Best of the Week
of March 29, 1998


Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of March 29, 1998, as selected by Y? These postings 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.

 


THE QUESTION:
A7: My question is for the elderly: Is your self-image that of a person your current age? Or do you think of yourself as though you were younger? At 33, I still imagine myself as I was at 25, the height of my glory years.
POSTED APRIL 3, 1998
Natalie W., 33, white <
nataliepw@aol.com>
Orchard Lake, MI

ANSWER 1:
Good question. At 50, I have just begun to accept myself as middle-aged, and also prefer to envision myself in my mid-twenties, which I also think of as my glory days. I think this all relates to the worship of youth that we are bombarded with in the media.
POSTED APRIL 4, 1998
B. Hudson <
hudson@pacificrim.net>
Bellingham, WA
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THE QUESTION:
R111: I teach anti-bias education. When I use the word "nigger" in a learning situation (i.e., a discussion about racism), I have been told that because I am a white male, there is no acceptable context in which I should utter that word. What do you think?
Richard C., 33, white male <
richie1@mcs.net>
Chicago, IL

ANSWER 1:
N----r is an especially offensive word even to me as a white person, unless you are using the word in an educational context (i.e. "black people used to be called n-----.") Even then, you could probably just say "black people were called the n-word." POSTED MARCH 30, 1998
Dan M., 40, Los Angeles, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
Maybe you should just refer to the word as the "N-word." Even though you are using the word in the context of discussing race relations, some people may view the use as a challenge to them. Personally, I would feel that you were trying to see what my response would be; i.e. would I get angry, would I try to act as if you had not said it, etc.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Lisa J., African American female, 32 <
lisa.jackson@cmsx.com>
Smyrna, GA

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
By avoiding the word "nigger," we are all giving it more power. If someone were to call me a "honky," it would not bother me; in fact, I'd feel sorry for the person who used it. If blacks tell people that the word "nigger" bothers them and make a big deal out of it, then it will be used to do so. The fact that broadcasters, who would otherwise report that a political candidate had been overheard to use the word "polack" or "dago," would actually say that the politican had been overheard to say "the n-word", proves that blacks have given this word tremendous power. What if I called you a "glorf?" It's the meaning behind it, not the word, so blacks and trendy whites should not avoid this word if it's used in a normal discussion.
POSTED APRIL 3, 1998
S.M., Kansas

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
To S.M., Kansas: I don't understand how you can say blacks gave the "N-word" power. The word was coined by whites to refer to blacks in an insulting manner. As is the case with most words, it is still viewed as an insult when spoken by whites and blacks. I think the usage of the words by some blacks is actually an attempt to nullify the meaning and the power the word has. You also stated that it is the meaning behind the word, not the word, and that blacks and trendy whites should use it in normal conversation! Why would one need to use that word in normal conversation unless the purpose was to offend the black person? Since you are not offended by the word "honky," would you suggest that blacks and trendy whites use words like honky, cracker, wetback, dago, etc., in normal conversation? Also, what is a trendy white?
POSTED APRIL 4, 1998
Claire D., black female
Stone Mountain, GA

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
I am an African-American, and to me the word "nigger" is offensive and demeaning. Why anyone would choose to add this word to a conversation, educationally or otherwise, is highly offensive. I agree with an earlier assessment of using "n" if a point is tryiing to be made.
POSTED APRIL 4, 1998
Debra P., Dallas, TX
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THE QUESTION:
C2: It seems to be the "in" thing these days for someone to say they grew up poor. What is considered poor these days? What about middle class? What makes a person middle class vs. poor?
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Apryl P, Black <
apryl@mail-me.com>
Oak Park , MI

ANSWER 1:
In Britain (where we are class-obsessed), your class doesn't have all that much to do with wealt, though it may once have. It has more to do with your expectations in life and the type of culture you belong to. At university where almost all classes of people are poor (I think our system is different from yours), it is still easy to spot the general background people have come from. Usually the scruffier people are, the higher class they are! And working-class students generally try to look neat and tidy. Obviously I'm generalizing. I'm not sure why it is popular to be poor - but I think often people want to be what they aren't - the grass is always greener on the other side!
POSTED APRIL 3, 1998
Beth, white, middle class, 23, Edinburgh, UK
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THE QUESTION:
RE18: As an undergrad, I noticed Jewish students favored purple clothing. I also knew of a Jewish fraternity employing purple as one of its colors. Is there, in fact, a connection, and if so, what is the significance?
POSTED MARCH 23, 1998
James J. <
crash57927@aol.com>
Novi, MI

ANSWER 1:
This is in no way an "official" explanation for the "purple" phenomenon, but here is one possible point of view. In the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) there is the instruction to tie tsitsi (tassels) to the corners of our garments. These tsitsi were supposed to have been dyed with a substance that came from a molusk that was indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean, and that produced a purple die that was reserved for royalty. (The die was actually more of a fuchsia color, but it was called blue or purple.) The garment was a rectangular cloth worn by men and women and later evolved into the tallis (prayer shawl) used in worship today. The tsitsi are tied in such a way to reflect the 613 commandments in the Torah, and looking at them is supposed to remind the wearer of the blessings of the Torah. In modern times it has become unclear which species of molusk produces the die, or even if it is or isn't extinct, so tsitsi are now usually white. I personally like the color purple and wear it most of the time, and aside from the above know of no religious or cultural reason for wearing purple. Still, as a color that non-Jewish cultures limited to royalty, the choice to use it in the tsitsi to me reflected a kind of royal priesthood to which all Jews belong.
POSTED APRIL 1, 1998
Cheryl J. M., Reconstructionist Jew, Columbus, OH
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THE QUESTION:
RE23: I have been researching aspects of the Pagan religion for a while and have come across a marriage practice known as "handfasting." Some have told me that this is an engagement ceremony, but I have also read it is considered a marriage ceremony. Aside from the legal matters, is handfasting a formal marriage ceremony for Pagans?
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
Nika S. <
violette@ibm.net>
Baltimore, MD

ANSWER 1:
My husband and I are Pagan, and my dear friend has her ministerial credentials from the state of California. There are various traditions in Paganism, and the practice of handfasting varies from tradition to tradition, but what is most important is the intent of the couple being handfasted. The handfasting can be a sort of engagement, usually lasting a "year and a day," or it can be permanent marriage, like our own. The "officialness" depends on many things, of course. For instance, is the officiating priest or priestess a legal minister? Ours was, so our handfasting is a legal, state-recognized marriage. If the priest/ess isn't a legal minister, then for a legal marriage something like a civil ceremony is needed to make it so. There is also the question of state laws, as some traditions perform same-sex handfastings. So there are a number of variables, but on the whole I would have to define it as a religious ceremony of commitment between two people.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Leah and Ward M. <
WMccreery@aol.com>
Santa Rosa, CA
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THE QUESTION:
SO16: I am a straight male. When my gay friend and I go to a gay male bar, why is it that other gay males try to pick me up when I tell them I am straight?
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
Scott, Ontario, Canada

ANSWER 1:
First, your presence in a gay bar probably makes them question your claim that you are straight. Many men who have sex with men identify as straight, even though they engage in all the sexual practices of gay men. Second, some gay men seem to enjoy the challenge of seducing a straight man, much as many straight men enjoy the "hunt" when pursuing a reluctant woman. Lastly, some gay men express self-hatred by finding straight men more attractive, as though they are "better" than gay men, and therefore more desirable. This is fortunately seen less these days, but was a common form of internalized homophobia back when gays were more oppressed. My suggestion is just to be flattered, but polite and firm in expressing your lack of interest.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Mark M., 41, gay <
marknyc@hotmail.com>
New York, NY
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THE QUESTION:
R116: I have come up against the bias that I am some to blame for 400 years of black enslavement. Why blame me? It makes me feel that I am not considered an individual, but the sum of the white race. I treat people based on my experiences with them, not on their ancestors. What can I do?
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
Ian F., white, 31 <
Iroc_56@Yahoo.com>
N.Y., NY

ANSWER 1:
I feel that most African-Americans are not blaming any individual white person for past wrongdoings. African-Americans are mostly concerned with the things that white people (I am talking about those who are in positions of power and those who support them) are doing now. Much of the discrimination and oppression we face can be related (directly or indirectly) to slavery. However, not all of our hardships are related solely to that time period. I am not mad at white people for their past wrongdoings. I am angry at those who are oppressing us and supporting that oppression (either actively or by silence) now.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Kara H., African-American, Japan

FURTHER NOTICE:
See the reply to R87 from Molly (in the Archives). It's a great answer to your question. I think it's important to remember that the legacy of slavery continues, and that every day black folks are mistreated without deserving it, while white folks are given entitlements they haven't earned. If you are stopped by a policeman and treated courteously, that's an entitlement. If you go into a store and are not followed around as if you are a thief, that's an entitlement. White folks need to recognize all the "hidden" entitlements they get each day that people of color do not get. As a white man, when you walk into a room, everyone assumes you are honest, upstanding, noncriminal, trustworthy, etc., until you prove otherwise. If you were a black man, a lot of folks would assume the opposite until you proved otherwise - so you would spend your whole life trying to prove things other folks take for granted. Unlike slavery, this is happening right now, and whites need to understand and take responsibiility for the benefits they continue to receive from the racism in our society.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Sara, Oakland, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Sara, thank you for responding to my question. I do not feel that personally I take for granted the indignities you have described. I am sure that many do not understand. I just started to write that I felt frustrated by being judged by my skin color, and it occurs to me that this is what you are saying. The feelings I have pale in comparision to the racism that exists today. I am not trying to compare them. I suppose that I am saying that I treat people as people, and that I would like the same in return. Perhaps, I need to take a better look at my feelings and realize that the "racism" that I am subjected to in no way compares. Again thank you for your thoughtful reply.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Ian F. <
Iroc_56@Yahoo.com>
NY, NY
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THE QUESTION:
D3: As a recovering alcoholic, I would like to know if society in general still views alcoholics as a "plague," or are people beginning to aknowledge alcoholism as a disease?
POSTED MARCH 29, 1998
Eve Norton <
enorton@roadrunner.com>
Santa Fe, NM

ANSWER 1:
I speak only as the spouse of an alcholic (now deceased). The disease model is a two-edged sword: On the one hand, it lessens the stigmatization of substance abuse as a sign of moral inferiority, especially as the underlying genetics of susceptibility are discovered; on the other hand, if overemphasized, it can portray the abuser as a helpless victim, and that in turn can create a negative (if different) image. It's hard to keep to the middle ground, especially if victimhood is rewarded in some way.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Jerry S., 49 <
jerryschwartz@comfortable.com>
New Britain, CT

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
When I took my first drink of alcohol, I was 10, and I believe my motivation was curiosity. The next 15 years, it was my choice to drink. Sometime after that I lost the ability to choose, and I believe that is the onset of a physical and mental addiction to the drug, alcohol. Ultimately, it was my choice to seek help rather than die from the disease, and I have been drug- and alcohol-free for seven years.
POSTED APRIL 3, 1998
Eve N., 38, Santa Fe, NM
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THE QUESTION:
Director's Note: Question SE1 in the "Sensitive Matters" archive, an area for viewing by adults, has received quite a bit of attention.


THE QUESTION:
R40: I was shocked to find out that two black women with whom I had participated in study circles on racism were angry with me for marrying "a brother." They both have talked to me since and said they had to work through these feelings of dislike and have since discovered I am a pretty nice person. How can a black woman get angry at a white woman who marries a black man for love if they don't even know the black man? Isn't this prejudice also?
POSTED MARCH 18, 1998
B.J.W., 33, white, Jacksonville, FL

ANSWER 1:
I suspect this has gone unanswered because it raises some feelings that some find hard to face. I'm an African American female and have been guilty of what the writer spoke about. (My sister-in-law is white, and I was initially prepared to not like her just because of that fact; however, it turned out that she is a good person with a kind heart.) It's more of a resentment than a hatred. For all our lives, the media and society have held up the white female as the standard of beauty. So when a black man chooses to be with a white woman, it feels like a personal slap in the face - like black women aren't good enough. There unfortunately are brothers who shun their own race and only date white women (and women of course who do the same). Unless we know the people in question personally and know they are really in love, we are skeptical and automatically assume it's the "status" thing.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Michelle, 36, African American <
kmichell@umich.edu>
Ann Arbor, MI
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THE QUESTION:
R75: In England, the term "Asian" almost always refers to people from India/Sri Lanka/Bangladesh/Pakistan. In America, it seems it usually means Oriental people - i.e. Chinese/Japanese/Korean, etc. In each case, the color/features identify roughly the group, but not the precise term to use. Is it insulting to a Pakistani to be called "Indian" or to a Korean to be called "Chinese"?
POSTED MARCH 22, 1998
Gill Othen, 42, white, English <
101540.540@compuserve.com>
Kenilworth, England

ANSWER 1:
I'm half Japanese, and if someone says I'm of Asian descent or that I'm an Asian, that's fine - it's a geographic qualifier. But if someone refers to me as Chinese, I get a bit ruffled because it's a completely different culture.
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
Linn S., 29, <
linnick@pcisys.net>
Denver, CO

FURTHER NOTICE:
My ancestors came from Japan, but my family has been in Hawaii for more than 80 years. I was born and raised in Hawaii and currently take residence in Washington. People have wrongly assumed I do not speak English or that I am not from America because of my appearance. This is why I take offense at being called any Asian race, be it Chinese, Indian or even Japanese. I am American and have never been anything else.
POSTED MARCH 29, 1998
Vicky T., 25 <
vickyt@bigfoot.com>
Seattle, WA
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THE QUESTION:
D4: I work in a small shop. We have an occasional customer who is profoundly deaf. His speech is very difficult to understand, so we usuallly communicate with notes. He can lip-read pretty well. Is it impolite to augment my responses with sign language (which I know very little)? His written language skills are almost as cryptic as his speech. Am I being impolite to "dumb-down" my written responses?
POSTED MARCH 29, 1998
M. Peacock, 32 <
Arulian@hotmail.com>
Sonora , CA

ANSWER 1:
Your sincere desire to communicate is the most important thing. Deaf people have a lot of experience trying various methods to get a message across - let yourself go with the goal of mutual understanding, and you will succeed. The best measure is to ask questions that can't be answered with "yes" or "no." Some deaf people do not know English very well, so that's why their writing can be hard to understand. (Until very recently, deaf kids had to learn English solely through speech reading. More fortunate deaf kids learned a visual language like American Sign Language first, so they could have a strong language base from which to learn English.) If you know some sign language, try signing the words on the note - it may make more sense. Some deaf people do not know sign language, so if you do sign, a good beginning would be "KNOW SIGN LITTLE-BIT ME. OK-[eye gaze]YOU?" (Translation, "I know a little sign language, would you be amenable to using it?") Whether it's notes or signing, be sure to use whatever visual cues you may have available. If the customer is looking for something, ask them to draw a picture. Offer to follow them to a place in the store if that's what they are asking about. Mime. Charades. Best of luck! (Studied American Sign Language for eight years, freelance interpreter for four years.)
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Jesse K., 43, white female, <
jesse_the_k@hotmail.com>
Madison, WI

FURTHER NOTICE:
As the brother of a profoundly deaf man, I would have to say that it depends on the individual, although frequently the deaf can comprehend written language better than they can write. This has to do with the fact that profound deafness often affects one's socialization and learning skills. Above all, remember: Although a deaf person may not be able to communicate well in spoken and written word, in all likelihood the person you ae communicating with is as intellegent as you are.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Tom G., <
tgoode@interhop.net>
Toronto, Canada
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THE QUESTION:
R100: Can someone please explain to me why white people insist on tanning (artificially or naturally)? Especially since tanning in the sun can cause skin cancer?
POSTED MARCH 25, 1998
K.C., black female, Kansas City, MO

ANSWER 1:
I tan because darker skin looks better and healthier than being completely white. It's kind of like natural makeup. Sure it is dangerous, i.e. skin cancer, but I think the benefits far outweigh the risks. A pale, white person looks like he/she is sick or something, whereas a tanned person looks much healthier. Black people are lucky they don't have to worry about such things.
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
Andrew V. , 32, San Diego, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
There are subtle social indications connected with tanning. In the 1700s and 1800s, pale skin was considered beautiful. It indicated that a person was a member of the rich, privileged class that didn't have to work in the sun but got to sit indoors all day. Work situations have changed - the lower-class worker has to sit indoors at work all day, while the rich upper-crust get to lounge around their pools and beaches all day, aquiring a tan. Also, some people feel a tan makes you look better. It increases visual muscle definition and makes skin blemishes less visible by decreasing color contrast with the rest of the face.
Colette, 32, white <
inkwolf@earthlink.net>
Seymour , WI

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Sun-tanning can have beneficial results. Acne and psoriasis can be treated this way.
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
C.M., 23, white, Eastpointe, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I used to try and tan when I was younger. I grew up in a mixed neighborhood and had a lot of black friends. I know I got teased a lot for being pale from my black friends. They were just teasing, but I did want to be tan. All my white girlfriends tanned, so it was "the thing to do." To be honest, I am pretty pale, and I do think I look healthier with a tan - but it's not worth enduring sunburn and skin cancer to get it. I think it's for the same reason that white girls want to be so thin. All you hear growing up (as a white female) is how you're supposed to be thin and tan and blonde, etc. I can't speak for everyone, but I know that most of my white girlfriends had self-esteem problems. I think the white culture places way too much emphasis on physical traits. As I got, older I realized it was all stupid. I don't tan, I don't wear much makeup and I weigh what I do because it's what I feel comfortable with, not what others think I should.
POSTED MARCH 29, 1998
Andrea, 27, white, Seattle, WA

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
I think Andrea has a point, in that society does place too much emphasis on physical traits. My wife, who is from the Philippines, has a delightful olive complexion that does, however, darken with exposure to sunlight. Consequently, she avoids exposing her skin to the sun. The average Australian, on the other hand, still seeks the sun-bronzed look, even while the skin cancer rate is climbing. So you have whites risking death to become brown, while people who are brown would give anything to become white. Very strange, no?
POSTED MARCH 29, 1998
David, 51, white <
dave@metzke.com.au>
Perth, Australia

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
While it may be true for folks brainwashed into thinking that pale skin is most beautiful, plenty of brown-skinned folks adore their naturally sun-kissed complexions. I know African people from Limon, Costa Rica, to Harare, Zimbabwe, to Harlem who revel in the inherent beauty of dark, boldly black skin. Every time I visit the Carribbean, I cherish the new coat of brown I wear back to chilly New York. So, never underestimate black pride. Don't fall into the trap of thinking blacks want to be white and vice versa. Blanket statments shroud truth.
POSTED APRIL 3, 1998
Ansariyah G., African,Syracuse, NY
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