Referring to others by race :( - Mothering Forums

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Old 09-03-2008, 12:03 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I don’t come to this section of MDC much but I have a question and hoping others can help.

DH is Jamaican and I am Dutch. Our son has gotten progressively darker since birth and now looks very dark. Not as dark as DH though.

Anywhoo…my in laws are very loose with their language regarding race and refer to people by race and actually say things like “oh that’s just cause you’re a white girl”. Or instead of saying “remember that guy with the dog who died?” They will say “remember that Spanish guy with the dog?” I don’t know why they identify everyone with race I do not want DS to always refer to people by their skin or make it seem ok. I also don’t want him to feel that he doesn’t fit into their descriptions. Am I black? Am I white? KWIM?

Does anyone else get this in their surroundings and how do you deal with it? In laws are so stuck in their ways I doubt talking to them about it would help. Plus they think I’m crazy for all my other parenting choices.

Do you just deal with this at home?
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Old 09-03-2008, 12:41 PM
 
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It happens all the time around me. Because I live in a predominantly Black community, people here all the time refer to folks by race if they are not Black. Trying to get my dd accustomed to folks just being folks, but she constantly refers to us as brown, and will argue someone down if they say we are Black. I think you just have to actively combat it at home.

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Old 09-03-2008, 12:52 PM
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My ILs and parents are like that too. I imagine it is partly their generation. It makes me nuts but I do speak up and will say "Well, I remember the dog, but why does it matter if he is Spanish?" or something like that. I make it known that I don't identify people by their race and don't want DS doing it either.

FTR both DH and I are of Irish/French decent.
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Old 09-03-2008, 01:04 PM
 
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I am going to be the odd one, but sometimes I don't see the big deal about it as long as it is not in a mean way. If I introduce DH to let say some friends and they are different races and I try to tell him something happened to one of them, he didn't know them that well, what am I going to say 'the one with the white shirt?' he wouldn't remember that, I will use something to make him stand out like "he was the only Spanish person there", "The man that had a shorter hand (this is my principal back home because of an accident)".

I do get confuse, just a few post back someone was saying how there inlaws don't acknowledge their race, now if someone do it is bad. Their are many different races, we are not all the same, what is so wrong with it as long as it is NOT demeaning and is used just for clarification. I was in a socialogy class and the man was talking about some people marrying within their race, then there was a knock and the door and stepped in a Chinese woman and he was like "but I married outside my race to a Chinese woman" I saw nothing demeaning about him saying his wife is Chinese.

Sometimes if DH and I are talking (or with my family) you might here stuff like, "the girl from Trinidad", "you don't know who I am talking about, he was the only Indian guy there" it is not meant in disrespect, but to clarify. If we knew there names of course we will use it and it does get use once everyone realize who we were mentioning.

It is different when using race as demeaning though like "look at his dumb b**** a$$", "stupid w**** people", ect....

I am biracial and I don't care if someone says 'so and so is the biracial girl over there, or the girl with curly hair'.
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Old 09-03-2008, 02:33 PM
 
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I do this a lot. Being raised in a completely ALL-Caucasian town - and I mean - ALL, it is very easy to say "This Mexican guy came by today and tried to sell me a vacuum cleaner." Or "You know N? The black guy I work with?" etc.

I guess to me it's no different than referring to people by their hair color or attributes when I lived in this town. Since we were all white, we said things like "The lady with the brown beehive" or "The guy missing the eye" or "The red head with the freckles."

I honestly don't feel bad about it, because the guy I work with (the black guy ) says the same. "We had dinner with a wonderful black woman and her children the other day." or "My sister came to town with her black and asian girlfriends."

And most people I know around here do the same - and they are black too. Yet they have no issues referring to others by their race.
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Old 09-03-2008, 04:29 PM
 
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I think there's nothing wrong with it, as others have said, provided it's used descriptively and not in a derogoratory fashion. The fact of the matter is that we are not all the same color, and that is part of what makes the world so fun!

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Old 09-03-2008, 04:30 PM
 
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I feel ok for people to refer to race if they are trying to jog someone's memory and nothing else is working. I am disgusted if they use the race or ethnicity to empahasize some point. Like, a long time ago, a woman was telling me about this guy in her class who was rude and obnoxious. She said, "this dark Italian guy" like the fact that he is dark and Italian somehow emphasizes how obnoxious he is. I am half Italian but was too shocked to say anything. I have heard people use race in this way too. I never want my kids to do this and if they do, I will try to have a long talk about it with them.
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Old 09-03-2008, 04:36 PM
 
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I have mixed feelings about this. I don't like it when my DD says something like, "Did you see me playing nicely with that black girl?" I tell her that it's not nice to talk about people's skin and next time say, "did you see me playing nicely with that girl?" that it's not necessary to mention someone's skin color.

We have a couple of half American half Asian friends and DD has never mentioned anything about them looking different. She's never mentioned anything about all of our Latin American friends who have darker skin than us, I really don't know where she even learned the term "black"

On the other hand, I agree with PP in that it's just a descriptive term, like, "I get my cold cuts from the Italians from NJ, they own a sub shop" or "that Spanish woman gave me wonderful tips on getting a correct latch"

I don't like to say "black" although, I did today while talking about Obama, but I was being sarcastic saying something to the effect of "our choices this year were a woman and a black man, that has the republicans celebrating" Something like that, but in general, around my DD I say African American and I have been corrected in front of her, "I'm not African, I'm Jamaican (or Haitian, or whatever)." to which I will apologize and correct myself, in front of my DD...

It's funny though, I was at my friend's Bris (let's not argue about Circ, I'm anti circ, she's my friend) and I was there with another woman who married a Lebanese man and I laughed and said, "look at us, two Arab women at a bris!" and she laughed too, but our husbands would not have found it funny, at least mine wouldn't. He detests Lebanon being called an "Arab" country...
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Old 09-03-2008, 04:54 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Sancta View Post
I do this a lot. Being raised in a completely ALL-Caucasian town - and I mean - ALL, it is very easy to say "This Mexican guy came by today and tried to sell me a vacuum cleaner." Or "You know N? The black guy I work with?" etc.

I guess to me it's no different than referring to people by their hair color or attributes when I lived in this town. Since we were all white, we said things like "The lady with the brown beehive" or "The guy missing the eye" or "The red head with the freckles."

I honestly don't feel bad about it, because the guy I work with (the black guy ) says the same. "We had dinner with a wonderful black woman and her children the other day." or "My sister came to town with her black and asian girlfriends."

And most people I know around here do the same - and they are black too. Yet they have no issues referring to others by their race.


I'm going to say this as gently as possible. I'm not trying to judge you, just give an opinion.


I was raised in a completely caucasian town as well. I'm sure you have heard your share of ignorant talk, as I have. People sometimes feel very safe in their bubble.

I think the OP is trying to raise her son differently, and not point out people's differences only with race. I've done this with my dd. Now my dd does do this at times, cause it's easy to do. When I asked which child she was talking about in her class she said "You know A, my Chinese friend at school". Which is easy to point out, cause she is the only non-caucasian child in her class.

But when I describe things to my dd I try to be more creative. Instead of going straight for race to describe people. It's not that I'm against or offended when other's do this. I don't even correct my dd when she does it. I just want to describe the world bigger than race. I want to view people larger than their color. I want to model this for my dd.


Growing up in a all caucasian town growing up I lived around a lot of views that as an adult I have found out are offensive. Not because somebody told me they are offensive, but because I thought about it, or got an intuition that it felt wrong. My first day of HS a boy knocked into me and then called me a dago. I didn't even know what that was. Although now as an adult I realize my last name gives my ethnicity away. I didn't need to ask another Italian if that was right or wrong, I felt it in my heart.

While I have heard all cultures use terms that make me uncomfortable. I have heard all cultures be ignorant toward others and sometimes to those in their own culture. A couple of people do not make up the fabric of an entire culture. So I'd be careful to believe things we say, think are normal or excepted because we have heard people of that same culture do the same. Just because we might know a few African Americans use a term does not make it right.

Saying that we have heard an African American use the same terms just makes us feel more comfortable doing the same, doesn't mean it's the best way. Watching another do something does not give us the right to do the same. I have heard a lot of slurs and hateful terms used in music, just because an African American used those terms doesn't mean I can use those terms in my day to day life and feel okay about it.

I just personally would like to see us as people who don't always go first to describing people as more than their race. It's like a invisible line in the sand. We get used to it, we do it cause it's easy, and the line gets bigger and bigger.


Like I said at the beginning, I don't take a huge offense when somebody describes another person by race. I just think we can do better than that.

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Old 09-03-2008, 06:57 PM
 
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Having once had this conversation:

"That guy over there ..."
"Which one?"
"The bald one."
"They're both bald."
"The one with the dark glasses."
"Wait, I can't see which ones are dark ..."
"The black guy."
"Oh, him!"

... I have to say that avoiding identification by race can be a bit of an affectation sometimes. Particularly as I was the one in the conversation above exhibiting the affectation. "Colorblind" meant being blind to color in terms of our treatment of people, not actually being blind to superficial ethnic difference. Seeing difference isn't itself offensive to me.
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Old 09-03-2008, 07:07 PM
 
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Seeing difference isn't itself offensive to me.
I agree.

What gets to me with how my IL's are is that they sometimes mention race when it really isn't relevant.

For example, our nephew's bike got stolen and whenever she'd recount the story, she never fails to mention how the kid who stole it was "Mexican". I mean if the kid(thief) were white, would it have warranted mentioning?

Or there's this pond by one of my husband's relatives' home and it has a lot of Canada Geese in them. My MIL would always remind us to not feed the geese any bread like "the Mexicans always do". I mean unless she spends her days by the pond, logging in which race feeds the geese and if it were indeed a race-specific behavior, I think the reference should have been left out. And funny enough, when we were visiting and walking by the pond, who do we see feeding the geese? A white grandma with her white grandkids.
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Old 09-03-2008, 07:49 PM
 
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I agree with the other posters that when it is used to jog a memory of who the person is it is convenient and non-offensive but when it is pointed out for no reason than I don't get it either.

I think it's a caribbean thing because my husband's family does it too. The white guy, spanish guy, guyanese guy, etc. And what really irks me is calling the spanish-speaking women that are here working, spanish girls. My niece said it one day (because she hears her mother and everyone else say it) and I explained to her that they aren't spanish, they speak spanish and they are from Santo Domingo and they aren't girls, she is a girl (5 yrs old), they are women. In spanish they say senoritas, so she can call them that if she wants, but please don't call them spanish girls.
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Old 09-03-2008, 09:47 PM
 
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Originally Posted by dex_millie View Post
it is not meant in disrespect, but to clarify. If we knew there names of course we will use it and it does get use once everyone realize who we were mentioning.

It is different when using race as demeaning though like "look at his dumb b**** a$$", "stupid w**** people", ect....

I am biracial and I don't care if someone says 'so and so is the biracial girl over there, or the girl with curly hair'.
I could have written this post myself...both because I agree and I'm a biracial girl with curly hair!

I think if you don't know someone and aren't speaking in a derogatory or disrespectful way it's totally fine to refer to or identify someone by their race and/or appearance. Race isn't an insult! And we shouldn't ignore the fact that there are different races, we should celebrate them!
Also, if you don't know someone's name or anything about them and they have no big distinguishing features, what the heck else are you supposed to do???
I also think that by teaching children not to recognize or identify race it can make it a "taboo" issue when it's a fact of life. People are people but we all look different, have different skin and hair and bodies, and we can see that and that's one of many things that makes us different and it's wonderful. At least that's what I'll teach my kids...

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Old 09-04-2008, 06:41 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the thoughts ladies. After reading the posts, I think what bothers me more is that they refer to people by race when it's an underlying reason like a couple pp mentioned. Like "the spanish boy took the bike". They have said on more then one occasion that I don't get certain things because I am white.

I personally don't like referring to others by race as the first thing if it's for identity purposes. I normally use something else to identify the person. Just feels better to me because that is how I was raised. I guess when you don't do something yourself, you notice when others do it a lot kwim?

I think I will have to counteract what the in laws say to keep a balance.
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Old 09-04-2008, 10:44 AM
 
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I was just about to blog on being the mother of a biracial child, so I'm wonderfully pleased that I found this thread. I've needed input.
My 3-year-old son is biracial, and we are part of a blended family. As he gets older, he will notice that he is the only one with his beautiful skin tone. He has never met his father, and I doubt he will.
I understand people feeling sensitive when their child/ren are referred to by race first. The average person is sometimes callous with their questions and terms. They're kids, for god's sake! That's what everyone is first: people.

I suppose that if you're using race as a point of reference to distinguish someone in a crowd, it's one thing, but if you're simply using it as part of a person's character, it's entirely another.
And as a woman who grew up in a VERY white community, I want to say that it's never alright to assume it's okay to use certain racial terms, "because they do." I've heard this one before, and it's heartbreaking, thinking what my son might face. As a rule, if you have to start a sentence saying, "I'm not racist BUT..." then you shouldn't finish that sentence.
So what do we call biracial people when referring to them? I mean, besides "people"? Well, biracial works. But my beautiful biracial friend called herself "mixed." But what never to call "them": mulatto, or colored, or anything else that has ever been used as a derogatory term.

Finally, I have so much hope in what my son might face once he grows up seeing another mixed man in the White House!
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