Best of the Week
of April 19, 1998


Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of April 19, 1998, 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.

 

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

FURTHER NOTICE:
Poor has always been a relative term, unless, of course, one is talking about abject poverty as one would find in the slums of Third World countries. So growing up poor can be defined as having less than your peers. Children who grow up among those who are in the same state of "poorness" as they don't generally preceive themselves as poor. This classification comes about only when their peer group becomes the larger, more economically diverse society.
POSTED APRIL 14, 1998
James Mc <
Mcgrawman@aol.com>
Ypsilanti, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I bring up the fact that I grew up relatively poor from time to time. I'm a well-educated soccer mom with a good job, married to a Harvard guy, with bright kids, a house in the burbs, a mini-van and too many pets. I sometimes bring up my background because I feel people frequently make erroneous assumptions about me and what my life has been like. It hasn't resembled its current state until recently. My family (of origin) was homeless from time to time and lived in substandard housing (no hot water, no phone) at times. My parents were young and went through a prolonged hippie phase. Our houses and apartments were crash pads, full of people and drugs; my parents divorced and my siblings and I were neglected off and on. I don't think growing up poor is "in." When I mention my childhood, it's usually in an effort to be understood, and to avoid being judged solely on the basis of what my life looks like on a superficial level now.
POSTED APRIL 24, 1998
Carol A., 37, white <
Noahlin@aol.com>
Lawrence, KS
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THE QUESTION:
G4: In light of the recent violence in Arkansas, there has been talk about the "Culture of Violence" in the South. Granted, there is a cultural attraction to violence in the United States, i.e. in the media, etc., but is it more pronounced in the South?
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
James W. <
wilsjame@sonoma.edu>
Santa Rosa, CA

ANSWER ONE:
Yes, more Southerners are more likely to own weapons than probably any other group of people in the country, but if we had some kind of violent culture, the South should be a war-zone akin to Beirut. Instead, the rural South is one of the safest and least violent places around - even though, or perhaps because, its residents are armed to the teeth. Just remember the next time there is a drive-by shooting in L.A. or New York to ask yourself if there is an inherent violence in the culture of those two cities. Most people would say no. The "learned" professors who espouse this theory ought to be discredited.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Todd <
tdbuk@juno.com>
Suwanee, GA

FURTHER NOTICE:
Having lived in both Massachusetts and Texas for many years, I believe there is a strong culture of violence here in Texas, which is aggravated by the widespread gun ownership. It is apparently a holdover of the frontier mentality. Texans, despite their polite and friendly attitude, are very quick to take offense or pick a fight in a bar. The cause can be just "looking at someone the wrong way." I think there is a basic lawlessness here that is countered by repressive, brutal policing that only adds to the overall climate of physical violence. The slum areas of Massachusetts are similar in that young males are very quick to pick fistfights and to evaluate each other on who can take whom. The difference is that in Texas, people are frequently armed and the women are often much more aggressive than they would have been in a Boston working-class suburb. Also, there is a much lower education level here, so people unable to defend themselves with words will resort to fists.
POSTED APRIL 24, 1998
L.E., Austin, Texas, 40, straight white male
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THE QUESTION:
D7: I would like to know if women are afraid to go out with men who are confined to wheelchairs and can do some things physically but not others.
POSTED APRIL 13, 1998
Reaper, Warren, MI

ANSWER 1:
I am not afraid to go out with men in wheelchairs, but I have lots of exposure to people with a variety of disabling conditions because I work in the rehabilitation field. I think that some women may, in fact, be afraid. I think that fear stems from their unfamiliarity with people with disabilities. It is a common human trait to be afraid of the unknown, and if you have never really known someone who uses a wheelchair, you have no idea what to expect. That can be scary.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
Marsha Z. <
mzalik@telusplanet.net>
Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
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THE QUESTION:
R206: My younger brother is having a problem with his race. Our mother is black and his father is Greek. My brother's skin color is very light, and he has thin hair as if he were white. He is 13, lives in an African-American community and attends a public school that is majority black. The problem is he has been picked on because of the way he looks. He has been in fights and has been kicked out of school. Sometimes he feels the teachers pick him out from the rest of the class for no reason when they are having a problem controlling their class. He now wonders if all his problems are caused by the way he looks. My brother doesn't know what he is anymore or where he fits in. He doesn't know if he should be black or Greek. What should or could he do?
POSTED APRIL 21, 1998
Denise C., 20, black, Detroit, MI
(Director's Note: A reply from someone with a background in mixed-heritage services or programs, potentially with knowledge of resources this person could access, would be preferred.)

ANSWER 1:
In school, if you're a late bloomer, overweight, short, wear glasses, look different from the norm (i.e. mixed heritage), answer too many of the teacher's questions or set yourself apart in any way (by choice or not by choice), there is a good chance you will be harrassed. I have many stories of being harrassed because of my mixed cultural backround, and one of my best friends who went through school with me was constantly in fights and picked on because of his weight. There are some sad people out there who only feel good about themselves when they try to put others down. As far as what "heritage" he should follow - that is a very personal choice. I choose to consider myself a plain old American, but there are times when I take note of certain cultural holidays because of my black/Mexican backround. However, I am not choosing one heritage over another by doing so.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
Dan, Detroit, MI

FURTHER NOTICE:
My sons have similar problems (their mom is black, I'm white), and they often get bothered, too. The thing that helps them be strong is to talk to them, let them know they are unique and special (and they are) and let them know where each of their characteristics comes from. My older son's hair is more like his mothers, my younger son's hair is more like mine. We talk about it. Talking with him, letting him know that who and what he is is OK, is the best thing you can do. Let him know that being different is OK and that he doesn't have to go out of his way to hide his difference or promote it.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
Alex, 39 <
aleavens@mindspring.com>
Lawrenceville, GA
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THE QUESTION:
R189: Why do white people smell like wet dogs when they come out of the rain?
(Director's Note: Upon researching this question with black associates, this is, in fact, the precise odor some blacks refer to when decscribing how white people smell after being rained upon or coming out of a pool.)
POSTED APRIL 15, 1998
Cass, Detroit, MI

ANSWER 1:
White people may "smell like wet dogs" if they have been in the rain for the same reason dogs smell, although I'd like to think they (dogs) smell worse. The texture of most white people's hair is soft and absorbs a lot of dirt and odors, as do dogs' fur. I'm not sure why it is when the hair is wet that it brings the odor out, but it does seem to do that in hair that is unclean. Keep in mind that the average white person has to wash their hair every day to keep it clean. Personally, my hair absorbs everything around me: Food odors, smoke, etc.
POSTED APRIL 18, 1998
Anonymous <
epona7@hotmail.com>
Ann Arbor, MI

FURTHER NOTICE:
Given that I've smelled a fair number of wet dogs and also quite a few wet white people, I feel secure in stating white people don't usually smell like wet dogs. Unless, of course, the white person smelled like a dry dog before she/he got wet. If white people are dirty, they usually smell worse than dogs. So do blacks.
Will H., white, 48, Dallas, Texas

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
The only reason I could give you for some white people smelling like "dogs" is that they are not clean. I know that personally, I either smell like my laundry detergent, shampoo, cologne or hair care products.
POSTED APRIL 18, 1998
Jessica, white, Orion Township, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
The smell can be either that mentioned, or that of the sanitary smell of a hospital. It can even be nauseating. I've discussed it with a couple of white women I've dated and showered with. They can't smell it (of course) and don't understand it. Neither do I. It seems more pronounced in Europeans. Strangely, it's one of the things that prevents me from continuing to date my Caucasian female friends (to the applause of most of my black female friends).
POSTED APRIL 21, 1998
James G. <
detroitcity@geocities.com>
Detroit, MI
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THE QUESTION:
R130: Why do people assume that all Asians are smarter at math and science?
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Miranda B., 19 <
lbrockwa@gulfsurf.infi.net>
Pace, FL

ANSWER 1:
Right now I'm studying engineering at university, and I can tell you that 40 percent of our first-year class is made up of people of Asian descent. Compare this to the percentage of Asians in Canada (I'm not sure what it is, but it's lower than 40 percent). This would naturally suggest to some people that Asians are smarter or are better at math and science. In my experience, their academic success is a result of their work ethic.
POSTED APRIL 21, 1998
Marie, 22, Wallaceburg, Ontario, Canada

FURTHER NOTICE:
There are just as many not-so-smart Asians as there are smart ones. The media doesn't report about who is "dumb." There are a lot more Asians in the world than any other race. I cannot imagine 40 percent of them are smarter than the rest of the world.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
M.G.C.S., 50, New York, NY
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THE QUESTION:
RE33: I was taught God was all-forgiving. If this is so, how can some religions say that only people who believe in and practice their faith will go to heaven? Won't anyone who believes in God go to heaven?
POSTED APRIL 20, 1998
Jessica C., 27, white female, Summerville, S.C.

ANSWER 1:
In traditional evangelical Christianity, it is not considered enough to simply believe in the existence of God. Satan believes in the existence of God. One must trust and know God as well, which means accepting Christ as your savior in your heart, and praying and reading the Bible. If one truly believes in God as He really is, as revealed in scripture, then one knows that God cannot tolerate sin, because sin and holiness cannot exist together. We must admit our sin (confess) and accept His forgiveness. If this isn't necessary, then God sent His son to die for nothing. I don't think He would bother.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
Terry A., white female, evangelical Christian <
MrsArthur1@aol.com>
Sterling Heights, MI

FURTHER NOTICE:
The Bible states that you have to be baptized in Christ in order to be saved from sin. So, it is not enough to just believe in a greater power.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
Aaron S., Jackson, MS

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I believe God is all-forgiving if you repent of your sins. By repenting, you are saying you are sorry for your sins and will try your hardest not to sin anymore. You must believe in God in order to say you are sorry for sinning against him. To say that to go to heaven you must believe in Him is true. If you believe in him, you will listen to his commandments. Thus, you will honor his command to honor him through church. I don't think it really matters which church you go to, as long as it is Christian.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
M.L.H., 31, Lutheran <
mlhutchi@oakland.edu>
Novi, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
The idea of forgiveness means that something was wrong and needed to be forgiven. Different faiths have different ways for making up for this need for forgiveness. Imagine a good friend clearly wronged you. Then she started to be very nice to you, but never apologized. Have you ever had the feeling, "I just would like to hear 'I'm sorry.'?" I believe God doesn't want us to try to please him so much that he will forget we wronged him, but rather just to admit that we did and ask for forgiveness. Many faiths will try to compensate with good deeds to try to make up for bad ones; others say you can't earn it, but that God graciously forgives if you ask him. It is on this idea of how to reconcile with God that the faiths disagree. Logically speaking, people of different faiths will say if you are trying to reconcile with God the wrong way, then perhaps you are not forgiven.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
J. Batton <
jbatton@ibm.net>, Dallas, Texas

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
Different religions teach different things about the nature of God, sin, forgiveness, etc. Most require fidelity to the teachings of the faith or they don't believe in a "god" that could be sinned against. In either case, forgiveness is not a big part of the religious views. You probably got your views of forgiveness from Christianity, where it is fundamental to the religion. Christianity believes in a personal God, that sin severs our proper relationship with God and that, through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, God offers to restore that relationship by the complete forgiveness of sins. But even here, forgiveness is not unconditional. You must recognize your sins and make a committed attempt to amend your ways (formally called repentance) before you are forgiven.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
Peter P., Roman Catholic <
PPROUT20@aol.com>
Redford, MI
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THE QUESTION:
R199: How do white people feel about the phrase "white trash"? I have white friends I don't usually consider to be insensitive who use it unabashedly, and that baffles me. It offends me, too, and only today did I figure out why: it feels to me like it carries embedded racism, as if it's necessary to point out that the "trashy" people one is referring to are white, implicitly assuming that non-white people are trashy by default.
POSTED APRIL 20, 1998
N.P., 35, African-American male, Philadelphia, PA

ANSWER 1:
I am a white person and have obviously heard this term (not about me). It is a sensitive one and does not have anything to do with African Americans. It is an insult to be called white trash. People will use it to refer to people with some of the following loosely applied characteristics: Having big hair with lots of hairspray and makeup, probably living in small rural area, wearing too-tight blue jeans, men having hair that is long in back and short on top and sides, living in a trailer park, men often having mustaches and wearing tank tops and high tops with above-mentioned too-tight jeans, having children out of wedlock, being married to your own relation and being avid hockey fans, receiving social assistance and lacking cultural knowledge of others. This term did not derive from any ill-conceived notions about African Americans; trust me on this one.
POSTED APRIL 21, 1998
J.B., Detroit, MI

FURTHER NOTICE:
I've always thought the term carried the meanings you ascribe it, and it's always bothered me. When I've called people on it, the most cogent response I've received was that there are differences between black and white culture, and the term is refering to the bottom of white culture, and that a different race's trash would behave differently. I didn't buy it.
POSTED APRIL 21, 1998
Michael, white <
TheMartian@juno.com>
Houston, Texas

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
As a 53-year-old white Northerner, "white trash" is a term I've often heard or read, and must have mentally edited. I've always assumed it was a crude way of denoting poor white Southerners as opposed to poor black Southerners. In my mind, the word "trash" meant "poor," in much the same way the word "quality" is sometimes used to show wealth. I hadn't thought of the term "white trash" as an implied insult to blacks, but I can see that it may well be.
POSTED APRIL 21, 1998
Martha K., Portland, OR

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
It's funny this question should come up. My friend and I watched "60 Minutes" this past Sunday together and there was a segment on Chris Rock. Since he uses the "n" word a lot in his act, Ed Bradley asked him if he thought that was a good idea. He responded that he uses it in a precise way to define a certain type of person who is different from "black people." After the show, we talked about this and we decided that perhaps that's the same way some white people use the phrases "white trash" and "redneck" - to distinguish themselves from white people they consider bigoted, less educated, less intelligent, less classy. I don't think there's any implied racism in the phrases, such as that black folks are already trashy. I just think it's some white folks' way to make a distinction between different classes of white people.
POSTED APRIL 21, 1998
Joan, San Francisco

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
I think "white trash" is an appropriate term to identify a certain type of lifestyle and/or behavior. And it doesn't matter to me who uses the term. It seems to me that "white trash" carries less racial connotations, whoever uses it, than does the "N"-word.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
K.P., 49, white, male, Ann Arbor, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
I heard the term from family 40 years ago, and just as many African Americans reserve the N-word for a particular class of people they consider at the bottom of the behavior spectrum, "white trash" was used to identify, and possibly to acknowledge a corresponding disapproval of, such people of our race. In my recent experience, the term is archaic, although notice of the spectrum of behaviors and lifestyles, and the evaluation of them, takes other forms.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
A.C. Gravitt, 52, white male <
agravitt@randomc.com>
College Park, GA

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
The term "white trash" usually refers to lower-income, largely uneducated white people who find themselves living in trailer parks, etc. It is only a phrase and will not normally incite the subject to rage or violence - quite unlike the "N" word when used toward black people.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
Bart <
Bayooper@AOL.com>, Rochester, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
I do believe the term "white trash" indicates embedded racism. My observation is that white people have made up most, if not all, of the derogatory terms for people of other races/colors. The only derogatory term they've managed to come up with for whites is to attach the word "trash." I once asked someone using the term what they meant by it and was told "there are black people and niggers, and there's white people and white trash." I've heard this from other people since then, and not only does it strike me as racist, but it also spoke to me about the way poverty and lack of education are viewed as personal defects of character by many people.
POSTED APRIL 23, 1998
Felicia, 34, white <
foloughl@n3c.com>
Houston, Texas
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THE QUESTION:
R95: Is claustrophobia more prevalent in Western cultures as opposed to the more closely knit Eastern cultures?
POSTED MARCH 25, 1998
Michael M., MI

ANSWER 1:
I'm a Westerner living in Japan, and while I can't speak to the clinical "claustrophobia" aspect of your question, I can say that Japanese people in general seem more tolerant of close quarters than the average American. The concept of personal privacy differs here, an outgrowth of the close-knit features of the society you spoke of. Homes are closer together, people sit closer in restaurants, stand closer in line or on the subway. Many homes and apartments are half the average U.S. size or smaller, and people just take this as a matter of course - it's normal here. My own apartment is rather old, but it's of comparable size to many units Japanese families with small children live in. To be honest, I haven't a clue how they manage - I just need more personal space, a little more privacy. Whether this tolerance for proximity and smaller living quarters would affect the incidence of claustrophobia, I don't know. It might be more accurate to ask if the social conditions in the West (or United States) result in an increased incidence of claustrophobia compared with Asian cultures.
POSTED APRIL 18, 1998
Geoff C. <
boston@eolas-net.ne.jp>
Asahikawa, Japan

FURTHER NOTICE:
I am white and currently living in Japan. I have to agree the living conditions in Japan are much more cramped than those that I am used to. However, I don't think differences in culture play that much of a role in a person's ability to live in a small space. I think that in many cases, such as in Japan, the proximity of relatives has much more to do with economic means rather than culture, moral standards and expectations. From talking with many of my co-workers, I have come to realize they have had adapt to these living conditions to survive. Many have said they would prefer larger living quarters but can't afford them. Also, many of my exchange student friends have said they preferred the larger living quarters upon coming to the United States.
POSTED APRIL 20, 1998
Tom J., 22 <
tmjast@hotmail.com>
Shiwa, Iwate, Japan
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