Best of the Week
of Jan. 4, 1999


Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of Jan. 4, 1999, as selected by Y? These postings, as well as "Best of the Week" entries from previous weeks, also can be found in their respective archives, which we invite you to browse. There, you will find questions that have received answers, as well as questions still awaiting responses. We encourage you to answer any questions relevant to your demographic background, as well as to ask any provocative question you desire. Answers posted are not necessarily meant to represent the views of an entire demographic group, but can provide a window into the insights of an individual from that group.

First-time users should first make a quick stop at our guidelines pages for asking and answering questions.

Question Code Key:

A=Age

GD=General Diversity

RE=Religion

C=Class

G=Geography

SE=Sensitive Matters

D=Disabilities

O=Occupation

SO=Sexual Orientation

GE=Gender

R=Race/Ethnicity

THE QUESTION:
A36: Why do so many senior citizens buy such large automobiles? With having a reduced family size, wouldn't it make more sense for them to drive smaller, more economical cars? I've also observed many an older adult struggling to maneuver these large cars. Are senior citizens just showing off their disposable income? It seems to me that on many levels, smaller cars would make more sense for their driving needs.
POSTED JAN. 8, 1999
R.J., 36, male <
rjorgensen@umr.com>, Cincinnati, OH
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THE QUESTION:
R576: As the Caucasian mother of a wonderful little girl adopted from China, I'm curious about how the Chinese community feels about these foreign adoptions, as well as the issue of abandonment of infants in China.
POSTED JAN. 7, 1999
Dianne, female
janl@sympatico.ca>, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

ANSWER 1:
I am the youngest of four sons of Chinese immigrants. I've always felt like an outside observer of both the Chinese and American cultures. As far as I can tell, your little girl will be seen as "privileged" because you will be seen as her network into mainstream America. If there is any tongue-clucking, it will be out of jealousy. At the prospect of being an outsider of two cultures, your little girl will choose to do one of two things: Reject both cultures, or embrace both. Choosing one culture alone may be an option, but I don't see it. If she chooses to embrace both, learning Chinese as a language will help her. Believe it or not, mainstream American culture will be more accepting of her if she knows Chinese than if she doesn't. (I can only assume the same is true across the border.) As to the question of abandonment, well, in homogenous communities (with little diversity), in general, some practices are more accepted because they know people who have done it. Or some practices are seen with suspicion, because they don't know anyone in their community who is doing it. As far as I know, there is no Chinese word for "privacy." Imagine the effect this has on respect for individuality.
POSTED JAN. 8, 1999
29, Chinese, male <
leungm@ix.netcom.com>, Minneapolis, MN
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THE QUESTION:
GE42: Why does society continue to have sympathy for women who are abused by their husbands but keep coming back?
POSTED JUNE 15, 1998
Joe, male, Riverside, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
I think we continue to have sympathy for these women because we realize they are victims and so terribly in need of help. Think about it: If a woman feels so little for herself that she can't stay away from a man who does this to her, she must have had a terrible life growing up or experienced some other sort of tragedy that makes her unable to leave. This sort of person is exactly who we need to feel sympathy for. They're not trapped, but feel that they are and need help to get out.
POSTED JAN. 6, 1999
A.L., 25, white female <
ann@labuda.com>, Houston, TX

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I have often asked myself the same question. I loath the fact that society makes excuses for battered women. True, A.L., some women in these situations have had a terrible childhood or some other tragedy, but this is not always the case. I was in an abusive relationship for more than a year. But unlike the stereotype, I had a "Beaver Cleaver" childhood and my biggest tragedy to that point was a broken nail. The abuse doesn't start immediately; it's gradual. You really start to think that the bad moods and slaps and punches are your fault. In the end, I was afraid to leave because the man I was involved with threatened to kill me if I did. Luckily, I had a good support system in my friends and family. I think it's a shame that most abused women don't have that. It's also a shame that most of them don't fight back, either.
POSTED JAN. 8, 1999
J.P., 28, white female, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
Joe, your question reveals the unconscious arrogance of someone who feels safe in the world, and who therefore figures everybody is just as safe. Many abused women are not merely beaten by the men (or sometimes, the women) who abuse them, they are also systematically terrorized, belittled and realistically threatened. Your question implies that you think they can just walk away, and that will be that. Aside from the fact that many of these women would become instantly homeless, they often know with complete certainty that if they leave, their lives will be in danger. In fact, many women each year are tracked down and murdered by the abusive men whom they have recently left. Sometimes the man brutalizes and/or murders members of the woman's family: Children, parents, siblings. Sometimes he will do these things at the very suggestion that the woman might leave, or even that she objects to how he treats her. Only the occasional man experiences this kind of control-crazed domination - usually by another man; rarely, by a woman. The rest of us men enjoy a kind of privileged safety that most women can't imagine - and we can barely imagine not having. Please read some stories of abused women. You are unaware of some important and horrifying realities.
POSTED JAN. 8, 1999
Will H., male, psychotherapist <
tccwill@flash.net>, Dallas, TX

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
My best friend went through this, and for the life of me I couldn't understand why she stayed. One day I had the courage to ask her, and here is what she said:

"I have thought many times about leaving, but he told me if I left he would hunt me down and kill me. So what, I could move, right? He said he would kill my mother. She's lived in the same place for 30 years; should I ask her to move? I even thought about killing him. I watched him sleep and thought, maybe I should stab him. But what if I miss? What if I don't do it hard enough? What if he pulls it out and kills me? Maybe I should get a gun ... but what if I miss? What if he wrestles it away from me ... what if?"

My friend eventually escaped, and he wound up in jail, but I thank God every day that it has not been my misfortune to come upon that type of animal; I would like to think I'm strong, and it could never happen to me, but who knows.
POSTED JAN. 8, 1999
Chase, 32, (Puerto Rican, Cherokee, Sicilian, Zulu) <
wwiicked1@aol.com>, Jersey City, NJ

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
If you've never been in the situation, you can't possibly understand. I, too was a woman who thought I would immediately leave and send him to jail forever. It doesn't happen that way. My situation was a one-time thing, and he went to counseling to deal with his anger and learned how to deal with others around him. The process is at first one of mental and emotional domination. Then it becomes physical. You are in so much shock and fear that you literally are unable to move. It took me weeks after the incident to even feel any emotion in my head or my heart. We were apart for seven months, occasionally seeing or speaking to one another, but I didn't trust him enough to be alone with him. It is a situation where you sort of become immobile within yourself - and you kind of watch what is going on, like a robot, and if you're lucky, you pull yourself together, and get out and get help. I was one of the lucky ones.
POSTED JAN. 8, 1999
C.M.B., 34, African-American female

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THE QUESTION:
D34: To parents of children with disabilities: I work in a daycare center, and I suspect, judging on information I have received in a college class, that one of the children is mildly autistic. Her mother has never mentioned any sort of disability to us, and as a result, I am wary to ask her about the child. I am not a certified teacher, just a college student. How would you feel, as a parent, if a college student had approached you with the possibility of your student having a disability?
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Ginny C., female, 19, Arizona State University early childhood education major, <
poohfrk79@aol.com>, Scottsdale, AZ

ANSWER 1:
In this situation, some trust should be put in the parents. Chances are, if you've noticed peculiar behavior in their child, then they have, too. Sometimes, however, parents may become blind to any possible disability their children have because of the prejudice toward disabilities in our society. If you believe this is the case, then a direct confrontation would only prove counterproductive to your cause, because it would force the child's parents to confront a problem they obviously don't want to address. Perhaps a less direct approach should be taken, such as mentioning some of the child's odd behavior to the parents, and leaving them to draw their own conclusions and decide the best course of action for themselves. Your opinion, while quite possibly justified, can inspire spite from the parents because of your age and status in comparison to theirs.
POSTED JAN. 6, 1999
Chris M., 17 <
CMosier513@yahoo.com>, Las Vegas, NV

FURTHER NOTICE:
Chances are the mother already knows if there is a problem. Also, chances are there may not be a problem. I would advise you not to say anything. One of the things that has always made me furious is an early childhood education person wanting to tell me how to raise my child, especially when that person has no children. Take this as some advice from a seasoned parent: You don't learn it in books or in a college class. I learned this when my daughter was a baby. Nothing in any book ever pertained to my daughter. So please use discretion when it comes to giving advice to a parent, unless that parent is asking. When you have children, you will understand this. (By the way, I am not knocking college. I have a degree.)
POSTED JAN. 6, 1999
J.P., mother, NC

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
My grandson's autism has turned me into an advocate and researcher on the subject. You face a daunting task. Most uninformed parents act in denial when possible autism is brought to their attention. Yet for the good of the child, the most important thing is early intervention. If you opt for a sensitive, diplomatic approach, you can talk about "developmental delays" that can benefit from professional evaluation ... and by professional I do not mean the local pediatrician who usually knows very little about autism. I mean a professional with extensive experience in such disorders as Pervasive Developmental Delay and Aspergers Syndrome, all of which are much different from Downs Syndrome, mental retardation and bipolar. Much useful information can be gained from sites such as the Autism Research Institute, and the newsgroup bit.listserve.autism.
POSTED JAN. 6, 1999
Al F., male <
forman@gate.net>, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I wouldn't think any parent would like to hear an evaluation of their child by a college student. I'm not a teacher, but I majored in Elem. Ed. and did spend a lot of time in elementary school classrooms. If you suspect a problem with this child, you should report it to the daycare teacher and let her/him take it from there. Make sure that you back up your diagnosis with hard facts; that way the head teacher won't just brush off your observances. Please don't think I'm being hard on you (or that I don't think you know what you're talking about); I just don't think it's your place to tell the parent. It's really up to your superiors. Let them know and see where that takes you.
POSTED JAN. 6, 1999
Ro, 31, white female (married with no kids), Boston, MA

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
My wife and I have a son who has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). We learned this because of a wonderful teacher he had in the first grade. Rather than just writing him off as a troublemaker because of his behavior (as his kindergarten teacher had), she looked for a possible reason. She then talked to us about her suspicions, and recommended some resources. Rather than being upset, we were very grateful that a professional cared enough to look past the behavior and help us find some reasons. While you may not be the person to approach this parent, you certainly should make your concerns known to your superior. It may be that this parent suspects something is wrong, but doesn't know what to do. You could be the catalyst for making a real difference in this child's (and her parents) life.
POSTED JAN. 7, 1999
Phillip W., male<
phillip@turnergroup.com>, Osceola, IN
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THE QUESTION:
R570: I am the only African American in a department of about 150 people. It's been this way for 18 months. I work in the data processing field as a computer programmer. My organization seems to have a problem with hiring minorities. Why don't they realize they have a problem? How do I reconcile my internal feelings when conversing with my co-workers, most of whom I like, with the ill-will I hold toward the group as a whole? It seems the group as a whole has made a conscious decision to avoid movement into the 2st Century by promoting equal opportunity. Why should I attend company functions, when I can't help but feel that to take my family to the company picnic or my wife to the Christmas party, I will be putting them on display to be judged on their behaviors and attitudes? And how do I know these questions don't pertain to my own hang-ups and not to those of my organization or the people I work with? Thank you for this site. Regardless of whether these questions are posted, Y? will receive a portion of my 1999 charitable contributions.
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
Paul H., black male, 35 <
pthart@uswest.net>, Des Moines, IA

ANSWER 1:
Racism and other problems of diversity and inclusion exist at different levels: Individual, group and systemic. Individuals can be fine to work with, yet systemic problems persist out of ignorance and nobody owning the mission of addressing it. The first step is building awareness and then getting a management champion to help drive change. Another issue can be location - Des Moines probably has relatively few black programmers, and in circular fashion probably has trouble luring black professionals from metro areas with more vibrant black communities (Atlanta, D.C., etc.).
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
B. Hale, white <
halehart@aol.com>, Hartford, CT

FURTHER NOTICE:
Don't you just love tokenism? Your course of action depends somewhat on whether you can trust anyone at work. Is it a cut-throat environment or a cooperative one? Do people who make suggestions get encouraged or decapitated?

About interacting with your co-workers: Notice who's in charge of hiring and who isn't. If you find yourself mad at people who "only work here" and have no hand in policy, it will help to redirect your focus to those in power. It's obviously a big-ish company, so there must be a human resources department. You might start with them - the notion of taking your family to company functions is particularly poignant and might catch their attention. Or maybe you should start at the top - judgment call.

A good approach might be to assume that, of course, they're aware of the problem and are working to correct it; and if only you could help in that effort ... blah, blah. Even if it's not true, it's a softer entry. Fury isn't usually persuasive. (White folks get awfully defensive, you know). Another similar approach might be, "I know how hard it can be to find minority workers in this field. Where have you been looking?" If you're willing to do some extra work, you could ask how you could help them recruit. Maybe there are minority non-profits around that can give you suggestions. Do you know of any minority professional organizations in your field, or schools that train a lot of good minority students? If you go into your boss's office with concrete suggestions, demonstrating that you've done a little helpful homework, they might listen. Or, they might just be racists. If you get nowhere, you might need to ask those minority non-profits how to file suit.
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Will H., white, 48, non-corporate <
tccwill@flash.net>, Dallas , TX

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Do you have other friends who are also minorities who could apply for job openings with your company? If that were to happen, you would soon discover if things are as you think. If that hasn't happened, then you don't know if minorities tried and were turned down or if minorities didn't apply. Are you expecting your employer to purposefully pursue minority applicants or simply choose among all applicants the most-qualified person for the job? It is hard to be the "only" anything at a party. But whether you are African American, gay, Jewish or Asian, you'll always have experiences where your actions reflect on all your people. That's the nature of being a minority.
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Anne, female, North, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I do not mean this to be insulting, because you haven't been clear on it, but please be sure to note that there may be differences between the will of those who can make hiring decisions and those in the trenches with you. Further, as someone who has been on the other side of the fence, and this is a crazy thing to even have to think about in the 1990s, would you want that company to hire one more African American? It seems to me that a number of minorities would have to be hired for it to become a comfortable, integrated workplace. A job can profoundly affect someone's life, as you have noted. I in no way advocate discrimination in the workplace based on anything, but if there are a number of older, ignorant, mean, uneducated, entrenched, biased people at your company, anyone who is different might really be better off not being hired until those others leave - or are let go because they are hampering progress (on a variety of fronts).
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Lynda, female, 29, white, CT

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
Your co-workers would likely have nothing to do with hiring decisions; that is normally handled by human resources and managment. Also, consider whether you know how many minority applicants there have been. A company might put out an ad for employment for anyone to answer, but if only white people reply, that's the group from which they get to choose. Also, consider whether you have any reason to believe your co-workers are racist, other than what you have mentioned. All in all, you may be blaming the wrong people for something they have nothing to do with. For example, I do much of the training where I work, and so I have a lot of contact with human resources, but even with that contact I have no information about the people being interviewed. Now, all of that having been said, you could be right. If you have solid information showing that your workplace has been practicing discrimination, you need to report that to the authorities. The EOE laws are in place to prevent that kind of behavior.
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
John K., 25 <
the-macs@geocities.com>, Cranford, NJ
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THE QUESTION: 
GE24: I chose not to have my son circumcised based on my research on the matter before he was born. Now I get strange comments from people who think that circumcision is "normal." I am now worried that my son will not appreciate my decision. Comments from males on this issue would be appreciated.
POSTED MAY 2, 1998
Renee S. <
reneeleigh@juno.com>, St. Augustine, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
I have seen repeated references to decreased sensitivity in circumcised men. I am a 52-year-old circumcised man who cannot imagine having any more sensitvity there. It would be unbearable. I think this may be a myth perpetuated by uncircumcised men.
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Bob, 52, male <
rdees@kilgore.net>, Kilgore, Tx

FURTHER NOTICE 8:
I don't understand how Bob can make that statment. That's like saying that because he was born with a hearing deficiency, he can't imagine that it would be possible for anyone to hear better than he already does. Let your son remain uncircumcised. It should be his choice to mutilate part of his body when he feels he is ready to, should he want to, and when that time comes, it will be done with anesthetic and will not be traumatic, as if you were to do it to him as a baby. And he may complain as a child, especially as a teenager, about being different from the other kids, but most likely as an adult he will thank you for making the decision to let him make his own decision. And in my opinon, an uncut penis is extremly attractive and sexy. I wish I was still uncut.
POSTED JAN. 6, 1999
Dondi M., bisexual 26, male, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

FURTHER NOTICE 9:
I assure you Bob, it is not a myth. The foreskin is the most sensitve part of a penis, and I think it is cruel to baby boys to mutilate them in that way. If they wish this operation done for religious or cultural reasons, let the boy decide for himself when older, at 12 or later. The only thing separating this cruelty from its female counterpart is that it is luckily reversible. Ma'am, I think you did the right thing. I have never suffered any stigma in the locker room or any complaints from women. Frankly, the circumcised are in the minority now, so I don't think you should worry.
POSTED JAN. 6, 1999
A.C.C., San Antonio, TX

FURTHER NOTICE 10:
Since there is no medical justification for circumcision (former ideas about cleanliness and penile cancer are now being discredited), many parents are now making the decision not to have their sons circumcised, viewing it as unnecessary and cruel surgery. The trend is definitely going in your direction; however, it will probably be several decades before "natural" penises are the norm. Nonetheless, I cannot imagine being bothered by an uncircumcised male, and I am sure, once your son knows the reasons behind your decision, he'll appreciate the thought and kindness you put into it. After having lived with his foreskin, the thought of having it cut off will most likely horify him.
POSTED JAN. 6, 1999
D.M.M., female, nursing student <
donikam@hotmail.com>, Charleston, SC

FURTHER NOTICE 11:
I read about circumcision in Men's Health. It said that it is very painful, not necessary and removes 70 percent of your nerve endings. In the words of a local comedian: "Hey, Mom! I want my foreskin back!"
POSTED JAN. 6, 1999
Craig, 35, male <
cmorris@loft.org>, Minneapolis, Mn

FURTHER NOTICE 12:
Three points: 1. Is Dad circumcised? How will the little boy feel about being "different" from Dad? 2. There is no question it is cleaner. The above nursing student left out the data on male urinary tract infections, which are nonexistent in circumcised males but affect 8-10 percent of circumcised males, and that's in developed countries. 3. Ask women in countries with both "options" which they prefer.
POSTED JAN. 7, 1999
E.M., 42 <
magidson@ties.k12.mn.us>, St Paul, MN
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THE QUESTION:
GE104: I've worked in several offices and have noticed that women are noisier than men. Throughout the day, the sound of women bursting into laughter is heard over the background noise. I don't hear guys doing this. Why is this?.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Alan, 43, male <
davey@spiritone.com>, Portland, OR

ANSWER 1
Just because those particular women are expressive does not put them into the category of being noisy. Maybe you should ask them and see what type of response you get.
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Female, black, Chicago, IL

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THE QUESTION:
RE130: Why are more and more youth nowadays forgetting the Creator? Is it that they feel they have to obey too many "Do's and Don'ts"? If so, is there any solution? I like one quotation from Jesus: "I give you power to overcome sin, but not the rules and regulations."
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Ratnakar <
mecratna@mecheng.iisc.ernet.in>, Bangalore, India

ANSWER 1:
I think many young people neglect God and religion for two reasons: One, our parents are products of the unconventional, flower-power generation that rejected institutionalized religion, and it has therefore not been as impressed on us as on preceeding generations. Two, we live in an age of science and technology that runs contrary to many religious doctrines, and an age of high religious hypocrisy (Jim Baker, et al.) which discredits the messengers of the Lord.
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
D.M.M., former Catholic <
donikam@hotmail.com>, Charleston , SC
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THE QUESTION:
R572: To blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, gays, Jews and other members of minority groups: Do you see a trend toward being post-black, post-gay, post-whatever? By "post," I mean feeling less emotional energy around your diversity group and having more focus on your individuality.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
B. Hale, 43, straight white Protestant male <
halehart@aol.com>, Hartford, CT

ANSWER 1:
I think being "post-whatever'' is unlikely to happen until that particular minority is truly accepted by dominant, mainstream society. And even after a group is accepted - if that Utopia comes to pass - it's still proper to stay in touch with your roots.
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Andrew, 35, Jewish <
ziptron@start.com.au>, Huntington, NY

FURTHER NOTICE:
I think you're using "post-black" in the same sense as in "post-feminism." In my experience, these are really different things. Being multi-ethnic is an intrinsic part of my individuality, and has always been. Feminism is a rational choice that I made for myself. I don't necessarily focus on myself as "the multi-ethnic woman, Janon"; I focus on myself as "Janon, a woman who is multi-ethnic." I think (although obviously I can't speak for everyone in any of these groups) that most of the "minorities" you mentioned would feel the same way. If this is what you meant, then I don't feel that there's any trend one way or the other - this is how I have always felt. Do you think of yourself first as white, or do you think of yourself first as B. Hale?
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Janon, 38, multi-ethnic <
janon_rogers@hp.com>, Lebanon, OR

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I think the question you ask is brimming with Americanness. (That's not intended as an insult, just an observation). Many Americans, especially white ones, subscribe heavily to the American ideology of individualism, and reject the notion that individuals are affected powerfully by their cultural identities of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, etc. Furthermore, many white Americans lack the awareness that categories such as white, male, heterosexual, Christian, etc. are cultural identities as well. White people are as affected by their race as are people of color; men as are as affected by their gender as are women, etc. It seems to me that people who lack an awareness of their own cultural identities often do not understand the "emotional investment" people have in their minority cultural identities. They want people to act as "individuals" who are presumably as void of cultural identity as they themselves imagine themselves to be.
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Rhiannon, 28, white Jewish heterosexual female <
rock0048@tc.umn.edu>, Minneapolis, MN

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I'd prefer to be "post-Asian" and focus on my individuality, but it's tough to do when the rest of society prejudges me on the basis of my race. Because I'm Asian American, many white Americans I encounter seem to assume that my English is poor, that I am foreign and exotic, etc. - regardless of who I truly am or would like to be. These "little" annoyances (like having gas station attendants speak extra slo-o-o-wlly to you because they think you won't understand, being constantly stared at every time you leave a major city, or being continually asked which country you are from, when you are in fact from the United States) over a lifetime begin to add up, bit by bit, until they become a major chip on the shoulder. At this point, you realize that no matter how much of an individual you are on the inside, you will never escape what you look like on the outside. Yes, I'd like to be "post-Asian," because that for me means being able to live like any normal white person in America: As an individual.
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Ray, 24, Asian American <
yangban@erols.com>, Washington, DC

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
On the contrary - I am experiencing a huge resurgence of ethnic (Jewish) identity, because as individuals that's a huge part of where our values come from. And I don't want to be a whitebread American. I do not share the values of football, money and world domination through marketing Coca Cola.
POSTED JAN. 7, 1999
E.M. <
magidson@ties.k12.mn.us>, St. Paul, MN
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THE QUESTION:
D33: What is the best way to phrase a query to find out the nature of a person's disability? I find that since I don't believe in asking "What's wrong with...?" I am thwarted in situations where I would normally reach out.
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
Roberto T., 27 <
bobbyboy5@aol.com>, Aurora, IL

ANSWER 1:
Be genuine. Say "I'm uncomfortable about asking this, but I'm curious about your leg/arm/whatever. Are you willing to talk about it?" This shows respect and also makes it easy for the person to say they would rather not discuss it if they don't want to.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
B. Hale, able-bodied so far <
halehart@aol.com>, Hartford, CT

FURTHER NOTICE:
While you may be curious about the disability, it really should not be important to you to know what it is - only that it physically challenges the other person. Just knowing that fact gives you the power to be sensitive to the person - or to leave them alone.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Eve, female, Boston, MA

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
First, I would say it depends on why you're asking. If you want to know what specific issues the person is dealing with so you can make accommodations, you could ask, "What do you need?" If you are asking because you are getting to know the person, try "What's your disablity?" I would agree that asking what's wrong with them would not be appropriate.
POSTED JAN,. 4, 1999
Kathryn, 37, female <
KathrynJB@aol.com>, Salem , MA
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THE QUESTION:
O42: I've often encountered adults who have graduated high school yet cannot read. To teachers: How is it that a person can go through 12 years of schooling, yet not be capable of performing the most basic math or reading skills? I understand many people have genuine learning disabilities, but there are such a large number of people who are functionally illiterate that this can't be the only explanation. Why aren't the basics of reading (and math) taught throughout a childs' school life? With so many hours spent in school, don't teachers feel this is the major failing of our school sytem? Any child should at least be able to read the newspaper by the time he or she graduates.
POSTED DEC. 27, 1998
C.J.,35, female, Cincinnati, OH

ANSWER 1:
I was a Project Read volunteer for a few years. We were chartered with trying to increase literacy in our communities. My students ranged in age from 15 to 70. The answer with the younger students was simple: There were too many students in one classroom for a teacher to notice when one student was not keeping up. When they were finally noticed, the teachers would advise the parents to get a tutor. The stories that came from the elderly students were quite shocking. They had learned to beat the system by pretending they could read. They memorized stories in school, they circled a "pattern" of answers on multiple choice tests (a, b, c, then c, b, a). The odds of getting a passing score were obviously in their favor. They drove cars by memorizing street signs. They knew a red octagonal sign meant "Stop." Some of them were even truck drivers. They could find a particular address by matching freeway signs and street signs to a map. They shopped for food by "reading" the pictures on the packages. They held down jobs, functioned in society and finally decided to learn to read when they had grandchildren who wanted them to read bedtime stories to them. (You can't fool a kid who knows the story!) It was really amazing and quite sad to learn how easy it was to beat the system. I can only hope that our next generation of teachers has the time and dedication to spot the shy and/or dyslexic students who are too embarrassed to say "I don't understand."
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Mimi, 38, female, Sunnyvale, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
As a ninth-grade English teacher in a rural Vermont high school, I have no students who cannot read. I do, however, have students with reading levels ranging from third grade to post-high school. Yes, my primary concern is that my students read and write fluently, discovering both the power and joy in the written word. With every student, the goal is to help him or her reach a higher level than she or he comes in with. That varies considerably by student. Factors that have the greatest impact include family support and motivation. As with anything in life, practice is the key to proficiency. A student reading at a third grade level in high school who doesn't read anything voluntarily will probably regress once the mandatory requirements are removed. I relinquish none of my responsibility; I am doing all that I can, as are thousands of educators.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
S. Locarno, 48, Hardwick, VT

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I volunteer at an elementary school three days a week. I work with first, second, and fifth graders in math and reading. There is one major difference between children who learn and those who don't - the ability to pay attention and concentrate. No one can teach a child to read, even one-on-one, when their mind is somewhere else. I think the smartest parents are those who keep their children out of first grade until the child is mature enough to sit and engage in an activity that takes concentration. Better to wait a year and be the oldest one in the class than be a fifth grader or adult who believes they can't read. (By fifth grade, the kids are embarrassed, have learned coping skills or have written themselves off, and it's hard to get them past those feelings/actions.)
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Colleen C., 38, female <
congdon@illuminet.net> Quantico, VA

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
Illiteracy in America is not what it once was. Many (more than ever before) Americans read, write and are able to articulate their thoughts. With any large-scale operation, such as education, you will always have some people who slip through the cracks. How many more illiterate people would you know if you had been asking this question 50 or 60 years ago?
POSTED JAN. 5, 1999
Arodman, 19 <
ab0490@wayne.edu>, Troy , MI
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THE QUESTION:
A22: It seems to me that a great many of the Generation X white population have chosen to act like black people. Why is this?
POSTED JULY 22, 1998
Rick, 40ish white guy, Virginia Beach, VA

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
This is nothing new. I'm 42, and the same thing happened when I was in high school in the '70s. Some (not all) of the white girls in my all-girl school emulated our slang,listened to our music and thought we were cool. Some even tried to wear their hair in an Afro (with varying degrees of success). I remember seeing a poster on T.V. from, I think, the early '50s, that cautioned white parents "Don't let your kids listen to colored music!" Well, the young white people liked the music, and listened and danced to it, anyway. They didn't want to listen to their parents' music. I think the same thing is happening now.
POSTD JAN. 4, 1999
E. Daniel , black female, Kansas City , MO

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
The success of popular culture and capitalism is dependent upon successful imaging and marketing. Currently, among youth especially, the "hip/hop" image is dominant. Whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, etc. have bought into a "romanticized" ghetto or urban image, and therefore intentionally infuse many aspects of this image into their culture, e.g. style of dress, language, etc. Almost all people experience a sense of power when they feel they fit in, are popular, trendy, etc. Some elements of black culture have always been perceived as exotic, unusual and ultra-expressive, e.g. again clothing, hair, music, food, language, mannerisms, etc..Non-blacks tend to be intrigued by what blacks consider normal because, for them, the differences are both interesting and fascinating. In addition, there is a common perception that blacks are unified and stand in solidarity. The handshakes, distinct venacular and social patterns give the appearance of family or belonging. While I do not believe that most white kids literally desire to be black, I do believe that they, like most youth, work hard at not being excluded.
POSTED JAN. 7, 1999
Dee W., black woman <
westde@hiram.edu>, Cleveland , Oh
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THE QUESTION:
R571: As a naive youngster, I wonder: How did the White Man achieve his supremacy in society? Greed? Avarice? Brilliance? A likely combination of these qualities?
POSTED DEC. 30, 1998
R. Wagner, 21, Mendoza, Argentina

ANSWER 1:
Science can easily show us that white people are essentially no different from non-white people, so it must have something to do with cultural influence. If you trace history, you can see that just about every type of culture had its own empire. That empire could only grow so large before it started to fall apart. The only one to really outlive its own existence is the Roman Empire. Why? It comes out of the union between the Roman Empire and Christianity. After that union, the Christian movement became far more organized and political. The mandate of the Church required that any non-Christian peoples must be shown the truth of Christ. The method used for centuries was conversion by conquest. Education, which allowed for the advancement of weapons technology, was reserved for believers. So the predominantly white Europeans would have the benefit of more efficient weapons: Better swords and defenses, as well as the missionary system. Part of the missionary system, as evidenced in Ireland and Scotland, was to supplant the existing culture with the Romanized Christian culture. The Church provided a binding force that allowed the continually warring nations of Europe to still act as though it were an empire. The only other unified forces that could stand up to the white European power, the Chinese and Ottoman empires, were either too far away or roughly equal in power. These early methods of the Church provided an example that later became the "manifest destiny" of the European nations that spread colonialism throughout the world. This may be a more complicated answer than you were expecting, but even this is a simplification of the issue.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
John K., 25 <
the-macs@geocities.com>, Cranford, NJ

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
You like to ask sweeping questions! My guess: 1) Technological accident: Whites' invention of guns and reliable modes of water transportation placed us in an advantageous strategic position. 2) Microorganisms: For reasons I think are understood (but not by me), European germs were horrifyingly good at killing non-Europeans, but not vice-versa. North and South America, Polynesia, etc. were wiped out, not by European guns so much as the horrible plagues of measles, smallpox and other diseases imported by the conquerors, which in many lands killed upwards of 90 percent of the local people. 3) Religious and cultural intolerance (ethnocentrism): The Christian mindset led to a belief that all Others were inferior (surprisingly this is not a universal belief), and so they had to be subjugated (or "saved," if the conqueror wanted to think kindly of himself). Similarly, European ways of knowledge and thought were elevated to an artificial superiority, making all other peoples "savages" to the European mind. Since Euros were "the only important people," they could imagine that they were "discovering," and thus laying claim to land that had been occupied for millennia. Put all this together, and you have a world-traveling culture that simply overruns the world, kills off the local people, takes ownership of all they survey as if they had a right to it, and cart all the wealth back to the Motherland, thereby vastly increasing their wealth and power. It only takes a couple of centuries to create an incredible mess this way!
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Will H., Euro-American <
tccwill@flash.net>, Dallas , TX

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
"White Man"' achieved "supremacy" because Europe was historically the most overpopulated continent in the world. This led to the colonization of other continents, and to frequent wars. Europe's fertile soils and healthy climate led to population growth (in most of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, most areas are afflicted with diseases that prevent draft animals from surviving, so agriculture was always handicapped). China is similar to Europe in that it has fertile soils and healthy climate, but China always lacked any type of significant enemies. Because of this, China lagged behind Europe militarily. And Europe possessed good harbors and was surrounded by sea, and cut off by hostile Muslim states on land, so Europeans took to the sea in order to trade directly with the east Indies, and to set up colonies. So in military, agricultural and maritime technology, Western Europe was always ahead. Today, we see non-European countries such as Japan having economic power. But non-white nations are still handicapped by the same problems faced for centuries: Poor soil, unhealthy climatesand the fact that these countries missed out on earlier developement.
J. Carter, black male student, 18

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
As a white man, I wish I had half of the power and control over the world that some minorities would like to believe I have.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Kevin H. 41, white male <
kevin@javanet.com>, Holyoke, MA

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
The current status of white race(s) being socially and economically dominate is probably a combination of all of those mentioned in the question, plus a technology advantage. There is nothing inherently better (or worse) about the white race, however. At one time, the Chinese were the most advantaged group in the world; at another time, the Egyptians; and so forth. When viewed on a long-term basis, it is all temporary.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Lazarus, 45, white male <
lazarus99@usa.net>, Atlanta, GA

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
Exactly which society are you talking about? If you are referring to the society in America, it's due to the fact that the majority of the population is Caucasian. Greed, avarice and brilliance would only depend on each individual, regardless of race.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
J. Williams, 43, NY , NY

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
There is no simple answer as to why white Europeans eventually achieved world domination. Certainly, it is not because white Europeans are genetically superior to other races, or because they're inherently more intelligent. After all, at many points in history, a neutral observer would have concluded that the Chinese, the Persians, the Indians, the Arabs, perhaps even the Aztecs and Mayans were more advanced culturally and technologically than the Europeans. I think the best explanation is that by the 15th Century, white Europeans had learned to turn gunpowder into an effective weapon, and had become the best shipbuilders in the world. Thus, nations like England, France and Spain had both the mightiest weapons in the world and the ability to project their power, on ships, all over the globe.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Astorian, 37, Irish-American male <
Astorian@aol.com>, Austin, TX

FURTHER NOTICE 8:
Try a mix of geography and luck. Whites come from Europe, which constitutes the longest contingent, temperate land mass on Earth. The historical result was an interplay between a connected population that provided a synergy not possible in the other, less-geographically blessed continents of the world. With this "head start" on other peoples, whites conquered the rest of the world through their better technology and with virulent diseases (smallpox, measles, syphillis, etc.) that were also believed to be the results of their geography. Skin color does not determine brillance, avarice or anything else of note. For a more detailed answer, please refer to the excellent book Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
S.F., black male <
sfinley@wans.net>, Naperville, IL

FURTHER NOTICE 9:
The answer is simple and has nothing to do with qualities of race: We had the fast ships and the big guns first. White people do not have a monopoly on greed or brilliance. The histories of blacks, Asians and Native Americans are also full of war, oppression and conquest. Historically, it has nearly always been the people with the superior weapons technology who conquered, whether it was the knights who first had stirrups on their horses, the Romans who had bronze swords instead of stone weapons, or the Conquistadors who used cannons against people with spears and arrows.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Colette, white female <
inkwolf@earthlink.net>, Seymour, WI

FURTHER NOTICE 10:
I wouldnt call it supremacy; there's nothing supreme about treating those around you like dirt because their skin is not the same color as yours. But I believe what your question strongly speaks to is learned behavior. If humans aren't taught to treat others differently, we generally won't do so. Look at kids on the playground. Have you ever noticed that those who play together well don't seem to notice if their playmates are black, Chinese, Indian, etc.? It hasn't occurred to them that "different" means "bad." Then they learn how to be cruel from either other kids or their parents. On a good note, I believe what this also proves is that human beings are basically good. We're not natural bigots. And what we learn, we can unlearn. That is what gives me hope.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
Alma, white lesbian <
pridewks@seacove.net>, Kempner, TX

FURTHER NOTICE 11:
Europeans traded technology back and forth with a wide variety of cultures, and science took off. They developed advantages in transportation, weaponry and tools. The printing press allowed more rapid expansion of knowledge and manufactured goods. This technology edge, combined with a desire for conquest and colonialization of other races, a belief that European culture was superior and that Europeans were inherently superior in the eyes of God led to the White Man being in control of large expanses of the globe.
POSTED JAN. 4, 1999
B. Hale, white <
halehart@aol.com>, Hartford, CT
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