Best of the Week
of May 16, 1999


Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of May 16, 1999, as selected by Y? These
postings, as well as "Best of the Week" entries from previous weeks, also can be found by accessing our new database using our search form, or, in the case of answers posted before April 24, 1999, in our Original Archives (all questions from the Original Archives have been entered into the new database as well). In the Original Archives and the new database, 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:
I have noticed that many critics of the new Star Wars movie have complained that a member of one of the computer-generated races (the Gungans) speaks with a "Jamaican accent" and worships idols and is therefore offensive (presumably to African-Americans). I wonder if others were offended by these characters and/or the reviewers, and why or why not?
POSTED 5/20/99
Randy H., Silver Spring, MD, United States, <rh141n@nih.gov> , 24, Male, Agnostic, Black/African American, Straight, Research analyst, 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 52099102314
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Question:
I have always wondered if people who are blind since birth can actually understand what sight is. How can they possibly grasp what it means to see when they have never seen? I can't imagine how I would go about explaining it, either.
POSTED 5/19/99
C.P., Montreal, Quebec, NA, Canada, 21, Female, Mesg ID 5189922041
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Question:
As a black homeowner in a racially mixed subdivision, I've noticed that my Caucasian neighbors spend much more time on lawn care. Do Caucasians see lawn care as basic home maintenance, or is it more of a hobby?
POSTED 5/20/99
Carolyn L., Indianapolis, IN, United States, 36, Female, Baptist, Black/African American, Straight, Manager, 4 Years of College, Middle class, Mesg ID 52099112237
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Question:
I know of a teacher who is deliberately providing historically inaccurate information about the role of minority groups in building this nation. How does one handle this within the school systems?
POSTED 5/20/99
Sarah, Athens, AL, United States, <ss464296@oak.cats.ohiou.edu> , Female, Mesg ID 5209980025
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Question:
As a father of several teenagers in high school, I would like to know what kids in school are changing in light of the Colorado massacre and the planned attack in Michigan. Specifically: What are the students who identify themselves as preps and jocks doing differently to change the perceived negative stereotypes set upon them by others? Also, are you concerned for your safety in light of the attacks?
POSTED 5/17/99
Bill L., Essex Junction, VT, United States, <billinvt@aol.com> , 40, Male, Believer of all religions, practitioner of none, White/Caucasian, Straight, Accountant/Analyst, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 5179982244
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Question:
I was asked at work if I would be bringing tripe or beef tongue to a company breakfast. Being Hispanic and also biracial, I took this as an attempt to demean me and to racially stereotype me. I have recieved an apology in writing from the person who said it, but they also stated it was only a question about culture and foods, and not meant to demean. Several other people have also told me I should not have gotten so upset over this. What do you think?
POSTED 5/17/99
Rita C., Aurora, CO, United States, 42, Female, Christian, Hispanic/German/Indian/ Dutch, Straight, Administrative Assistant, 2 Years of College, Middle class, Mesg ID 51699102833

Responses:
I believe you were being too sensitive and shouldn't be too bothered by what people say. Society today dwells on such insignificant problems such as this and never focuses on what the big picture is. My family members are of German descent and are asked quite a bit to bring German food to events. Should I overreact and tell them they are being racist? You should be honored that someone thinks you are involved in your culture so much as to eat the stereotypical foods and act as your ancesters did.
POSTED 5/17/99
Rob, Warren, MI, United States, <innvertigo@home.com> , 28, Male, Catholic, White/Caucasian, Straight, Architect, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 5179911425

If it had been a sincere attempt to learn about another heritage or culture, I think the question would have been more open-ended, rather than focusing on the possibility that you would bring something to eat that many people find weird or repulsive.
POSTED 5/19/99
Andrew, Huntington, NY, United States, <ziptron@start.com.au> , 35, Male, White/Caucasian, 4 Years of College, Mesg ID 51799100427

In my experience, people are 1,000 times more likely to be stupid than mean. In fact, pretty much everyone says stupid things at times. I wasn't there, so obviously I couldn't see his expression, hear his tone of voice, consider his history, etc. But I have to think that just as a general principle, I don't see how we're ever going to get past all the racial issues in this country if we cannot create an environment where people are free to make mistakes and learn from them and where people are capable of giving others the benefit of the doubt where possible and of providing a measured, educational response where appropriate. I've been corrected for stupid, ignorant things I've said where that correction led to a much broader understanding on my part. I'm very grateful that the person I offended took the time to explain it to me and didn't hold my ignorance against me.
POSTED 5/19/99
Mark, Alexandria, VA, United States, 32, Male, Christian, White/Caucasian, Straight, Engineer, Over 4 Years of College, Upper middle class, Mesg ID 5179923806

I work for an international corporation in the United States with men and women of different nationalities, ethnicities, races and sexual orientation. I have learned to celebrate diversity. I believe what you are seeing here is an effort by someone who is trying to "celebrate" diversity. You should not be offended, but take this as an opportunity to educate in a non-threatening way. You should take the letter as an apology and let it go.
POSTED 5/19/99
Bill L., Essex Junction, VT, United States, <billinvt@aol.com> , 40, Male, Believer of all, practioner of none, White/Caucasian, Straight, Accountant/Analyst, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 5179981118

I would say that was an off-hand insult. First, the person was pre-judging the type of person you are, and second they were choosing types of food that many groups would find unappealing.
POSTED 5/19/99
R. Delorimier, San Francisco, CA, United States, Mesg ID 51899123037

Sounds like three questions: Was this an attempt to stereotype and demean you? Was it really a question only about culture and foods and not meant to demean? Should you have been upset?

First, it probably depends on the context of the request. If it came from a person representing a group, for example, who clearly (by their own admission) wanted to produce a multi-cultural meal, then it could be chalked up to an honest, though stupid, mistake. If, on the other hand, the request was really a smart-mouthed gibe, then it was so far out-of-bounds as to be not worth responding to.

Which brings us to the second point. Only you know if the person was being demeaning. And in your heart-of-hearts, you do know.

Third, one of the most difficult tasks is to remain calm in the face of such remarks.I'm not saying I could. Perhaps you can give the person the benefit of the doubt - not for being stupid and demeaning, but for not realizing how stupid and demeaning he/she was being.
POSTED 5/19/99
John B., Houston, TX, United States, 49, Male, Christian, White/Caucasian, Straight, Executive Recruiter, 4 Years of College, Middle class, Mesg ID 51899103132

I agree with the people who said you should not get overly upset about being asked what you are bringing to the company breakfast. Most likely it has nothing to do with your being Hispanic but was meant as a friendly joke. I am a white female from Alabama and get stereotyped all the time. Give the person making the statement the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps her or she was just trying to be friendly.
POSTED 5/21/99
DiBAngel, Winter Haven, FL, United States, <DiBAngel@aol.com> , 45, Female, Baptist, White/Caucasian, Straight, Paralegal, High School Diploma, Mesg ID 5179985244

I can't tell from your question how the person's question and your response were phrased, but it sounds to me as if you chose to publicly cure that person of ever again displaying any curiosity or interest in another person's culture. Maybe you ought to return that person's written apology with one of your own for lumping them in with Klansmen when they showed interest in what they mistakenly thought of as your cultural background. Do you think your punishment of that person made the world, or your workplace, a better and happier place? I don't doubt your anger is real, and maybe based on past encounters with genuine racism, but it seems misdirected to me in this case.
POSTED 5/21/99
Erik, Detroit, MI, United States, 35, Male, White/Caucasian, Straight, Law student, Over 4 Years of College , Lower middle class, Mesg ID 5179990736

It could very well have been an innocent question. As we have seen from the myriad questions posted to Y? Forum, people can be clueless about how to ask questions about another culture in a sensitive way. I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and just let them know privately that their manner of asking could be offensive to some. However, it could also have been racist. Let's face it, the classic defense of the racist/sexist is either 1) "I was just joking. Can't you people take a joke?" or 2) "I didn't mean anything by it."

I don't think I would have required a written apology, but then I work at a company that "values diversity." I think I would have felt comfortable educating them verbally, maybe by "joking" back something about Wonder Bread and mayonnaise. I think people who aren't minorities don't really know how wearing and tiring it can be to have thick skin, not be so sensitive and be responsible for educating everyone around you, all the time, for at least nine hours every day. Sometimes, it's just one "innocent question" too many on a particular day.
POSTED 5/21/99
Janon, Lebanon, OR, United States, 39, Female, Agnostic, Multiethnic, Straight, Engineer, Over 4 Years of College, Upper middle class, Mesg ID 5189922921

To my way of thinking, the comment was intended to insult and the person was expecting you to take it smiling, which would have just invited future tasteless comments and behavior. The letter of apology reflects more the fact of your not smiling than any serious contrition. The more one has suffered insults, the more one is equipped to recognize them as such. And conversely, the less one has suffered insults, the more likely is one to call them almost anything else, including just stupidity. One can be stupid, however, without demeaning or insulting.
POSTED 5/21/99
Floyd L., Memphis, TN, United States, <lastchild@worldnet.att.net> , 59, Male, Black/African American, Mesg ID 52099103623
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Question:
I'm 55, female and white. Most white men consider me overweight. Several black men, especially those who see me in workout clothes, consider me appealing. Is this a racial thing?
POSTED 3/5/99
Susan P., Philadelphia, PA, United States, 55, Female, White/Caucasian, Mesg ID 359980538

Responses:
Since I was about 15, my figure has been appreciated much more by black guys than white. I have a small upper body, little waist, and what I always considered a fat butt and thighs. However, my black boyfriend explained that neither he nor most young black men see it as fat; it is just a nice, healthy "thickness." He also explained to me four the basic levels of body mass - "skinny," which is unattractively thin, "slim," which is just that: Slender but not unnattractive, "thick," which is above slender but "with extra in the right places," and "fat," which unfortunately is unnattractively overweight. He says the extra flesh is a bonus if you carry it well. I guess you do!
POSTED 5/17/99
Jessica, Framingham, MA, United States, <HipHgrz@aol.com> , 20, Female, Catholic, White/Caucasian, Straight, 3rd year student, Upper middle class, Mesg ID 51799124955
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Question:
To men who have ever felt this way: Why, when you are interested in a woman, do you sometimes distance yourself from the situation as the feelings for the woman grow? It seems that the common answer is that you are afraid of the commitment, but if you were to look at it logically, by walking away or distancing, you may lose the opportunity to have the relationship, anyway. My female friends are trying to figure this one out...
POSTED 5/17/99
Carey, Cortez, CO, United States, Female, Mesg ID 5179954856

Responses:
It's partly to do with how men feel physical as well as emotional attraction - i.e. "Do I fancy her" vs. "Am I ready for long-term commitment" - and partly the "I'd like to be on top of a mountain, but don't know if I can face the climb."

I've been celibate since a seven-year relationship broke up five or six years ago. I see women I'd love to be in relationship with, but I start to have doubts about my motivation: Am I good enough? Would people like me if they really knew me? I'm not sure if the "logic" is strong enough to conquer the fear of rejection.
POSTED 5/20/99
Steve H., Leeds, NA, United Kingdom, <steve.hill@stevehil.globalnet.co.uk> , 54, Male, Agnostic, White/Caucasian, Straight, Book Publisher's Representative, Middle class, Mesg ID 5189950455
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Question:
Why do some people feel that violence may be used to spread Christ's ideas when he preached non-violence? If possible, could a person who believes or used to believe in such ideas answer?
POSTED 5/17/99
Alex J., Philadelphia, PA, United States, <ajacobs14@yahoo.com> , Male, Jewish, Mesg ID 5179960920

Responses:
It's human nature and conditioned response. Look at what Clinton is doing now in Kosovo and tell me what we are doing is right. If we don't get what we want, we lash out with the primal instincts. Violence is the weak-minded person's way of acting out.
POSTED 5/17/99
Junkyard Dog, Saint Clair Shores, MI, United States, Mesg ID 5179940257

Within the Christian faith there is a lot of disagreement on many issues. The ministry and life of Jesus seems to contradict many of the modern church's teachings. Jesus did preach love and forgiveness. The New Testament is full of commandments to love your enemies and those who persecute you. We are never told to hate or become violent. Those who attempt to spread Christianity through violence, or commit any act of hate in His name, are going against everything he stood for. I'm sorry for those who do, and I pray Christians learn tolerance and love.
POSTED 5/20/99
Summer, Ann Arbor, MI, United States, 18, Female, Christian, White/Caucasian, Straight, Student, Middle class, Mesg ID 52099122601

I do not believe Christianity is what Jesus wanted and preached. Knowing and awareness of truth and reason were his intent. By perverting lives and the teachings of great men and spreading this instruction (belief) worldwide, the Roman Empire developed a system of control that mirrored its techniques of manipulation, terror and violence on a mental level.
POSTED 5/20/99
Jerome, Albion, IL, United States, <jcshultz@midwest.net> , 56, Male, Humanitarian, White/Caucasian, Straight, Maintenance, Technical School , Middle class, Mesg ID 5209933244
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