at all. It's Neil who talks about people who insist on "African-American" rather than anything shorter, and then refuses to use it to refer to people who so insist.

My opinion is that if people want to be called African-American, I'll call them that. If they want to be called black, I'll call them that. If I use a term that they don't want, I will apologize and use a different term. What I won't do is declare my defiance of their wishes and sideswipe their vocabulary into the bargain, nor let that kind of declaration go unmarked in a forum I moderate.

#182 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:04 PM:

This is a ramble, sorry.

I don't see it any more but, definitely when I was growing up, you couldn't be just "Canadian"; and the "where are you from" thing was a standard conversational topic, even in pure white-land. And it meant "where were your ancestors from?" And it was sometimes a problem, when the ancestors emigrated from Germany in 1947, with the only set of silverware they had (which had amazingly consistent marks of damage on the handles where the swastikas had been), and the person asking was a Koslowski... Of course the first nations people weren't Canadian, either, they were Indian (or Metis).

I don't remember exactly when that changed, but I do remember the fight to be allowed to be an unhyphenated Canadian on the official census.

But even then, I remember there was a difference between the [European]-Canadians like me and the [Asians] (no hyphenation), even if she was born in the same hospital as me.

Trinker, re: "but in Japan..." "Yes, in Japan they're very insular and explicitly racist. But they don't claim, in their founding documents, that 'all [] are created equal', and I expect better from my fellow Americans." If it's appropriate, "that racist attitude is partly why my family left. They didn't expect to see it *here*" And after all, homeland insularity isn't exactly something that most of us "white" Americans can be too proud of, if you responded "yeah, but in Germany/France/England/Netherlands..." (to pick countries that are currently having very public issues with "non-natives").

I might be interested in ethnicity, but more in making sure I don't get the person's name-nationality wrong or sheer curiosity than "I'm Canadian, you can't be, you're Japanese". Ick. Canada's history is no less shameful, and the current climate isn't that nice either. But I still think it's better than south-of-49.

My personal revelation was walking out on a Saturday evening in Whitehorse, YT, and feeling uncomfortable, even though there was no reason for it and nobody even close to me. Eventually, I figured out that I was the only white guy on the street...hmm, maybe I have some latent bigotry I need to work on. (More white privilege, though - as soon as I figured out why I was uncomfortable, and that it was stupid, I stopped being uncomfortable. I'm guessing it's not necessarily the same when things are switched.)

#183 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 01:14 PM:

My favourite comment was from someone who was called "African-American", and responded "no, I'm black. If I was African-American, they'd let me work down here without a Green Card." (He was Canadian, [semi-]obviously)

Of course, I try to work on the assumption that "they"'d rather be called neither "African-American" nor "black". "Tom", "Sally", or "DeAndra' " seem more appropriate, somehow.

#184 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 02:10 PM:

Me: eastern european mutt: Russian, Hungarian, Austrian/German (depending on where the border was on the date you're looking at).

Russian great-grandparents came over in early 1900s, from two different parts of Russia; both grandparents born in US; they met in school. Hungarian great-grandparents came over soon thereafter; my grandmother was 4 (and dressed in boys' clothes during the trip--the photos are adorable).

Austrian/German grandfather came over, illegally, in the early 1920s, as a young adult; met my grandmother, who was 10 years younger, at the boarding house her parents ran, and, according to family legend, fell instantly in love. It's kind of creepy now that my own daughter is 14, to think that when my grandmother was my daughter's age, my grandfather was wooing her. Her parents made him wait several years to marry her.

Both parents born in the US. Also me, also my daughter.

Native New Yorkers, too. But we don't, my teenager and I, have what is considered a "traditional" New York accent (unless we've spent a lot of time around family), so people often ask where we are from and are befuddled when told NYC. We also get "but you don't look Jewish," probably because we look generally European (I've been tagged as Italian, English, and Spanish at various times . . . but my brother has more Semitic looks and in his youth, when he had more hair--facial and otherwise--was sometimes labeled Egyptian or Lebanese).

Our neighborhood is full of immigrants from all over Europe and Asia. We get asked, "where are you from" a lot . . . because so many people in the area were not born in the US--even a good number of my daughter's age-mates are immigrants. In our case, we confuse people the other way; when we answer "we're from here," we are then asked, "where are your parents from," and I say, "from here," and then people are very confused. Then they ask, "where are your grandparents from," and depending on how pissed off I am at the manner in which I've been asked, I am as likely to say, "from here" as not, which befuddles the asker even more.

So yeah, I get why "where are you really from" is insulting.

So is, "but you don't look/sound Jewish." I think some people think that's a compliment, but really, it's not. It just means the speaker has a narrow, stereotypical image in mind.

#185 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 02:47 PM:

A bit of meta (which the comment discussin crazy racists brought forward in my mind).

Heresiarch, you took my statement of personal experience, and said it was in some way odd(You have a very different data set than I do, then: I've seen a lot of people ask "so where are you from?" when what they wanted to know was "where did your ancestors immigrate from?", get an answer like "Tigard," and then, still not able to articulate the question they're trying to ask, say "No, where are you *really* from?".

Now, I realise you probably weren't trying to be dismissive, but the read on it comes across as if I ought to be taking your data sample as more dispositive than mine. Yes, I know you didn't say it was odd. My memory, actually had it as strange. It's not written there, but that is the sense I had in my head. It wasn't until I went and reread it, again, that the word strange went away from my memory; it still lives in my perception.

I confess that made me a bit less open to your subsequent arguments than I might have been; to the point that I recused myself from response at some point.

The thing is, my data set isn't, "strange" unless there is a data source which defines, "normal". I was, in my comments, as careful as I could be to point out the specificity of my region, and the ways in which I collected data outside that region. Is it statistically random, no. But it's not strange, it's mine; just as yours is yours, and no more, prima facie normative.

Because, absent outside evidence (and there has been a fair bit, from regulars, and people like trinker, who are steady readers, and occasional commenters) saying this sort of thing happens to them, regularly), what we have is just that, different data sets. For obvious reasons we each value our own.

I don't think, right here, right now, it's resolvable, not least because (for me at least) there has been some emotional involvement).

But I do want to point out that your comments seem to be, effectively, asking us to take your data set as more valid than our own.

#186 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 03:08 PM:

Neil in Chicago @ 172 -
Are you aware that the biggest part of your (offhand?) remark about having a preference for the one-syllable over the multi-syllabic is that pretty much all the usual slurs are monosyllables, the better to spit out in a hurry?

Asian-American *is* the shortest readily understandable version I'm okay with. "American of Japanese ancestry" is precise, but necessarily long.

What's the problem with Obama being called African American, but not descending from the original diaspora? No one who interacts with him based on his external appearance is stopping to ask for nuances about how recent his African ties are.

Mycroft @ 182 -
That's *exactly* why the "but in Japan" derailment irks me.

#187 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 03:17 PM:

Thena @ 169 -

That was the thing I liked about being in NYC, or in the South. When I was asked, "where are you from?" and answered, "L.A.", most people had enough practice at delving into background that I got polite queries rather than "no, REALLY from!"

That, and I really *was* a stranger from afar at that point. Being asked that in my home town feels far different.

#188 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 03:17 PM:

Thena @ 169 -

That was the thing I liked about being in NYC, or in the South. When I was asked, "where are you from?" and answered, "L.A.", most people had enough practice at delving into background that I got polite queries rather than "no, REALLY from!"

That, and I really *was* a stranger from afar at that point. Being asked that in my home town feels far different.

#189 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 03:24 PM:

Trinker@196. Thanks. But I can think of a shorter readily understandable version, that I would expect you would be okay with - and it bothers me that you can't expect to get it. For that, even though I'm stuck up here at 51°N, I'm sorry.

Oh, what is it? How about, "American".

(having said that, I might be interested in your Japanese ancestry, or how your family upbringing was different from mine, or what traditions your family (or you) still keep, and which American ones they/you have taken on. But that's "interest in the other", rather than marking the other because it has to be marked.)

#190 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 03:47 PM:

Mycroft @ 189 -

I use American where it's appropriate. But sometimes, my ancestry is a relevant detail. Erasing that - for instance, when people think I should put down "human - doesn't make me included, it makes me invisible. (For matter of statistics)

#191 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 03:47 PM:

"Any more at home like you?"
"Uh, not really, no."
- Lois & Clark in 1978's Superman

#192 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 04:01 PM:

Being a good white midwesterner, I'm a light-skinned mutt. Swedish, German, English, Irish, more English (though Canada), quite a bit of native scattered through. We've been here long enough that many of the last names in the family tree are...interestingly vague and somewhat naturalistic with a baptismal record quite close to the marriage date (Jane Blacksparrow, anyone?).

Now, granted, my usual response to immigrant nonsense is, "Well, how long has your family been here?" I'm DAR down at least four lines on my father's side, including the founder of that "august" organization. (I have lifetime membership, courtesy of my grandmother, who believed it was important, and the stewardship of her sister, the former Indiana chapter treasurer.) We've been here a long time, starting in 1634 (if you don't count the natives who married in)...and every generation has immigrant membership, down through my second-cousin-adopted-from-Korea. I have little patience with it, including when the relatives on that side start to get stupid about it. On them, however, I can't pull "How long have you been here." I know the answer. I can and do pull the "You f*#%@#$ teach history. You f*$@#$ know better!!!!"

You know, American history is not my area. If it happened after 1650, I only have vague interest as it comes across my radar, which includes driving past historic sites, vacations, and flipping past the history channel. Even with just that and the required AmHist and ModHist classes, I know better and can cite sources about every major immigrant wave who have shown up here. Why can't history teachers, who specialize in AmHist, figure this out?

/rant off

I do get the "Where are you from?" question, and I find it interesting that St. Louis is much like Hawaii in that the important answer is your high school, for many of the same reasons. We still have the palace school system here in parallel to the public schools, from when we were the "back east" people sent their children to for school. All sorts of information on socio-economic status is conveyed in the answer, which is a disadvantage for non-natives. I picked up a touch of the Minnesota accent after 5 years, mostly now noticed in saying Minnesota.

#193 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 04:11 PM:

I used to say "American". That rarely ended as I would have liked, because it, almost inevitably, ended up making the conversation about, "roots".

Hence the answer of LA, Ohio, or "originally", in response.

I did get a lot of, "did you really ride here from Calif., when people (esp. in Ottawa) noticed the plate on my bike.

That's different.

#194 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 04:17 PM:

Trinker @ 186

My best friend is of the same diaspora as Obama, and she identifies as "African-American-not-black". Because of her skin tone, she is assumed to be of the black community, especially by that community. She doesn't "get" many of those cultural things, the language, the references, having been raised in the Kenyan-emigrant community, in exclusive private schools, by parents who didn't want her to identify as black. That's why it's a separate identifier.

#195 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 05:37 PM:

Sisuile @ 194 -

I wrote, and scrapped, a far longer comment.

To retry: I can see that your friend is going for a cultural distinction by eschewing the use of the term "black" for herself. I went to school with someone who's the child of a relatively recent Kenyan immigrant. As far as I know, she labels herself as black and Jewish, explaining further that one parent came from Kenya, and the other has ancestry that traces back to Russia.

People make their own choices about their identity labels. Changing labels changes some things but not others.

#196 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 06:31 PM:

Trinker: I can understand that. And there are times when I need to be "of English (primarily) descent" as well. The reason I wish you could just be "American" except when ethnicity-markings are required is that, for many, it seems that ethnicity-marking is always required (as it was, for me, when I was in school. I couldn't be Canadian - I had to be "from England, originally", even though it was my mother, and my father's father, who were actually the ones born there).

It just so rarely is required at first meeting, and so commonly is expected - and I find that disappointing.

My response, now, to anyone who asks, without context (which I will grant happens much less frequently than my less pale companions), is "why do you care?" It usually gets an offended "just asking" in response, which seems about right (why are you offended when I don't divulge personal information on your interest? Why should I care whether you are hurt by bumping your nose on a wall when it was poking where it didn't belong? Yes, I am inadequately socialized, and have different ideas of privacy than "the norm". I also happen to think they're better. Notice I didn't ask why you're advertising for that stupid company on your shirt?)

#197 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 06:37 PM:

Hm, I was going to say I'd found a context where "No, really" wasn't insulting, but I realized that I just say "Really" without the "No" part. Here's how the conversation goes:

Me: Where are you from?

Some other person: Queens.

At which point, I give one of two answers:

"Really? _I'm_ from Queens!" or "Really? Where in Queens?"

But, then, the entire motive for my asking where someone is from is related to geography -- can we get together? Can I bum a lift to conventions? Are you in a city I might visit at some point? And... yeah, the absence of "No" is significant.

I _have_ said "Your English is very good", but this was either when I was teaching English Comp and Remedial English, where it's actually appropriate, and when IMing someone whom I knew was German, in Germany, and I wanted to assure him that his written English was just fine.

This isn't to say that I don't put my foot in it -- I just find different ways to put my foot in it. I am perfectly capable of being stupidly stunned that someone is from my country / state / city / whatever. It would just never occur to me to doubt a person's word on that.

#198 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 06:41 PM:

Trinker@186: No one who interacts with him based on his external appearance is stopping to ask for nuances about how recent his African ties are.

I had the impression (from a fair distance, admittedly) that quite a few people who managed to vote for him despite reservations based on his external appearance were persuaded to do so on the grounds that not being descended from slaves he lacked any desire to stick it to Whitey.

#199 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 06:42 PM:

Chris @22:I'm also old enough to remember J.F.Kennedy's election and the "Cardinal quarters" that were circulating (at least in New England) -- a red nail-polish "cardinal's hat" painted onto George Washington's head. Whether JFK would be obliged to do whatever the Pope told him was being seriously argued at the time. Things have improved *somewhat.*

Yes. Now we have yahoos arguing that Obama takes his orders from the ghosts of Stalin, Malcolm X and Saul Alinksy.* At least the Pope was a verifiable person with an address.


_________
*A trio that would have made one hell of a different Christmas Carrol, to be sure.

#200 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 07:45 PM:

Terry @ 45, Lila @ 62:

I got the "what are you?" question so much in high school (and have still gotten it on occasion afterward, in a college town recently in the news quite a bit too much) that I've taken to responding with another question: "you mean you want my pedigree?"

#201 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 08:31 PM:

I've toyed with the idea of joining the Sons of the American revolution, just in case I have occasion to impress the kind of person who would be impressed by something like that.

I suppose this is like bragging about how you qualify to join Mensa, but haven't because they are too boring.

#202 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 08:43 PM:

Terry Karney, #133, there always seems to be people who don't believe natural hair can be nice. I think also that she knew I was in my late 40s and that I should be turning gray, and therefore must dye it. But in our family, almost everybody stays with brown hair (mine darker after the second renal failure), with a fringe of silver around the front, until we die.

Trinker, #195, my nephew is half-Hakka and always lists himself as Asian. I'd like him to use "Asian-American," but it's not really my business.

As to "your English is good," Justice is looking into Arizona schools because they have a new law where teachers who are non-native English speakers can be fired.

#203 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 09:48 PM:

I'm pretty sure my ancestors all came over between the Civil War and WWI. So no, you don't get to blame me for slavery OR the Holocaust (one Jewish kid in my high school, finding out that I was partly German, referred to the Holocaust as "what you guys did to us"). My mother's father really was an abusive drunk; I just don't think that was because he was Irish.

A friend of mine from years ago told someone over the phone that the name on her passport was El-Edlabi, and was asked "what kind of passport is that?" She said "American," and the conversation ended there (airline employees might be a little more savvy to these things).

I don't care what people prefer to be called, and will call them what they like (except if they want to be called God or something...there's a religion that does that, and my response is tough shit, buddy). Parallel structure is important to me, though. If you're called African-American, don't turn around and call me White. First of all, I'm not white, I'm a light pinkish beige. Second of all, I'm a European-American. As far as I'm concerned, the only people who really have a right to be (racially speaking) called American with no modifier are Native Americans/First Nations/Indians (all of which I've heard expressed as preferred by the people involved).

I'm not doing this just to be pissy or pedantic (though no one who's known me for more than five minutes can deny that I can be both those things). I want to point out that we all come from somewhere else (except the aforementioned indigenes of this continent, who came from somewhere else before history, which doesn't count in my book). Also, 'white' carries connotations of purity and goodness which are markedly unjustified in the general case for people of European stock!

Mycroft 182: I might be interested in ethnicity, but more in making sure I don't get the person's name-nationality wrong or sheer curiosity than "I'm Canadian, you can't be, you're Japanese". Ick.

The guy who cowrote and coperformed the wonderful "Canadian Please" song and video got YouTube comments informing him that he wasn't really Canadian, because he's racially Asian. Asian-Canadian is just as Canadian as Irish-Canadian. YouTube comments are notoriously the realm of the unbelievably stupid, of course, but it's still a little depressing.

Melissa 184: So is, "but you don't look/sound Jewish." I think some people think that's a compliment, but really, it's not. It just means the speaker has a narrow, stereotypical image in mind.

Yeah, it smacks of "wow, you're completely free of the ickiness that ordinarily triggers my prejudices. I'd never have known! Thanks for being honest with me so I can be prejudiced against you now."

I've had someone assume I'm Jewish, believe it or not. This was back when I had more of a Midwestern accent, and the mop of gold curls (no, Christopher, don't type "cold girls" there). I think the marker was being smart, in that case, which is yet another stereotype about Jews.

#204 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 10:18 PM:

Xopher @ #203, "the marker was being smart, in that case, which is yet another stereotype about Jews."

And as disprovable about Jews as anyone else. See the latest from Marty Peretz, here scornfully dismissed by Jim Fallows.

#205 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 10:45 PM:

Xopher@203: So no, you don't get to blame me for slavery OR the Holocaust

Sure you've never benefited from white privilege, then?

The whole blaming folk for stuff their ancestors did thing reminds me of the Balkans, where they go in for it in a big way (I used to live in Greece, and to know quite a few Yugoslavs). Never seemed very grown up to me. It's the oppression that's still going on that matters.

I've heard Americans with a trace of Native American blood absolve themselves of everything that was done to the latter on account of it. Whoopee. I mean, I'm one-eighth Irish at least, but there'll be no Wearing o'the Green round these parts, I'm culturally English apart from a little lingering popery, I wouldn't claim a few random chromosomes have any moral relevance to anything.

#206 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 11:08 PM:

Adrian, you're welcome to blame me for benefitting from white privilege, which I certainly do. I do try to avoid it when I notice ("no, really, she was here first"), but it's not possible to give it up entirely.

None of my ancestors owned slaves in the past two or three centuries (Irish people did own slaves at some points in history, so I dunno about them). None of my ancestors fought on the wrong side in WWII (or, for that matter, the right side) or participated in the abuses that happened then.

As a Celt, I have bloody-handed conquerors in my ancestry. I know that. In the present day, I benefit from white privilege. I know that. What are you saying?

#207 ::: TrishB ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 11:09 PM:

It's interesting that the only time I'll ask someone where she's from is when I think they're from NY. I live in SW Ohio now, and miss NY. I was rear ended not too long ago, and as the driver walked back to her SUV, I said something about as articulate as "You're not from here? New York?" Of course, she said yes. Then again, people out here still make fun of the way I ask for coffee when intoxicated- which of course doesn't happen when I drive.

#208 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2010, 11:31 PM:

Xopher@206: What are you saying?

That people who are inclined to blame others for things that happened before the latter were born don't need to be taken seriously - and that doing this none-of-my-ancestors-did-X shtick is doing so.

#209 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 12:03 AM:

Well, Adrian, then you missed the point. Along with misspelling 'schtick'.

#210 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 12:50 AM:

Marilee @ 201 -
Half-Asian kids handle their ethnicity descriptors in such a wide range of ways...and their issues go way beyond anything I can speak about with any assurance. I'm reading and listening as fast and as much as I can for my kids' sake.

As far as the teachers thing, one of my best memories of junior high was a Filipina science teacher with a very, very thick accent. Some of my classmates really struggled, but I think it was a fantastic experience for all of us. On the other hand, I do have fluent, native English speakers to thank for my own accent, and I worry about my son's exposure to his grandmother's idiosyncratic (Japanese-inflected but bent by 40 years of living in the U.S.) ungrammatical English. (I wish she'd speak Japanese to him, instead.) I know my peers at university occasionally found various instructors' accents impenetrable. I wondered how they were going to cope with non-native accents in other venues.

Given that it's Arizona, I expect them to leap to do the most idiotic, racist and offensive thing they can about what might be a complex and worthwhile issue to discuss.

Adrian @ 198 -
There's a whole lot of crazy that some people get into about Obama being non-white, and just what that means. I swear that it's made overt racism fashionable again.

#211 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 12:56 AM:

I'm pretty sure that my ancestors beat up on my wife's ancestors if you go back far enough, cause, hey, that's what the Vikings did to the British Isles. My kids, they are the kids of an immigrant. Their privilege is that no one is going to ask them for their papers, or ask if they're anchor babies, or any such crap. (One of their other privileges is that they can have 3 passports if we bothered, but so far we've just gone for 2).

I do get the where's your name from, and from my time in school, there was exactly one teacher who pronounced it correctly the first time. And helpfully for google, I think that there are less than 20 people with my last name, and they're all related no further back than my great grandparents.

#212 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 01:01 AM:

Marilee: I know why the people who accuse me of dying my hair do it (it's a classic redhead patter of non-red eyebrows, and I have/had hair which was the perfect color match for Clairol Light Auburn) but ten minutes of being told I was lying was a bit much.

#213 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 01:04 AM:

I used to have a friend whose last name was Garcia. I'm sure most people thought he was Mexican, not just because of his name, but because of his racial appearance. Actually, his father was Spanish-from-Spain, and his mother was Japanese.

Unfortunately, he lost his life on 9/11. A beautiful guy, inside and out.

#214 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 01:38 AM:

On accents: At Aussiecon, I was treated to the surreal experience of Jonathan Strahan (who was giving his picks for next year's Hugos) having to be translated into American English by his co-panelist.

I didn't think of Strahan's accent (or Aussie English in general) as being that opaque. But clearly...

#215 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 02:07 AM:

debcha @ 140: "heresiarch, it's clear from your most recent post that we are fundamentally on the same page: that being non-white isn't always about being non-American, but it's certainly always about being a marked American. And the lines between the two can get awfully blurry."

Yes, thank you. That is what I am trying to say. Welcome back, by the way!

pronetolaughter @ 151: Yeah, I agree that meeting (a non-white) someone for the first time and thinking "Wow, I really need to know their ethnic identity right away" is a bit forward. Still, if that's the extent of their racism they're beating the average, I think. (Providing they can ask politely!)

Renatus @ 165: "Heresiarch, it's institutionalized racism: it's a thing none of us can get away from 'cause we've all been swimming in it since birth, and like it or not it informs the assumptions and perceptions of every last one of us (yes, me too!)."

You know, you're the fifth or sixth person whose taken this conversation as an opportunity to introduce me to Racism 101 instead of engaging my actual position. This is especially odd because I've mentioned in nearly every post I've made that I think the behavior under discussion is racist; the thing I disagree on is what kind and what degree of racism it is.

Acting as if I'm doing no more than accusing people of "waving a pointing finger about wildly and shouting 'OMG RACIST'" does me and the conversation a disservice. I think we're having a much more sophisticated and interesting disagreement than that.

Terry Karney @ 185: "It wasn't until I went and reread it, again, that the word strange went away from my memory; it still lives in my perception."

That helps make sense of a few of our exchanges; I felt at times like we were having two entirely different conversations.

I don't think my data set is any more or less dispositive than yours--I only meant to present a different viewpoint, to add to your data set as your comment added to mine. Though in truth I don't think anybody here is in disagreement about the data set--we all agree that it happens, and that it happens in roughly the same way. It's in the interpretation of that data that we differ; over what we can assume of the questioner's beliefs on the basis of that data. I never meant to claim that your interpretation was NEVER valid, just that it wasn't the only, nor in my opinion the most likely, intention. But arguments about intention are tricky, and I'm sorry I wasn't clear enough.

#216 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 02:12 AM:

heresiarch @215:

I took your comment as surprisingly (astonishingly, really, since it's you) blind to what debcha, Trinker, et al were saying.

I haven't time to go back and parse why just at the minute, but when everyone, even people who know you and know better read your text in a particular way, it might be your phrasing.

#217 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 02:52 AM:

Xopher@209: Well, Adrian, then you missed the point.

Oh well.

Along with misspelling 'schtick'.

Schtick, schmick.

#218 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 04:46 AM:

Heresiarch @ 215 -

I think the thing that's missing in this discussion is this:

A lot of people know about naturalization. A lot of people buy into the idea that once an immigrant group is here long enough, they "assimilate". Asian Americans and Latinos are both seen as "recent arrivals".

I got into a screaming fight with someone who should have goddamned well known better about how long Asians had been in the U.S., just how much they'd contributed, whether they had any war heroes (!!!), whether there had been any prominent politicians, and whether there had been any specific legal discrimination, and when it had ended.

Asking, "where are *you* from, no *really*..." is about where the *individual* is from. Not, "where are your people from?", or "when did your people get to the U.S., and from where?"

It's an assumption that the person being questioned is a *recent* immigrant. Not born here, or born here of parents who weren't born here. That the person being praised, "speaks English really well (for an immigrant)".


It's founded on the idea I talked about above. That it's okay that Asians are treated like outsiders, because they're recent arrivals. That of *course* it's reasonable to question anyone with a Latino look, because *they're* all recent arrivals, too.

Implying that, no matter how politely, no matter how cluelessly and innocently...it's as problematic as the (let's give them the HUGE benefit of the doubt) guys who asked me whether it was true that Asian girls were "slanty" down below.

#219 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:15 AM:

Trinker@218: it's as problematic as the (let's give them the HUGE benefit of the doubt) guys who asked me whether it was true that Asian girls were "slanty" down below.

I'm so proud of my gender sometimes. Could have been due to a deficiency of education/childhood vitamins/interweb access, though.

#220 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 07:21 AM:

#218-219: Or getting their sex-ed from Playboy's "Letters" column....

---
My own issue with accents is strictly pragmatic, but then, they're just another category of people I can't understand well (again, I'm hard-of-hearing).

#221 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 08:10 AM:

I benefitted from working in my university's computer lab for several years, which acquainted me with a wide range of accents. That's come in handy over the years. In some sense, decoding accents is a valuable language skill--note how much trouble different accents give non-native speakers! This is one of those unintended positive consequences of having lots of top-tier foreign grad students in US schools.

#222 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 10:18 AM:

Soon LEE @ 214...

"You talk funny Nash. Where you from?"
"Lots of different places."
- 1986;s Highlander, which, as TexAnne declares, doesn't have a sequel.

#223 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 10:33 AM:

Lisa@197: Really? Where in Queens?

(no, don't answer in public, it just made me laugh because I do that too . . . .)

I fail the high school part of the equation because I didn't go to my local/zoned school.

Xopher@203: Gold curls are a marker for one version of the stereotype. My childhood boyfriend, of German Jewish ancestry, looked like that.

#224 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 10:39 AM:

Xopher, Melissa: yeah, gold here. Curls mean I've let it get too long. My daughter gets gold ringlets when she lets it grow out, but she keeps it soft-butch short.

#225 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 12:00 PM:

Melissa Singer @ 223... Really? Where in Queens?

"Sure, I know a place right across the Brooklyn bridge where they'll never find us."
"Where is it?"
"Brooklyn!"

(from 1949's On the Town)

#226 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 12:26 PM:

Tehanu @137: I was asked once if I was "a guinea."

Well, are you?

#227 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 12:31 PM:

Jacque #226: Are you sure you don't mean this?

#228 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 12:42 PM:

If, when I ask someone where they are from, I get then answer, "California", "Los Angeles", or, "San Francisco", I will follow up with, "what part of 'x',"

When I am not at home (i.e. in Calif.), I will say, in response to, "where are you from,", "From here, it's Los Angeles, etc." Because saying, Arcadia, or Sun Valley, or Rhonert Park, or Redwood City, just leads to having to say, "It in 'x'", so I cut out the middle parts.

#229 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 01:13 PM:

And as a bit of a Canada-snob (and mildly passive-aggressive), when Americans ask me where I'm from, I say "Calgary, Alberta". If I am expected to know where Arizona is without country context, they should be able to, too. It's not like we have 50 provinces or something.

(and after all, it's not as if nothing of world-encompassing importance ever happened here)

#230 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 01:44 PM:

226 & 227, the first thing triggered in my mind by the word "guinea" (unless I've been reading brit lit) is this. (We used to raise them. They have their good points--for example, they're very hardy and they eat ticks--but OTOH they freaking NEVER SHUT UP. And they're very difficult to catch. So, as an epithet, a rather mixed blessing.)

#231 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 01:46 PM:

My daughter, as an American newly enrolled in a Canadian university, is battling expectations that as an American she will know nothing whatsoever of Canadian geography. She is reasonably well-informed in that respect. She does, however, expect that her Canadian History class will be much harder for her than for the average Canadian high school graduate.

We have found that most Americans have a vague idea of where Vancouver and Toronto are, but are fuzzier on the rest of it. I knew a bit more than that, but admit that my grasp of Ontario has gotten better since I started investigating things like the driving time between Washington D.C. and Ottawa. And I have trouble remembering which is which for Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

My daughter also reports with glee that her elective on "Mysteries of Language," covering various cognitive, social, and linguistic topics, will include a lecture on the differences among Canadian, American, and British English.

#232 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 01:55 PM:

Mycroft W @ 229... If I am expected to know where Arizona is

Just west of New Mexico, which itself IS part of the Union and is nowhere near the Gulf of Mexico, in spite of what my geographically-deficient fellow Americans think. We also have a Las Vegas, but not the one where action-packed movies and TV series are set.

#233 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 02:04 PM:

Lila, 230: Wow! It's a polka-dotted dinosaur!

#234 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 02:04 PM:

Going back to the point of the article, I think. In eastern Kentucky in the 19th century, they used to run the Catholics out of town on a rail before they would turn on the black population. The attitude lingered even if the actions subsided. My mother, who had been raised in Catholic heavy/friendly MN had a very hard time adapting to life in Kentucky wrt this aspect.

#235 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 02:10 PM:

heresiarch @ 215: Acting as if I'm doing no more than accusing people of "waving a pointing finger about wildly and shouting 'OMG RACIST'" does me and the conversation a disservice.

So what on earth was your statement at 139 that people in this thread are arguing that there are lots of 'crazy racists'?

the thing I disagree on is what kind and what degree of racism it is.

I fail to see why degree or intent matters in it being a rude question. I stand by my first post where I said there is no good way to ask -- asking someone where they come from and then 'no really'ing them or then asking about their ancestry is rude because of all the other crap culture puts on people with marked states, and intention of the asker (something the person asked won't just know) mitigates the hurt it causes very little. This is why I rambled on about institutionalized racism; you seemed to be ignoring/not thinking about/favouring intent over it, and you still seem to be arguing that good intent trumps the inherent racism of the question because it's not that bad.

Yeah, well. I don't care if the racism asking such questions carries is 'not that bad'; it's there and it's still pointlessly annoying-to-hurtful for the purpose of indulging the asker's curiosity. It's not for me or anyone else to say how much other people should be affected by that kind of rude question.

#236 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 02:43 PM:

xopher @ #209: I don't believe there's a canonical way of transliterating Yiddish. I recall Heinlein spelling tuchis as "tocus", and I doubt that Asimov called him on it.

#237 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 03:36 PM:

moe99@234, several successive generations of my family moved west to places that had cheap farmland because the Mormons had recently been chased out.

I've also had friends who got grumpy about being called WASPs with Teh White Privilege stuff, because with obviously Irish names, not only were they Catholic, they certainly weren't Anglo-Saxons.

#238 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 03:38 PM:

Theophylact @ 236: If true, I'm inclined to think that says more about Asimov than about Yiddish. :-)

#239 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 04:01 PM:

On the "where are you really from?", if you're from Los Angeles or Silicon Valley that's not necessarily an insulting question, because it's presumed that you aren't really from there, you moved there from somewhere else. I moved here from Delaware (where half the people in my area had moved from somewhere else), with a couple decades of New Jersey in between.

My wife actually was born in LA, though she lived in various parts of California and occasionally Mexico as a kid before her father settled in Hawaii, and later lived in LA again with her mother. (She went to Maui High School - a year at the old plantation school, and then at the new school in town after the old one closed. On Maui she was a minority, not only because she was white, but because her family were recent immigrants from the mainland, which was really a more important problem socially.)

#240 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 04:09 PM:

231 OtterB: Yes, it might be a bit more difficult. OTOH, we're not quite as history-bound as the U.S., so it's not as if 50% of that course isn't going to be new for the Canadians, either. A good listen to the Arrogant Worms and Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie may help.

Oh, and Saskatchewan is the square one (for spherical geometry definitions of square); Manitoba is the one with the big bite out of the top right; Alberta is the one with the bite out of the bottom left.

Since you're becoming Canadian-by-proxy, a minimal knowledge of the CFL might come in handy (especially when discussing Ottawa). You don't have to care about football (it's not like Canadians do, unless you're a (Green) Rider fan), but knowing which teams are out there (only 8, not too bad) and which ones you shouldn't admit to following where (especially in Sask. and Man.) will help.

#241 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 04:31 PM:

OtterB: We love the "Habs", and never forget, "Canada is Big".

I did DC to Ottawa in three days, but only because I had to leave from New Jersey, and got out of town later than the crack of dawn on a Friday, on a motorcycle. In a car, two days ought to be enough.

Is she at the University of Ottawa?

#242 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 04:40 PM:

abi @ 216: "I haven't time to go back and parse why just at the minute, but when everyone, even people who know you and know better read your text in a particular way, it might be your phrasing."

It's a thought I've had myself. This whole conversation I've felt like I've been taking crazy pills. But I said @ 67 "They're racist, certainly, but not necessarily to that extent," and "it is an act of (albeit minor) racism" and then @ 70 Terry is writing "Reads to me (still) as if the second question is, in your experience, just clumsy," and @ 132 Trinker is asking me if I think it's pure clumsiness. No I don't think it's pure clumsiness, but I don't know any way of communicating that other than writing it out and that doesn't seem to be getting the message across.

If you did have time, I'd appreciate a more detailed critique. I'm kind of angry and baffled that this conversation turned out the way it did, and I'd like to know what went wrong.

Trinker @ 218: "Asking, "where are *you* from, no *really*..." is about where the *individual* is from. Not, "where are your people from?", or "when did your people get to the U.S., and from where?""

I think this is the only point on which we disagree. I think that, due to the question's prevalence in casual conversation, that its meaning has broadened and it is possible use it to mean "where are your people from?" I also believe that using it in this way requires a level of racism, to assume that every non-white person carries at the forefront of their identity their ancestors' home country rather than their own, and also a considerable amount of privilege not to have thought of a more graceful way of asking for that information. I also think that you're right that a not-inconsiderable number of the people who ask that question DO think that the person they're talking with was born in another country--I just don't think it's all of them.

Is that close enough?

Renatus @ 235: "So what on earth was your statement at 139 that people in this thread are arguing that there are lots of 'crazy racists'?"

It was a syllogism. Let me formalize it for you:

People who ask non-white people "No, really, where are you from?" are crazy racists.
Many people in the US ask this question.
Therefore, there are many crazy racists in the US.

I was disagreeing with the first premise, which is itself a syllogism:

People who ask non-white people "No really" believe they are speaking with a recent immigrant/foreign national.
People who believe all non-white people are immigrants or foreigners are crazy racist.
Therefore, people who ask "No really" are crazy racists.

In this syllogism, I am again taking issue with the first premise.

"I stand by my first post where I said there is no good way to ask"

Trinker @ 147 and pronetolaughter @ 151 disagree with you.

"you still seem to be arguing that good intent trumps the inherent racism of the question because it's not that bad."

No, I'm not. I'm not excusing anyone's racism. I'm just trying to describe it.

#243 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:03 PM:

On the "where are you really from?", if you're from Los Angeles or Silicon Valley that's not necessarily an insulting question, because it's presumed that you aren't really from there, you moved there from somewhere else.

The thing about "where are you really from?" that's problematic is the "really" part. It carries the message "I don't believe you/that's false/you're not telling truth".

Speaking as one of the believed-to-be-nonexistent native Bay Areans, I recommend phrasing more along the lines of "Are you from the Bay Area originally, or are you a transplant?" or "Local kid, or did you move here?" Both of those acknowledge the highly mobile nature of our population, without the implication that the first answer given was somehow inaccurate or false.

#244 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:06 PM:

heresiarch@242: Good luck. I have found that it can be very difficult to have a discussion with any nuance around a few topics here.

(I feel like saying anything on this meta-topic is high-risk for me. I also feel it would be intellectually dishonest to NOT say anything. I worry that given history my saying this may prejudice some people against heresiarch in this discussion; I am hoping that does not happen. Given all these things, I don't see it as likely to be productive for me to say more than pointing this out once, and I intend not to say anything more should this meta-discussion continue.)

#245 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:09 PM:

I get the "no, really" in response to the naturalness of my curls. Every so often I get some...person who says, "Nobody has hair that naturally curly." The underlying assumption is that no white person has hair that naturally curly. My response is to stick out my hand, and say in a cheery voice, "Hi! Glad to meet you. I'm Nobody." That pretty much stops all conversation on that subject.

WRT my calendar age versus the age I look, my conversation-stopping response is, "You can ask my mother. She was there." One person persisted, only because he thought he'd call my bluff. So I called my mother, put the guy on the phone, and watched while he blustered thru the explanation of how he came to have that conversation.

#246 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:18 PM:

heresiarch @242:

OK, here goes. Remember, this my interpretation. You can argue that you meant something different, and the participants are free to tell me that they had different ones, but this is what I saw.

I think the trouble started back up at comment 35, with this line:

I think that most people don't get enough practice asking "Where did your ancestors immigrate from?" to do it in an inoffensive manner. I don't think it's an inherently rude question though; do you?

It was pretty clear from debcha's comment that she didn't think that the people who ask where she's "really" from mean "where are your ancestors from?" The entire point of the anecdote was that she, and others of non-white appearance, get that question in contexts where they interpret it as, "no, really, you're not actually American, what are you?" They get it often enough that it's the punchline to a joke they don't find very funny at all.

You waved that entire interpretation away without even addressing it. By doing that, by overriding it with your guess that it's just about ancestors, you denigrated their direct experience and overlaid it with your own interpretation of events you were not present at. It felt kind of like mansplaining.

Because you hadn't tackled the central thesis of the anecdote, the final question then comes across as a strawman, posed in your usual firm, decisive and knowledgeable tone. That probably sparked firmer pushback than a more tentative phrasing might have done.

#247 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:23 PM:

Heresiarch @ 242

Who said anything about "crazy racist" except you @139?

If by "crazy racist" you mean white supremacist whackadoos who try to "purify" the U.S., those people don't bother asking, they just act.

The question, as presented, is founded on racist assumptions that the questioner has absorbed from the surrounding culture. As we've already said here, and has been said elsewhere.

Abi's right, in that there's no way to demand the answer in a polite fashion. Any construction that places the onus on the "wrong" answer on the askee rather than on the asker is rude.

It's possible to ask about someone's heritage in a respectful manner. It's even possible to start off on the wrong foot, and recover from it with an apology.

I don't get it right (for the purposes of asking a stranger) 100% of the time. But I put in the effort, because I figure that's part of my civic responsibility in a multi-cultural environment. I do it for the same reasons that I have worked to learn how to deal respectfully with all sorts of people whose situation isn't mine. The alternative is for some people to get to swim privilege while the rest let them get away with it. Sometimes it's me with the privilege, and I try to watch how I deal with that, too.

I think this, "oh, it's understandable...", without a suggestion of corrective action, is the first step in preserving inequities in the status quo. "It's not as bad as..." leads to asking people to STFU about problems.

I want to get to resolving this gracefully on *both* sides. But not privileging gracefully over resolving.

#248 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:28 PM:

Trinker @247:

It's worth mentioning, since you don't have a long commenting history here, that heresiarch is generally pretty switched-on both in areas around privilege and in general interpersonal interactions. As I said earlier, I was surprised at some of the comments posted in this thread, which did not come off in character.

Don't think you need to give any 101's.

(And do I know you from Slacktivist? I lurk there, and occasionally post as "evilrooster".)

#249 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:35 PM:

In fact, I just got the "where are you from?" question... from a black woman, a customer at my new job. I gave her the short answer "New York", and got a slightly hem-hawed comment that she thought my accent was German. I wasn't quick enough to ask if she'd ever known any Germans; it's been a while since I played that game. :-)

The same woman had previously asked the store owner what religion he was☯, then responded to "atheist Jew" with "but you believe in a Higher Power, right?" He responded with "I believe in people", and she launched into a CYA riff about how all sorts of people were OK ("except Farrakhan") and "we were put on this earth to be good to each other".

No wonder she was so eager to escape after "stepping in it" with me too... (But hey, she'd already bought her books. ;-) )

☯ I blinked at that, as I was brought up to consider that a sensitive question... even in a heavily Jewish neighborhood, old fears die hard.

#250 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:36 PM:

Lin, #245: I like the way you think!

#251 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:55 PM:

Abi @ 248 -

I'm sure I'll get to see that side of Heresiarch in future discussions. For now...whether he himself needs it or not, given that we *have* gone there in this discussion, I tend to leave 101 seeds in net.discussions I have about this stuff. Because as is evident by the incidents that are being referred to here...people "out there" need it, even if (thankfully!) ML-regulars don't.[1]

Yeah, I'm primarily on LJ these days, but I followed pecunium over to a discussion at Slacktivist recently. I suspect (given my rather spectacularly problematic start there) that it isn't going to end up being a regular haunt. (I'm finding the culture there subtly different than many other places online (Usenet, BBSes, ML, LJ, DW) that I've been hanging out at - fascinating, given that some of the regulars there are familiar to me.

Anyway. I know I have my own bits of...what to call it? Boneheaded?

[1] I take it Fluorosphere is a reference to "Making Light", yes?

#252 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 05:59 PM:

heresiarch @ 242: People who believe all non-white people are immigrants or foreigners are crazy racist.

That would be your assumption, not mine, as I have tried repeatedly to explain.

Trinker @ 147 and pronetolaughter @ 151 disagree with you.

I notice it's disagreement about the absolute rudeness of the question rather than the potential weight behind it. I'm fine with that.

No, I'm not. I'm not excusing anyone's racism. I'm just trying to describe it.

I'm definitely missing something here, then.

I still firmly stick to the point that it's rude to ask unless ancestry comes up in the conversation naturally (as I stated at 101) and the other person wishes to participate.

However, it could be that like Mycroft @ 196 I am also inadequately socialized and have different standards of privacy than the norm. Always did when I'd lived my entire life to that point in the States, and now do even moreso after five years immersed in a culture known for being taciturn and private. In fact, Finnish culture is so taciturn and private, my quiet, introverted meatspace self (which comes off as quite cold in the States) is often cringed at here as loquacious, over-asking and over-sharing. To my somewhat embarrassed amusement, the Finns I interact with seem to excuse it as me being a nosy American.

#253 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 06:03 PM:

Trinker @ 251: Because as is evident by the incidents that are being referred to here...people "out there" need it, even if (thankfully!) ML-regulars don't.

Along those lines: it's important to remember that there are many, many more lurkers than commenters, and some of them may just get a lot of good out of those seeds. At least, such is my perspective as a former (and still mostly) lurker who has learned a lot from the Fluorosphere.

#254 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 06:31 PM:

Lexica@243, I do actually know a few people who are native to the Bay Area, and it seems to be more common with people in San Francisco or Oakland than down here, where more of us are immigrants from wherever during the 90s or 80s booms. (Of course, by now I've been here long enough that some of those friends' kids have grown up and moved out. Even so, I still feel somewhat less settled here than I did in New Jersey - maybe it's the kinds of communities I've associated with in the different places, or living in an upstairs condo instead of at ground level, or the lack of real weather telling me I'm not just on vacation.)

#255 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 06:39 PM:

I guess my cousins in the Bay Area are natives there. So there are some natives :-). Although one of them lives up in Santa Rosa now.

Also two cousins down in the LA area are natives of down there.

#256 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 06:43 PM:

Trinker: I, for one, hope you'll stick around. Do you write poetry, by any chance?

#257 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 06:53 PM:

My cousin's grandkids are fifth-generation native-born Californians. My mother moved away, then my brother moved back, so my niece and nephew are native Californians, but not technically fourth-generation natives, even though their great-great grandfather was an early Pasadena civic leader.

#258 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 07:05 PM:

Terry K @ 241: Les Habitants? In Ottawa proper(*)? You trying to get them killed, man?

Actually, the Canadians is probably not too bad. It's not like you're suggesting cheering for the Leafs...

OtterB: Canadian Football is a great game, and we Canadians do pay some attention to it. But it's not really important. Hockey? That's a religion. I wasn't even going to go there, because the love-hate-other relationship Ottawa has with the Senators is dissertation-worthy.

(*)(from memory,) from an (old) Royal Canadian Air Farce Ottawa Quiz: "When someone asks in Ottawa where they can have a fun evening, what are they told?"
"Go to Hull."

#259 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 07:07 PM:

heresiarch@242 No, I'm not. I'm not excusing anyone's racism. I'm just trying to describe it.

There can be a fine old line between explanation and justification when things get heated. I used to while away some of my leisure hours trying to "explain" to conservatarian types why military action against Muslim countries was not necessarily a productive use of Western time, blood and money, and the air was generally thick with accusations of moral relativism at best. Er, not that there are any parallels between such folks and ML apart from that.

#260 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 07:53 PM:

Trinker: I know you from Usenet, don't I? Did you used to post on rec.arts.sf.composition? I'm sure I recognize the name, but I'm not fully placing it.

#261 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 08:31 PM:

Lin D, #245, heh, my hair came back in after the second renal failure curly, but progressively: waves in the front, flip curls on the sides, and sausage curls in the back. Right now my crazy hair looks like it's starting to move back to post-renal-failure normal (side effect of cytoxan; no, I haven't had cancer), but it also has that kind of crimped wave in the front. It's amazing what being sick does to your hair.

Trinker, #251, yes, Fluorosphere comes from Making Light.

#262 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 08:32 PM:

Mycroft @240 and Terry @241
She's at Carleton, for a Global Politics program. She was telling me she's been hearing shouting rivalry between Sens fans and Leafs fans. Having a healthy sense of self-preservation, she decided not to enter the fray with a cheer for the Chicago Blackhawks (we lived in the Chicago suburbs when she was younger, and she remains a Bears fan as well, to the limited extent she is a sports fan at all).

The drive from DC to Ottawa can be done in one not-too-awfully-long day, about 10 hours of driving, if one doesn't go as far east as New Jersey. North through Frederick to pick up I-81 at Harrisburg, PA, then 81 all the way through PA and NY, and about an hour and a half further once you cross the border.

A brief google suggests that she will be amused by the Arrogant Worms and Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, whether or not she is edified by them. I'll pass it on. Thanks.

#263 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 08:52 PM:

I guess I'm a Bay Area native. I was born in the Menlo Park Hospital north of Sunnyvale.

I've never spent more than three days running in that region, though. I've spent a ton of time in LA and the DC suburbs and now Hawai'i. Growing up in a Navy family meant you moved. A lot.

#264 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 09:28 PM:

OtterB @ 262 -- I'd like to mention a few Ottawa organizations that may be of interest: the Ottawa Song Circle (twice-a-month folk singing), the Ottawa SF Society, the local SCA group (the Canton of Caldrithig).

#265 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 09:42 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 256

Thanks for the welcome! I've dabbled in poesy in the past, but never so well as many of the regulars here.

David Goldfarb @ 260

rassef, most likely. Or alt.callahans, alt.polyamory, or LJ. Or maybe even here - I've done some drivebys in years past. I think I'll stick around this time.

I think harder when I post here. I like that.

#266 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 10:16 PM:

Trinker 265: I think harder when I post here. I like that.

Those two things bode EXTREMELY well for a profitable time in the Fluorosphere! Welcome.

#267 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 11:47 PM:

Melissa Singer at #184 writes:

> So is, "but you don't look/sound Jewish." I think some people think that's a compliment

It took a while for the penny to drop and for me to realise just how insulted I was to be told by a (Christian) friend "That was very Christian of you!".

She though it was a compliment, but it translates as "that was so good that you're not like you - you're like me".

#268 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 11:58 PM:

I'mm a native of Beauport.

#269 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 12:02 AM:

Steve, 267: I have heard from someone reliable that it's not uncommon for college history students to describe the Spartans as "good Christians." (In contrast to those yucky girly Athenians, see.) I fear for my country, I really do.

#270 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 01:10 AM:

ddb @ 244: Sorry but no: what happened to you, then, is not what is happening to me, now.

abi @ 246: "You waved that entire interpretation away without even addressing it."

You're right, I did. Honestly, I didn't even see it at the time: I thought from the get-go that it was clear that (some percentage of) people going "No really" were saying it unaware of its profoundly insulting implications. That that is a minority view came as a surprise.

I suspect that's my privilege showing, and I apologize.

Trinker @ 247: "If by "crazy racist" you mean white supremacist whackadoos who try to "purify" the U.S., those people don't bother asking, they just act."

I wasn't using the term in a very precise way--all I meant was "people racist enough to assume that every non-white person must be a recent immigrant," which seems to me to be a pretty substantial level of racism. More specifically, it seems to me to be higher than the level of racism necessary to be stupid about asking about someone's ethnic background (which is not to say that the latter isn't also racist!) I think the term's become a sort of a red herring in this last part of the conversation. I should have said something earlier.

I think I understand your position pretty well at this point, and where we differ and why. If you or anyone else has further questions for me then I'll go on, but otherwise I think I'm done.

#271 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 02:01 AM:

TexAnne at #269 writes:

> I have heard from someone reliable that it's not uncommon for college history students to describe the Spartans as "good Christians." (In contrast to those yucky girly Athenians, see.) I fear for my country, I really do.

It's a complex question - I myself heard a little boy asking his father "Were the Greeks the good guys?" while standing on the Parthenon. Sadly I didn't hear the answer, or we could sort this out for once and for all.

#272 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 02:13 AM:

Steve, #267: It's fortunate that I don't know anyone who'd be inclined to use that phrase non-ironically, because I'm not sure I could resist the temptation to respond with something along the lines of, "It's mighty white of you to think so." And that would probably not end well.

#273 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 02:25 AM:

Lee at #272 writes:

> Steve, #267: It's fortunate that I don't know anyone who'd be inclined to use that phrase non-ironically, because I'm not sure I could resist the temptation to respond with something along the lines of, "It's mighty white of you to think so." And that would probably not end well.

As it happens I'm white and the friend who said that to me is ethnically Chinese and I really *did* think about saying that.

However, it's probably best for the happiness of all concerned that the thought didn't occur to me until long after the event.

#274 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 02:37 AM:

Mycroft: Been to Ottawa lately? Because the jerseys, signs and Canadiens, all over the place. (I just got back from Ottawa, even in the summer the kids are wearing jerseys). Maybe it's just the area I'm in (near Parliament) but don't bring up the Senators, just don't.

OtterB: I know people in walking distance of Carlton, if she want's to get out and see people. Joel knows them too, and there is a Thursday night supper she could be invited to.

#275 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 04:30 AM:

heresiarch @270
thought from the get-go that it was clear that (some percentage of) people going "No really" were saying it unaware of its profoundly insulting implications. That that is a minority view came as a surprise.

Just to be clear, because it sounds like you're still palming a card here...I think everyone is aware that some percentage of people are probably not thinking "you can't be American, looking like that".

What you seemed to be doing was assuming that that percentage was representative, or sufficiently large that the remainder wasn't important enough to be addressed, reacted to, considered. Then we get into the feeling of denial of experiences, etc, etc.

#276 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 05:12 AM:

abi at#275 writes:

> What you seemed to be doing was assuming that that percentage was representative, or sufficiently large that the remainder wasn't important enough to be addressed, reacted to, considered.

I must say that impression wasn't universal.

#277 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 05:18 AM:

Heresiarch @ 270 -

I've been trying to step slowly through your various comments, program debugging style[1], to see if I can figure out what's going on.

I *think* one of the problems is this: Does anyone expect that "Where are you from?" is answered by default, by everyone, as "My people are originally from $country" ? Is that how white Americans answer that question, and PoC are just doing it wrong?

That's the only thing I can see that makes, "No, (AYKB), where are you (really) from!" a reasonable response.

Because otherwise, the phrase "where are you really from" means "you're not really from where you said". (ObLOLcats: "where R U frum - UR doin' it RONG!")[2]

The phrasing puts the error on the respondent who said, "I'm from [here/LA/the Post]", not on the person who asked badly. So then the assumption is, PoC will answer "I'm from $country". Because they're not *really* from wherever they said.

"Oh, I meant, where is your family from?" puts the error back on the querent.

I don't think the problem is that the question is insulting. It's not that asking about heritage is rude. (Although Renatus does have a point, that it's personal information, which strangers probably ought not feel that they have a right to know.)

I think the problem is that the script requires PoC to take the question as an ancestral heritage inquiry at best. (I think this is what you've been trying to express, and failing at. That the querent might be making one of two assumptions:

1) Respondent is actually a recent immigrant, because all PoC are immigrants.
2) Respondent should answer the question as a query about ancestry, because the respondent is a PoC.

Both are clearly problematic. Is the distinction between the two actually useful?

------------
[1] Not a programmer, nor do I play one on TV. I just have a long history of being in relationships with them. It rubs off. (Well, okay, and I learned FORTRAN on punch cards.)

[2] ObFandomIsSteepedInJudaism - I immediately leapt to a 'frum' reference. Oy.

#278 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 05:25 AM:

Xopher @ 266 -
Those two things bode EXTREMELY well for a profitable time in the Fluorosphere! Welcome.

Wait...profitable?! You mean, like blogging at tor.com? Sign me up! ;)

---

Alas. I'm pretty sure that was just a pretty turn of phrase. Dangit. Thanks for the welcome, though.

#279 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 05:55 AM:

Terry @274 and Joel @264, thanks. I'll pass the information on, though I doubt if she'll bite.

#280 ::: Bombie ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 07:46 AM:

Abi @275
What you seemed to be doing was assuming that that percentage was representative, or sufficiently large that the remainder wasn't important enough to be addressed, reacted to, considered.

I agree with Steve Taylor (@276). It's true that heresiarch at first gave of that impression (to me), but I felt in his later posts that that wasn't quite the case (alas, heresiarch didn't realise at the time what exactly he was trying to rectify). I can easily imagine that, because of this early (badly identified) misunderstanding (caused by poor wording), some reactions would have been stronger then heresiarch might have anticipated. I think I'd have a hard time staying as graceful as hse did, given the frustration I'd feel.

I've really appreciated tinker's approach to the conversation/discussion. Apart from liking the approach, I also agree with the break-down @277, which is on par with how I feel (from my somewhat uninformed European point of view) about exactly what connotation the question carries.

#281 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 07:57 AM:

"I'm told that a distant ancestor, named Lucy, came from Africa."

#282 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 07:58 AM:

I may be jumping in where I'm not wanted, but I'm pretty sure that heresiarch has stated elsewhere that the choice of a gender-neutral handle was deliberate. (Unless I'm confusing heresiarch with another gender-neutral Fluorospherian, which is entirely possible.)

Carry on!

#283 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 07:59 AM:

Steve Taylor @276, Bombie @280:

You are both correct; over the course of the thread, heresiarch did address the matter. I was referring specifically to comment 35, which for various reasons* set the tone for the rest of the discussion. I apologize for not making that clear enough in my comment 275.

-----
* top two being: firm and definitive tone (a characteristic of heresiarch's discussion style in general) and surprise at the perceived omission as I detailed in 246.

#284 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 08:25 AM:

I must say that impression wasn't universal.

I concur. ISTM that there are some people with a tendency to instinctively reduce phenomena to "representative" cases, and expect everyone else to do likewise. Thus they will assume that any specific case discussed is asserted to be representative unless explicitly marked otherwise, even when the other speaker didn't intend to claim that. This misunderstanding, in turn, is hard for the original speaker to grasp, because they know what they meant and that wasn't it, and because they don't have the mental tendency that would lead them to make a similar leap. This usually leads nowhere good.

Which comes right back to the topic of this thread when someone doesn't fit a person-who-thinks-in-representative-cases's idea of a representative American... There is no one representative American; America is more complex than that. The desire for representative cases is a desire for more homogeneity of groups than the real world can (or, at least, does) supply.

#285 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 10:06 AM:

Trinker:

It's good to see you again! I was (under a different name) one of the regulars on alt.callahans.

I hope you'll stay. We occasionally have threads flame out, but much less than alt.callahans, and this place is just fun all around. Come for the privilege discussions, stay for the William Carlos Williams/dinosaur sodomy poetry mashups.

#286 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 10:51 AM:

Dave Bell @ 281... a distant ancestor, named Lucy, came from Africa

Lucy van Pelt?
(Yes, I saw the Far Side cartoon.)

#287 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 10:52 AM:

This may not be helpful.

Where I live everybody is asking everybody where they are from, or at least where their parents hail from, because very few of us are born in Manhattan. It is a city of immigrants as much from the rest of the country as it is from other parts of the globe, and it always has been.

This question could be asked rudely, of course, or it can be asked in such a way as showing personal interest in a person.

Where I am currently re-located, everyone asks almost immediately where we are from, and they don't mean NYC. They want to know where we were born, who our forebears are.

This may or may not be rude. I'm not feeling rudeness. What I feel is how very close knit this region is, or as they put it, "I know we're related, at least on my mother's side, though kind of distantly, but we're family." They are looking for any possible connection in our own family histories that intersects with theirs, not matter how distant.

Of course, we're white.

For the first time my pronounced blondness feels like a marker of outsiderness within my own country. My physical characteristics are so clearly out of immigrant waves that did NOT settle this region.

However, I still partake of the privileges of whiteness, even if not to the extent of the local residents, since I'm not family. I can only achieve that status via being married to someone with whom they do find intersections, no matter how distantly in the past, as the spouse's families are Southern.

Love, C.

#288 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 10:59 AM:

Steve@267: Someone once praised me for some charitable act--we were talking about raising children and trying to teach them about charity. She said, in almost these words, that she didn't know Jews "did that kind of thing;" she thought "Christian charity" was the only kind.

My jaw about hit the floor, since charity is a _huge_ deal in Judaism.

I resisted the impulse to tell her that Christians got it from us, since she also didn't understand that we only use the "Old Testament" (or, as we call it, the Bible).

She was from somewhere in the middle of the country and had never met a Jew before (not uncommon). Nice person, actually, and not stupid. She just had a very small frame of reference.

#289 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 11:01 AM:

albatross, #285: I'll tell you mine if you'll tell me yours. :-) If you'd rather not say in public, my e-mail is fgneqernzreNGzvaqfcevatQBGpbz. (And if you'd rather not say at all, that's fine too.)

Trinker, it is good to see you over here, and I hope you'll hang around for a while.

#290 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 12:54 PM:

Steve 267: It took a while for the penny to drop and for me to realise just how insulted I was to be told by a (Christian) friend "That was very Christian of you!".

Lee said what I wanted to say on this topic. I think an African-American would take the point at once.

Ibid. 273: If the person is an actual friend, might be good to bring it up and say "How would you feel if I said 'that was white of you'? White people aren't all good or the only good people, and neither are Christians."

Trinker 278: The word I was trying for was 'productive'. Or some other word conveying fulfilling, enjoyable, and pleasant for others as well as yourself.

Yeah, no profit in't. Man, I'd LOVE to have "ML Commenter" as a full-time job!

#291 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 12:54 PM:

My mother (Anglo-Slovak) always says that our family are "mutts," and I would expand that description to our entire species. Being a purebred anything is a temporary status with a variable and moving window available for "purity." A breeding population that remains isolated for long enough can be seen as stable and easily describably, but that situation changes pretty quickly as soon as there are opportunities for breeding with other populations. You never can tell what your ancestors will get up to. (If you can even tell which ones really are your ancestors.)

On the matter of curiosity about people's origins (ancestral, geographical, linguistic, pastoral-historical-comical-tragical): I'm not sure that it's inevitably ill-mannered or a sign of provincial ignorance. We monkey-folk have all kinds of ways of parsing our troupe affiliations, and where-did-you-grow-up, what-kind-of-accent-is-that, and what-was-your-ancestral-tribe are no more inherently offensive than are-you-a-Mason or how-about-them-Cubbies. Some of these might not be appropriate to put to strangers or casual acquaintances (or dem Finlanderss), but the curiosity is not necessarily a sign that the questioner is being pathologically tribal or even cluelessly privileged. For example, my education (lots of historical linguistics) and personal curiosity often lead me to ask about accents, and there are ways of putting the question that are (judging from the friendly conversations that question has begun for decades) not offensive.

Which reminds me of a sideways anecdote: On a train trip from Copenhagen to Aalborg, where my wife was teaching, we were chatting with a Danish couple perhaps a few years older than our then-30-something. After a decent interval, the wife asked where we were from. When we said the US, her response was, "But your English is so good!" We were not offended. (We're both English teachers by training, and understood what must have been behind her comment.)

#292 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 01:01 PM:

Russell Letson@291: Love the "English is so good" story.

If you ask about an accent in a way that shows some knowledge and the right kind of interest, I'm not surprised that that generally goes well. (We can hope that anybody actually trying to conceal their origins would have gotten enough dialog coaching to not be too obvious.)

#293 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 01:18 PM:

That's mighty white of you

My husband and I have used that one to each other for years, with irony on full blast, usually in the sense of "thanks for nothing" with a side order of "you must be joking."

But I wouldn't use it outside that context.

#294 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 02:24 PM:

I had a German teacher in highschool who used "Christian" to mean generic good person, and "the Christians" to refer to the good guys in any conflict. In other respects he was a very good teacher. I never did challenge him on that one issue, which I suppose is an ethical failure on my part.

Tieing to another thread, he had a story he told us about an African tribal "witch-doctor" who trepanned patients to relieve headaches. I think it was a set-piece, since he had props for it; though I didn't find photos in any earlier yearbook.

Ah; here he is preparing to open the skull of Joan Erickson, future Rhodes Scholar and justice of the MN Supreme Court and Federal judge (so I guess he didn't damage anything!).

I don't think I've directly seen "that's mighty white of you" used any way except ironically. It's problematic even then, except with close fiends.

#295 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 02:45 PM:

John Shaft: Warms my black heart to see you so concerned about us minority folks.
Vic Androzzi: Oh come on Shaft, what is it with this black shit, huh?
Vic Androzzi: [Holds a black pen up to Shaft's face] You ain't so black.
John Shaft: [Holds a white coffee cup next to Vic's face] And you ain't so white either baby.

#296 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 03:11 PM:

abi @ 275: "I think everyone is aware that some percentage of people are probably not thinking "you can't be American, looking like that"."

That awareness doesn't seem evident to me in comments like "I've watched that bit of dialogue before, and in the dozens of instances it's been played out in front of me, not once do I think it was asked in good faith." and "It is most emphatically NOT just a clumsy way of asking "What's your ancestry?""

Whereas despite the assumptions I made in my first comment, by my next comment I was already saying "which is (I think in at least in some cases) the question that "where are you *really* from" is trying to be" and "Maybe some percentage really did mean "You couldn't possibly be a real American."" For the bulk of the conversation, I wasn't the one pushing a single interpretation.

Trinker @ 277:
"1) Respondent is actually a recent immigrant, because all PoC are immigrants.
2) Respondent should answer the question as a query about ancestry, because the respondent is a PoC.
Both are clearly problematic. Is the distinction between the two actually useful?"

Yes, I think it is. For one thing, it's nice to be as accurate as possible: abstractions leak. On a more practical level, the degree of intervention required in the two cases is very different. Someone under the impression that all Asian-looking people are recent immigrants needs loads of education, to which they're almost invariably going to be somewhat hostile. Someone who doesn't realize how offensive their question is might change their behavior just from being told how their question sounds.

None of this should be taken to imply that PoC are in any way obliged to take the education of racist white folk as a solemn duty and task. This is for people (of any color) who've already decided that anti-racism is something they want to spend their time on, not an exhortation to do so.

TexAnne @ 282:

*embarrassed face* That's very kind of you, but no need! If people want to use "he" that's fine, and if they want to use "she" that's fine too. It's my idiosyncracy--I'm not trying to force anyone to jump through hoops!

#297 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 03:20 PM:

heresiarch @296:

There's a difference between a theoretical awareness that not everyone necessarily means a thing, and an interpretation of the sample one has experienced.

But now we're speculating what's in others' heads more than I think is sustainable. I'm not prepared to go further down the line of reading people's minds through the medium of their comments on Making Light; I suspect I'm about half a comment too far already.

You asked why I thought the conversation went the way it did. I've answered. Bowing out of this subthread now.

#298 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 03:27 PM:

*reads abi's mind*

Wow, you're having THAT for dinner?!?!?!

*gets on plane*

#299 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 03:29 PM:

OtterB @ 293: My partner and I use "hetero" to describe minor inconveniences the other is inflicting on us, usually accompanied by excessive eye-rolling and sighing.

"Wait a sec, I have to go to the bathroom."
"Ugh, gawd, that's soooo hetero."

abi @ 297: Sorry!

#300 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 03:33 PM:

*reads Xopher's mind*

Gosh, yes, bring as many as you can get through security; they can be dessert. Then you can teach me to make more, if my kitchen is suitable for such things.

#301 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 04:32 PM:

Somehow, I have a feeling cheese and chocolate are involved.

#302 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 04:46 PM:

Constance, #287: Having lived in the Southeast for a good chunk of my life, my experience of that sort of grilling is that they're trying to figure out whether you're worth acknowledging as a person or not. If they find that "family connection" -- either to themselves or to someone else who they acknowledge as a person -- you're golden; if not, you're white trash, and they will never, never think of you as anything else.

Needless to say, I don't think highly of the practice.

#303 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 04:48 PM:

reads Xopher's mind

Hmmm...
Sometimes a dirigible is just a dirigible.

#304 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 05:08 PM:

albatross #301: Somehow, I have a feeling cheese and chocolate are involved.

We have the technology

#305 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 05:40 PM:

#302 Lee

Yeah.

It's amazing to see / to be part of this thing that I've heard about all my life.

As one woman who took us out Saturday night advised: "As long as you emphasize your families' roots in Virginia and Maryland (via the Hugenot pogroms in France, so his families were all present in Virginia and Maryland by the end of the 17th c) and Texas, that you spent your first years in Louisiana, you will be fine."

However, according the family historians, the men in the families, just like mine, when the Great Wah came down, all were officers in the Union army. I don't think the men of my family were officers, though, unless they got promoted to sergeant or something; the military was just never a part of our thinking -- farmers, you know. They really loathe wars. But these men loathed slavery even more and believed very strongly in the Union.

Love, C.

#306 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 08:22 PM:

heresiarch @ 296 -

I think the problem of someone asking, "Where are you *really* from?" collapses down into one underlying issue:

White and black Americans, unless they have some personal marker of foreignness (e.g. a non-native accent) are able to answer with some location *within the U.S.*. They aren't probed for foreign origin. (You're from the U.S. somewhere.)

Non-white, non-black Americans, regardless of their accent, are probed for foreign origin. (You're not from the U.S. somewhere, you're from *over there*.)

It's not about how the question sounds. It's about the assumption underlying it. Even if the querent is aware that some Asians have been in the U.S. for five generations, asking the question in that fashion is an act of Othering. It's pretty much always done cluelessly.

People who want to ask about the ethnic origin of white Americans do not regularly ask it as, "where are you from? no, where are you *really* from?!"


In my experience people react to being told that what they did was problematic in one of two ways. Either by doing the reasonable thing, and rethinking their effect, or by doing the unreasonable, and flying the "but it's not virulent racism!" flag. What the H kind of defense is, "I'm not like the KKK!" It's like saying that anything short of being Jeffrey Dahmer ought to get a bye. I have no idea why there's a marked difference in this. I'd appreciate any insight. I *do* know that it doesn't seem to matter how it's brought up (i.e. it's not a tone issue).

I think this is a failure of education. Americans have been told for more than a generation that being racist is bad, but only in obvious ways. The idea that there are more subtle ways of perpetuating racial divides seems to be taken as offensive to many people. I'm especially troubled by the doctrine of "colorblindness is the ultimate in non-racism".

#307 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 08:32 PM:

Albatross:

Come for the privilege discussions, stay for the William Carlos Williams/dinosaur sodomy poetry mashups.

Guilty as charged. ;)

Lee:

Hi, nice to see you here, too!

Xopher:

-grin- knew what you meant, but it was too much to resist.

#308 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 08:47 PM:

I'm disappointed that, in this avenue of fondue, no one has yet brought up Wallace and Grommit.

#309 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 09:00 PM:

Serge @ 308: I did tip the ol' energy dome to Nick Park in the other thread...

#310 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 09:19 PM:

Here's how I asked it recently: "N____, may I ask, is your family from Denmark or Sweden?" This was to one of a group of Germans (but this one had non-German given name and surname) that we were doing business with, and now we were socializing over dinner in a restaurant. He had already asked if I had a wife back home, so personal questions were fair.

#311 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 09:57 PM:

Serge @ 308... Argh. Wrong thread.

#312 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 11:37 PM:

re, "where are you from" and movement to forebears place(s) of origin. It's not that I don't get it as a white person, it's that my saying, [location in the US] in response to that question has never, even when I have odd linquistic markers, never led to a, "where are you really from" sort of question.

As to authoritative tone.... I don't know how Trinker read it, (I confess, that seeing her elseweb, I probably conflated other appearances here with a sense of more steady lurking than I actually know of), but heresiarch is a very forceful commenter; in a different way to my levels of asserting my sense of being right.

So getting the sense that my experiential observations were so differnt, and in a manner that seemed, in toto; to me, a bit dismissive was disconcerting.

Constance, the issue isn't the question, "where are you from", it's the follow up, with the word, "really" added. The sense of americans being internally migrant is long-standing. I recall a poem, learned in high school, about it, "What was your name in the states", from the Calif. Gold Rush. That question, face to face, instead of in the abstract, was a really invasive one.

#313 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 11:42 PM:

TexAnne@#138 --

Thanks, that was sweet of you!

Jacque@#226 --

Not as far as I know. Still, I'd rather be called a "Hamster-American" than a "pig."

#314 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 01:59 AM:

Terry, Debbie Reynolds sang a very uptempo version of that song in "How the West Was Won." The original trailer is on YouTube, but unfortunately no audio of the song is in it.

#315 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 02:03 AM:

"What Was Your Name in the States, mp3 at Amazon, sung by Debbie Reynolds. Click the "Play all samples" button for about a minute's worth.

#316 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 02:10 AM:

Trinker@306 I have no idea why there's a marked difference in this. I'd appreciate any insight.

I reckon the first group thought, "Oops, that's some racist behavior I need to work on" and the second thought "OMG I'M BEING ACCUSED OF RACISM I'M GOING TO BE ABANDONED TO DIE ALONE AND FORLORN ON AN ICE FLOE" (tm Avram). I presume you avoided trigger words like "privilege" (obviously) and "racism" itself. What happens when you come back with something like "Are you saying I just got off the boat and have got chickens in the linen closet, then?", said with as much of a smile as you might be able to manage under the circumstances? Assuming this would be an acceptable option, I really don't want to do the "offering solutions" thing, but I am curious about how much leeway you feel you have in fielding the "really".

I suspect these people need to be made to feel embarrassed but not humiliated, it's a fine line.

#317 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 02:15 AM:

Terry Karney @ 312

As to authoritative tone.... I don't know how Trinker read it

It came across as mansplaining.

I don't tend to call that out by name, I'd rather just deal with it. (Calling it out, IME, has a very high risk of conflagration.)

So what I got was heresiarch, who I don't know, but who I assumed to be a reasonable being, explaining that a certain portion of people were coming up with a reason to ask, "where are you REALLY from?" Actually, the problem started way back in the beginning @35, with this:

While I agree with most of what you're saying--that those without "European" features have a harder and slower time assimilating--I think you're moving the goalposts a bit. "The ignorant think you're American" doesn't seem to me to be the relevant standard, or at least not the only or the most important. Things like mainstream prejudice, legal constraints, government harassment and so forth are also important.

But...I was talking about *acceptance*. We were all talking about "when does an immigrant group assimilate and become 'American'?" And that's not a matter of legislation, or lack of concerted harassment. It *is* a matter of "the ignorant see members of that group as American, rather that Other".

* * *

I have a question for the Fluorosphere, because it's the only place where I can imagine possibly getting an answer.

I don't get why people want to explain that "it's not so bad, it's not like they're crazy racists!".

Are they afraid I/some other PoC is going to shoot someone for saying something that clearly comes from being steeped in the background racism of modern Western culture? I live here. I see it all around me. I can make the distinction between eliminationists and people being clueless.

I also see that a significant number of people manage to avoid that sort of gaffe while still engaging with PoC. (Because the other thing I hear a lot is, "well, I just will *shun PoC*, because trying to avoid gaffes is too hard!".)

So this isn't an impossible bar. But it gets responded to as if I'm not setting my expectations low enough.

#318 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 02:30 AM:

Adrian @ 316

Sorry, I wasn't clear about what I was asking about. Usually, the point at which someone asks, "where are you *REALLY* from?" is a bad place to try to get at the underlying problem in any direct fashion.

I normally answer with, depending on my mood, either "how familiar are you with L.A.?" or "did you mean where is my family originally from?"

Maybe I should ask, "would you ask a white person that?" or something like that but I've always thought that would be confrontational, and unkind.


The question I had was why, in general, pointing out that something was problematic results in the two different sorts of answers. That's been the source of every single one of the "Fail" flurries I've ever seen. I'M GOING TO BE ABANDONED TO DIE ALONE AND FORLORN ON AN ICE FLOE" (tm Avram) is a great summation. It also explains why their friends (or other bystanders) leap in to rally and defend.

Why? Why do some people take it that way, and some not?

#319 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 03:07 AM:

Trinker@318 : Maybe I should ask, "would you ask a white person that?" or something like that but I've always thought that would be confrontational, and unkind.

Ooo no, "white person", major trigger phrase. I thought the just-off-the-boat thing would be less direct, maybe save the chickens for later.

I'M GOING TO BE ABANDONED TO DIE ALONE AND FORLORN ON AN ICE FLOE" (tm Avram) is a great summation.

It's here, post 530. Lively thread.

Why? Why do some people take it that way, and some not?

Like you said, education, I guess.

#320 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 03:22 AM:

Trinker @317 re: your wondering why people say "it's not so bad, it's not like they're crazy racists!"

This is my opinion, and mine alone: this statement comes across to me as a plea for compromise, as in "That problem needs a hand grenade, not a tactical nuke." It doesn't imply that there isn't a problem, but does question the severity, and further, it leaves some wiggle room for a conversation regarding both the severity and the appropriate response thereto.

Exasperating? Yes. But since when is dealing with other people ever NOT exasperating?

#321 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 03:52 AM:

Renee @ 320 -

Just what kind of a tac nuke could I or any PoC (or anyone else) bring to bear?

Perhaps there's a difference in perception of power going on. As in who has the power in the situation.

It comes across on my end as, "hey, they're not lynching you, pipe down!"

#322 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 04:11 AM:

Trinker @321: You have the power to rant, at length, about something the other person may not have ever thought about before as being wrong, rude, or uncomfortable. You have the power to bring this up in a situation where the offending party may not think they have the time to form an appropriate response, either explaination or apology (or both). You have the power to embarrass someone, and a lot of people don't deal well with that.

I'd say that yes, there's a difference of power in the situation. Both in what you perceive the person to be acting from, and in what they see *you* as wielding.

Your response, that you see it as them telling you to shut up, comes across to me as you saying you're seriously considering turning the keys and starting countdown. Since I doubt that's your intent, I'll discard that interpretation. I'm not sure, right now, what to replace it with, but since there seems to be a parley flag waving...

#323 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 05:49 AM:

Adrian Smith #319: I'M GOING TO BE ABANDONED TO DIE ALONE AND FORLORN ON AN ICE FLOE" (tm Avram) is a great summation.

That sounds like something Allie Brosh might say.

#324 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 11:45 AM:

Trinker @ 317 and passim: Just my perception as a cis, currently able bodied, melanin-deficient male, but I think there's a significant segment of society that's incredibly sensitized to racism issues without really understanding them, like a child who's been burned once on an electric stove and is now afraid to touch anything red. They - sometimes we, but I'm gradually getting better - know that there's this category of bad things to do and approximately what they are, but they don't consistently recognize the edge cases or gauge the severity of a transgression.

When I hear someone say "It's not like they're crazy racists," I tend to interpret it as a plea or question, with an implied "...is it?"

#325 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 12:20 PM:

My take on institutional racism and people not "meaning to" (as a recovering racist and sexist)1,3: There is a huge societal belief that "normal" is acceptable. I'm weird, and almost certainly somewhat Aspic, and get a lot of "but it's normal" or "doesn't everybody know that" or even "I can't see what your problem is" (because what I didn't/can't learn from simple "experience" is something that is so ingrained to the normals to not be recognizable as a skill or piece of knowledge - it just *is*). People get very uncomfortable when I react "wrong" to their body language (which I can't read), and if I ask, they're even more uncomfortable, because they can't explain how they know this, or what they're doing that "means this". Of course, I get really uncomfortable when it's clear that I've missed a very important part of the conversation, but I can't figure out either what it was, when it was, or what it meant. I also am very wary of doing anything that can be misinterpreted, because I'm not going to reliably catch the warning signs of "that's the edge" or "I'm uncomfortable with that" before it gets to creepy or "I think he's dangerous". But I know I'm not typical; so I have lots of experience with this happening, and have strategies to deal with it (badly).

All of which is a sideline to the "institutional racism" bit. These people are *normal*, and they know that racism is bad - but they're just doing what's *normal*, and that's by axiom acceptable, so can't be racist, because that would be unacceptable. And they're being told it's not acceptable, and they *don't know how to handle that dichotomy*, because they have so little experience with it.

Also, there are gredations of other-ism2, but the racists they hear about are the KKK, and the sexists they hear about are on Mad Men. And you know, the closet racists are fine with their beliefs that "America should be white, but I can't say that in public". They react to "would you ask that if I were white?" with the thought "oh the poor [ethnic] is offended. She should have stayed in her own country. And she still didn't tell me which it was, so I can set up the right stereotypes for her." The ones that don't admit to themselves that they are racist - in particular those who believe they aren't, because they're *normal*, take any hint of "would you ask that if I were white?" as equivalent to "when's your next cross-burning parade?" and that, combined with "this is just normal, it can't be wrong", triggers the ballistic response. Not saying it's right, mind you, just that's where I see it coming.

The difference between "wow, you're right, that was dumb of me" and "how dare you call ME a RACIST?"4 in these subtle, institutionalized situations, is one "aha!" moment, where the underlying, unquestioned, even internalized to the point of lack-of-conscious-knowledge assumption gets noticed in a position where it can be thought about. I don't know what mine was, but I know when. As soon as that happens, two things start to occur in future:

  • things the person says or does get checked against the new, more reasoned belief, and while they still get said or done, it triggers internally that "oops, I did it again" moment. IF they are going to decide to become not a closet other-ist, each of those times are going to get noticed, and training happens (even if the other person doesn't point it out).
  • when someone calls them on something else, it is *much* easier to do the "check the underlying assumptions" bit the second/nth time; it can even happen before the "but how can I be wrong, I'm normal" trigger fires. And now you get "oops, that's some racist behaviour I need to work on".
But as I said at the beginning, I'm weird; it may not work that way for you normals. So, my take only.

1by which I mean white, male and Canadian, but have had a few things pointed out to me, to the point where I can see them, and look for them (and know how to look for others that haven't been pointed out to me), and try to (and more particularly, want to) avoid them in future.
2note: I'm not in any way discounting the daily grind-down of minor irritations that are ever-present. It can kill, it can ruin lives, just as badly as single instances of more extreme abuse. It tried to kill me, and nearly succeeded, (and see the first phrase of 1 above, so I know I had advantages, not least of which was the crap *stopped*).
3also by which I mean in the X Anonymous sense of "recovering". I am one, but I'm going to not be one *today*.
4as opposed to "How dare YOU call ME a racist?" which is the closet door opening.

#326 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 12:31 PM:

Mycroft W @ 325... I'm weird; it may not work that way for you normals

Who you calling normal?

(Sounds better if said with the voice of Robert de Niro, whose nickname as a child was Bobby Milk because he was such a bookworm that he seldom spent time out in the sun.)

#327 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 12:48 PM:

Not quite sure this is germane to the discussion, but offered anyway:

I have a friend who is Hawaiian. Her daughter recently relocated to Long Island to go to college. Another Hawaiian posted on my friend's Fb page about how her daughter was going to have to be careful on Long Island because everyone would assume she was Hispanic, that she wouldn't speak or understand English well, that she was poor, etc. That people would speak loudly to her (as some do to people who don't speak English), or be condescending, or ignore her/try to cheat her in stores, etc.

I thought about that post for a while before posting a reply, because I didn't want to piss off my friend and because I feared a backlash along the lines of "you're white, how dare you tell a person of color anything about prejudice." But in the end, I posted something which basically said, "if a white person said things like that about a person of color, that white person would be called a bigot."

Shortly thereafter the original post was deleted by the poster and I then deleted mine.

#328 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 12:52 PM:

Trinker #317:

I think this (based partly on introspection, partly on observation) is not about beliefs, but about social class. Overt racism has been rendered unacceptable among middle-class whites, partly by the moral arguments (which have the virtue of being clearly correct, but the drawback that moral arguments are pretty easy to ignore), but more fundamentally (at least among the people I know best) by labeling overt racism as a marker for being lower-class. It's like not talkin' too good, or having bad teeth, or not having a college degree, or living in a trailer. Overt racism is a kind of statement about their own identity which many middle-class whites really don't want to make.

Have you ever seen someone conscious that they've just done something that lowers them in social status around a bunch of strangers, and they suddenly want to explain themselves. No, I'm not like this, it's all a mistake, I normally bathe regularly and I didn't always live in a trailer and my meth habit is only a passing thing and....

Now, the phenomenon you're talking about seems less like overt racism and more like garden-variety thoughtless ignorance to me, but again, showing that off doesn't make anyone proud of themselves or how they look to those around them. And so the useful lesson[1] for someone who grew up in a very homogenous world (wow, people who look Mexican or Chinese to me exist, who speak with no accent and consider themselves natives of LA and are clearly a bit annoyed with me for assuming they must be foreign just because they aren't black or white) gets swallowed up in the urgent desire not to be seen to be ignorant or lower-class.

That's my take, anyway. YMMV. Void where prohibited by law. Etc.

[1] The desire not to be seen to be ignorant is probably the greatest cause of ongoing ignorance there is. At least, I find making myself admit my own ignorance and unsophistication up front very difficult!

#329 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 12:56 PM:

Mark@324, Mycroft @325: Yes. That. Precisely.

Thank you.

#330 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 12:57 PM:

Melissa Singer, IMO, it is perfectly fair to warn people about bigotry they might encounter. It's usually better than leaving someone unprepared, and in some cases, it can be a matter of life or death.

#331 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 01:03 PM:

Racism in the US has largely progressed from "no coloreds" and lynchings and cross-burnings and legally segregated neighborhoods.

But a lot of us got trained in on the extreme cases (when some people still supported them in public). Accusing somebody of racism is one of the strongest criticisms that can be levied, in a lot of circles. We may have reached the point where this is now actually interfering with progress -- people still make little goofs, but react to being called "racist" as if it's an accusation of one of the really big things. That's mildly amusing in a black sort of way. Sign of progress! (The solution of course is for people like me to get it solidly internalized that racism happens on many different levels, and even if I haven't burned any crosses lately I may still have said something insensitive.)

#332 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 01:07 PM:

albatross@328: I think that probably does describe very accurately one important thread of what's going on. ("Middle class" is not specific enough since it's what everybody from hedge fund managers to carpenters claims to be part of in the US; you're talking about the college-educated group, roughly, right?)

#333 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 01:30 PM:

A couple of things that didn't fit in the argument above (yeah, I know it's less argument than ramble, sorry. But these really didn't fit):

Agreeing with Renee@322: never underestimate the power of the ability to embarrass someone in public, especially in front of his friends. It's still a small end of the power imbalance in the situation, but it's power, nonetheless. It's even more powerful if (re my argument above) it hits an unquestioned assumption.

Trinker in general: Welcome! (I'm sorry I didn't say that before.) You seem interesting, and I'm both enjoying and being educated by what you're saying and how you say it. And yeah, nowhere (save maybe the Monastery when I was a regular there) do I think more before hitting "post" as I do here.

So, where are you *really* from? I have friends that moved to North Hollywood (No, I'm not actually wanting an answer).

More Renee, 320: The problem is that what looks like tac nuke (vs grenade) to one side is a quiet, reasonable response to the other - because, again, institutionally, there's nothing abnormal about what happened, so the response is "coming out of nowhere". There *is* no grenade, sometimes; there's sit back and take it, or comment on the fact that it's unacceptable, i.e. tac nuke. And the responses only go up from there.

They react just as badly to my "why do you care?" when they invade my privacy in ways that are socially acceptable.

More Trinker, re: "the discussion": They do have a reason for asking - it's important for them to be able to compartmentalize you. They just don't realize that that reason is offensive. They haven't, and frequently can't, make that connection. So, yes, many of them do "have a reason", and it's not "you can't be a real American, you're not white"; they just don't get that needing to know, even if you were born here, if you're Chinese-American or Japanese-American (or Vietnamese- or Korean-American, for that matter) *implies* that you're less "real American" to them than if you were white and they didn't need to know (if you were Dutch-American or German-American or British-American, or even kicked out of France by the French, then kicked out of Acadia by the English-American, for instance).

So my response would be "yeah, they have a reason. But it sucks, and isn't an excuse. It really is just as offensive as the 'real racists', even though the reason's different. I'm sorry they didn't mean it, but that doesn't excuse them either."

And the other thing (re: footnote 2 above) is that "but it's just mildly racist, not like those crazy racists over there, why are you blowing up?" Well, yeah, "straw, camel, you figure it out. Sorry that it's you in the line of fire when I broke, but as it really is offensive, not very."

#334 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 02:13 PM:

Tehanu @313: Not as far as I know. Still, I'd rather be called a "Hamster-American" than a "pig."

Biting tongue...still biting tongue...

:)

#335 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 02:43 PM:
"I'M GOING TO BE ABANDONED TO DIE ALONE AND FORLORN ON AN ICE FLOE" (tm Avram) is a great summation."

It's here, post 530. Lively thread.

Closed now, but an education available to posterity.

Also, if you do a find-in-page for "rugose," you'll find that subthread of the conversation... well, absolutely typical of Making Light at its finest, actually.

I still giggle unreasonably over the phrase "case of the Mondays."

#336 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 02:49 PM:

Nicole @335:

Oh, gracious, I had entirely forgotten that exchange. Yes, that was a good one.

#337 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 02:56 PM:

Regarding offensive things people do, and their "reasons":

Fundamentally, we humans are story-telling animals, and one of the most persuasive, deeply held themes in most of the stories we tell about ourselves is that we are rational beings, and we choose our behaviors for conscious reasons. When someone points out that we may be doing something offensive that we're not conscious of, they're screwing with our story, and we have a number of defensive responses:

- Denial: I didn't really do that.

- I didn't mean it that way (and you're responsible for interpreting it as offensive). One variant is "it's just a joke".

- When I do it, it's OK, for various reasons:
-- "my oppressed status trumps yours"
-- "my friends among the group in question think it's funny"

All of these can be combined with a counter-attack, where the offended person is portrayed as the aggressor.

It's very disconcerting to have someone point out to you that you're not entirely in conscious control of your behavior.

None of this is intended to excuse the behavior, it's just an attempt to answer "why is it so hard to explain to someone that what they're doing is offensive?"

#338 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 03:00 PM:

Coming to the thread late...

I do think that "where are you from" has different connotations depending where you are. New York, or for that matter LA, has relatively few natives, so it's small talk.

And I have a bit of a fan accent (I think)- I don't sound like other members of my family- and a lot of people try to place the accent. (I don't know if Teresa remembers my voice- she meets more people than I meet Teresas- but she may be able to confirm.)

I've only been accused of REALLY being from somewhere else once. Then I went away to university in Canada and people happily solved "the problem" with that information.

I can see how, if people asked me where I was REALLY from, more than two or three times, I might get the slightest edge in my voice on the topic.

Trinker: Welcome to ML! You've had the dinosaur sodomy mentioned, if not explained, but the habit of putting spoilers and email addresses and such in rot13 may be something worth noting.

(There are people here who can read rot13 and complain it does not help with the spoilers. Science shakes its head, sadly, and says it can do nothing for them.)

#339 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 03:02 PM:

Mycroft 333: Well, yeah, "straw, camel, you figure it out. Sorry that it's you in the line of fire when I broke, but as it really is offensive, not very."

As I've said many times on many topics, something doesn't have to be a big thing to be the last thing.

#340 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 03:26 PM:

Raphael@330: There's a difference in my mind between warning someone (perhaps privately?) about bigotry they _might_ encounter and using a public forum like Fb to say that _all_ people of type X will treat "you" badly, which is what that person was saying. The post was worded in comprehensive and general terms.

My feeling is that it's one thing to say, "the man who runs that store doesn't like people of color and he is often rude to them and unhelpful" and a completely different thing to say "everyone in this town doesn't like people of color and will do bad things to them."

#341 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 04:33 PM:

Mycroft, #325: These people are *normal*, and they know that racism is bad - but they're just doing what's *normal*, and that's by axiom acceptable, so can't be racist, because that would be unacceptable.

I think you've nailed it. And this happens, to a greater or lesser extent, any time something changes WRT social mores, and it can drag on long after most people have accepted the change and moved on. Look, for example, at the way some women who retain their birth names after marriage still have trouble with family members who refuse to address them as anything but "Mrs. Husbandsname", even though by and large it's not even thought strange any more for a woman not to take her husband's name.

Melissa, #340: In a similar situation, I might say, "You are likely to encounter prejudice from some people, and should be aware of the possibility. Those people may do things like [insert warning list]." Is that an acceptable phrasing?

#342 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 04:48 PM:

Melissa Singer @ 340: What if somebody has no specific information about "the owner of Restaurant A is prejudiced" or "drugstore B's employees will follow you around expecting you to shoplift", but they do have information about the general "climate" (for lack of a better term)?

For example, some people of color will say "The San Francisco Bay Area is the most racist place I've ever lived." That's not a specific, watch-out-for-this-particular-establishment-or-individual warning, but I've heard it often enough, both in person and online, that I, as a white person, am not going to contradict somebody who asserts it. I haven't experienced the racist behavior that the person saying that has experienced, and with my skin color, the chances that I ever will are almost nonexistent.

White people have the luxury of not noticing or being aware of actions and behaviors that may directly affect the safety and wellbeing of people who are not white. I had a *click!* moment in this area while in Boston once, when my obviously-Anglo self, my obviously-Anglo father, and my obviously-NOT-Anglo husband went into what seemed to be a quiet neighborhood bar. I don't think we'd been there five minutes before my husband leaned towards me and said in an undertone, "We need to leave."

Dad and I were baffled. Huh? Why would we need to leave when we just got here?

"We. Need. To. Leave," he repeated. "These people do not want my brown ass in here." And when I looked around (as discreetly as I could), yeah, the expressions on the faces around us were rather less than friendly.

Would I have noticed that if he hadn't mentioned it? Probably not.

I think that insisting that only specific examples may be brought up when discussing this sort of thing is another way that white people deny and erase the lived experience of people who aren't white. Micro-inequities add up, but by their nature it's impossible to list them out. That doesn't mean they don't happen. I've been on the receiving end of that in relation to sexism. I don't want to do it to somebody else, whether it's around racism, homophobia, anti-trans bigotry, or anything else.

#343 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 05:01 PM:

Trinker @317 re: your wondering why people say "it's not so bad, it's not like they're crazy racists!"

I'm not sure I know the reason either, but an analogy occurs to me:

Two people are walking and talking. The ground is known for being uneven; Person B is familiar with the terrain but Person A isn't, and isn't paying attention to it either.

Person A stumbles and puts a sharp elbow into Person B's ribs.

Person B says "hey, watch out! That hurt."

Person A says "it's not like I hit you with a baseball bat."

Then what happens? Person B says, gratefully, "thank you for not hitting me with a baseball bat"? Or Person B thinks "so I tell you you've hurt me and you respond that you could have hurt me worse"?

Sure, Person B could have said "The terrain here is uneven; please watch your step." But there we are with the camel and the straw, and whether Person B feels like educating anyone, and whether such a thing is even likely when the response to the statement of error is both defensive and dismissive.

#344 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 05:44 PM:

johnofjack@343: Close, but you're leaving out the fact that person A thinks "That hurt!" is a proportionate response to hitting somebody with a baseball bat a few times. So person A is never going to recognize this description of the transaction.

The problem appears to be, in the end, that person A has some unclarity about the levels of assault, and doesn't notice that the lower levels still hurt significantly; but that the penalty for lower levels of assault especially by carelessness is not, in fact, social death. In the end the solution must be person A clarifying their understanding.

You may or may not care to help them.

But, if you are interested in getting this across to person A, you need to describe the situation in some way they can recognize.

For communicating only among person B's, of course, that's not an issue.

(Analogy isn't right; A and B are representing either levels of understanding or else "type" of person, not just one or just the other. Hope it makes sense anyway; wanted to stay within the initial outline.)

#345 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 07:15 PM:

This place, where we are temporarily living, is a fascinating experience in living for many reasons, not only the one that is currently being discussed in this thread on ML.

But in terms of diversity and relationships this spot is a brilliant location to be for those observing and attempting to learn more every day about how and why various people get along or don't.

For instance, if one thinks that this place works like what one may already be used to from other regions, say New Orleans, one would be very wrong and make a lot social errors. So much seems the same superficially: people tend to be acquainted, at least on some level, with the history of their area in a way that a lot of people in other parts of the country are not. There's the family relationships, as already mentioned. Both of these are equally true in NO, but it plays out very differently here.

Also, both 'white' AND 'black' are to one degree or another 'unmarked' here, in way unlike in NO, though both are also in many ways also segregated, but the segregation in this particular community is more marked also, despite the unmarked aspects in certain other areas. The public space is far and away dominated by white, whereas in New Orleans, not so.

But what really distinguishes this are from NO is that NO has a lot MORE diversity -- with white people from all over living there, including from Europe. There are Indians from India -- or at least their parents or grandparents were; a variety of latinos and Asians. They are very public.

If these latter are here, they are very downlow. That is what makes this area feel sort of foreign, because, for me, this is where it most differs for someone used to NYC. The only language I hear here is English. In NYC I can often walk the entire strip of West Broadway from Washington Square (well, down there it would be LaGuardia Place to Houston) down to Canal and never hear English, but I will hear a variety of languages from elsewhere. These may be tourists, or maybe not. Here, there are tourists, but they are white USians, and they speak English only. The spouse and I fell into Spanish at some point as we will do, when fooling around. You'd have thought we'd shot off a shotgun, the way people swiveled and stared.

Here, everybody I meet has family connection, whether they lived away and only recently returned. Everybody. I've never lived anywhere quite like this.

Love, C.

#346 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 08:55 PM:

Constance: interesting analysis. It would be a great deal more interesting if you actually said where it was you were.

#347 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 09:30 PM:

David @ #346, see her comment on Sept 11 @ 8:36pm in this thread.

#348 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 10:00 PM:

So I think this thread may have sensitized me a bit to another bit of prejudice.

I got an e-mail today from purchasing something on eBay which concluded with "Thank you again and God Bless!" Now, on one level this obviously falls under the rubric of praying for someone without their permission. And it's clearly code for "I'm a particular type of Christian and I hope you're one too," which fits into the "Mighty white of you" category mentioned above. And a little bit of thought makes it sound incredibly arrogant to me, more so if I were a believer myself. Because it sounds to me like someone telling G*d what to do -- it's certainly phrased in the imperative. And it also sounds as if the speaker understands what a blessing might be (go look at much of what's been written about the problem of pain to see that that's a non-starter among thinking religionists). It's clearly intended as a kindness, but seems to fail a laugh test when examined closely.

#349 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 10:21 PM:

Tom Whitmore #348, ah, now you've hit on one of my peeves. Well, two, really. One is every President ending a speech with "God Bless America," and the other is the singing of the song by that name at Dodger Stadium (a tradition stolen from the Yankees, who instituted it after 9/11) before "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the 7th inning.

It didn't bother me when it was occasional, for special games like the World Series in 2001. But at every game? The Dodgers started doing it last year, and it annoys many of us fans.

#350 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 11:08 PM:

Adrian @316, I resent the implication that I type in long stretches of all-caps.

Trinker @321, are minorities always less powerful in these disputes?

I mean, consider the case of a Christian child sent to a Jewish private school. While Jews are a minority in the general culture, they're a dominant majority in the context of the school. If there's a conflict of some kind, it's the Christian kid who's outnumbered, and more likely to be seen as "other" by the authorities.

#351 ::: John D. Berry ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 11:28 PM:

† Except it’s not, because the grudges against earlier bullies never really go away either. Ask the Irish about the English sometime.

As it happens, yesterday morning we were in a taxi in Dublin, on our way to the airport, with a voluble Irish taxi driver who was telling us about the writers he'd transported and whom it turned out he was related to. (His name was Declan Costelloe. One of his regular customers is his cousin Maeve Binchy.) Somewhere in the stream of conversation, he said that he was often asked how the Irish felt about the English. His answer: "Do you know the expression 'a chip on his shoulder'? Twenty years ago, the Irish had a huge chip on their shoulder about the English. Today it's more the size of a French fry."

#352 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 12:46 AM:

Avram@350: I did give the link for those who would peruse your more measured lower-case original - was going to do a direct one but I always forget how to do anchor tags. I thought it helped to evoke that sense of soul-shriveling panic I imagine descending upon these folks, but sorry.

#353 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 01:39 AM:

I never said "where are you really from," but once when I was in college I asked a Middle-Eastern-looking fellow student "where are you from?," and he had no trouble hearing my unspoken assumption that he was an immigrant, and putting some edge into his reply of "Allston."

I'm glad he did.

#354 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 02:35 AM:

Trinker @ 306: "It's not about how the question sounds. It's about the assumption underlying it. Even if the querent is aware that some Asians have been in the U.S. for five generations, asking the question in that fashion is an act of Othering. It's pretty much always done cluelessly."

I nod in agreement with what you say.

"In my experience people react to being told that what they did was problematic in one of two ways. Either by doing the reasonable thing, and rethinking their effect, or by doing the unreasonable, and flying the "but it's not virulent racism!" flag."

I'm not sure if this is helpful but when rereading the thread Avram's ice-floe line came from, I ran across this comment of mine that very issue. The following exchange is also, I think, very interesting.

I'd add that I think that the racism-as-essential-essence view is much more common among less clued-in people, whereas the racism-as-a-thing-people-do becomes more prevalent on the more aware end of the spectrum.

#355 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 02:38 AM:

Tom Whitmore @348: it's certainly phrased in the imperative.

I always thought "God Bless X." meant "May God bless X." rather than the somewhat presumptuous "God! Bless X!".

#356 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 02:40 AM:

Renee @ 322: Are you saying that the PoC has more power than their interlocutor in that situation? Or just more power than they feel they have?

#357 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 09:51 AM:

Tom Whitmore@348: Oh yes. But to me this is part of something that goes directly back to the Pledge of Allegiance in school (so almost 50 years), rather than something new.

Politicians are always injecting religion into inappropriate places. So are other people. It's really fairly discouraging; mostly I just ignore it, since if I were to say refuse to vote for those who did it, I'd never be able to vote for anybody with any chance of being noticed.

#358 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 10:22 AM:

heresiarch #356:

Surely that depends on context. Black boss and white employee is different from black and white friend having dinner, or white cop and black motorist. One of the things that makes racial issues interesting now is that there was a time when the power gradient almost always went from white men downward to everyone, and that's no longer true. This is an enormously good thing, though it certainly adds complexity to the world.

In many social contexts, the charge of racism is fairly powerful, and that charge is much more effective against whites than nonwhites. I have no idea how that balances against the broader social advantages of being white, or the effect of being in the majority, or whatever--again, that's surely context dependent[1]. I suspect tallying up power isn't all that useful a way to look at things. The specific nature of conversation and social interaction is important, and isn't well summed up by one number or comparison.

[1] Reading some of the race/privilege discussions here does not support the notion that being a white male gives you some kind of added power in the discussion. But this is a very unusual place, and I'm not sure how common that is.

#359 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 10:45 AM:

ddb #357:

I'll admit that regardless of the religious aspects, I've always (at least since I started thinking about it as an early teenager) found the Pledge of Allegiance vaguely creepy--like I was being told to take an oath of fealty or obedience or something.

The human mind is a funny thing. Repetition makes almost anything, whether sensible or not, seem perfectly normal. Often, that's really valuable, because it helps you absorb stuff that's not intuitive with the mental equipment that evolution gave you. But it also means that repetition dulls us to absurdities and things we'd never accept up front, and sensitizes us to things that are no wackier, but which are never said or heard.

#360 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:48 AM:

albatross@359: Nationalism itself is a bit creepy, when you think about it, certainly. But it's natural and proper to have some regard for ones "home"; attaching that like to a government may be a problem though.

#361 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 12:12 PM:

albatross @ 358: "Surely that depends on context."

Surely it does, and surely in this conversation we've fairly well settled on a single defined context?

#362 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 12:50 PM:

ddb @360 Nationalism itself is a bit creepy, when you think about it, certainly. But it's natural and proper to have some regard for ones "home";

I think the key to this is the extent to which something is a part of one's identity, and the instinctive defense of the things one identifies with.

I see nothing wrong with "I am an X and proud to be one" or "I am an X and that is important to me," whether X is national or regional origin, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, alumnus from Big Name U, sports team fan, or profession or avocation. In fact, I think that's a good thing. Otherwise we move into the kind of homogeneity where everyone's hometown stores and restaurants are the same chains and getting along means never voicing disagreement and nobody dares do anything out of the ordinary. Now that's creepy.

The problem comes when this slides over the line (and it easily does, often implicitly) into "I am an X and all Right-Thinking People know that everyone else is inferior" or "I am an X and any suggestion that X isn't perfect will cause me to feel attacked and bring about immediate retaliation in force."

Especially when X is something you're born with rather than something you choose.

The healthier reactions IMHO are variations on "I'm an X and it's fascinating that you're a Y, can we talk about it?" or "I'm an X and you're a Y but we have this common ground," or "I'm an X but I recognize it's not for everybody" or "I'm an X and glad to be one but I do see that this aspect of X is not what it should be."

Somewhere in here is also the difference between an identity rooted in your individuality and an identity rooted in your group membership, whether that group is family, ethnicity, etc.

#363 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 01:17 PM:

(Pondering the stick in my hand, and the question of hornets)

Surely it does, and surely in this conversation we've fairly well settled on a single defined context? I think context, and the lack of a shared one, is how we got to the mess we did.

In the realms of places where the world turns upside down; if one can't handle non-whites bossing one around, one can't hack the Army. Get off the bus, into basic, and about 25 percent of the people with absolute control over one will be non-white (actually, it might be more than that. Blacks make up 30 percent of the senior NCOs).

I had kids in my platoon at Basic (my "battle buddy" was a kid [barely 18] on this group) who had never seen a non-white person before.

The only context some of them could use to deal with it was that the Army was another world, and the normal rules didn't apply.

And I think I lost my train of thought.

#364 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 03:30 PM:

heresiarch@356:

The comments from albatross@358 are pertinent. I'm going to restrict my comment to situations involving people who are otherwise equal in social standing -- co-workers, fellow students, etc. -- because I don't have enough personal experience in unbalanced situations to navigate the rocks therein.

Yes, I do believe that the offended party (I don't want to use 'PoC', because offenses aren't necessarily based on color) may have more power in the sorts of situations we are discussing. For one, they will have the moral high ground, and that counts. Most people of my acquaintance consider themselves 'good' people; an accusation of racist behavior attacks their ego in a very sensitive spot. Their reaction is going to be defensively repairing the breach to their ego by apologizing/explaining/clarifying/minimizing the offense/changing the subject or by attacking back ("No, it's YOUR fault!") They will be reacting -- and in most situations, a reaction is not as powerful as an action.

Shorter version: "OMG! I've stepped in it! How bad do I stink?! I have to (do something to wash the stain off ...)"

#365 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 03:54 PM:

Renee @ 364: "Yes, I do believe that the offended party (I don't want to use 'PoC', because offenses aren't necessarily based on color) may have more power in the sorts of situations we are discussing."

The factor that I feel you and albatross are missing is that there is an equivalent charge that can be leveled against PoC* and in my experience almost invariably is: that the PoC is just an angry, embittered, militant who just needs to calm down. It can be just as tarry an accusation, in the sense of being dirtying and difficult to remove, for people of color as an accusation of racism can be for white people.

I don't feel that accusations of racism are the conversational trump card you and albatross are making it out to be. A lot of times it's just an invitation to an agonizing thrash.

* It's true that the person doing the calling out might be white, but there's a parallel accusation for them too: being an over-sensitive, patronizing wanna-be do-gooder. It's not as tarry an accusation as "racist!" or "angry PoC!," which is one of the reasons I feel white anti-racists have a particular responsibility to call out racism.

#366 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 04:39 PM:

heresiarch@365: And here I thought we were talking about legitimate complaints only.

All right. To expand the scope: yes, there are times when false accusations occur... and the complainer may *still* have power, even the 'highest amount' of power, in that situation, merely because of the nature of the complaint. It still hits the victim in their ego and it still forces a reaction. In that case, however, the complainer does not have the moral high ground, and if caught, they damage their cause with the victim.

To whit:

The reaction to the complaint (if the victim does not figure out the complaint is overblown) is still: I've stepped in it. I stink. I must un-stink myself.

The reaction to the complaint (if the victim does figure out the complaint is overblown) is some version of explaining that no, that card cannot be played in this situation, or a counter-attack. Actually, quite similar to the reaction to a legitimate complaint, save that the moral high ground is held by the complainee (absent blockheadedness, which can negate just about anything.)

The reaction to a complaint where the victim isn't sure if the complaint is legitimate or not can follow either pattern, since he/she doesn't know yet where the high ground is.

I'm inclined to take any accusation of bigotry seriously, at least until I figure out if the person making such accusations tends to do so in good faith or not. The social cost of an accusation is high; the cost of a false one, even higher. Do the math.

#367 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 04:40 PM:

heresiarch @365 I don't feel that accusations of racism are the conversational trump card you and albatross are making it out to be.

I don't read Renee and albatross as saying that all the power rests with the PoC. But it doesn't all rest with the oblivious-person-of-majority either. The power that the PoC has is based on public opinion. It is currently public opinion in the US, more often than not, that racism is a bad thing. (cf the discussion on Bending the Arc. Is the current situation perfect? No. Is it better than it used to be? Yes. At least people don't want to be considered racist, as opposed to viewing it in the same light as an accusation of being an oxygen breather.)

Anyway, this means that an accusation of racism is an accusation of Doing Something Unacceptable in Public. Ice-floe panic. Which leads to the extremely common human reaction, "What, me, no, I didn't do it!" Which comes in plain vanilla form from young children, and in various unappetizing flavors from adults, such as "I didn't say what you think I said," or "I didn't mean what you think I meant" or "You're overreacting." Some of these are deliberate put-downs, but IMO it's often just reflexively trying to argue the charge down from a felony to a misdemeanor.

I am, by the way, only addressing one small piece of the picture. I realize that there are legitimate limits, for example, to the extent the PoC (or person with a disability, or woman wearing a headscarf, or whatever) should have to educate the never-ending stream of Clueless Ones. I'm just trying to address "Why do people do that?

#368 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 04:42 PM:

Cross posted with Renee. Not, I think, in opposition. Looking at slightly different aspects of the situation.

#369 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 05:22 PM:

OtterB@367: Yes.

As for trump cards: a trump card can be any number, any suit, and a higher trump will beat a lower one. However, saying you don't have points in your hand when you do hold trumps is rather disingenuous, at best.

Playing a trump when one doesn't have a better move makes it a good move, even if one is beaten by a higher trump. Playing a trump when a non-trump would work better is a foolish one.

Finessing an opponent into throwing away a trump, even one of low point value... now THERE's an achievement.

#370 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 09:20 PM:

Three men recently got the U.S. Navy Memorial's Lone Sailor award for Navy veterans who have had distinguished civilian careers. Lanier W. Phillips, a black mess attendant years ago, hated white people because they were likely to hurt him. When his ship crashed on rocks in Newfoundland, he was surprised that white people didn't hate him, even after one couldn't get the black oil off his skin, and he told her it was his skin color. Excellent story here.

#371 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 09:37 PM:

Renee @ 366
"The social cost of an accusation is high; the cost of a false one, even higher. Do the math."

I think that either my math is different from yours, or I am not correctly understanding where you are going with this.

The cost of repeated, over the top, unwarranted allegations of racism -- yes, I could see where this could damage credibility, to an extent. I would argue that the more extreme the speech at this level, the less the potential harm to those accused of racism by the individual(s) in question. Nonetheless.

I can also see the potential harm to an individual unjustly accused of racist acts. It sucks to be accused of things you didn't do. There's a social cost, and it can be difficult to undo the damage to your reputation and self-image (though I think some really good methods for handling exactly this situation have been described upthread).

But I also see that the cost of saying "it is more important to be correct in all cases than it is to speak up in opposition to apparent bigotry" is destructive to the sort of society in which I wish to live. I think that if someone feels a statement is bigoted, they should speak up, even if they might be wrong. It allows room for dialogue, personal growth, and improved understanding -- for ALL involved, not just for the person accused of misstepping. That growth and understanding can't take place, if people are too afraid of being wrong to speak up in their own defense.

#372 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 09:41 PM:

Yeah, on re-reading, I'm pretty sure I'm reading that wrong. Any clarification much appreciated...

#373 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 09:47 PM:

[ Spam from 109.169.26.139 ]

#374 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:42 PM:

Kay Tei@371: I wasn't sure what you were asking, until after I'd read your post and my own a couple of times, and realized that I'd left unstated something that I was taking for granted.

Here goes trying to clarify: I do not think accusations should not be made. An accuser may be mistaken; the conversation that arises from a good faith but mistaken accusation that is resolved in a friendly (or at least peaceful) way can be good for everyone involved. If the accuser is right, ditto: it's a learning opportunity, or at least a smack-down opportunity. Both have their place in the course of human interaction.

But if the accuser is crying wolf, then they are showing they are unreliable, and the social cost of that is much greater than any amount of resentment arising from a true accusation, in my opinion.

YMMV.

#375 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2010, 11:44 PM:

Also, I agree with Mary Aileen@374: #373 looks like comment spam. That, or someone answered a post using the wrong window.

#376 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 12:05 AM:

Many thanks, Renee. That clears things up for me.

#377 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 02:23 PM:

For some reason, this memory bubbled up:

About 40 years ago, while I was taking an evening walk, a Jesus freak stopped me and said, not "Spare change?" or "Got a light?" but "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?" I said that I preferred not to discuss religion with strangers in the street, but he repeated the question. I told him that he would not like my answer, to which he replied, "That's OK, man, I've been persecuted before."

You can't make this stuff up.

#378 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 02:37 PM:

Russell Letson@378: there are a few churches in my area (mostly Pentecostal, I think) that send out 'missionaries' to preach in pedestrianized bits of my town centre, and in the last year or two they've started using microphones and amplifiers. (One of them also plays hymns on his electro-acoustic guitar, and he really sucks at it). The amplifiers are set to 'loud' but no-one seems to care about any of the other settings, so all you hear is a horribly distorted set of bullet points of faith, impossible either to understand properly or to ignore. It's hard to get away from the notion that they're getting off on rejection: feeling terribly smug as their seeds of wisdom bounce on stony ground.

Then again: I suppose that is what very early Christianity did look like (honestly, Quintus, there was this nutter shouting in the marketplace earlier today... thought he was drunk but it was only the third hour so perhaps not...)

#379 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 02:39 PM:

Russel, I have to admit I would have been sorely tempted to show that asshole what actual persecution is like.

I'm glad it didn't, though. Sigh. I want to go to Jon Stewart's rally on October 30, but I'm not sure I qualify.

#380 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 02:42 PM:

Russell, I apologize for misspelling your name.

#381 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 03:47 PM:

Renee @ 366: "And here I thought we were talking about legitimate complaints only."

There hasn't, in my experience at least, been a strong correlation between the complaint's legitimacy and the willingness of the accused to retaliate with their own complaints of over-sensitivity. If anything I've noticed the opposite correlation.

I also find it troubling that you don't distinguish between believing that an accusation of racism was made in error and believing that the accusation was made due to over-sensitivity. One can believe that an accusation is incorrect without believing that it was made as a result of a mental imbalance on the part of the accuser. Look above on this thread--I thought the flak I was catching was undeserved, but I didn't think I was getting because my accusers were just too angry and over-sensitive. Unlike other ways of disagreeing with the accuser that invite a dialogue, charges of oversensitivity presume the inaccuracy of the accusation and go on to suggest a(n insulting) reason for that error. Calling someone "over-sensitive" for leveling charges of racism is a conversational strategy with a particular, and racist, pedigree.

Another racist meme that travels hand-in-hand with "PoC are just over-sensitive" is one which argues that the balance of power has shifted so far that now PoC are the ones with the unfair social advantages, such as being able to win any argument by "playing the race card." (The number of public criticisms made of PoC for "making it all about race" gives this the lie, but nevermind.) Therefore, the narrative goes, it is now the responsibility of PoC not to abuse their excessive power over whites.

Can you see why your comments raised warning flags? I don't think that you're making that argument, but do you understand why in uncertain light it might be hard to tell? I'm sorry if I've been coy about this, but having just had my own arguments mistaken for a superficially similar racist argument, I wanted to be sure before saying anything definite. Sure doesn't seem likely anymore, so I didn't think concealing my hand served any further purpose.

Again, I'm not making any claims about what you believe. This is provided strictly for purposes of personal contemplation.

OtterB @ 367: "It is currently public opinion in the US, more often than not, that racism is a bad thing."

I think that statement conceals a lot more than it reveals: different people mean wildly different things by the word "racism," from a minimalist KKK-only definition to a maximalist we-are-all-fish-in-the-sea-of-institutional-racism definition. When someone says "racism is bad" we really have no idea what they mean.

I don't think that people of color are entirely without power in this kind of a situation. But the power that they do have derives from the strength of the anti-racist institution in people's minds, and I don't think it can be argued that the anti-racist institution is nearly as powerful a social force as the remnants of the racist institution. Because there's such a range of beliefs people have about racism, there are going to be some situations where anti-racism is more powerful a force than racism--but those aren't the majority, or even a sizeable minority (I think). They aren't representative. Or at least that's my feeling.

#382 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 05:00 PM:

That's OK, Zofer, I've been misspelled before.

[Exits giggling]

[Re-enters with a more or less straight face]

And I admit that my first impulse was to say, "You wanna see some persecution, asshole? I had a Catholic education! I'll show you how we used to do persecution!"

But it was, after all, the happy-hippy-dippy era, and anyway as an apostate I wasn't really going to get into the, um, spirit of it.

#383 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 05:59 PM:

Oh, Rustle, you're so funny!

And that would have been a GREAT response.

#384 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 07:49 PM:

Coming in again late in a very interesting thread, I wish I'd thought to say this before:


                ΥΣΑ! ΥΣΑ! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

#385 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 12:42 AM:

heresiarch@382: I repeat, I thought we were talking about legitimate complaints. I expanded my comments when you made it clear that you were also talking about non-legitimate complaints.

And now you're adding the issue of over-sensitivity. I will point out that this is your word, not mine, and not my intention in other words, either.

You have said: "I also find it troubling that you don't distinguish between believing that an accusation of racism was made in error and believing that the accusation was made due to over-sensitivity."

I find it troubling that you do not think over-sensitivity is a variety of error.

I am not going to comment on your comment regarding mental imbalance, as it makes no sense to me. I did not mention mental imbalance. Must I assume you are adding in this issue, as well?

Re: shifts in the balance of power. ANOTHER issue that you are bringing into the discussion. My comment: just because power balances are shifting does not mean that there is not power held in a conversation by both complainer and complainee. I did not address power shifts because frankly, I considered it outside the boundary of the discussion -- since YOU have only mentioned it NOW.

You said: "I'm sorry if I've been coy about this,..." Actually, judging from the items I've pointed out above, you've been positively obscure.

#386 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 12:59 AM:

Bruce Cohen@385: I admit I've been seeing something like that when I look at the post title.

#387 ::: Gerald Fnord ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 10:31 AM:

I laugh and cry whenever the '...but _my_ ancestors weren't _illegal_ immigrants,' brigade show up.

First of all, had your ancestors came here before 1924 and weren't Chinese, it were nearly impossible that their entrance be illegal prima facie. Second of all, many of them broke laws to get _out_ of the countries from which they came.

Finally, and seemingly ignored by everyone else I've heard, many emigrants lied about their circumstances once they got here in order to become immigrants. Most common was the claim of a sponsor able to support the person (or family) to prevent their becoming charity cases. Nonexistent sponsors abounded, and the real ones generally could put up their relatives or friends for a month or two. Add-in those who did their best to mask medical conditions that might preclude entrance---_all_ the cough syrup was used up just before docking---and the odd lying polygamist or anarchist, and one is led to the conclusion that some noticeable, not large but far from non-zero, would have been rejected had they been above-board and the officials as careful as modern advocates of restriction would have them be.

I do see the point of enforcing laws or changing them, but I can also see that people desperate to come to America are people desperate to come to America.

Anybody got a copy of "How the Irish Became White"?

#388 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 10:59 AM:

Gerald Fnord@388: One small bit -- I personally don't give a flying fsck whether some country forbid some people from leaving (in terms of my view of the people; it does negatively affect my view of the country, of course). I'm wholeheartedly behind people avoiding, evading, or just plain breaking such laws.

#389 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 06:40 PM:

At this juncture It's worth repeating the old saw that most of the ills of the USA can be traced back to seriously lax immigration restrictions on the part of the original inhabitants.

#390 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 07:00 PM:

Bruce: I have a t-shirt that says "Homeland Security - Protecting Against Terrorism Since 1492." The picture is of four Native American chiefs with their rifles.

#391 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 05:28 AM:

This is in response to a different, and much uglier discussion, but I'd like to draw the Fluorosphere's attention to an argument I found compelling regarding rhetoric about Native Americans in discussions of immigration.

To follow up earlier threads, I am in no way accusing anybody, particularly not Bruce or Xopher, of racism! Your comments at 390 and 391 are exactly the sort of thing I've said myself on many occasions. Now this essay has changed my mind about the wisdom of making those kinds of cracks, so I am presenting it as food for thought.

#392 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 09:01 AM:

Bruce Cohen @390, related to individ-ewe-al's point @392, stuff like this has been all the rage on the European extreme right for a while. Some of them have even started to talk of white Europeans as "the indigenous people of Europe" (brace yourself if you want to google that term). So please be a bit more careful with that joke in the future.

#393 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 11:28 AM:

Well, I did get my shirt from Native American vendors, but I don't know who they worked for.

#394 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 06:15 PM:

Okay. Just cleared my palate with dinosaurs & sodomy, maybe I can be coherent in this thread again.

Thanks to everyone who posted a welcome!

(I've been staying away for a few days, because I was starting to froth at the keyboard in response to the "PoC have all the power" commentary.)

Drat. Still not okay. But at this point, my choice is to either go off feeling like *I'm* on an ice floe, or to try to deal with it. Here goes:


Heresiarch - thanks for saying some things that I'd have wanted to say, here at the end. Every time I try to answer Renee's comments, my hands are shaking so badly that I can't think straight, and I'm literally quaking in fear that I'll be called "over-sensitive" and dismissed as unreliable on discussions of race.

Just as a general note: IME, Farrakhan notwithstanding, most PoC only bring up issues of racially problematic stuff when they feel safe doing so. And after a bunch of internal dialogue about whether it's worth the risk of being derided for bringing it up. At times like that, membership in mixed-background groups feels very, very conditional on swallowing the hurt for the comfort of the empowered.

I hate it when fan communities feel like that.

I'm going to try to reach out to the hands on the shore here, and get my ice floe back to solid ground. (Because I'm pretty damned sure that this is a safe space here, or at least can be.)

Mycroft, johnofjake, albatross, mark, ddb, other people in this thread...thank you so much for your ideas on what makes people react in the ways they do.

I like the ice floe analogy more and more. I'm going to expand on it, with apologies to Avram for hijacking it for my own purposes -

Bringing up racism feels like stepping off onto an ice floe...it's shaky, and I might end up stepping badly and in the water, to freeze quickly, without hope of rescue. Having someone appropriate my ice floe (ZOMG, you called me a racist! reverse racism! PoC oppress white peopel! all die!) feels like the accused has leapt onto the ice floe I was on, and shoved me into the water in the process. While yelling loudly that they're on the ice floe, so the rescue drama is all about them, and I'm drowned out, on top of drown*ing*.

Clear? Confusing? "Already knew that" ?

#395 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 06:23 PM:

Trinker, re your ice floe being comandeered--indeed, much discussion here and elsewhere (e.g. the link posted by individ-ewe-al at #392) can usefully be summarized with "Hey! White people! It's NOT ABOUT YOU!"

Come to think of it, "how to tell when It's Not About You" might be a useful addition to the school curriculum, though I'm not sure what subject it would best fit under.

#396 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 08:11 PM:

individ-ewe-al @ 392, Raphael @ 393:

Well, I'd say that if I haven't been racist, I've certainly been racially insensitive. I apologize for that comment, and for any offense it may have caused, and I won't be using that remark again.

Sometime back, in a thread that got rather heavily into questions of racism, guilt, and how to deal with being wrong, I remarked:

One of the things you learn when you raise kids and/or animals is that you will be stepping in shit. No amount of dancing around and being aware of your surroundings is going to protect you from that moment when your attention is distracted by something vital ("OMG! Does that scream mean the kid just took a header down the stairs?") and you get it all over your shoes. Here's the thing, though: it's not so terrible. Sure, it's embarrassing, it's messy, it's a pain to clean up, and the smell sticks around for longer than seems fair. But life goes on, and after the initial disgust, you start to realize that you're better off just cleaning up and moving on than standing there cursing the universe. We all of us do dumb things now and again, often without even realizing what it is we're doing until it's done. Embarrasment happens; clean up and move on.

I'm going to try to live by that advice in this situation.

#397 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 08:36 PM:

Trinker @395, glad you came back. I hope I wasn't a contributor to making you feel that your ice floe was tipping and shrinking; it was certainly not my intention. I for one appreciate your willingness to open up for discussion.

Bruce Cohen @397, you have just handed me the segue to a point I've been turning over in my head.

Adrian back @316 mentioned people thinking "that's some racist behavior I need to work on" instead of "OMG I'M BEING ACCUSED OF RACISM!" There are a few other exceptions, but when I read back through the thread, nearly everyone (including me) is talking about "racist people." Which does imply that it's a pretty much unfixable characteristic, and thus the best strategy for dealing with it is perhaps to identify those people and then try to avoid dealing with them. The alternative of talking about racist remarks, racist attitudes, and racist behaviors implies things that are subject to learning and change.

In the extreme cases on either end of the racist-attitude-and-behavior spectrum, it won't make much difference. In the middle, it might make people more willing to reconsider.

And that's sounding really Pollyannaish to me. C'mon, gang, let's go out to the barn and put on a show!

But I still think the distinction matters.

#398 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 09:59 PM:

OtterB

No, you didn't tip my ice floe. Thanks. I'm puzzled by this assertion I see all the time from non-PoC, that these discussions start out with "you're a racist!"

I have never, except in reports by non-PoC, seen that construction used *at the start* - I think that kind of thing is reserved for Farrakhan calling out Don Imus. It seems to be a national media phenomenon. I don't see this happening on a smaller scale. Maybe the problem is that many non-PoCs' primary experience with this sort of thing is via MSM reporting?

Among the people I know, I usually see a construction of someone trying to be careful *not* to trip the landmine of "you're a racist!", saying things like, "That came across as problematic in a racial sense..." Frankly, weaselwording like mad in an attempt to get the message across without triggering the Ice Floe Warning Alert Button. At that point...I dunno, I guess my question is, why do some people leap for the ice floe?

Now, in person, the last time I had to do anything about this was someone who said "j*w down" about a price. (I'd never heard this phrase uttered until I was living in the South, and then I discovered it wasn't rare.) I stopped my friend, and said, "I don't want to hear you using language like that around me." I got a boggled look, and then we went on from there.

I don't even try to have in-person discussions about racially problematic portrayals in media (outside of fandom), because I know that all I'm likely to get is, "PoC are so hypersensitive...affirmative action, PC, blah blah white men are the most discriminated against!" (I try this every once in a while, using different approaches, just to see what happens.)

I had a discussion with someone about their assumptions that all black people are horrible credit risks. Sure as anything, it triggered a, "look, I'm NOT a racist!" - when I hadn't even used the word *race*, much less racism or racist.

I did see a lot of discussion of "crazy racist" here, but it seems to have started with what looks to me like Heresiarch defending people who ask, "where are you really from?" from an accusation that hadn't been made.

Somewhere in the (inter)national dialogue, "racist" has come to mean "person who goes out to shoot PoC children". Or something like that. There's a whole lot more to work on. I don't know how to get there except to keep trying.

Renee -
What you wrote came across to me as,

"PoC (or anyone reporting racism) cannot be trusted not to play the Race Card, or to accurately report perceptions of racism.

"Only after vetting by the person being accused, and coming to an agreement that it was, in fact, actually racist, can we actually deal with doing anything about the possible problem, because the price of not doing that evaluation is too high."

Am I missing something?

#399 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 01:15 AM:

OtterB @ 398:

Yes, the distinction matters. I thought this was the show right here; at least we're all standing around in Teresa's and Patrick's barn and most of us are trying to understand each other as best we can.

#400 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:58 AM:

Maybe I need to say a few things more explicitly -

I don't think Renee is a racist. I do find that she's saying things in a manner that I find deeply disturbing.

Meanwhile, per OtterB's suggestion @398 -
Which does imply that it's a pretty much unfixable characteristic, and thus the best strategy for dealing with it is perhaps to identify those people and then try to avoid dealing with them. The alternative of talking about racist remarks, racist attitudes, and racist behaviors implies things that are subject to learning and change.

I don't like writing people off. This is simultaneously a good thing, and a bad thing. But if I'm bringing it up, it's generally in the spirit of, "things that are subject to learning and change".

I've seen a positive change in the areas of the fannish tent that I hang out in. More please!

#401 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 07:18 AM:

Trinker @399 Somewhere in the (inter)national dialogue, "racist" has come to mean "person who goes out to shoot PoC children". Or something like that.

Yes. I didn't intend to imply that you or other PoC were starting the conversation with "You! Racist! Are you listening to me?" But somehow this equation has taken place. It's not something one person can fix by taking more care with his/her language; it's in the air. It's nonproductive in terms of having the individual conversations, because it contributes to people having that knee-jerk reaction that "OMG I've been accused of being a racist, and since I know I'm not that bad, clearly this person must be oversensitive" when nothing of the sort was said.

And it's nonproductive in terms of the societal discussion that ought to be taking place, because, as heresiarch pointed out @382 different people mean wildly different things by the word "racism," from a minimalist KKK-only definition to a maximalist we-are-all-fish-in-the-sea-of-institutional-racism definition. When someone says "racism is bad" we really have no idea what they mean. And that makes it harder to do the kind of work we are trying to do in this discussion, of recognizing that people who do not intend to act in racist ways, and in fact abhor the idea, can still have problematic attitudes picked up from the culture at large.

Heresiarch also said Because there's such a range of beliefs people have about racism, there are going to be some situations where anti-racism is more powerful a force than racism--but those aren't the majority, or even a sizeable minority (I think). They aren't representative. Or at least that's my feeling. That may well be true. It's not true of the places I hang out IRL - I live in a liberal and fairly diverse area, and my professional life includes support of programs to encourage women and members of underrepresented minorities to go to graduate school in computing fields, which means that most of the people I meet at work are aware of the more subtle as well as the more overt manifestations of discrimination. But this is not representative even within my own field. Would that it were.

#402 ::: Mary Aileen sees probable spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:23 AM:

#403 looks like someone shilling for hirself.

#403 ::: Terry Karney see SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:31 AM:

Because Lee Evans, one of the most inept spammers I have seen today.

#404 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 04:06 PM:

Trinker @399 wrote: "What you wrote came across to me as,

"PoC (or anyone reporting racism) cannot be trusted not to play the Race Card, or to accurately report perceptions of racism.

"Only after vetting by the person being accused, and coming to an agreement that it was, in fact, actually racist, can we actually deal with doing anything about the possible problem, because the price of not doing that evaluation is too high."

Am I missing something?""

One of us is. Possibly me, possibly you, possibly both of us in different directions.

In the order of your points: No, I do not believe the accuser (I still don't like PoC; I feel it restricts things too much) cannot be trusted 'not to play the Race Card'. I believe that when the person does play the Race Card that the issue should be examined carefully, to see how and why the accusation was made, both to show the accusee where they went wrong and to show the accuser where the accusee did not mean to go wrong (hopefully; my redneck cousins might do it just for the sake of being jerks. Defiance, thy presence in the American zeitgeist is deep, profound, and often objectionable). I have found, however, in my own experience, that once the Race Card gets played people stop thinking clearly and start hyperventilating all over the place in unhelpful ways. And that's both accuser and accusee.

This hyperventilating phase is why I feel understanding (not vetting; vetting implies that approval is needed on the part of the accusee, and frankly, their approval is immaterial) is important. I imagine there are people who do not hyperventilate at least a little bit when being accused of racism--if so, I don't know any. I consider the process of understanding is a means of walking all parties through the problem to come to a mutually agreeable solution. If you can't convince your accusee that their behavior is a problem, I don't see how you are going to convince them to change it, and I believe understanding is a major component of change.

For instance, in your example regarding 'jewing down' a price, you told your friend that such language was unacceptable to you. However, their reaction of 'boggling' tells me they may not understand why you objected... and even if they never use the phrase to you again, they might still be using it elsewhere, and I have to regard that as good for you, but disappointing in the greater scheme of things. It may not be in your best interests to provoke a confrontation on the matter, however, beyond the relationship the two of you share.

This relates to what I mean by 'price ... is too high'. There is a cost, borne primarily by you, of saying, "That is an inappropriate thing to say around me." There is a higher cost to saying, "That is a racist thing to say," because you have initiated what is likely to be an unpleasant confrontation (see 'hyperventilating', above), and the word 'racist' is so fraught with emotional baggage that it implies a direct attack on the social status of the person hearing it, both in your eyes and in the greater community. I don't often see people capable of behaving rationally when they feel they are being attacked... even if an attack was not the intent in the first place.

Part of the price of this latter accusation is in what will happen to the human connection between accuser and accusee. If the connection is important to one or both parties, an emotionally-charged accusation such as one of racism could damage it, perhaps irreparably. This is the 'too high' portion of what I mean by price, because to what extent are you willing to put up with entrenched bad behavior, compared to how far are you willing to go to improve it?

There's always a cost. Which is easier to bear, vs. which is fairer to bear? I think we can agree on which would be fairer. The easier side of the equation, however, is open to individual assessment.

I don't know if this answers your points. I suspect that we are seeing this from substantially different angles (and I don't just mean that you're seeing it from a PoC viewpoint and I am not.) If I'm still not clear/am misreading you/am blockheadly wrong, let me know and I'll try to fix.

#405 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 01:25 PM:

Renee @ 406

I'm guessing you don't realize what you're expressing by using the word "Race Card" un-ironically. "The Race Card" means more than "bringing up race" or "calling out racism".

"The Race Card" carries connotations of exaggeration, false accusation for personal profit (at the expense of the accused).

You said:
If the connection is important to one or both parties, an emotionally-charged accusation such as one of racism could damage it, perhaps irreparably.

Please stop jumping on the ice floe. As I have said repeatedly, and am now SICK OF SAYING IN THIS DISCUSSION, the vast majority of PoC are very, very well aware that people are touchy about being told there's anything racially problematic in what they said. This is not news.

Everything I'm reading from you is suggesting that you have more sympathy for the "accused than the "accuser". Funny how suddenly this shifts the action breaking the relationship from the person who made a (possibly) racist remark, to the person calling them out. If that's *not* what you mean, please examine your wording. Please examine your wording as stringently as you would have people who bring up the issue of racially problematic speech.

#406 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 07:12 AM:

Trinker @407: Actually, I have sympathy with both accuser and accusee, since the first was presumably hurt by the latter, and in a non-zero percentage of cases, the latter had no intention of causing harm. I suggest examining the dispute to resolve whether a: the problem is deliberate or not, b: carelessness or not, or c: a misunderstanding.

I do this with a lot of interpersonal problems. Racism is only one--it doesn't get privileged just because it's about race. I am disappointed that you don't appear to see this. But then, your experience is different than mine, so.

My initial response in this thread was to your post 317, re: your wondering why people say "it's not so bad, it's not like they're crazy racists!"

In 407, you say, "As I have said repeatedly, and am now SICK OF SAYING IN THIS DISCUSSION, the vast majority of PoC are very, very well aware that people are touchy about being told there's anything racially problematic in what they said. This is not news."

You asked a question... to which you now claim to have known the answer to all along. All right. I apologize for misconstruing your original comment and now take myself out of this conversation.

#407 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 12:33 AM:

Renee -

I'm sorry you're feeling hurt and angry. (Or so I deduce from your words.) You've said you're done; I just want to leave it here in the record that I had no intention of setting any "I know the answer" quiz/trap.

The question you think I was asking evidently requires a 101-level answer.

I don't know why other commenters here seem to have understood what I meant, and offered answers in that vein, when you didn't. If I could figure that out I'd be able to promise that I'll never end up hurting you like that again.

It bugs me greatly that the "crazy racist" defense exists. It implies that anything short of being a killer of PoC children (or whatever that person defines as 'crazy racist') is okay.

I'm deeply troubled by the normalization of that response. If someone responds to "hey, you hurt me" with, "at least I didn't bludgeon you to death!" that person is judged by most to have responded unacceptably. But responding with "[I'm/he's] not a crazy racist" is deemed understandable.

That strikes me as privileging racism as a protected category.


If you're still reading. I'm hoping that it's simply that you didn't see what I wrote in 395 about how upsetting I found what you wrote earlier. And I also wish you'd address the Race Card issue I brought up in 407. But I absolutely understand if you're too fed up (or disheartened, or whatever else) to continue with this.

Again, I'm sorry it looked to you like I was setting some sort of trap.

#408 ::: Susie ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2010, 10:10 AM:

(delurk)

Today's "Unshelved" (library comic) comes a little late for this thread, but seems worth linking.

#409 ::: P J Evans sees more spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2010, 10:22 PM:

Same comment, different link?

#410 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2010, 09:18 AM:

In a related metaphor, P J O'Rourke had a commentary today on NPR entitled Party Politics or the Politics of Partying? that likens our society (or its politics) to a sorority that he labels ΥΣΑ.

#411 ::: albatross sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2010, 10:17 AM:

#411 is link spam using the URL on the name.

#412 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2010, 12:36 PM:

Dan, #413: Boy, that was a piss-poor article. Catchy basic concept, but he couldn't back it up with any analogies that made sense. If he'd started from the notion that we all go to the same college but have TWO competing social clubs (plus a few smaller ones that skulk around the edges looking for scraps) I think it might have worked.

#413 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 05:17 PM:

Trinker #409:

(*waves hello*)

Part of my problem with the concept of a "crazy racist" is that racism--while definitely evil--is a clever, profitable, and highly successful philosophy, as demonstrated by history and by current power structures. There's nothing crazy about it.

As for versions of "where are you from," when people ask me if my son is Chinese I say "he's of Chinese ancestry, but he was born in America." That often nets me a look of confusion and "What? How did that happen?"

#414 ::: Cadbury Moose spots spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 07:58 AM:

They may want a boyfriend but I suspect they're going to get a gnome with a mallet.

#415 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 11:35 AM:

Reminded of this thread's existence, if anyone else is rereading too -- if you're Bohemian and they came through Chicago, I may have (or be about to get) photos of their tombstones. I live right next to an enormous (and non-religion-specific) Bohemian cemetery, and am working on exhaustively indexing it.

#416 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 05:04 PM:

Wow! Elliott, I have a lot of Bohemian rels who lived in and around Chicago. Mostly Berwyn and Cicero, IIRC.

First post from new computer (there's a story about this). Hoping I got the de-spam on the email addy correct.

#417 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 05:14 PM:

Aargh. My VAB is FUBAR. Apparently this isn't the latest version of my email addy that I've been using, but I've made this mistake before. A lot.

Damn.

#418 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 05:25 PM:

Xopher:

Check your email. I've sent you an explanation, the correct email address, and a promise to fix it.

#419 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 06:01 PM:

Thank you, Idumea. I will be more careful in future.

#420 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 06:01 PM:

Thank you, Idumea. I will be more careful in future.

#421 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 07:30 PM:

Actually, on genealogical matters, I am available for reasonable rates to drive to any Chicago-local cemetery and photograph one's relative's headstones, if such a service is desired by any Fluorospherian.

Though not this week, as we just got 2in of snow and it's not going to be above 32F again anytime real soon. Some of the more impressive monuments are high and visible, but all the mow-overs have been completely unfindable since about Christmas.

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