Serious question for everyone…

Typically, I put these questions on Rachel’s Tavern and not here at Alas, but I think this week’s question would be good for readers over here too.
So here is the question….

Do you have difficulty dialoguing with people of another race? Do you tailor your comments based on the race of the person you are talking?

Be honest please…I won’t allow personal attacks, and I’ll give my own opinion after a few posts.

This entry posted in Race, racism and related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

65 Responses to Serious question for everyone…

  1. Pingback: feminist blogs

  2. 2
    TJ says:

    No, I don’t find it difficult to talk to people of another race but my conversations with my White friends and my Black friends are not the same. And for varying reasons they can’t be.

  3. 3
    Sharon says:

    I wouldn’t say I have difficulty dialoguing with people of another race, and mostly I don’t end up tailoring comments at all, but it can happen that I end up tailoring comments.

    One example was that I was talking to someone who is smart and interesting and her skin colour is… well I hadn’t thought anything in particular about her skin colour until she brought it up, I just thought she had a particularly even tan! I didn’t bring up the issue of race but she did, mentioning things like how she was sick of comments/questions that get addressed to her because of her skin colour. Once she’d revealed how sensitive she was on the subject (understandably so) I found myself being careful what and how I said, I didn’t want to say anything to upset, I didn’t want to say anything that could be construed as racist.

    Even if I didn’t mean it as racist and there was no racist intent behind my words, I can sometimes accidentally phrase things wrongly that come over as offensive. I have been accused of sexism and racism when I phrased things badly. I had reasons for saying what I said that weren’t sexist or racist at all, but that doesn’t make any difference to them, they are going to see it as racist/sexist no matter what the reason really was.

    So yes, I sometimes am more wary when talking to people of another race, because I do NOT want to offend people, and there is a small chance of me inadvertently doing so.

  4. 4
    Antigone says:

    For the most part, I don’t think I’m tailoring my conversations around minorities (with the exception of Natives, because I know I have racist issues about that particular minority I’m trying to work through).

    But occasionally, I do worry about what a minority’s response to me will be when I say something that I dont’ think is sexist.

    For instance, here in Grand Forks no one ever seems to ask for id when making a credit card purchase. (I work as a cashier at Kmart). I ALWAYS ask for it. Every person who comes through the line gets carded.

    BUT if I have someone who’s black come through the line, and s/he has not heard me do this for everyone else, does s/he think I’m being racist? Does s/he think “Am I getting carded because I’m black, and she thinks I’m more likely to be a criminal?”

    And then I normally end up doing my damage control sayings, the ones that I only use for customers who look annoyed, like “I’m sorry, but I have to card everyone” and other phrases.

    And then I feel like I”m acting racist because I’m prejudging what s/he is thinking or feeling.

    I guess that and trying to match languages. If someone comes in speaking Spanish and maybe only knows a few English words, I try to match Spanish (even though my Spanish sucks muy mucho), or if someone is signing, I try to uncieate exageratedly (Is that a word) and use the whole 3 signs I know.

    Did that make any sense to anyone?

  5. 5
    plunky says:

    I don’t tend to post on POC’s blogs that deal with racism directly. I don’t tend to post on feminist blogs run by women.

  6. 6
    RonF says:

    Not really. My contacts with people of another race are at work and in Scouting events. Regardless of whether or not our conversations are professional or personal, I really don’t have anything to say that I have tailored to the race of the person I’m speaking to.

    And, yes, issues of race do come up. I don’t bring them up, but they do come up. Such as when I was talking to a fellow Scouter who is a minority and is on our Council’s Executive Board. Given their experience level, they were a little surprised to have been invited to join the board. But there’s a big push for “diversity” in the BSA, and they were pretty sure that entered into it. Racial issues come up at work as well (we all kind of work in a “bullpen” area and as part of monitoring networks we have either CNN or Fox News on 24/7).

  7. 7
    RonF says:

    Antigone, I believe you’re looking for “enunciate”.

  8. 8
    Q Grrl says:

    I don’t change the content of my dialogue, but I change my delivery. I do that for almost everyone though, depending on age, race, class, and gender. A chameleon I am.

  9. 9
    Robert says:

    I haven’t experienced any difficulty in communicating with people of other ethnic backgrounds. (I don’t know for sure if they’ve had trouble communicating with me.)

    I generally do tailor my comments when I’m interacting with strangers; I have a sarcastic and abrasive personality, and I’m uncomfortable with the thought that (say) a black person might think they’re being hassled for their race because I make some smart-ass remark. So I tend to tone it down when dealing with someone with whom I don’t have an interaction history.

    Like Q Grrl, this is generally a question of delivery, not content.

  10. 10
    thinking girl says:

    I don’t know if I would characterize it as “difficulty” but I am aware of what I say to people of other races when I am not familiar with them on a personal level. This is because I”m white, and I am conscious of being part of the oppressing class, the racial group in power. I don’t know if that is helpful or not, really. Its’ kind of like just being really polite with people you don’t know and trying not to offend them or hurt their feelings – which I typically try to avoid, even with people of my same social categories. With people I know well, I don’t worry about this so much, because they know what I’m like and what I’m about. I do encourage people I know to let me know if I’m being “unconsciously” racist in any way… same as I encourage them to know if I have hurt their feelings by insulting their cooking or their outfit by accident.

  11. 11
    ms_xeno says:

    Yeah, if by “tailoring,” you mean more cautious delivery, choice of subjects, etc. Absolutely. Race isn’t the only criteria for how I guard a conversation.

  12. 12
    Jodie says:

    Since I’m in healthcare (two different areas, psychiatry and oncology), I interact with a wide variety of people, both on and off the job.

    Race doesn’t seem to make a difference in how I communicate, although body language, intellectual level, ability to hear or process information, and culture do matter.

    I try to be very concrete and matter of fact with people who appear to be psychotic or delusional. I speak slowly if someone looks confused or has a lot of questions. I speak loudly if someone appears to be having trouble hearing. I do not use humor if someone appears to be very guarded or paranoid. I don’t make much eye contact if someone appears ill at ease. I try to be very aware of my own body language; sometimes that’s more important than words.

    I have 2 very close friends, both of whom share my ethnicity. My acquaintances, though, are varied and I wouldn’t say there’s any difference in how I approach any of them.

  13. 13
    RonF says:

    Q Grrl, that certainly makes sense. Different people take the meaning of words and phrases in different ways, and that’s often based on their backgrounds, age, etc. I certainly talk to the kids in my Scout Troop a lot differently than I do to their parents, even when I’m trying to communicate the same idea (“here’s what you need to take to Summer Camp and why”).

    I drove a cab in Boston (well, Cambridge, actually) for a number of months. When people would get in my cab, I would ask them “Where are you going” even as they were getting in because I didn’t know the town as well as I should have and I wanted to look up on my maps where their destination was while they were getting themselves squared away in my cab.

    One evening a well-dressed black man and woman got into my cab, and I asked this. The man (at least, he was the only person who responded to me) got a bad tone in his voice talking to me. I had no idea why. When I dropped them off, it was a $5.90 fare. He gave me $6.00 and told me to keep the dime as my tip. I forget his exact comment as he tossed the dime at me, but apparently he took my question as pre-screening their destination because they were black.

    Upon reflection, I can imagine that this had happened to him at the hands of Boston/Cambridge cabbies; I personally witnessed at least one example of people being refused a ride due to their race and destination. So I wouldn’t say it was his fault. And I wouldn’t say it was my fault; I didn’t treat him differently than any other fare, and I was trying to give him as good a service as any other fare I picked up. Perhaps we were both victims of someone else’s racism that day.

  14. 14
    SamChevre says:

    I don’t have trouble talking with people who are different from me; that includes race, as well as sex, orientation, and religion. In all those cases, though, I do tailor my conversation to the person I’m talking to; I try to have mutually enjoyable and challenging conversation, and often that means avoiding certain terms and certain approaches to topics when talking to certain people.

    For example, one of my good friends is African-American/Native American, medium complexion, from “the DC ghetto” (his words). If I’m talking to him about the arbitrariness of racism, I will use the example of the social status/skin color relationship in the African-American community–since it’s familiar and normal to him. I wouldn’t use that example when talking to someone who isn’t familiar with the phenomenon.

  15. 15
    Lee says:

    Well, I guess my answer is: it depends. There are some things I don’t discuss with people of other races unless they bring the topic up first, because I don’t want them to think I’m asking them to be my teachers. There are some things I examine my delivery or choice of phrases for (just as I do when I’m with someone of the opposite sex or known different sexual orientation or of a completely different generation). And I think I handle communication differently with strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family. I’m still evolving on this, though, so my answer five years ago would have been different.

  16. 16
    Andrew says:

    Well, most of the non-whites I deal with are North Americans of East and South Asian descent who grew up in America. I thus (unconsciously) think of them in the category of “shares the same experiences, assumptions, language, etc.”

    OTOH, when I am grading papers, I become completely neurotic when I finish grading a bad paper and see a name that indicates the person might be non-white. I start to think:

    Am I merely perpetuating white male privilege? Is this person even a native speaker of English and do I have the right to hold him/her to the same standards as a native speaker? What if this paper is bad because the person comes from a different culture and views the world in a different way? If this person came from a culture that is less text-oriented than middle class white North Americans’, do I have a right to now impose text-oriented values on him/her?

    Add to that my own guilt for having had to work for close to a decade and a half to make myself less racist and you have the recipe for being a complete bundle of nerves.

  17. 17
    Dianne says:

    Do you have difficulty dialoguing with people of another race?

    Yes. I am aware of the racism that I’ve unfortunately acquired through living in this culture and am therefore very shy and worried about giving offense when I talk to someone of another race unless I am very close friends with them. I wish I could just get rid of this idiotic racism, but it’s wormed its way into my subconcious and I’ll probably never get rid of it entirely. So I try for being aware of it and apologizing quickly if I act offensively. (Basically, this is an attempt to keep it my problem, not the problem of whoever I’m talking to.)

    Do you tailor your comments based on the race of the person you are talking?

    Not really. I might be less inclined to say anything around someone of a different race for fear of giving offense, but my opinion doesn’t change.

  18. 18
    Aaron V. says:

    I try not to tailor my comments to people’s race, unless it’s obvious that they have some difficulty understanding English – then I try to speak in simpler tones (but not like speaking to a child, and not SPEAKING LOUDER and sloooower, as if they are deaf and stupid).

    I have learned to speak clearly and have learned to ask people if they understand what I’ve said – I’ve learned the hard way that Asian people not-quite-fluent in English will acknowledge hearing you, but not necessarily understanding you. In addition, people of all cultures have to know to get their documents in on time or their cases will be dismissed.

    A benefit with dealing with people from other cultures is that many of them see me as an authority figure, moreso than Anglo Americans – which makes my job somewhat easier.

    Of course, when I’m with very close old friends, a taunt which may have a racial tone is fair game – after all, it’s what guys do. (An inside joke – one of my African-American friends we sometimes taunt by calling him “DAN” – standing for Dumb Ass N-word. He was being obnoxious on a CB radio on a road trip we took, and that’s what someone else on the CB called him. Whenever someone get served like that, it’s always fair game.)

  19. 19
    Richard Bellamy says:

    Yes, but perhaps only to the extent that it interacts with class, place of origin, and related life issues.

    I am a white lawyer, and while I can recall easily numerous awkward conversations with people of other races, I think the extreme overlap of experiences and “language of law school” makes interactions with Black/Hispanic/Asian lawyers (both professionally and personally) essentially difficulty-free. It is almost like a “second language” that we are all fluent in, even if our native tongues sometimes don’t overlap.

    I think the more different the person is from me in non-race aspects, though, the more likely it is that there will also be some sort of additional difficulty due to race.

  20. 20
    ScottM says:

    Yes, though how I tailor my interactions varies more by relationship than race. I’m normally quite reticent in interactions with strangers.

    With most people I know well, I don’t discuss politics– I know theirs, they know mine, and there’s no joy in trying to untangle each other’s perceptions on issues. When we stumble into such a discussion, I’ll often come away with interesting perspectives– and a lot of exhaustion.

    I tend not to call fellow whites out on their comments– and never do so before a non-white. If someone is bigoted, I’ll often chide them privately afterwards; bringing it up in mixed company is certain to derail the primary topic. It’s harder to do with my elders; while Grandpa will try to mind his behavior, there’s little I can do but point out his racism– change is probably beyond him at this point.

  21. 21
    Ledasmom says:

    I am socially phobic and have trouble talking to anybody, and I can’t stand the word “dialoguing”.

  22. 22
    tekanji says:

    I am deathly afraid of putting my foot in my mouth when I talk about these subjects (much like I did with the subject of “anger” in my most recent post…). I’m afraid of being called on it, afraid of being revealed as a shitty ally, and afraid of facing my privilege.

    Oh, and afraid of sounding like a total idiot. But I’m not sure that has so much to do with race as it does with talking to people that I respect (I have felt like a total idiot e-mailing Amp about things, too, and Bitch|Lab, and basically any blogger I’ve had an e-mail dialogue with).

    As for whether or not I tailor my conversations… I don’t know. I know with my friends I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I never did. I also don’t know about strangers. It’s very possible, especially when I’m hyperfocusing on not putting my foot in my mouth.

  23. 23
    NancyP says:

    I am cautious when addressing matters of race with someone of a different race. And I am well-mannered enough to avoid talking about purchase prices, brands, etc and to avoid proposing expensive restaurants and activities when talking with people who make less money than I do. After all, I’d rather eat at a sandwich shop with their company than a four-star French restaurant alone.

    Other than that, there are all sorts of topics that require no censorship or caution when discussing with people of a different race or class or… Right now, the topic is, is your power back on yet?

    I have to say, there is no way to serve a taxi customer without asking their desired destination. Unless there are two taxi customers just looking for a backseat to make out in.

  24. Pingback: The Debate Link

  25. 24
    belledame222 says:

    I try to be aware of potential hot buttons as best I can (that’s true across the boards, really); and I am aware that sometimes people will be talking about something where I know not whereof I speak, and it’s probably best to sit back and listen. At the same time: I’m not really jazzed about the whole “walking on eggshells” thing that can happen sometimes. I mean: if I fuck up, and I’m called on it, I say, shit, you’re right, I fucked up, I’m sorry. And you work it through and move on, hopefully having learned something in the process.

    If I’m talking to someone who, for whatever reason, is absolutely 100% unable to forgive or let something go, even if I’ve stopped being defensive, have tried to see things from that person’s POV to the best of my ability, have already apologized…then, I’m at the point in my life where I figure it’s best to just part ways, then. Because either they’re right and I just don’t get it and never will; or they’re the kind of person that’s basically “my way or the highway.” Either way: we’re probably at an impasse.

    I’m not saying this happens often; but I think, for me at least, that if/when the fear that people are alluding to comes up, if I stop to examine it, it’s usually a fear of exactly this scenario. Not just “oh shit I made a mistake,” but “oh shit I made a mistake and no matter what I do it’ll never ever be okay ever again.”

    when in reality, I’ve found, most people are *not* in fact like that.

    but the few who are can leave lasting impressions, it is true.

  26. 25
    belledame222 says:

    …and I realize I didn’t really directly address the question of race as put forth in the original post.

    Honestly: probably there is that hitch of “oh shit what do I say” more often than with other white people…well, actually, these days, I’m not sure that’s so true anymore. I know it used to be, more so. I’ll have to think about it. But I think I’ve gotten better at seeing who/what’s actually in front of me before making assumptions. I hope so. not perfectly, lord knows.

  27. 26
    belledame222 says:

    …and from one of the above posts I realize that these days class feels a lot more fraught for me.

  28. 27
    Seattle Male says:

    I am cautious when talking to women.

    (But not too cautious to agree with someone that there must be a better term than “dialoguing” …maybe “talking?” or “conversing.”)

  29. 28
    P6 says:

    No difficulty, no tailoring…as long as it’s not a racial topic.

    But of course I have a lot of discussions on explicitly racial issues, and issues like colonialism and history in general, that have racial subtexts.

  30. 29
    Individ-ewe-al says:

    Interesting question, and interesting responses.

    I don’t think I change the way I speak depending on the race of the person I’m talking to, no. (I’m never sure who counts as the same race as me or a different race from me, but in general I’m not aware of any differences based on that sort of factor.) If the topic is actually racism I may have more patience with a POC being an asshole or a moron than I would with a white person being equally annoying.

    I can think of one incident when I felt awkward: I was chatting to an aquaintance who has very dark black skin, and I was babbling about how I’d been out in the sun too long and started showing him my tan marks… and then I suddenly panicked that he might think I was mocking him for his skin colour.

  31. 30
    P6 says:

    Hey, Amp: you have that cartoon handy where the white lady considers how to respond when a Black guy sits next to her on the bus stop?

  32. 31
    Les says:

    I’m white and the majority of my friends are white and when I moved into a diverse neighborhood, most of the neighbors that I befriended were white. I have excuses for that: I mostly talked to people who were middle class like me and people who were artists like me and people who were young like me and people who walked their dogs around the block like me, but that’s only part of it. Approaching strangers makes me nervous and approaching black strangers makes me more nervous. (Thinking about it, though, I think the dog thing might have been pretty significant as just about everybody I talked to had a dog. Dogs make me less nervous while they seem to make some other folks more nervous.)

    There is nothing conscious in my mind that makes me nervous. I don’t have any specific fears. I may suspect (on some non-conscious level) that I wouldn’t have much in common with them, but on a conscious level, I know that’s completely bogus.

    Once I start talking to black folks, I talk to them the same as other folks, as far as I know. Most of my black friends in adulthood have been fellow musicians and we tend to talk about typical music BS.

    My gf is biracial black & white and I was nervous when I first met her family because she just came out and meeting the family for the first time (and announcing that I am going to whisk her away to another continent), but also I was worried that they would disapprove of me based on some racial factor, which is illogical given that they all like her mom.

    And finally, I know you didn’t frame this question in terms of black and white, but I grew up in the South San Francisco Bay part of California, so my neighborhood was fairly diverse except for a dearth of black folks. Hence, there is no difference (that I’m aware of) in terms of how I approach or talk to people of Asian descent, Indian descent, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, etc. I think this is why it’s important to expose kids to diversity.

  33. 32
    SMM says:

    Isn’t being aware of one’s white privilege and the subsequent tailoring of interactions with non-privileged folks just another form of racism?

    That being said, I find myself doing it anyway…

    S

  34. 33
    RonF says:

    Aaron V., I have an acquaintance I met in Japan on a Scouting trip that I speak to on occasion (Skype for free!). Obviously an intelligent man, but as you say, he may acknowledge hearing me without necessarily having understood me. What I find is that we are both best served if I simplfy my vocabulary and sentence structures, and speak a bit more slowly and clearly.

    I’ve tried learning some Japanese (I can at least be polite in Japanese), but he has far more occasion to practice English than I do to practice Japanese, so it works out best if we speak in English.

    Skype works fabulously, BTW. I’m talking to this gentleman in Kobe, but he sounds like he’s next door. I do have broadband (and I think he does), but even so, the circuit sounds as good as a local land line and tons better than any cell phone.

  35. 34
    RonF says:

    Andrew said:

    Am I merely perpetuating white male privilege? Is this person even a native speaker of English and do I have the right to hold him/her to the same standards as a native speaker? What if this paper is bad because the person comes from a different culture and views the world in a different way? If this person came from a culture that is less text-oriented than middle class white North Americans’, do I have a right to now impose text-oriented values on him/her?

    I don’t know what subject you teach. But it seems to me that the very fact that you are grading a paper means that the people you are grading are getting graded in part on their ability to write an paper in English. Tell me; what is the fact that they have passed your class supposed to signify? While their home culture may have different values and text-orientation than the U.S., they are now here in the U.S. and need to adjust to that culture to communicate and function (get a burger, get a job, do business, etc.). Again, not knowing what kind of class you are talking about, is helping them to adjust to American culture one of the reasons they are taking your class? Seems to me that your class has standards, and you have not only a right but an obligation to ask that everyone in the class meets them. Otherwise, what does passing your class mean? And how will passing it help them down the line, if they haven’t met the standards?

    That doesn’t mean that you break out the red pen and mark up their paper to a fare-thee-well. You’re an instructor; instruct. Help them to understand why their paper didn’t meet standards, and do it with empathy. But it seems to me that in most circumstances, changing your standards to meet what you think their culture might be is doing the student no favors in the long run.

  36. 35
    Rachel Ann says:

    I don’t have problems and I don’t think I alter my speech, except as of course that the longer one knows someone the more personal the speech….at least I don’t do it deliberately. I am more careful about certain issues, for example, around converts I am careful not to mention too much about issues having to do with their former religion.

  37. 36
    thinking girl says:

    RonF, how does Skype work? Can I use it to call my friend on her telephone, or is it only computer to computer?

    (Sorry to take up commenting space with this question!)

  38. 37
    Andrew says:

    Ron,

    The thoughts that I described don’t really affect my grading, they just make me a lot more neurotic about the end result. And my comments for all students are usually painfully detailed on what can be done to improve their writing.

  39. 38
    Jimmy Ho says:

    P6,

    Since Ampersand said his computer access is limited, I will take the liberty to reply for him: you’re thinking of At the Bus Stop (one of my favourite Amptoons).

  40. 39
    nubian says:

    i always alter my speech around whites. no matter if it is a friend, collegue, or professor. i make sure i enunciate, use correct terminology and stray away from using slang.

    the same goes around black folks–certain black folks that is. if i am around my black friends, i feel comfortable using slang. if i am around black collegues or professors, the same goes into play as if they were white people.

    any other races, i always alter my speech according to the situation at hand.

  41. How do you not, consciously or unconsciously, tailor the way you speak, even your body language, depending on who you are talking to and whether or not you are from the same community? Seems to me the important questions have to do with motive and intent, which are very hard to pin down and which are not always conscious. Motive and intent, after all, are where privilege, consciousness of privilege, etc. and so on reveal themselves. Do I have difficulty communicating with people of other races? Depends on what you mean by difficulty. My downstairs neighbors are Palestinian—I think “Arab” is pretty much considered another race here in the States—and when I met one them in the elevator the other day, and she asked me if I have been following the goings on in Lebanon and Gaza, I suddenly found myself tongue-tied. It’s not so much that I think we would fundamentally disagree about the war going on there, but I was suddenly so aware both of how far apart our experiences and perceptions of that part of the world are and of her statement—”That’s why we hate them [the Israeli government]“—that I became self-conscious about saying anything that hinted any sort of nuanced approach to the situation, and a nuanced approach to that situation is very important to me, for a variety of reasons that are not germaine to this conversation. I could feel the rage emanating from her and it was so intense that it left me speechless, which was not the response I wanted to have.

    As an ESL instructor at a community college, I am also very sympathetic to Andrew’s concerns in comment #15 about grading papers, and I think RonF’s response to that in comment #34 misses the point. RonF writes:

    Seems to me that your class has standards, and you have not only a right but an obligation to ask that everyone in the class meets them.

    On the one hand, of course, this seems patently obvious. The fact is, though, that English professors are flexible with standards all the time; we let a student get away with some things—certain kinds of grammatical errors, for example—because the content of his or her paper is strong; or we forgive lapses in content because the writing is otherwise so strong. The thing is—and this may not have been what Andrew had in mind, but it is where I identified with what he wrote—we are inevitably more flexible in this way with students whose native language is English than we are with students for whom English is a second language. Where it seems to me the question of white/ethnocentric privilege comes in is in one of two places:

    1. An instructor comes down more harshly on ESL student errors and lets comparable errors on the part of native speaking students slide;

    2. An instructor lets ESL students slide in ways he or she would never consider allowing native speaking students to slide. In this case, the racism is in the assumption that the ESL students simply can’t or shouldn’t be required to meet the kinds of standards RonF is talking about.

    Ok, this has become a much longer post than I intended. This ESL question is an important one to me, though.

  42. 41
    P6 says:

    SMM:

    Isn’t being aware of one’s white privilege and the subsequent tailoring of interactions with non-privileged folks just another form of racism?

    I don’t think so. It would be claiming a bone china dinner plate and a soccer ball are the same because they’re both round.

    Jimmy:

    That’s the one.

    Nubian:

    You’re talking about code switching, which everyone actually does. There are Black folks whose very aura changes when white folks are around…I think that’s the sort of thing Rachel is asking about. Or maybe I’m going too deep.

  43. 42
    Heart says:

    I have zero difficulty talking with people of color– ever. Does not happen at any time. Lucky for me, since I am the mother of nine of them and grandmother to four of them and have been for 34 years.

    I don’t know. Threads like this just piss me off. They erase me. They make my own experience invisible. Everybody somehow manages to other everybody while all the white people are simultaneously self-righteous, indignant and oddly and wierdly and pretentiously deferential.

    I can’t even participate in discussions like this, which is sad, really, because I have a lot to say. But these threads? They just piss me off.

    Heart

  44. 43
    little light says:

    Heart, and I ask this sincerely: what part of your experience do you feel is made invisible?

    Part of why I ask this might be a similar angle on this thread: I’m multiracial, and a peculiar mix. Nobody I talk to but my brothers are the “same race” as I am. All my romances are “interracial relationships.” When I talk to my dad, I’m interacting with a white guy–and honestly, there are differences from the way I interact with my mother, a woman of color. So if I tailor my comments to interact with people of another race than myself, then I’m tailoring ‘em for everyone.
    For my part? I catch myself giving breaks to POC that I don’t to white folks, say, when I’m at work. I know it’s because I grew up in a small, overwhelmingly white town, and those of us who visually stuck out, we all had each other’s backs for basic survival and commisseration reasons. We stuck up for each other. Now that I live in a somewhat more diverse, larger community, I still do that thing, where I’m nicer to other POC just because I assume there’s a commonality of taking other people’s guff–even when that’s maybe not as reasonable assumption as it used to be. They’re not the “same race” as I am, but I still do it.
    I do tailor comments–I edit things more when I’m talking to white people, for one, either because I think it’ll start an argument about privilege or because I assume, fairly or no, that it won’t make sense to them. And I tend to give POC more of the benefit of the doubt when they talk about their experiences, because somewhere I automatically assume that they’ve been questioned enough they don’t need any extra crap from me.

  45. 44
    ms_xeno says:

    Heart:

    while all the white people are simultaneously self-righteous, indignant and oddly and wierdly and pretentiously deferential.

    Uhhhh… Thanks. Don’t hold back. Tell us how you really feel.

    A lot of us did not grow up around POC, nor did we grow up in an environment where anyone had a frank discussion of racism. Ergo, interactions can be awkward and pretending that they’re not isn’t going to change the fact that racism exists.

    My personal opinion is that just talking to somebody whose come at modern society from a completely different angle than I have without acknowledging, at least to myself, that they have, is the real “pretension.” If you don’t need to do so consciously because you are entrenched enough in habit to do it unconsciously, fine. It’s really not necessary for you to look down your nose at the rest of us, though, just because we aparently lack your advanced skills at social interaction.

  46. 45
    ohno says:

    Do you have difficulty dialoguing with people of another race? Do you tailor your comments based on the race of the person you are talking?

    My first response to this was WTF ? The questions didn’t really make sense – difficulties in conversation are due to lack of shared interests or a lack of reason for the conversation to be taking place, or sometimes deliberate hostility and wilful misunderstandings.

    My second response was “ah, Americans”. See, here’s the thing, and speaking as a non-American outsider – that someone can ask these questions and then get a serious discussion says such a heap of stuff about your (American) hang-ups about race.

    People converse easily when they are familiar and have common ground and, yes that common ground may be political or group-based. Though even if you think people are speaking only to their chosen group about one set of group experiences/politics why does that block “dialog” from other groups ?

    Unless you’re dealing with total bigots or something. Bizarre

  47. 46
    RonF says:

    Thinking Girl, Skype can be used to talk to someone else using Skype on their PC for free. If you want to talk to a regular phone, there are fees to be paid. I’m n0t familar with how those fees are structured or paid; I have not used them myself. I do know of someone who does, but I’d suggest you go to their site and check it out directly.

  48. 47
    Heart says:

    little light: Heart, and I ask this sincerely: what part of your experience do you feel is made invisible?

    I’ve been thinking about it– I think that invisible may not be exactly the right word, more like objectified. The question has a triggering quality about it– it reminds me of all the other annoying and aggravating questions I’ve been asked over the years about myself, my partners, my kids, my family, questions like the ones discussed in the other thread here on the subject of inappropriate questions. When I read the question, I think along the lines of what I posted– what the heck kind of question to ask is that when it comes to someone like me? What does “dialogue differently” even mean for someone like me? Differently than what? I think the question also brings up a lot of unpleasant stuff and is triggering in another way– when I read what people say about how they *do* dialogue differently depending on the race of the person they are encountering, it reminds me of all the times people (of all and every race) smiled in my face and were apparently friendly and sincere and then later on I found out how they really felt, what they really thought about me, my relationships, my family, my loved ones, without all the self-editing they were apparently doing when they were in my presence. It’s a twilight-zone-y, nobody is who they appear to be, nobody can be trusted, kind of a a reaction, that is, again, just very triggering.

    Heart

  49. 48
    Richard Bellamy says:

    Since Ampersand said his computer access is limited, I will take the liberty to reply for him: you’re thinking of At the Bus Stop (one of my favourite Amptoons).

    My favorite part of that cartoon, is that the guy’s face is initially obscured from the woman’s view by a thought bubble.

  50. 49
    Mandolin says:

    I really don’t buy the argument that there’s no racism outside America.

  51. 50
    Seattle Male says:

    Btw, Ohno’s comment (#45) is a good one.

    My first reaction (foolishly tempered with respect to the attitudes which I thought prevalent on this blog) was to snort so I made the flip (but true) remark that I talk to differently to women as a way of trying to communicate the idea that we all — very naturally — try to adjust our voice to the listener.

    On closer consideration I realized that my reaction was to the ugly word “dialoguing” and to the manner in which an otherwise legitimate question was framed — “Do you have difficulty dialoguing with people of another race?” — in expectation of wide-spread racism and with a therapeutic tone. “We are here to help you.”

    If the author had simply left it at (and corrected the grammar) “Do you tailor your comments based on the race of the person you are talking?” it would have been ok.

    But the framing of the question as “Do you have difficulty dialoguing with people of another race?” gives the listener a hint to the kind of answer which is expected. That biases the results as people like to please etc etc .

    Far more bloodless and less biased would have been (something like) “Do you adjust your conversational voice to your perception of the person to whom you are speaking?” Such a question allows the respondent to raise issues of group identity, race etc etc on his/her own.

    And I think that overall perceived income level, demographics and overall context are far more important than race in determining which voice we use. If I meet an older man in a 3-piece suit at the coffee break at an academic conference, I will talk with him very differently than with a twenty-year old black man in rags who approaches my car at a stop light to wash my windows. etc etc.

    I found an underlying presumption of racism in this question and I found it objectionable. It may not have been meant that way — i.e. as racist — but it came across that way to me.

  52. 51
    ohno says:

    I’ve been thinking a bit more since my first post how to express better why my first reaction to the race question was “huh?”.

    What if the question had been asked “do you find it difficult to dialog with people who are from a different culture? “

    The answer then is, it depends. If their culture is such that the person I’m interacting with has a view of certain groups of people as lesser humans, then yeah, that’s gonna be tricky. If it’s simply a case of different experience then, well surely that’s a good topic for a conversation ?

    But any connection to skin color is actually secondary to the person’s culture values or belief system.

    What I mean is this: people have different experiences in life which are directly connected to skin color, (and gender and class and disability and whatever and whatever).

    This may influence someone’s politics one way or another, and generate a sense of a particular cultural grouping round one’s personal belief system, but using skin color as the test of someone’s entire belief system, and hence the determining factor as to whether dialog is going to be easy or not, is downright odd. To me anyway.

  53. 52
    ohno says:

    PS

    I really don’t buy the argument that there’s no racism outside America.

    Mandolin, is that comment in response to

    … that someone can ask these questions …says such a heap of stuff about your (American) hang-ups about race… (?)

    If so then you have totally misread. Saying that you Americans have your own particular race issues is not saying that no one else has race issues. Just that the you have your issues and other people have their issues.

    If your comment is directed elsewhere then this will stand as clarification anyway.

  54. 53
    belledame222 says:

    I think “code-switching” hits the nail on the head; and yes that’s quite right, I think, everyone does do that to one degree or another.

  55. 54
    Mandolin says:

    Thanks for the clarification, ohno. That makes sense.

  56. 55
    little light says:

    That makes a lot of sense, Heart. I feel a lot of the same way–I did my best to answer in good faith, but they’re strange questions for someone in my situation.

    And Belledame: I think “code-switching” was exactly the word I wanted.

  57. 56
    P6 says:

    ms_xeno:

    A lot of us did not grow up around POC, nor did we grow up in an environment where anyone had a frank discussion of racism. Ergo, interactions can be awkward and pretending that they’re not isn’t going to change the fact that racism exists.

    I agree. Totally.

    I must add, though, that not growing up arounf POC doesn’t prevent one from having an opinion about them. We’re all through the media and in the situation you describe you have the choice of believing what’s fed to you (which sets you up for bad things) or recognizing its absurdity. And if you recognize it’s absurdity, you have the choice of believing on faith that Black people are just like you (which sets you up for bad things) or expanding one’s view of normal humanity to take into account a bunch of folks one admittedly knows nothing about…which may well be the hardest thing you ever do that you look back on in later years and think was easy.

    But you will see it as hard as you work it out.

  58. 57
    Rachel S. says:

    Heart said, “It’s a twilight-zone-y, nobody is who they appear to be, nobody can be trusted, kind of a a reaction, that is, again, just very triggering.”

    I really do feel you on this one. I think this about everybody when it comes to racism. In order to cope with this, I use the benefit of the doubt strategy that I posted about a while back.

    I think having an IR family gives many White partners the sort of sense that you are in an experiment. That’s how I feel, anyways. It’s like I get to see how people react to me when I am on my own, and then I get to see how people react when I am with my partner (and maybe some day my kids). I think this has made me keenly aware of the insincerity that racism breeds.

  59. 58
    Rachel S. says:

    I think some people are getting too caught up in the wording of the question and a sort of defensive response rather than just answering the daggone question. And not to get to psychological or personal here, but my own view is that if your reaction is to immediately to recoil at the question then this reveals the sort of power that racism has over people’s thinking and interactions.

    I would also like to defend the use of the word dialoguing. I chose that word very deliberately. And I chose dialoguing because the word goes beyond the sort of superficial sort of everyday conversations we have.

    For example, I could “talk” the Black man who works as the door man at a hotel, but the likelihood that he and I are dialoguing is really slim. Now maybe I could go down and really have a detailed conversation with him, but the reality is this sort of interracial interaction (which is ripe with all sorts of race, class, power, dynamics) typically involves instrumental conversation that doesn’t reallly require a dialogue. In fact, the sort of power assymetry in that situation frequently makes a dialogue very difficult while of course talking is necessary. Dialoguing is more sustained it involves a sort of give and take, both listening and responding. Talking really doesn’t have such as connotation.

  60. 59
    Rachel S. says:

    One more thing about code switching. I think it is important to note that code switching is more than just changing your language to fit the context, but it also implies a sort of knowledge of both the self and the other. In order to truly be able to code switch people have to have at least a little knowlege of some of the more intimate details about the other group. Racism makes Whiteness the sort of normative category, and unfortunately this creates a sort of scenario where it very difficult for Whites to get this sort of insider information about people of color. In contrast most people of color have a pretty good sense of whites insider information because whites and whiteness are everyone.

    That said, I think that code switching is much more prevalant for people of color than it is for whites. I don’t know a lot of whites who are able to code switch, mainly because of the point that Miss xeno was making–we just don’t have the sort of interactions that teach us how do this. I’m not saying it’s impossible; I think I can code switch with African Americans relatively well (although I usually don’t have to because the Black person/people I’m interacting with does the code switching before I do–at least in random stranger encounters or professional settings). In contrast my insider knowledge of Asian Americans and Latinos (broad groups I know) is so limited that I have a very hard time code switching in interactions with people in these groups.

  61. 60
    Rachel S. says:

    Here is my response to the questions….”Do you have difficulty dialoguing with people of another race?”
    I would say most of the time, no. I personally enjoy talking with people about racism, both people in my own group or other groups. In fact, I often find that it is harder to talk with whites about racism–we just seem to be more reluctant on the whole want to engage on the subject. There are scenarios where I do have a difficult time. If I feel that there is some sort of underlying tension in a situation or relationship already, then I am reluctant. If I think that an individual person is struggling with her or his racism or struggling with how to cope with racism I tend to tread more lightly on the subject. I also find my online interactions to be much more difficult than my real life interactions.

    Do you tailor your comments based on the race of the person you are talking?
    I think the answer is yes. I know there are a couple ways to look at this. One way is to say, that if you are constantly changing yourself you are being disengenuous. Another perspective says, what Richard Jeffry Newman said–We all change it up when it comes to our interactions, so why would race be any different than any other situation? Personally I agree with both statements. I try to be as genuine as possible, and if I disagree, I generally say so, even if it is a very gentle way. I think I am much more gentle with whites because I have the tendency to think that whites are more defensive about race.

    Nevertheless, I think it is impossible not to tailor your comments based on people’s race. Race is a real social category and we all respond to it at some time or some place.

  62. 61
    ms_xeno says:

    P6:

    I must add, though, that not growing up arounf POC doesn’t prevent one from having an opinion about them. We’re all through the media and in the situation you describe you have the choice of believing what’s fed to you (which sets you up for bad things) or recognizing its absurdity. And if you recognize it’s absurdity, you have the choice of believing on faith that Black people are just like you (which sets you up for bad things) or expanding one’s view of normal humanity to take into account a bunch of folks one admittedly knows nothing about…which may well be the hardest thing you ever do that you look back on in later years and think was easy.

    Absolutely. When I reflect on the “training” I had in childhood, it was mostly about ignoring the multitudes of contradictions borne by a mostly-White environment and the increasing abundance of POC in the media. (This would have been the 1970s, BTW) Pulling that all apart is tough, because I pretty much have to go back to the moment where I first became conscious of what “race” is supposed to mean in society, as opposed to just hearing the term thrown about and having no idea what it meant.

    I could probably come up with half a dozen memorable contradictions off the bat, but I don’t want to drift the thread.

    But you will see it as hard as you work it out.

    Yeah. It’s much easier to learn a new language when you’re four than when you’re forty. That’s why some of my favorite of the White ally links I’ve seen recently have been about schooling White kids to understand how race privileges play out every day in the real world they live in with their parents and peers. As opposed to just treating race as something that appears sporadically in election years, or whenever there’s another Howard Beach or Duke, or something under glass in a museum.

    That was not something I had access to when it would have done the most good. :/

  63. 62
    Radfem says:

    I admit I was stymied at the question too in a different way. For me, communication is a two-way street. I could feel at ease talking to a person of color in a situation, but how does that person feel and if I am making that person feel uncomfortable with my approach, or due to my race, other reasons or they are “code switching”, then should I trust my feeling at ease in talking to them?

    I used to feel alienated by “code switching” but after a while(and it was a while) I realized that’s privilage talking. Whites created the racist society that produced “code switching”. Bitching about it or our exclusion is just perpetuating that same society.

    I do ask myself this a lot because 95% of my professional interactions are with people of color and most of my social interactions are as well and in work because of the issues that arise, you hope people to feel comfortable or safe discussing them with you. Some of the issues that come up through work are difficult issues anyway enough and they are outside my realm of experience. The stories I hear are so horrific at times, and in a sense the people are relating them to the enemy camp. But in my city, we don’t have that many resources((i.e. the NAACP chapter is hamstrung by a huge financial debt it owes to the city that it is reminded of any time it steps out of line on an issue and the SCLC branch is just starting up) that deal with issues of racism and racial discrimination in all the institutions in society(housing, legal, employment(including in the government), police, judicial, etc.) so when people come to us, they really feel they are at the end of the road. My employers are excellent role models though. They’ve seen and experienced everything.

    I’ve found that discussing racism with Whites is more difficult than people of color because Whites are much more in denial and defensive, but FTMP people of color will have a much more difficult time talking about racism with me than they would other people of color, so again it’s that the comfort level depends on two people. I was so much in terms of not seeing it and probably not wanting to, there myself for my first decade or so in my current city, but it’s like after you see and here it from people, you wonder how you could have missed it. And it shouldn’t come to that, to having to see it or hear it to get to that place, because that just reflects the racial inequalities of our society even more. I don’t have much patience for the D&D attitudes anymore but even then, I remind myself that I’ve been there too.

    I still think about that a lot. But like P6 and Ms_xeno put in their posts, there’s that background(and mine earlier on may not be much different than Ms_xeno)

    I also feel a little bit about what Heart said, having been in several interracial relationships. That kind of what are people saying to me directly as opposed to what they are saying elsewhere and can they be trusted?

    I must add, though, that not growing up arounf POC doesn’t prevent one from having an opinion about them. We’re all through the media and in the situation you describe you have the choice of believing what’s fed to you (which sets you up for bad things) or recognizing its absurdity.

    Yes. That’s a real problem. When my city hires White police officers, for example, it’s clear that many of them have no experience with people of color, even some of the people of color who are hired(who grew up in predominantly White areas). And there are class issues as well. On my Web site, I’ve had some ilk that if they are cops, are towards the worst end of racism, but some of the threads in their comments outline the reality that there are other White officers who perhaps aren’t that far along, but engage in racial stereotyping(which can be as destructive as other forms of racism). What do you do then, with them?

    As for changing the way they talk about things depending on who they talk to(which isn’t the same thing as “code switching”), Whites may not engage in it, by race. But they do in other circumstances. I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve had with other Whites about police issues including misconduct and they’re like, yeah, there are so many problems. But I attended a training session the other day, and these folks are totally submissive and gratuitously complimentary of the officers simply because several officers(and mind you, from I.A.) were present at the same training. The presense of those three officers determined the entire direction of every conversation that took place in that training. If they hadn’t been there, it would have been much different, imo.

    I’ve heard Whites say that “code switching” behavior is akin to being dishonest and lying and this just is so offensive imo. Again, who creates the society that…We do.

  64. 63
    beth says:

    i find myself totally intimidated by people of other races and discussions about race. i’m as white and priveleged as they come. i’m from an upper-class completely white town; i never talked with a POC before college. even now, i still live a largely segregated life. there are few if any POC at my workplace or in my neighborhood. i have few friends who are POC. i’m even afraid to admit the above, sure that someone is going to tell me that i’ve somehow subconsciously made my life this way because i’m a racist.

    i think someone’s intentions should be taken into account in certain situations, but it seems from discussions i’ve read here (cf. the teaching conversation re nubian in an earlier post), that they aren’t and many believe they shouldn’t be.

    the general sense i get from any sort of racially based discussion is: i’m white, i’m priveleged, therefore i have no idea what’s actually going on, i don’t know shit and i’m not even entitled to ask about the shit that i don’t know about, because that’s putting the burden of representation onto someone. racial attitudes i *have* been exposed to run the gamut and often contradict one another, from a TA in college who told me flat out that white people shouldn’t listen to any form of black music, including rap, jazz, hip-hop and gospel–to the whole opposite side of the spectrum, which is that white people who aren’t open-minded enough to listen to rap, jazz, hip-hop or gospel are racist.

    generally as a white person i feel like an intruder, and a clumsy one at that, whenever i am in the presence of POC. i have no idea what to say at all, so i say nothing, and know that my silence will probably be perceived as racism as well. generally i think it’s probably best if i just leave well enough alone. but then, of course, i’m not participating in dialogue; i’m not maintaining diversity in my social circles; i’m not learning anything about other people’s experiences; i’m just further “othering” people of other races.

    i guess it’s safe to say i’m totally frustrated and confused.

  65. 64
    Radfem says:

    i think someone’s intentions should be taken into account in certain situations, but it seems from discussions i’ve read here (cf. the teaching conversation re nubian in an earlier post), that they aren’t and many believe they shouldn’t be.

    Well, I’m reading this dialogue a bit differently. What I see are White men and women’s views about interactions and motives involving women of color in general and one in particular being challenged and I think it makes Whites bristle when that happens, because we have this entrenched belief system that what we say, even about people and things we know little or nothing about mostly because to do so is by choice, is what goes and our needs, feelings come first. When our presumptions and our belief in our right to make them and set them as a standard of behavior get challenged, we don’t like it and we make that clear. That’s where the conflict on these threads is coming from. It’s not from nubian who has had her statements so twisted around and her motives questioned, scrutinized and put on trial. When we are told these things about ourselves, we deny them, because in many cases, they are so entrenched we’re not always aware of what we are doing, and even when we are, we just think that’s our right as a person(read, as a White person in a White Supremacist society). That’s a difficult behavior to exorcise and it takes work. I think many White people do struggle with this. I did and do.

    i’m even afraid to admit the above, sure that someone is going to tell me that i’ve somehow subconsciously made my life this way because i’m a racist.

    It’s not my place to judge because I don’t know your life and I see no point in doing so anyway. Society is still very racially segregated. A city near mine was picked as one of the most integrated cities in the country yet it was recently born from three smaller cities. One predominantly Black, one Latino and one White that bordered each other. That’s not integration.

    racial attitudes i *have* been exposed to run the gamut and often contradict one another, from a TA in college who told me flat out that white people shouldn’t listen to any form of black music, including rap, jazz, hip-hop and gospel–to the whole opposite side of the spectrum, which is that white people who aren’t open-minded enough to listen to rap, jazz, hip-hop or gospel are racist.

    Whites are told by other Whites you shouldn’t do this, no you should all the time and we’re not nearly as frustrated and confused in those circumstances! Or if so, not for the same reason. We treat each other’s views as individual opinions, not as representing the entire White race. We do not afford members of other races that same benefit.

    The problem, is that you are taking a relatively small handful(I’m guessing since you weren’t specific with numbers) of African-Americans and depending on them to speak for the entire racial group in terms of whether or not you should listen to types of music created by African-Americans. Because you are doing this consciously or not, that is why you feel a bit freaked out, confused and frustrated in my opinion. The fact that you feel these things and have expressed them is a give away that this is the process you likely are working with.

    The reality is, that like everyone else, African-Americans are individuals, not a homogeneous entity and have different view points on different issues including racism. There is never this assumption among Whites that we all agree on all issues and share the same definition of ideas and things, but there’s that assumption by Whites made about other racial groups all the time. And yes, designating members of racial groups as the expert or spokesperson for that racial group is offensive and in my experience, will often be viewed as such.

    generally as a white person i feel like an intruder, and a clumsy one at that, whenever i am in the presence of POC.

    Yes, this feeling was familiar for a while, but people just told me that I feel this way in their presence because being White, I am allowed to feel comfortable and not like an intruder in greater society(which is biased in favor of Whites) and I was in a situation where I was outnumbered and where society’s rules did not apply in my favor. People of color do not have that privilage. They often feel like intruders in larger society. They do not have freedom of movement and can not live in any neighborhood they would like to. They can not drive through the streets without police officers pulling them over and treating them like criminals. They can not move into “White” neighborhoods often without being treated as “others” or ostracized(as was the case of a friend of mine who moved into a neighborhood that set up a committee solely to give him a hard time). They do not see accurate portrayals of themselves on the television or in the movies. They are not proportionately represented in educational institutions and many professions and earn far less than Whites do. You are treated perhaps as an “other” for a relatively short period of time and don’t like it(and that’s natural, the emotion though it’s up to you to how you handle it), but people of color often feel like the majority of the time, which is why they create safe spaces to congregate and dialogue. Whites complain about those “spaces” as being exclusive but it’s our racism that helped create them.