Enough with the racial comments!

Lately people around me have gotten into the habit of using outright racial comments or the more insidious veiled racial comments around me. What would make them think that I appreciate this crap.

This was in an email from a family member today: “Heck, it looks like WHITE PEOPLE live there.” I’ve also heard stories about the black salesperson, the mexican grocer, the jewish cop, the “auntie joe” real estate agent, etc… You drive to the Home Depot to pickup migrant workers or day laborers, not Mexicans. I don’t care what the person’s race, ethnicity, religion, etc. is. Leave that out of the conversation.

I had a professor at San Diego State University, Dr. Gay, that taught us to look at the subtle racializing of people. He made us aware of how we react to people subconsciously. He also challenged us to overcome these actions.

When you describe a person as being a mexican grocer, you are adding a charged layer of information. You are inviting the listener to add their own prejudices to the content. That is an intellectually feeble method of making a story or description interesting.

My brother David is married to a lovely woman of Mexican heritage. My sister Karen lives in the heart of North Carolina. When you say “I bought some apples from a Mexican grocer this weekend, they were rotten.” How do you think Karen and David are going to react? Equally?

What did the grocer’s nationality have to do with the story? If you went to the local supermarket, it has absolutely nothing to do with your experience. You are simply adding a racial level  to make your story more poignant. If you had gone to a Mercado, the story might be better described as: “I went to a mercado this weekend, a latin grocery store, my apples were rotten.” Do you see the difference?

Dr. Gay challenged us to find other ways to describe people. It’s not easy; you actually have to think. Instead of saying: “Joe is the black guy in the corner,” I would say “Joe is the tall guy in the corner with the red shirt.” My that was challenging, it required three more words. Further, I’ve gone past the simple label.

I describe neighborhoods by their architecture, businesses, crime rates, cost of living, etc. I don’t say East Palo Alto is full of (fill in the blanks). I’d say East Palo Alto has a higher crime rate than other neighborhoods. It also has an Ikea and the best taco shop I’ve ever visited. However, I don’t like the drug dealers in the parking lot, it’s a bit sketchy.” Our house in San Diego is in the “hood”. I love it. I love the vibrancy of the people, the diversity, and the noise. It could be described as a gay ghetto, a latin ghetto, a black ghetto, and even a North African ghetto. All of these groups live in North Park. To describe the neighborhood with one ethnicity would remove the influences of the others and that’s not fair to your listener.

Enough of the diatribe. Those that I wish would take my heed will probably not read this nor think it applies to them. But for those who do read this, please take Dr. Gay’s advice. Try for at least one week to not mention race, ethnicity, religion, etc casually. It’s perfectly fine to say that you went to an Indian restaurant or to Chinatown. But don’t say that you went to your Jewish doctor to get your boil removed. You’ll be surprised how many times you’ll have to stop yourself mid-sentence.

This is also more than being “Politically Correct.” That argument is full of crap. It’s how the blatantly racist talk shows have been able to excuse their “edgy” conversations. Make an effort to go beyond the excuses you’ve been given. Try to grow a little. I took Dr. Gay’s challenge, how about you?


  1. never really thought about some of those arguments for not using ethnic descriptions in everyday conversations. I definitely notice when certain people use them they are suing them in a derogatory way, while others positive. I try not to use them. Leaving in the NYC area though you always here people attached to their ethnic background. No matter how removed they might be. Sad but true. My wife from Argentina said it is the same there, as if it is passed down from our ancestors experiences. I guess we have to learn to live our own, and do better with our own children.

  2. Ted, you need to go back for another round of schooling: color-blind writing, thinking and speaking are now considered a form of naive racism on the part of white people. No, really. The rules for how to deal with issues of race change every three or four years. How people are supposed to keep up with this is beyond me.

    Of course I agree with you that using race to label people is wrong.

    But I do have a quibble: if there are four people in the corner of the room, two white, one black, one latino and all wearing different shirts, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with telling somebody that Joe is the black guy. Going out of your way to pretend that Joe doesn’t have outwardly recognizable differences is silly. Referring to Joe as “the black guy” in other contexts could be questionable (“Yeah, the black guy came in late again.”), but telling somebody how to recognize him from is pretty safe.

    More fun, of course, is telling a visitor looking for “Tom” with, “He’s the gay guy in the corner,” and watching them look at four designers trying to pick out the gay one. “Let’s see, that guy has a really loud shirt… that other guy could be a bear… what about the one with rent CD?” =-)

  3. Jemaleddin
    I agree using the striped shirt is not as direct and easy as simply identifying someone by their race. Sometimes the alternate descriptions create more confusion. But too often people just don’t think twice about the labels and wouldn’t even consider describing people without their race, religion, or nationality. My family has strong roots in the South and that may be why I’m more aware of the issue.

    I do like the idea of describing people by a less-obvious parameter. Joe, he’s the afterhours fursuiter. Sally, she’s the one over there that collects banana memorabilia…

  4. All this talk about stereotyping has made me as tired as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest eating watermelon and running a laundry, when I really just want to go shopping for shoes, pinch a pretty girl on the ass, open a beauty salon and then take a siesta out by the barbie.

  5. I have a question, If someone in your job somehow is trying to make fun or imitated of the way they talk to that person behing of another forieng language would be discrimanation against it. On my behave I think is very offensive the way they address to that person because I do speak another language bysides english plus I don’t think is right. I really don’t know if that person is being discriminated or what. I would be please to hear from this and thanks for your time.

  6. i agree i have a coloured b ball player tht i hang round wid i dont mind what race or religion that they are there still human beings and the shouldnt be proscuted for that i agree with most people on this site it is wrong to offend the same humans as us

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