Subtle racist comments
July 26, 2016 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I feel like I have to watch what I say, especially since these days people tend to overreact and cry out racism all the time. It seems as if people try to make something racist or blow everything out of proportion. Can these comments below be perceived as racist? 1) People from India love the heat (since India is a very hot country). 2) Greek people like olives (because good olives are from Greece) I bring up these two examples because a friend of mine said that making absolute statements and referring to an entire population is racist. But these statements sound neutral to me. If they were negative statements then I think that would be racism.
posted by four_suyu to Human Relations (108 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yup. You're treating people from a geographic place/culture as a monolith. Yep. Racist. Intention plays no role. Sorry. What you're saying sounds racist. Doesn't make you a racist. Unless you double down and refuse to learn why this is problematic.
posted by taff at 6:25 PM on July 26, 2016 [97 favorites]


I'd also add, they're not subtle, but a big red flag to keep an eye on the person saying it. Again, intention is irrelevant.
posted by taff at 6:27 PM on July 26, 2016 [15 favorites]


At the very least, someone make those statements would sound ignorant, because it makes generalizations about huge groups of people being all the same. Which is never the case, and it's old fashioned (at best) to think that way.
posted by carlypennylane at 6:29 PM on July 26, 2016 [33 favorites]


Saying "Greeks like olives"is racist? How is that a put-down? Sure, generalizations can be meant with evil intent, but this statement is innocuous, if banal.
No true Greek, not all Greeks, and so on. Greek is not a race, FYI.
People from India might be used to hot temperatures, rather than like it hot, but once again, there's nothing "racist" about the statement.
Sweeping generalizations are not a sign of deep thinking, as all people who use them are lazy. (See what I did there?)
posted by Ideefixe at 6:32 PM on July 26, 2016 [18 favorites]


Yes, stereotyping is next door to racism and not caring that people are offended and wanting to be vindicated finishes the final lap.

You don't get to decide what people like or love, especially an entire population, from some random observation like "there are olives in Greece" or "it is hot in India."
posted by Lyn Never at 6:35 PM on July 26, 2016 [37 favorites]


A good general rule is that if you're repeatedly hearing people call into question comments you're making and suggesting they're racist or culturally insensitive, you may want to do some self-examination and self-education to refine your communication style and not be quick to dismiss the reactions of others as "over reactions" or "blowing things out of proportion." Racism is pervasive in a lot of contemporary culture. It takes extra effort to subvert that thinking and be respectful of others.
posted by quince at 6:35 PM on July 26, 2016 [62 favorites]


you might want to read this article on impact vs intent, and have a serious talk with yourself about why it seems to be very important to you to be "right," as opposed to considering your impact on other's lives.
posted by crawfo at 6:39 PM on July 26, 2016 [18 favorites]


I'm Vietnamese. I was born there. And I hate the heat.

Would it be a bad thing if I did like the heat? No, of course not. But by reducing me to a stereotype, you're telling me that you don't care to see me as a person. That's pretty disheartening, even if it isn't racist.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:40 PM on July 26, 2016 [160 favorites]


I think context matters. If the context suggests that you know this is a probabilistic statement (i.e. Greek people are more likely to like olives than non-Greek people, not deterministic statements -- all Greek people like olives), then I don't see the problem. Is it sexist to say that men are taller than women? Everyone understands this to mean on average, not to be treating men and women as monoliths.

If people are going to say these are racist statements, then it becomes impossible to talk about national or ethnic differences, a thing it is useful and necessary to do and that we do all the time, including on Metafilter.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:46 PM on July 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


I mean, neither of those statements are hideously racist, but they're both clueless at best, and honestly sound like the kind of thing someone might say to test the waters before they said something more offensive. (And living in a hot climate does not mean you necessarily love the heat. Why on earth would it? You might just be stuck dealing with it.)

A neutral or positive statement can, in fact, be racist, because when you're assuming that all members of one race have certain attributes, that's a stereotype.

Example time! You've heard "black people are better dancers", right? That sounds like a compliment on the surface, but it's actually assuming a lot of things, one of which is that black people automatically have better rhythm than than white people and are sexier and more uninhibited. Because that what that statement means; the stereotype isn't that black people are better at ballet, it's that they're better at street dancing. And yes, street dancing and rhythm are part of black culture, but that doesn't mean all black people are good at those things or like those things. So assuming a black person is a great dancer is racist, even if it's intended as a compliment.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:50 PM on July 26, 2016 [58 favorites]


Honestly, when you frame the question with

especially since these days people tend to overreact and cry out racism all the time

I stopped reading and assumed whatever you said next was going to be racist.

You can take one or both of these things away from that: (a) prejudice sucks, doesn't it? You're prejudging too. (b) Intent, framing, and mindset matter; that's why I find Louis CK hilarious but Donald Trump a bigot even if one could find words out of context from each that are equally "bad".
posted by supercres at 6:51 PM on July 26, 2016 [127 favorites]


But these statements sound neutral to me. If they were negative statements then I think that would be racism.

"Positive" and "neutral" are two very different things. Positive stereotyping can be as bad as annoying (and potentially racist) as negative stereotyping in certain contexts.
posted by griphus at 6:51 PM on July 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yes, lumping an entire group into any classification is racist.

It doesn't matter if you're lumping them together to compliment them (e.g., "All Chinese people are very smart") or insulting (e.g., "All X people are lazy" or "All women are emotionally controlled by their hormones") or even neutral (e.g., "All Danish people are very good bicycle riders"); it is the categorizing itself of an entire group of people as if they're nothing more than carbon copies of each other.
posted by easily confused at 6:55 PM on July 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


Those statements reduce millions of individuals to the color of their skin, family, or country of origin, and from which racist behavior could certainly stem (say, being a landlord with Indian tenants and not supplying the same level of air conditioning as your Russian tenants.). They are intellectually lazy statements that, yes, would put my guard up against worse and would make me feel quite unwelcome if I were a member of the group being generalized.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:56 PM on July 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


Agreeing that neutral or even positive stereotypes can be harmful, even if they are not, strictly speaking, racist. I worked in a community where "this particular cultural group is peaceful' was a widely held belief.

Seemed like a nice thought except to all the youth workers that realized that many of that culture's teenagers were joining gangs and participating in violence without consequence because no one believed it could really be them.
posted by scrute at 7:02 PM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


You do have to watch what you say because that's called being polite. When you're saying these things you're rudely denying millions of people their individuality. That's what racists do. If you don't want to be a racist, don't say what they say or do what they do. No one benefits from these statements. We're not missing out on anything.
posted by bleep at 7:07 PM on July 26, 2016 [44 favorites]


I feel like I have to watch what I say, especially since these days people tend to overreact and cry out racism all the time.

You only have to watch what you say if you care what people think about what you say (or maybe you have a job where you can't be racist?). Free speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences, etc.

making absolute statements and referring to an entire population is racist.

That's a good rule of thumb. There may be exceptions to it (quoting science and the like) but it's one of those things that is best avoided if you don't want to come across as racist. This isn't the same as someone saying "Hey you are a racist" but a lot more like them saying "You may not know it but when you talk that way it can be seen as racist so if you care about not seeming racist, you may want to watch that." It mostly makes the speaker sound ignorant like all you know about India is that it's hot and maybe you know an Indian person who said they liked the heat a lot. As opposed to knowing a ton of people from India and having a lot of Indian friends and coworkers and realizing they have the full range of human feelings about the heat just like every other subset of people you could indicate.

The thing people say about race, to people who are trying to say "But what if it's true?!" is that there is generally as much difference within the social construct that we consider a specific race as there is just generally in the world. It's tough to get your head around but there's a lot of science about this and it goes right down to the genetic level. Here's a quote from an article in Genetics that spells it out better than I could explain.

“two random individuals from any one group are almost as different [genetically] as any two random individuals from the entire world.”

That very long and very authoritative paper ends specifically saying "Thus, caution should be used when using geographic or genetic ancestry to make inferences about individual phenotypes." which I think what you're asking about. Use caution. According to science.
posted by jessamyn at 7:07 PM on July 26, 2016 [42 favorites]


When you say "people from India..." or Greek people..." (do whatever, say whatever, like whatever) it implies you've met every single Indian or Greek person and are comfortable speaking for these two enormous and varied groups. Of course, that's not the case, right? So be careful not to put yourself in the position of speaking for millions of people who share geography, or anything else.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:09 PM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


True things are to say "olives are popular in Greek cuisine" or "India has a hot climate."
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:22 PM on July 26, 2016 [94 favorites]


Yeah, these statements are both reductive stereotypes, as others have already explained. It's not that hard to stop saying offensive things when other people ask you to stop. I'd take a good hard look at why you want so much to be able to stereotype people openly without being thought of as prejudiced.
posted by a strong female character at 7:25 PM on July 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


Greek people like olives (because good olives are from Greece)

This is also a really pointless thing to say. It's not true (you haven't polled every person), it makes you sound ignorant and it doesn't even say anything. If you said "I love Greece because you can get so many fantastic varieties of olives there" that opens up the topic to more interesting discussion, doesn't offend anyone and doesn't make you sound like a uninformed know-it-all.

(I'm from Australia. It's hot here. I hate the heat. We also have venomous snakes - do you think we like having deadly snakes? How anyone could think that a characteristic of a country means everyone from that country loves that thing is mind boggling.)
posted by kitten magic at 7:29 PM on July 26, 2016 [41 favorites]


It's not great dude, but to be honest your other comments about offense being manufactured, people being too sensitive etc etc worry me more. Those are things that people being racist say all the time . Like all the time.

And sure, a stopped clock is right every so often, but seriously 99% of the time, it's real racism and the people with privilege are just blind to it.

Context matters with race stuff. When I first started going out with my viet Australian wife, I was mortified with some of the jokes she and her friends made. From my very white background the only people that said stuff like that were incorrigible racists.

Now, over a decade later I might make jokes like that myself with them. But they know me, we have shared context and understanding. I would never make those jokes 1) in public, 2) at my work, 3) with people I didn't know very well or didn't know me.

You say you feel like you have to watch what you say, well guess what? You do. Everyone does and no one gets a free pass. Next time you feel someone is overreacting, ask if maybe you're under reacting. No one has a right to spout of any random shit that comes into their heads. Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 7:29 PM on July 26, 2016 [60 favorites]


"People from India love the heat" is kind of baffling to me. It's true that parts of India get hot, but I don't see how it follows that everyone there must love it. And if somebody said this to me, I would be like, um, how do you know this, and why are you saying it? (For the record, family of Indians here, many of us don't love the heat, probably in the same proportions as everybody else.)

"Greeks love olives" can be different depending on context. If it's reductive, like, "This man is Greek, therefore he will be happy when I give him olives," again, not cool, because you're making an assumption based on what you think you know about this person's nationality. But, if you're saying something about Greek food, like, "Greeks love olives, and their cuisine prominently features olives," then you're just saying "Greeks" as shorthand for talking about Greek culture and that can be okay. In the second example, you're not literally saying that every Greek person must love olives.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:30 PM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I feel like I have to watch what I say

You already do watch what you say. I would bet good money that you don't tell your boss they're incompetent and an idiot when they're right there even when that's really what you think. You don't drop f-bombs in front of your 5-year-old niece. You don't bring up [unpleasant topic that will lead to fights at the dinner table].

Well, maybe you do, in which case you're probably used to people being at best annoyed with you.

Even "positive" stereotypes are damaging, and the people at the sharp end of that stick are actual people, and not thought experiments or Representatives Of Their Race. For instance, I grew up in Hawaii, which has a pretty warm climate. I am delighted to live in a place where even in summer the mercury rarely cracks the mid-70s for more than a couple of days at a time and when it does I get super-whiny about how it's too hot. If you and I were friends and you said "People from Hawaii love hot weather!" and I said "I am, and I hate it!" would you... think I was mistaken? Think I am the one-off exception? Decide maybe you should not make such sweeping statements? (You should pick the last option; it will make you seem and actually be more pleasant to hang out with.)
posted by rtha at 7:33 PM on July 26, 2016 [42 favorites]


Well, he must be good at math because he's Asian, right?

Technically a "positive" comment but definitely still racist. Positive/neutral/negative has nothing to do with it -- reducing an entire people into 1 sweeping generalization (aka stereotype) is racist.
posted by alleycat01 at 7:40 PM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


These are just comments I made up just to bring up a topic, I never actually said anything like these comments to anyone, but I have heard people around me say such things about other people and even my own race. And when people say such comments about my race, it really doesn't bother me, my entire day is not ruined because someone said "this group of people like mountain climbing". I think it's really stupid to be upset over insignificant statements like that which do not mean to offend anyone but are just casual comments. I am NOT a racist!!!!!! There are degrees of racism, and I think these comments are probably at the lowest level of "racism", versus things that are just obviously the highest form of racism.
posted by four_suyu at 7:41 PM on July 26, 2016


No , they are sign posts. And people from all groups can spit racist shit to other groups. It's not just white people. But White people have the power and the voice and the long ugly history. And just because you are ok with it, doesn't mean other people from your culture are. Lots of women are against feminism. And they damn well do not speak for me.

And Dawkins' people never speak for me as an atheist. And Putin doesn't speak for me as a socialist. And Pauline Hanson doesn't speak for me as an Australian, and my racist sexist sister doesn't speak for me as a member of my family.
posted by taff at 7:46 PM on July 26, 2016 [39 favorites]


You chose poor examples because they 1. don't really make much sense, 2. are not a reflection of the societal trait that you appear to be trying to describe.

You also appear to be trying to only solicit comments supporting your own point of view, so I'm not sure what the point of this Ask MeFi even is....?
posted by ryanbryan at 7:47 PM on July 26, 2016 [36 favorites]


Low level racism is still racism.
posted by donnagirl at 7:47 PM on July 26, 2016 [40 favorites]


I don't think it's stupid to be upset about what people say about you.

Throughout my childhood, I was made to feel different from everyone else. "What are you," "Do you worship cows," "Do you eat monkey brains," "Do you speak English," etc.

It just gets tiring to have someone constantly lump you in with a larger group based on your skin color or ethnic background. And of course it can be worse than tiring, you can be denied opportunities, targeted for violence, have racial slurs yelled at you on the street, etc. I think it's a spectrum. "Indians love heat" is not as pernicious as "Indians smell bad" or "Indians are unreliable workers" but it's still a stereotype.

People often look at me and think they know something about me. Even if it's "neutral" or positive stuff like I must love heat, be good at math, and enjoy spicy food, I just want to be seen as a human being with my own personality and preferences. That's not stupid, I think everybody wants that. I mean, it doesn't ruin my life when somebody tells me that Indian people do X, but it's annoying, and yes, racist, for all the reasons pointed out above. And sometimes it's actively damaging -- not an example of racism, but for instance, when I was pregnant, I was denied certain job opportunities because people assumed I would be too tired or wouldn't want to return to work.

As a kid I wished people would stop other-ing me with comments like that, and always wished I could fit in. As an adult, I live in a diverse city and generally choose not to associate with people who make assumptions about me. But I accept that there are some people who I will need to educate about that by gently reminding them that I am an individual person just like them.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:51 PM on July 26, 2016 [46 favorites]


Yes, those comments can legitimately be called racist. P.S. "I'm okay with it so why aren't they?" = entitlement.
posted by Lyme Drop at 7:53 PM on July 26, 2016 [37 favorites]


It's just weird to say "all people from [place] are like [trait]." What makes you think that? Have you spent a lot of time there? Do you know a lot of people from that place? Or, are you just making sweeping generalizations based on vague notions that you picked up somewhere or other?

Basically: what, to you, is the PURPOSE of saying (ie) "all Greeks like olives"? Where did you get that idea? Why does it matter to you to express that idea? Would you object to the notion that maybe some Greeks DON'T like olives? If you wouldn't, why say "all Greeks like olives" in the first place?

It's a substance-free waste of breath to say these things. You may as well say "all ducks are brown." Lots of them are, lots of them aren't. Why insist that the first duck you ever saw represents all ducks?

Why do you WANT to say these things? What's the point?
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:55 PM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think it's really stupid to be upset over insignificant statements like that

I mean... racist beliefs/speech/action are one form of behavior generally deemed impolite (I originally had a less neutral phrase there). Refusing to accept other people's feelings because they go against your mandate of what's okay to get upset over is another. They often go together -- people with racist beliefs (especially subconscious racist beliefs) often want them to be acceptable and not upsetting to others -- but not always.

but is it racism full of hate like the KKK or Nazism

If it upsets people, why does it matter? I think that's the part you're missing-- believing others when they tell you that certain statements offend, hurt, or upset them. You can't argue with that. Please don't try.
posted by supercres at 7:56 PM on July 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


You can think it's stupid to be offended, but if you reread others' comments, you'll see they've given you some reasons why they're offended by similar statements.

Also worth mentioning that they make you sound uneducated about whatever group of people you're describing. If you say "Nepalese people love mountains!" you don't sound like you hate people from Nepal. But you do sound like you have no idea what role mountains might play in Nepalese culture (do Nepalese people "like" mountains? As in think they're cool? Probably some geologists from Nepal do...) and you sound like you think everyone from Nepal has the same likes and dislikes.

Anyone from a visible minority in the US probably gets to hear plenty about what other people think they're like. Thugs! Good with money (in a shifty way)! Smell like curry! Super smart strivers! Whether the stereotypes and assumptions are positive or negative, they get pretty fucking old for many of us.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:56 PM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Take racism out of it for a moment, if that's a concept that you find frustrating. What you seem to be missing is that a certain sort of constant hot-take vague stereotyping tends to come from people who are relatively ignorant, unworldly, and lack any practical experience with people unlike themselves. Are these people always dangerous? No, but they're at the very least always annoying and usually clueless. A lot of people figured out along the way that they don't have to suffer annoying ignorant clueless people because life's too short for that BS, and we're allowed to judge people by what they say, so there you go.
posted by blerghamot at 7:57 PM on July 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


[four_syu (and everyone), this isn't a debate space. Make your case, but it's not appropriate to debate with other answerers. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 7:57 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I want to get on board with the people saying that applying any of this to an individual. It's one thing to say "Greek people like olives [more often than non-Greek people like olives]." It's another thing to say "You're Greek, so you must like olives." Even if it's true that Greek people like olives more than non-Greek people, applying it to a particular person means you are treating it as deterministic. And is this yucky at the very least.

And incidentally, doing this -- applying group differences to individual people, even when those differences are accurate -- is illegal in the employment sector when the groups are based on prohibited grounds for discrimination (e.g. If you have a job requiring heavy lifting, you can discriminate against women because on average they can lift less, you have to see how much each individual can lift). It's called statistical discrimination.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:01 PM on July 26, 2016


racism
noun
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race

Dead simple. Doesn't matter if you think the characteristics, abilities, or qualities are neutral or positive. The generalisation is the racism, not whether a specific person might think it was a compliment or not.
posted by tillsbury at 8:02 PM on July 26, 2016 [28 favorites]


All of us are reading extra words into these sentences. You say "Greek people like olives." I read "Greek people [on average/in general] like olives." Others read "[All] Greek people like olives."

Which words people read in depend on a lot of things. In my case, I read in the probabilistic version because I come from a background of having to teach group differences, and being exhausted of having to explain probabilism vs. determinism when students insist that it's sexist to say that women do a greater share of the childcare. The other thing that influences which people read in, is the context and your tone. If the people you encounter face to face are always reading in the "all" instead of the "on average" then there may be something about the way your saying this or the context in which you say it that is implying you think "all."

So while I don't necessarily think "Greeks like olives" is a racist statement always and in every context, I think you should rethink what you are saying, how, and in what context. If people consistently read you as making a statement about every single Greek person, then there's probably a reason.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:11 PM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


There are degrees of racism, and I think these comments are probably at the lowest level of "racism", versus things that are just obviously the highest form of racism.

It's not a test where you just need to hit 70% to be on the pass side of pass/fail. It's not a contest where if you aren't one of the top ten racists, you're safely out of the running.

Look, you're offended and upset that, to your mind, people are misjudging you and accusing you of ill thought, so....you do understand how this is a highly unpleasant sensation? Don't do that to other people. When someone explains to you that you've offended them, believe them. What on earth is so damn important about a nonsensical broad generalization that you need to double-down and defend it?
posted by desuetude at 8:15 PM on July 26, 2016 [55 favorites]


"It doesn't bother me; therefore, it should not bother you," is a classic defense of discriminatory behavior. There is often an element of privilege in not letting things bother you. It's easy enough to be above it all, when you are, in fact, above it all on the socio-economic scale. It's a luxury that not everyone has.
posted by 26.2 at 8:20 PM on July 26, 2016 [57 favorites]


To clarify, you don't need to take any of these comments personally. Nothing here is a comment on your worth as a human being, or meant to imply that you are somehow a bad person. You may not be racist, but the examples you gave certainly are (the "degree" of racism is irrelevant; slightly racist is still racist). If you're uncomfortable being thought of as a racist person, then you should consider changing your behavior. You can be a good person and still make mistakes and/or have moments of ignorance. The important thing is learning from it.
posted by a strong female character at 8:22 PM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Two questions, OP - 1) is English your first language and 2) were you brought up in North America?
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:22 PM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Can these comments below be perceived as racist?

Yeah
posted by Greg Nog at 8:23 PM on July 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


This isn't really a question. You obviously are just looking for permission for something you're not gonna get.
I am NOT a racist!!!!!! There are degrees of racism, and I think these comments are probably at the lowest level of "racism", versus things that are just obviously the highest form of racism.

You admit that these things are racist and you want it to be ok to say them. You asked and we're telling you it is not ok.
posted by bleep at 8:28 PM on July 26, 2016 [37 favorites]


I think it is helpful to remember that racism is something that is systemic and woven into the fabric of our society. It is not just about the words that individual people say to other individual people, but about how people of colour are discriminated against and disadvantaged in education, housing, the justice system, jobs, and on and on. So it is easy to say that people are "overreacting" to "low-level" racism, but it's all part of the same beast.
posted by rozee at 8:29 PM on July 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


tillsbury posted this definition racism: "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race." That would imply that the statements you made are racist.

If a teenager or child said these things, I'd gently correct them, because they're ignorant.

If a grown adult said these things, I'd be extremely taken aback. If a grown adult got feedback that these things were indeed racist, then said that people "shouldn't" be offended by them, I would think this person was very, very stupid as well as racist.

If your examples don't accurately reflect the types of statements that people are "wrongly" objecting to, then you did a bad job in this post. You're asking us a question about apples, then when you don't like what you hear, you say that you were using apples as an example that you were trying to apply to oranges. (Speaking of fruit...tomatoes originated in the Americas. I'm American. I hate tomatoes. Go figure.)

I think cotton dress sock asked pertinent questions... reading over your question and replies a few times, I'm getting the impression that you are not a native English speaker, and not native to North America, and you're asking questions about North American culture. If you go to another country, believe the natives when they instruct you about their culture and mores.

If I went to Greece or India, I wouldn't demand that everyone speak English and say they're stupid for not speaking English, and not driving on the correct side of the road or whatever else. You asked the question, so be open to the feedback. You sound like someone who doesn't understand "racism" because you come from a homogeneous culture- however, discrimination exists everywhere, and there is probably a parallel you can understand, unless you were at the top of the social hierarchy in your country of origin as well.
posted by serenity_now at 8:56 PM on July 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


But these statements sound neutral to me.

When you comment about another person (AND their country, AND what it is they like or dont like AND based on your assumptions/limited or non-existent knowledge/whatever), you don't get to decide their feelings for them or whether that statement is neutral. They do.

I feel like I have to watch what I say, especially since these days people tend to overreact and cry out racism all the time. It seems as if people try to make something racist or blow everything out of proportion.

Just blew my mind.
posted by xm at 8:58 PM on July 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


By way of comparison, if the following statement sounds racist then you have your answer:

"All black people love watermelon."

Conversely, if that statement doesn't sound racist, then that answer is probably the same. At that point you may need to examine your motives for saying things that may be perceived as hurtful by others and then not believing them even when they tell you that.
posted by paco758 at 9:02 PM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


'A little bit racist' is like 'a little bit pregnant'..... something/someone is, or is not, racist. The "degree" of racism doesn't really enter into it.

Just because you personally aren't offended by something doesn't mean no one else is allowed to be offended; again, just as with your sample comments ("all Greeks like olives", "all Indians love heat"), you are grouping people into stereotypes, which means you are denying them their identities as individuals --- which is the very basis of racism.
posted by easily confused at 9:07 PM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


FWIW, I think we all have to watch what we say because we are all products of cultures with biases. Sometimes the things/words/expressions that feel usual and normal need to be examined to realize that they aren't acceptable at all. It's work that we all need to do.
posted by 26.2 at 9:09 PM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


If people say "Hey, please don't say that, it hurts me," and your response is "You are just overreacting!", you should ask yourself why you are choosing to exercise your free will to say things you know hurt people's feelings, rather than to self-edit a little and live your life in a way to avoid doing needless harm to others. Years ago when I first saw debates about these sorts of comments on Metafilter, I admit that I would roll my eyes and thought that people were oversensitive. Then I read more about privilege, and at some point it clicked - not everything is about me, and just because *I* know what I mean, it's not other people's job to read my mind. Stop being a lazy communicator. It was trivially easy for me to just excise certain things from my vocabulary and avoid making weird and inaccurate generalizations, and it makes life better for the people around me. Don't choose pointless stubbornness over kindness.
posted by gatorae at 9:10 PM on July 26, 2016 [54 favorites]


While I consider it racism, if you do not then think of it as those sort of comments are in the neighbourhood of racism, comments like this are often used by racists in mixed company to feel out if other people around think the same way they do. So people that are opposed to racism react to head off any misconception that it is OK to talk that way.

If yourself find thinking of it as too many people over reacting in opposing to racism, how about thinking of it as manners. You don't discuss religion or politics around people you don't want to offend, add comments about people from other countries to the list of things you don't talk about around people.

Things you might want to consider is why do you want to offend these people that are bothered by your comments? Why don't you want to be polite to them?
posted by wwax at 9:11 PM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


I too am interested in the OPs linguistic background. If they care to tell us.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:12 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Racial stereotyping is racist. It doesn't matter if the stereotypes are 'positive', eg, 'all asians are good at maths'. You are still judging people based on their ethnic origin.

I think it's really stupid to be upset over insignificant statements like that which do not mean to offend anyone but are just casual comments.

That's nice for you. But you don't get to tell people how to feel about the racism that they experience. You are not the arbiter of whether feelings are valid.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:12 PM on July 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


Ok, there are two things in play here: being a racist and being an asshole. Note that those are independent, and both different from making a statement that is racist. Example:

Person A: [Racist statement along the lines of:] "All X people like/are/think Y."

By definition, the statement is racist. If Person A is *a* racist the way we usually define it, this could very well be something negative; Person A might add: "And that's why I hate them." Now when Person B responds:

Person B: "That's an over-generalization and I find it hurtful/upsetting."

Asshole response from Person A: "You're stupid to feel that way. It's incorrect/dumb/over-sensitive to feel hurt or get upset over that statement."

Non-asshole response from Person A: "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt/upset you."

Note that they're completely independent. One could be an asshole racist, or a non-asshole racist (trust me, the American South is full of the latter). Or one could be an asshole non-racist, or a non-asshole, non-racist.

I recommend striving for non-asshole, non-racist, as well as generally not making racist statements.
posted by supercres at 9:14 PM on July 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


You can step on my toe a little or a lot but if I say it hurts, it hurts. Whether you intended to step on my toe doesn't matter, it still hurts, and it's not an overreaction for me to say so. What if 20 people had stepped on my toe already that day, and you're the 21st? It would hurt more than if you had been the only one.

These kinds of statements are racist and offensive (as other people have explained) and it's not for you to say whether someone should or should not be offended by them.
posted by AFABulous at 9:15 PM on July 26, 2016 [23 favorites]


"People from India love the heat."
Considering that over 1.252 billion (2013) separate and distinct individuals live in India, each with their own hopes, dreams, likes and dislikes, this statement would make the speaker seem monumentally stupid to issue such an uninformed blanket statement.
posted by blueberry at 9:30 PM on July 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


There are so many other things you could say.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:45 PM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Could you tell us what you actually said? I think the things you made up are sort of weird - and since you didn't actually say them, aren't going to help us answer you.
posted by Toddles at 9:50 PM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Note that if you were to say something like "Olive Oil Times reports that Greece consumes more olive oil per capita than any other EU country, by far" then no one would accuse that of being a racist comment. But phrasing it in a fact-free "well obviously" fashion sounds ignorant. Especially since it's unlikely any organization keeps track of which countries like heat most.
posted by ejs at 10:00 PM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think people are being too hasty in condemning generalizations about large groups of people.

If generalizations from ethnic identity, say, were always so impolite as to be forbidden, some very useful and apparently progressive disciplines and areas of research would grind to a halt. I'm thinking for instance of the study of cross-cultural communication and cultural anthropology. It happens to be the case that many large social groups definable sometimes by language or nationality -- like 'the English', or the 'Russians', or the 'Greeks' -- differ between each other in many parameters of their culture. Like, their sense of time (clock time or organic time) their attitudes towards what friendship is or entails, how authority works in organization, and, yes, what food tastes good, to mention just a very few. Many problems that occur in encounters between members of differently cultured social groups are due to differing expectations and interpretations deriving from the different cultures. These can be managed by the participants if they are aware of the differences in mental complexion of the cultures involved; but this can only happen if they are at liberty to acknowledge many true generalizations about people who belong to these cultures.

Racist thought and racism itself is strictly speaking having views and attitudes that classify and justify judgments about people according to supposed large-scale biological kinship relations, broadly speaking. It is sloppy to call generalizing about people on the basis of other identities, shared characteristics, or membership in a certain culture or sub-culture 'racist' if the concept of 'race' as a biological kinship group is not in play.

A really useful discussion of racism and its degrees and varieties is to be found in Kwame Appiah's In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture.
posted by bertran at 10:00 PM on July 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


Questions are only questions if you don't think you know the answer and you want to know what the answer is. Here, you already think you know the answer, and you don't appear terribly interested to hear any answer other than the one you think. That isn't a question, it's a plea for validation.

There is one question mark in your post: "Can these comments below be perceived as racist?" The answer is yes. If you have another question, wait a week and ask that one.
posted by Errant at 10:01 PM on July 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


If you come from a place where it's very common to hear people making observations about whole nations in casual conversation - also, where people make the assumption that everyone who lives in a given nation is of the same racial/ethnic background - these kinds of generalizations may sound neutral to you.

I heard a lot of it in Europe. Stuff about "the Italians" being melodramatic about fouls during soccer matches, or about "the English" needing baked beans and tea on demand while travelling (also, being "hooligans") - whatever, substitute nationality + observation.

Some of it seemed to be said (and taken) in good humour. Some observations (which were said less openly) were much less benign, and obviously not taken well. But it was/is very common - everyone sort of agrees to work within this paradigm in which (one) race and (one) nation are aligned (i.e. identical).

Most people - some more than others - kind of know it's not quite like that. But they tacitly agree to trade in generalizations and simplifications for the purposes of a conversation about e.g. soccer, to highlight differences for entertainment's sake, and it's not seen as a big deal. (So long as things are generally friendly and politically secure.)

But it's not like that, at all. Race =/= nation. That equation is artificial, it's a way of thinking that came out of the political divisions made in the last few centuries. It makes it easy to forget that many ethnic groups exist in these countries, and always did. And this assumption is actually a big deal, it's a big problem. We can see that in how things are playing out in Europe these days. (And conversations about race seem to be changing, as a result.)

In the US and Canada, race is thought and talked about differently. There aren't a lot of neighbouring countries, for one, nationality as race isn't as relevant as it is in e.g. Europe (or other continents made up of more than a handful of countries). (Except for when it comes to the US and Mexico, because of current events.) Most people who are not truly native (i.e., First Nations people) either immigrated themselves, or are descendants of immigrants. In the US, race is a way of dividing people within the country - probably the most important and damaging way, the root of many of its problems. So people are (usually) mindful - and careful - about talking about it. (In Canada, race is also an important division, but it's a little different, won't get into it here. Although Mexico is part of North America, I know very little about how race is discussed there, sorry.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:17 PM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


It is not hot in every part of India. So some people from India don't like the heat. Sone do. Some people in Greece hate olives, gonna guess hipsters, but they do.

Racisim rules of thumb:

If you are talking about any community larger than a US state, the population is too big to make generalizations.

If you are depicting another race, either by blackface or accent, it is racist.

Halloween, same rule, but you can do white races that have long passed into history, like the Greeks and the Romans. But if society is recovering from wrongs done in the past, or there is a lot of racist shit out there about that group, you can't do it.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:20 PM on July 26, 2016


Well, I wouldn't use the word "racist" since that technically means "believing one race is superior to another" and nothing in what you said implies that.

That said, the statements you make are indeed offensive. What you are doing is, sure, while not being racist, making assumptions. That's wrong.

1) People from India love the heat (since India is a very hot country).
India is a very hot country. That's true, no denying that. You have facts to back it up. But people from India loving the heat, that's an assumption. Do you actually have facts? Have you surveyed all Indians and come to that scientific conclusion ? You are effectively making a decision on behalf of Indians. You are claiming that if someone is Indian, they inherently love the heat. Personally, as an Indian, I can find you at least a dozen Indians who don't love the heat, so you are immediately proven wrong.

Even something like "most people from India love the heat" could be considered offensive. The problem is you are generalizing. If you say "I would assume a lot of people from India love the heat, but I could be wrong", you might be on the safe side.


2) Greek people like olives (because good olives are from Greece)
Good olives come from Greece, that in itself is a generalization. Fortunately, that's not the kind of thing someone would be offended by. Unlike the previous "India is a very hot country", there's nothing to back up "good olives are from Greece". Someone from another country where dates are grown could potentially be offended.

But let's move past that. Greek people like olives, again, technically you could assume that's the case, but you don't have the data to back it up.

Personally, I would just stay away from generalizing. Avoid making assumptions if you can.

And yes, I agree with you. The world today is a horrible place. Everyone is super-sensitive, and saying the slightest thing could set people off. Even if you are not "racist" per se, you could still be offending people, so I guess there's really nothing to do but watch what we say.
posted by harisund at 10:47 PM on July 26, 2016


Ask is not for starting fights. I, for example, use it when I am earnestly and completely stumped. I do not think "I like fish!" And then post an Ask reading "Are fish good". That's picking a fight, not asking a question.

Please take to heart that the wording of your question makes you sound ignorant. Please take to heart that arguing that you are not racist portrays you as knowing nothing about how systematic racism actually works. Please take to heart the great answers above, and try to understand them instead of "yeah, but..'ing them.

Those are the things that will make you sound not racist because they will make you less racist.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 11:22 PM on July 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


And when people say such comments about my race, it really doesn't bother me, my entire day is not ruined because someone said "this group of people like mountain climbing".

That's fine for you. Not everyone feels that way. There are people who have been hurt in the past by generalizations, and thus are wary to any sort of generalization. What's wrong with just not making a generalization?

There are degrees of racism, and I think these comments are probably at the lowest level of "racism", versus things that are just obviously the highest form of racism.

See, I think one of the reasons the USA has such a problem with race is that we're so reluctant to classify things as racist. When we think "racist person", we think of someone with a bunch of swastika tattoos who's putting on a white hood and burning crosses all over the place. We think of a caricature, a cartoon. When we make that the standard for racism, then suddenly nobody is racist because even though nice Mrs. Higglesworth down the street clutches her purse if she sees a group of Black kids you think she can't be racist because she has no swastika tattoos and isn't burning crosses. It also renders us unable to identify our own racism, because we've no desire to put on white hoods so we tell ourselves we're not racist. But being racist isn't like that. Being racist is the small stuff, like saying "Black people like watermelon".

In the USA (and in other countries) we all grow up exposed to an undercurrent of racism. So it is impossible for us to say "I'm not racist", because we're soaking in it all our lives! We're all going to be racist to some degree--the trick is being honest with ourselves about our racist beliefs and actively confronting them.
posted by schroedinger at 11:30 PM on July 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


Well, I wouldn't use the word "racist" since that technically means "believing one race is superior to another" and nothing in what you said implies that.

For clarity, via the Oxford English Dictionary:
1.1 Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior:
'a programme to combat racism'

1.2 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races:
'theories of racism'
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:31 PM on July 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


Your examples are that of assuming preferences of extraordinarily large groups of people, based solely on one shared characteristic. That would be incredibly racist; you're completely leaving out any chance of them to be individuals.

If you are talking about any community larger than a US state, the population is too big to make generalizations.

As a resident of Kansas, I would request this be changed to a large-ish city. I do not meet most Kansas stereotypes, nor "flyover states." I also don't meet what some people expect from a half-Jewish descendant of German-Jewish immigrants.
posted by RainyJay at 11:39 PM on July 26, 2016


cotton dress sock has it, I think. In Europe (and probably in some other places!) it can be pretty common to attribute things to a national character and people don't see it as a problem in casual conversation. In English literature at least, when someone travels to another country in Europe, commenting on how they behave is super common. The Swiss are neat, Germans are efficient (and possibly Nazis), Italians can't drive, the French are always on strike...

Personal story time! I'm technically an immigrant to America- my family is from the UK. In grade school, I had a teacher who would single me out for "misbehavior" and say "I thought British people behaved 'properly'!" and make tea-with-pinky-out motions. As a result, my classmates would single me out, talk in fake English accents and generally be awful. This isn't racism! English isn't even an ethnicity in America let alone a race. But holy shit was it problematic and pisses me off to this day. I'm sure she thought she was just trying to "motivate" me with a "positive" stereotype. Fuck. That.

But in America it's generally not considered polite to distinguish people by national origin blithely. If you say "Indian people like hot weather" everyone will assume you mean everyone of Indian origin. That is, that you're talking about an ethnicity. In America, immigrants' national origin can sort of fade away after a generation, but ethnicity can remain. So if you're chatting and say "people from X country like Y", if there's someone who is of X ethnicity listening they will read it as you describing them, their family, and their ethnicity. Even if they're white, they might have family stories about how they were discriminated against when they first came to the country. "The Irish sure drink a lot" might not sound too bad nowadays but it was a stereotype used against the Irish for a long long time. It's not "modern oversensitivity," it's collective historical pain.

It's probably safe to say "Finns really like their coffee- they drink more per capita than anyone else!" (it's true!) but, if you happen to be in a room with a Finnish person who detests coffee, it might be a little bit awkward. Absolutely stay away from flatly generalizing about any country that might get read as an "ethnicity" in the US... which limits you pretty much to only Northern Europe. But, again, see my story above about being stereotyped as "English". It gets fucking annoying.

You can get away with characterizing American states, though, if you really want. Wisconsin is the drunkest state by nearly any measure, and I don't think anyone would say it's racist to say so. It's a bit lazy, but it's an American pastime and it's often not racist. But if you're in NYC and you're joking about how people in Kansas are, unless you're actually from Kansas you might really piss off someone from there. Again, not oversensitivity, but actual pain- Midwesterners have a history of feeling left out of the so-called national conversation- TV and movies are all filmed on the coasts, it's literally called flyover country as in "you'd never want to live there." When I moved to the Midwest from the coast I got so many "... but why?"s. So you might be able to understand why characterizing Kansas isn't actually racist but will still make people unhappy for totally understandable reasons.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:59 PM on July 26, 2016 [22 favorites]


Nthing that those statements can certainly be perceived as racist. Racism-from-ignorance instead of racism-from-hatred but take the feedback you are getting and stop. You don't enjoy how people react to them, and they have no conversational value--they are not interesting and they are not true--so just leave it out of your conversational and then people will have no complaints.

And honestly most people just don't like being told untrue stuff about themselves. I spent some time living abroad and got told things about America such as how much we like fast food, how we like guns, or what kind of movies we watch. It didn't crush my ego or ruin my day but it's tiresome and I generally thought the people pontificating were nimrods.

Here's a sincere suggestion: When you think about how you might feel if someone said something about your race, don't pick something that doesn't bother you. Try to come up with something that does, something that triggers a knee-jerk negative emotion*. Then decide if you want to make other people feel that way, or if you want to be a mensch.

*If you really believe nothing would bother you, remember: You've literally just posted something on AskMe about being really bothered by others' speech. So maybe imagine getting tired of some casual comments that use the word "privilege" or something.
posted by mark k at 12:04 AM on July 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


For the record, I'm Indian, and I absolutely detest the heat. Also, not everywhere in India is hot; Bangalore's only redeeming factor is that it's (mostly) a civilised temperature, and Delhi (and the North, generally, thanks to, y'know, the gigantic mountain range) gets pretty damned freezing in winter. So. A) you're making a general assumption about a billion people, as mentioned above, and B) it's not even a factual assumption.

Fine, this is a made-up and slightly ridiculous example. But others are more harmful - like the 'model minority' stereotype that people of South East Asian descent get hit with. It puts massive amount of pressure on people of that ethnicity to be a certain way, and it's been found that Asian/SE Asian-origin people of disadvantaged backgrounds (the Hmong, Laotians, lower-caste Indians) actually don't receive help they need bc of the general assumptions made about them.

Also, look up 'microaggressions' and see if that explains why this shit gets old real fast. It's not just about one person making dumb-ass statements; it's about having to listen to fifteen different people make fifteen dumb-ass statements over the course of a day.
posted by Tamanna at 12:10 AM on July 27, 2016 [16 favorites]


If you just completed a corresponding empirical study and are presenting the results (and the statements turn out to be statistically valid), then the statements "People from India love the heat" or "Greek people like olives", are not racist, they are just unfortunately formulated.
If it's a general statement about nothing in particular, then it's racist.
If it's about a particular member of the corresponding group, then it's racist and offensive.
/is what I attempt to live up to
posted by labberdasher at 1:31 AM on July 27, 2016


"All black people love watermelon" is racist because negroid peoples have traditionally been classified as a separate race from Caucasions. Stupid IMO because taxonomically we‘re all members of the human race but the term "race" has become associated with ethnic groups.

"Indian people love the heat" isn't exactly racist, but geographically and anthropologically ignorant as the sub-continent is a vast place, home to a mix of ethnic groups, with locations in the north, up in the Himalayas, where it's never hot. And in the winter it gets colder even in the 'hot' regions.

"Greek people love olives" is a stereotype, of course with exceptions that make it untrue.

Like 'blonde jokes' or 'Polish jokes' why would any enlightened person make any such statement?
posted by Rash at 1:37 AM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


To elaborate on Tamanna's point: any one dumb comment (ie yours) in isolation can be ignored, sure. Part of the problem is that for the people you think are too sensitive your comment isn't "a" comment - it's the ten millionth. I would bet good money that you are not receiving the volume of comments in reverse.

Regardless of whether or not it's racist, it's damn annoying.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:50 AM on July 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think previous posters make good points about how generalisations based on race or nationality erase the differences of individuals and result in "othering", and that is hurtful and offensive. I just wanted to also point out that even generalisations that seem positive or neutral often lead to conclusions that are not so positive. For example, generalising that people of a particular nationality are good at maths may lead you (consciously or otherwise) to conclude that a person of that nationality is not good at other types of things - creative pursuits, or sport, perhaps. This may not be a big deal, or it might a very big deal, for example if you are a hiring manager who holds those views. Your expectations based on racial or national stereotypes may also lead you to have unequal expectations of individuals - so if you are a teacher and you expect a student of a particular background to perform well in maths, you might hold them to a higher standard, improving their performance - or conversely, you might fail to offer them remedial help if they are under-performing. Off the top of my head, for the two statements you initially mentioned...if you believe that Indian people love the heat, you may make assumptions about an individual's ability to perform in cold weather, and if you believe that Greek people love olives, to me that also assumes a kind of parochialism that is unflattering. Those are just surface level - I wouldn't doubt that apparently innocuous stereotypes can carry much heavier, darker baggage. All of this is to say: your adherence to national and racial stereotypes can make a difference in other people's lives, and it matters.
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:08 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


making absolute statements and referring to an entire population is

...unlikely to be edifying to anyone (unlike you're high up in research and about to formulate a new and magnificent sociological theory, or something).

And yes, these comments could be perceived as racist. It doesn't matter what you intended. What counts is how you come across and what buttons you press. The only way to influence people to believe that you're a genuinely thoughtful person is to make genuinely thoughtful pronouncements.
posted by Namlit at 3:00 AM on July 27, 2016


I get why you're on the defensive, four_suyu. Keep in mind that virtually everyone in the world, including everyone here, has said something inadvertently racist at some point. And I t hurts to be called out for saying something upsetting when it wasn't your intention. You feel like your character's been questioned.

There are two things you can do when you learn that something you've thought or said could be considered racist (or sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist): one is to figure out why it came across that way, and what unconscious prejudices might have led to you saying it, and to work on fixing it. The other is to dig in your heels and decide that you're right and anyone you piss off is just overreacting. That's why statements like "you have to watch what you say," "people are so sensitive," "but I didn't mean anything negative," and "but I'm not racist" are such red flags: they indicate that you're not interested in learning why you're coming across the way you are.

"I'm not racist" does not neutralize the effects of what you say. In fact, if you ever feel obliged to say or write "I'm not racist," it's a really good sign that you've said, or are about to say, something racist. Racism isn't something that's either obvious or absent; we have to keep searching for and fixing little bits of it, in ourselves and our communities.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:33 AM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ask yourself: what am I trying to achieve by saying the words that I'm saying?

Is it very important to me that everyone hear me say that Greek people love olives (or whatever)? Why? What are those words trying to accomplish? It's not factually true, 2 seconds of scrutiny makes that obvious, so what am I trying to do?

Someone has told me my word choice is problematic. That the thing I just said is offensive.

Am I going for the punchline of a joke? Is it worth offending people to get a few chuckles from others? Am I trying to make some broader point? How does something that's not even true support that? Could I find better words to use to say the thing I'm trying to say? Am I so invested in my original choice of words that I refuse to change them? Why? What do I have to gain?


This is an important series of questions for me, personally, and ones I've gone through a few times. I used to use the phrase "spirit animal" like how it's fallen into popular use the last few years, and someone right here on metafilter sent me a memail after I used it in a thread being like hey, you may not know this, but that's not cool to say because ____. And I realized...I have nothing invested in the term spirit animal. Nothing. All I wanted to say was how much I liked the person I was referring to as my spirit animal, and there are so many more ways to express that that don't make others feel bad. I was trying to say a happy thing and in doing that I unwittingly made someone else's day worse. Me clinging to some "right" to use spirit animal because it's not that bad doesn't enrich my life in any way. So it's gone.

When someone tells you the words you're choosing to use make you sound racist, listen to them! They are doing you a public service. Use it as an opportunity to actually think about what you're saying and why you're saying it. Unless your goal is to upset people when you talk, you can find better words to use to express what you're trying to say.
posted by phunniemee at 4:38 AM on July 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


It has taken me a while to work out how to respond to this.

Firstly, i'll say it's not what i'd call offensive but it is just rather strange. I am used to people from different cultures talking (bitching?) about each other, so I am not particularly sensitive about it. I'm more concerned about the fact that you're angry that people are upset by what you say. If that is the case then why do you care if you're perceived as racist? I ask because you don't seem to care if you actually hurt people. I find that people don't want the label 'racist' because it's a 'bad' thing (it makes them 'look bad') but they don't care about actual racism. It comes across as if you don't want to be ostracized for saying the wrong thing as opposed to actually hurting 'X' ethnic group.

When you mix with people (whether they are the same family, race, gender etc. or not), you have to get used to their sensibilities, their history, the things that come together to make up their experience of the world. You do this because you want them to feel comfortable around you and also because you care. But you don't care. So why ask? If you are looking for a solution as to how you can protect your image so that you don't look bad to other people then nobody can really help you. There is no master list of the right and wrong things to say. If there was, it would take forever to work through. The only solution to that is to actually give a shit about those people and how your words and manner may affect them. You cannot fabricate self-awareness.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:43 AM on July 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I think your examples are racist, and I think your follow up also speaks to racism.


I have heard people around me say such things about other people and even my own race. And when people say such comments about my race, it really doesn't bother me, my entire day is not ruined because someone said "this group of people like mountain climbing".



Your argument basically is telling me that because it doesn't bother me (a woman) all that much to be kneed in the groin I can therefore knee YOU (a man, assuming you are one) in the groin. Your argument is telling me that it doesn't matter that I don't have testicles, it doesn't matter that our biological realities are different. You're saying that I get to act as though my experiences and reactions are how everyone will experience and react to things and that I get to act huffy, insulted, and offended when people experience things differently. And then while you are on the floor, crying, doubled over in pain I can declare "What? Whats the big deal? I've been kneed in the groin and it doesn't bother me! God, people are so oversensitive these days. You brush past people and they act like they've been shot!"

Sounds pretty stupid, right?

What you don't realize is that you are coming from a completely different context and reality than other people, and your experiences (and therefore responses/reactions) to similar situations has NOTHING to do with what they experience and feel.

For example, I'm a short, overweight woman. I have been mocked, derided, judged, made fun of, and publicly humiliated many times in my life because of it. And because of that I am extremely sensitive to having anyone comment on what I am eating. Now, lets imagine that you are a healthy weight man, and therefore have not experienced the sort of harassment and judgement I have, and therefore you don't have the deeply ingrained fear and anxiety over it. And then lets imagine that someone "jokingly" makes an oink/pig comment when they see you order a large meal at a fast food restaurant. You very possibly would laugh it off, or maybe you would be slightly put out but would shrug it off and get on with your day. However, if someone made the exact same oink/pig comment to me I would be humiliated. It would bring up the 300 other times I have been publicly humiliated and made fun of for my weight. I would likely leave without eating and barely make it to my car before the tears started. Because I suffer from depression it would also very likely trigger a major depressive episode in me and dredge up the years of self loathing and self hate I have worked so fucking hard to overcome.

My context is not your context.
My reality is not your reality.
You don't get to tell me that I don't have the right to be upset by being publicly humiliated just because you feel you wouldn't mind having it done to you.
And you justifying your actions and comments by saying "People say stuff like that to me all the time and I don't mind so why the hell do they mind! They need to get over themselves!" is ignorant, entitled, and frankly assholey.


Your words hurt. No one cares whether you think they SHOULD hurt, no one cares whether similar words don't hurt YOU. Your words are hurting others. And in some cases, your words are adding to the problem of prejudice, stereotyping, and casual racism.

So stop saying things that hurt people.
It is that simple.
Stop hurting others.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:45 AM on July 27, 2016 [40 favorites]


I feel like I have to watch what I say, especially since these days people tend to overreact and cry out racism all the time. It seems as if people try to make something racist or blow everything out of proportion.

I feel as if this is sort of a trick question because, given this framing, everyone who answers "yes" automatically puts themselves in the category of person whose opinions you disregard.

Plus, the two examples you give are less "racist," per se, than WTF type questions. (Like, why would someone even say something like that?) But then you say these examples aren't real, which makes me wonder what things you've actually said that would make people think you're being racist. I'm guessing those things probably don't have the quality of your examples, which admittedly people could find silly or pointless rather than positively discriminatory. (Note I'm saying it's possible to view them that way, not that someone's going to give them a clean bill of health in the way you seem to be looking for.) But it doesn't really matter in one sense. You are assuming that people are making up their reactions to your statement. That's offensive right there! You can disagree with me all day, but the minute you accuse me of fabricating my reactions, we might as well both go home.

I think you might do better by assuming that people's reactions are at least possibly reasonable to have and that people in fact have them, and work from there.
posted by BibiRose at 6:03 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


As a white cisgender male I'm about as privileged as it gets as far as racism is concerned, but here's a personal example, not racism related, of how lazy reductive stereotyping gets really fucking annoying over time:

I play banjo, mostly music from the mid-19th century through the early 20th century, styles that have all but disappeared and are quite far removed from the instrument's modern, predominantly bluegrass/country context. I could go on about differences in instrument construction, right hand techniques, the instrument's complicated legacy of cultural appropriation (and yes, racism) in the context of 19th century minstrel shows, and so on, but most people are only politely interested and glaze over after I tell them that no, I don't know how to play Foggy Mountain Breakdown. And that's fine! I know it's a weird niche thing - but it's my weird niche thing, and there's a lot of fascinating history and old obscure music lying around, and it's fun and fascinating to bring it back to life.

On Facebook, all of that is reduced to "Hey usonian, you play banjo! Here's a funny cartoon about how terrible banjos sound. Here's one about how everyone hates banjo music, haha! Here's someone playing a heavy metal song... on banjo! How novel!" For a while, I'd politely laugh along and mostly feel touched that someone was thinking of me enough to take the time to share it, but over the years it has gotten really tedious at best and offensive at worst... in my head I'm just like "Hey, I've spent a lot of time studying this unique instrument over the years, but thanks for reducing all of that down to a distasteful punchline about backwoods male rape, I really appreciate it." I mostly bite my tongue because I know no offense was intended, but that doesn't make it any less annoying/offensive to me.

That whole wall of text is only related to my own innocuous personal interest, but it's given me a better appreciation for how that kind of prolonged, subtle microaggression (even if not intentional) towards other races/cultures/identities is a real thing, and legitimately problematic/offensive whether I might think something is offensive or not. Whenever someone complains about political correctness or how "these days people tend to overreact and cry out racism all the time" what I hear is "I'm mad because I can't tell my favorite ethnic jokes or use convenient stereotypes to comfortably pigeonhole entire races and/or classes of people anymore. It's like all of a sudden I'm supposed to empathize with other human beings or something!"
posted by usonian at 6:17 AM on July 27, 2016 [15 favorites]


"These days people tend to overreact and cry out racism all the time."

No, you are making racist statements, and then instead of listening to people who experience racism and are telling you that it is racist, digging your heels in that it's not. Look, you're allowed to be racist. But if you're going to be racist, you don't get to turn that around and say that you're not being racist when people who know how to identify it tell you that you are.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 6:20 AM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Greek American here. I hate olives. If I heard you say that or if you said it to me I would think you were a dumbass, assume you'd say something racist soon, and not want to talk to you, or know you.
posted by vrakatar at 6:27 AM on July 27, 2016 [7 favorites]



I think it's really stupid to be upset over insignificant statements like that which do not mean to offend anyone but are just casual comments.



So? I mean, ok, let's take it as fact that you're right. You're not, but let's say that it IS stupid to be offended at this.

So?

People obviously still are, so, what are you going to do about that? You can't make them not feel bad by calling them stupid.

You can only change your own behavior, so maybe don't say things that make other people upset. You clearly know what kinds of things people find offensive -generalizations and "low-level racism". So don't say those things. If you do and then they get upset, you have only yourself to blame.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:32 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Please don't predict my behaviour based on your expectations of people who share a similar characteristic. It dehumanises me. It puts me in a category of other - to you. Don't then tell me that I'm unreasonable for wanting to be seen and accepted as an individual. Don't argue my life experience against your ego.
posted by b33j at 6:39 AM on July 27, 2016 [11 favorites]


I am a white American who works with a lot of Indians, both in India and those who have immigrated here. I don't know whether they like the heat or not. I do know that most of them like to chit-chat before getting to the point of the conversation, much more so than the non-immigrant Americans I know. Here's two ways I could approach this:

1. Indians never get straight to the point. [subtext: I am frustrated with this.]
2. I notice that many of the Indians I work with like to make small talk before getting down to business. Accordingly, I have adjusted my expectations of conversational patterns.

Note the "many of the Indians I work with" part. This is not a generalization, this is based on specific people and my specific experience. Some Indians do call me up and say "hey, where's that report I asked for?" So it's not universal, which would be racist. Yet I am still noting a cultural trend that is different from most of the American-born Americans I work with. Why even point it out? New coworkers have come across as rude/abrupt to some of the Indian staff, and it causes a rift within the team.
posted by AFABulous at 7:18 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am NOT a racist

There are kind of three ways you can unpack a term like "racist": there's what people think, what they do, and what they are. You're kind of going all in on the third interpretation here, and it's probably the least productive way to comprehend the issue.

Going all the way back to "what people think", there's internalized prejudice, which, if we're honest with ourselves, almost everyone has, because we all pick things up from our cultural context, and where we aren't picking up established generalizations, we're making our own because humans love to see patterns. So, yes, most people, even if they make an effort not to do so, have some sort of internal notion of "what women are like", "what Mexicans are like", "what white people are like" (a curious one since "who white people are" has not been a cultural constant), "what gay men are like", "what Kirghiz are like" (OK, most non-Central-Asians probably don't have a Kirghiz stereotype distinct from all their other central-Asian stereotypes). Attaching a term like "racist" to "what people think" ultimately ends up casting a very wide net over a lot of well-meaning folks, but it's still worthwhile because those internalized thoughts bleed into behavior even among those who try not to.

What people do is the most clearly demonstrative. You can't open up someone's head and see if they think all black people are criminals, but if they say black people are criminals, or act in a manner showing active distrust of black people, that's usually what we think of as racism. Racism is the performance of an ethnic or cultural stereotype. Which could be, yes, saying all Greek people like olives, or even getting the olive-intensive catering tray specifically because there will be a lot of Greek people at your event. I mean, obviously you can't stop your brain from monologuing along the lines of "hmm, Theo is Greek, I wonder if I should get an olive platter?" but how you choose to act on this thought is really on you, and acting on your thoughts does make them fodder for other people's judgment (positive or negative, as the case may be).

Discussing what people are is unhealthy and ultimately obscuring when what you're trying to get at is behavior. Saying one is "a racist" creates an essentialism and sytereotype all of its own: what specific threshold of behavior allows us to pin this label on someone? Once it's on them, is it a permanent part of their identity? Do the rest of us get to say, "oh, he's a racist, so he clearly believes X, Y, and Z"? Racism is a pattern of behavior, and behavior is intrinsically ephemeral. Trying to use someone's behavior to label them is an erasure of their identity in its own right (I am reminded, perhaps irrelevantly, of a passage in Cryptonomicon about how labeling someone as a "morphine addict" rather than "morphine-seeking" is unhelpful because the former erases their identity replacing it with a template, while the latter is descriptive of their behavior).
posted by jackbishop at 7:21 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Indian here. Your first example is a little baffling - because of logic, not of racism. The premise ("India is hot") in no way leads to the conclusion ("Indians like it hot").

I myself cannot tell whether Indians on average like it hot more than other people and I know a *lot* of Indians. It may be true, it may be false. You would really have to do an empirical study to say anything definitive on this topic.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:02 AM on July 27, 2016


Your examples would make me think you were silly (because wtf?) and stupid (because a minute of thought or Googling would show they (like any sweeping generalization) are wrong. I would assume you were quite possibly racist, yes, but possibly just very naive and ignorant.

But your statement that "these days people tend to overreact and cry out racism all the time" is very offensive. And not offensive in the sense of "it annoys me personally because I am sensitive," but offensive in the sense that it's the kind of dangerous dismissal of other people's experiences, individuality, and feelings that leads to serious racism and violence. ("Positive" stereotypes can get people killed just as quick as negative ones.)

You should consider that in the past, people may have under-reacted to racism, and if you notice them reacting more now, it either means they finally consider themselves safe enough to speak openly (a good thing) or that they're seeing the consequences of their prior silence and are very afraid of not speaking out now.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:08 AM on July 27, 2016 [12 favorites]


these statements sound neutral to me
You probably mean "neutral" in that to you they aren't "judgmental" or "negative". Since you aren't judging Greek and Indian people negatively you think that those things aren't racist. That's a pretty naive view-point. I would say if you say stuff like that often enough that you're asking this question, you probably come off to some people as kind of racist. Not quite bigoted on the surface, but clueless enough that it raises some red-flags that you might hold some pretty bigoted views under the surface.

As for this:
people tend to overreact and cry out racism all the time
Well, I think you are overreacting to being called out on some mildly racist statements. Maybe if you said something like "Oh shit, my bad. I meant that olives sure seem to be popular in the nation of Greece, maybe cause they have the best olives". A mea culpa goes a long way to showing people that you realize that making sweeping comments on groups of people is dumb and that you are able to self-correct when you slip up. The fact that you aren't doing this will result in some people to start lumping you in as "A Racist" which often coincides with being "A Bigot", instead of "A Guy That Says Some Dumb Stuff Occasionally, Like All People".
posted by Green With You at 8:39 AM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


I want to address this real quick:
I feel like I have to watch what I say

That's generally the price of admission to polite society. If you were talking with an unattractive woman who was married to an attractive man, you wouldn't say "hey, usually it's the other way around, and it's a fat ugly man with a hot woman, like the sitcoms!" You wouldn't say to a short CEO "I read studies that tall people are more successful. What's your secret?"

Generally, commenting on someone's appearance (including race!) is rude if you're doing it to their face (eg. "what a huge nose, I wonder if your sense of smell is better than mine"), and childish if you're doing it behind their back (eg, "did you notice how many olives he ate?? Those Greeks love olives). It's especially rude, offensive, silly, and ignorant if you're attributing their behavior or preferences to their race.

It's just not done, four_suyu.

If you don't want to open up about your background or the actual statements you made, could you name the country that you're offending people in?
posted by serenity_now at 8:51 AM on July 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


There's that saying, "If you meet one asshole today, they're the asshole. If you meet nothing but assholes all day long, *you're* the asshole."

I don't see why that wouldn't apply to "over-sensitive" people. If once in a great while in your life, you said something over-general or insensitive and someone jumped down your throat about it, well, maybe that person has a hair-trigger. But if "everyone" you meet is "always" jumping on you about saying racist things...you're probably saying a lot of real racist shit, man.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:21 AM on July 27, 2016 [13 favorites]


I am NOT a racist!!!!!! There are degrees of racism, and I think these comments are probably at the lowest level of "racism", versus things that are just obviously the highest form of racism.

To reiterate the sort of thing schroedinger said very well, I think you should avoid equating "least emotionally intense racism" and "most emotionally intense racism" with "lowest" and "highest" racism, or "least important" and "most important" types of racism. A bank clerk approving mortgages or farm loans or a police officer might have very dispassionate intellectual opinions concerning relatively small differences between races that only affect their judgment subconsciously; but that sort of racism can have a much greater impact upon minorities as a whole, and for the people who apply for the loan or get stopped and frisked or shot by the cop, than someone who seethes with rage about immigrants and blames them for every problem in his or her life but whose decisions don't affect others.

As schroedinger indicated I think even regarding it as possible for anyone to be certified as "not racist" makes it impossible to examine ourselves and root out biases and effects of biases which, although small in and of themselves individually in most cases, en masse can add up to severe dangers, privations, and disadvantages for minorities in a society.
posted by XMLicious at 9:26 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I read about something like this in the novel Shibumi (great book btw).

He said we can say this about the group in general but we can't apply it to an individual.

For example: America is a very consumerist society. Fine but we can't say, Bill is an American, so he must love shopping. So, yes, I would say Greeks love olives but I wouldn't say that Gus must love olives because he's Greek.

How often have I heard "Canadians love their hockey!" and they sure do but we wouldn't say to an individual that they must love hockey because they're Canadian.
posted by Coffeetyme at 9:31 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't think comments of that sort make a person a racist, but sweeping generalizations (even positive, neutral, and entirely trivial ones) about huge populations of people are very rarely helpful. Some (most even, maybe) of the people these generalizations won't be bothered in the slightest, but some will find them very hurtful in a straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back kind of way when adding on to all the other little reminders they get that they are the other. That seems like a pretty good reason not to make these sorts of (again, rarely helpful or useful) statements, even if you feel in some "objective" sense that there's nothing wrong with them.

Incidentally, for these reasons, I think the less marginalized the group is, the more innocuous these statements sound.

"Canadians sure love their hockey!" makes me shrug and think "well, some of us do..."

"People from India love the heat" makes my skin crawl because it really sounds like you are suggesting that they are some sub-branch of humanity with racial attributes as though they were a D&D race.
posted by 256 at 10:12 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


These are racial generalizations. Active stereotyping.

These are crappy things to say. We can debate all day (and people are!) whether the word racist or prejudice or ignorant or rude best describes them. But they are crappy regardless.
posted by French Fry at 10:40 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, what did/do you really say? And if you really say things like this often enough to warrant frequent censure, is it possible you really do have something to learn here?

In your examples you are thoughtlessly generalizing and stereotyping. Those are bad things to do to humans. And if you do them based on race or ethnicity, particularly if individuals of that race or ethnicity are minorities in your culture or are treated as such in their culture, then yes, you are going to be perceived as racist. And rightly so. You are failing to see individual humanity and are applying some omniscient lens which puts you in the position of "superior," even if you do not feel that way.

I'm not sure your personal theory about "degrees of racism" is germane here as you are asking about how these comments would be received by others. So why not believe others when they tell you how they are receiving your comments? Someone telling you a comment sounds racist is not the same thing as them telling you you are evil or, for example, hate Indian people. They are doing you a favor and telling you how you are coming across despite your intent.

Likewise, your statement that these generalizations sound neutral to you is not germane as you are not the recipient of the stereotype. Context matters. These statements are not made in a vacuum. They sound neutral to you because they are not directed at you and you have never had to hear or think about them. The watermelon/black people example is a perfect example and better than your random made-up examples. If you had no context, no sense of culture or history, a statement about people liking a fruit could seem innocuous, by your logic. But we know it's not innocuous and has been used in the service of racism and hate, racism and hate that persists to this day with deadly repercussions.

Please also consider the possibility that it's not that "everyone is so sensitive nowadays" but it's that "people have been so insensitive and now it's more acceptable to speak up about it."

And finally, what is so wrong with having to watch what you say, to think about things you never had to think about before, to consider the feelings of others that you have long ignored?
posted by kapers at 10:41 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


four_suyu: Can these comments below be perceived as racist? 1) People from India love the heat (since India is a very hot country). 2) Greek people like olives (because good olives are from Greece)

four_suyu: I think these comments are probably at the lowest level of "racism"

You answered your own question: the comments you listed are some form of racism.

posted by 23skidoo at 10:41 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Look, everybody is a little bit racist. It's what happens when we, as humans, have big brains that are just a bit too good at pattern recognition and filtering. The important thing to do is when you meet someone new, to pause, to recognize your "instincts" and "first impressions" about someone are probably completely incorrect, and then to make a conscious effort to get to know that person as an individual.

Yes, generalizations of a group of people is usually unfairly discriminatory. Generalizations about an entire race is usually racist. (Factual exceptions exist, such as, "Almost all Asians have Rh+ blood type." But "Indians like hot weather" just doesn't make sense--it's a preference and I know many people who are used to hot weather who hate it nonetheless.)

And I get you when you say you aren't offended when people say certain things about your race. I'm a minority and I do fit a bunch of the stereotypes for my minority (is it because this was the expectation growing up? or my natural inclinations? who knows?). So it does not bother me personally if others make these judgments about me.

But I'm not representative of my entire race--that would be racist against my own race. More importantly, I can't really understand the experiences of other races/individuals. So it's important for me to try to be sensitive to others, even if it's not something I need, personally.

I think racism is one of those things where you do the best you can, and when you know better, do that. In this case, you thought those general statements weren't racist, but obviously, a large group of people do perceive them as racist, so now it's time to stop making those types of statements.
posted by ethidda at 12:03 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes, lumping an entire group into any classification is racist.

Well - no, its only racist if the group is a race.

"All women ..." or "All men ..." is sexist, not racist.

"All Danes ..." is stereotyping, but "Danish" is a nationality, not a race.

1) People from India love the heat (since India is a very hot country). 2) Greek people like olives

Statements like this are silly. Just because something is common in a country, doesn't mean everyone from that country feels any particular way about it. I could say:

"All Americans love Donald Trump (since Donald Trump is American)"

This is provably wrong - Americans have widely varying opinions on Donald Trump.

Statements along the lines of "All [race] .." are definitely racist, but you're really better to avoid statements like "All [classification] ..." because they are rarely, if ever correct, and furthermore, even if a statement like this isn't racist, it can still be offensive.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:48 PM on July 27, 2016


When I was around 15, my mom and I were in a store and my mom asked the salesman about the price of something. He said, "Oh, are you Jewish? Jews are good at negotiating." Well, we are Jewish. But what a weird, shitty thing to say. Someone might think, hey! He was complimenting you! Nope nope nope. He was trying to fit us into a stereotype, and what's more, that stereotype is rooted in a hateful image of a group of people who are discriminated against, sometimes because people think they're money-hungry. Basically, it was a simple thing to say that served no purpose in our transaction and dredged up a lot of other hurt for us.

Now, being white (and a bunch of other things), I have a ton of privilege in my life. One thing I think is super important when you're in a position of privilege is to remember that you don't truly understand what comments are triggering and how often people hear them. (I don't really believe that your examples are the ones you're thinking of.) Coming from privilege, when someone tells me about their experience, all I can do is listen, try to understand, and when I mess up, apologize and do better next time. I can try to imagine what it'd be like to hear stuff like the example above every day. I don't get to tell people not to be offended; I have a responsibility to learn and grow.
posted by violetish at 8:20 PM on July 27, 2016 [7 favorites]



I think it's really stupid to be upset over insignificant statements like that which do not mean to offend anyone but are just casual comments
.

They aren't "casual comments", by the way. They're test balloons floated up to see 'are you going to blink at this?' If it seems no, then the racist makes a more hardcore explicit comment. No objection? Alright, then clearly everyone is among friends and we can talk freely about the Negros and the Jews.

It's not a thing on just one side of an issue either. People were sort of slithering up to each other and sneaking in "so, what about that Bernard Sanders, eh?" for the last year.

It's the same function, but it's different because racism is evil.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 9:03 AM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think your examples are more stereotyping than racist, though some people will absolutely perceive things like that as racist. And you could think of other, similar examples that flat out are racist. I mean, almost 20% of the world's population lives in India. Do you really think they're all the same? This just isn't that hard to avoid.
posted by cnc at 3:10 PM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am NOT a racist!!!!!!

Please think about why it's upsetting when others make assumptions about you.
posted by almostmanda at 12:37 PM on July 30, 2016 [13 favorites]


I'm Australian and I hate the heat, I hate all sports, I'm not particularly fond of barbeques, I hate fishing, and I can take or leave the beach. That said, I think if you asserted "Australians love the heat" it would be stereotyping, rather than racism. "Australians are designed to tolerate heat" would be racism. Either way, it's still ignorant.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:00 PM on July 31, 2016


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