Best of the Week
of July 19, 1998


Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of July 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:
R366: Why do many white Americans (with the exception of Southerners) seem cold and unfriendly? I find it difficult to make white friends, because I don't get the same positive responses I do with other ethnic groups. What are some possible reasons?
POSTED JULY 1, 1998
Michela, 23, Latina-Asian female, Los Angeles, CA

ANSWER 1:
I think there could be a number of reasons, depending on the person you are trying to talk to. The same thing happens here around New York. I have noticed that it comes down to discomfort based on "race issues." Sometimes I get uncomfortable speaking with some of the people here at work because I do not want to offend them accidentally. Because of the many possible sources of friction between different ethnic groups and whites, it can get tricky. And unfortunately, some white people simply do not like anyone who is not white, despite the silliness of such an attitude. My suggestion would be to simply continue to be friendly and open. The right kind of people will relax and come around in time. The rest are hardly worth your time. One more piece of advice: Try not to classify one group of whites as friendly and open and another group as unfriendly. That only adds to the stereotype. I think you would find that the open nature of whites in the South is more of a regional thing, and that under that mask they are just like everyone else. Personal experience has proven that to be true.
POSTED JULY 2, 1998
John K., 24, straight Irish-American male, <
the-macs@geocities.com>, Cranford, NJ

FURTHER NOTICE:
I come from an upper middle-class New England white family. There may be many reasons for the reserve of whites, but there is a strong cultural component: We simply value our privacy, and we are hesitant to invade others' privacy (from our point of view). We can be as open and friendly as anybody when we get to know you, but until you can cross that barrier, we would rather keep to ourselves. I don't walk down the street or eat in a restaurant with the idea that I want to chit-chat with anyone who comes up to me. The flipside to your question is that we don't want to be rude by imposing ourselves on you (from our perspective) too aggressively. It's not rudeness, it's just another culture. There are individual, regional and class considerations, so of course you can't generalize. I should also say that this isn't just a case of whites treating non-whites like this. We treat other whites this way, too.
POSTED JULY 23, 1998
Martin P., 42 <
mpollard@ix.netcom.com>, El Cerrito, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I recently relocated to the South, and I am not only disappointed by the lack of that famous "Southern hospitality" here, but disheartened and appalled by the hateful and ignorant attitude that characterizes the area where I am living. I have lived all over the country and am tired of hearing Northerners accused of being cold and unfriendly, when I think it's true for the whole United States. But I cannot support notions of a "friendly South." Everything here is determined by race, sex and ethnicity. If you found the South friendly, please take into account that it's a very different experience for a white male, and to a lesser degree, a white female. Try living as a black woman here for just one day and see if your opinion changes. It's still 1900 down here, and it's downright scary.
POSTED JULY 24, 1998
D.M.M., white female <
donikam@hotmail.com>, Charleston, SC
To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
RE39: Why do people in some Asian cultures shave the heads of their babies on or around their first birthday? What is the cultural/religious significance? I desire as detailed an answer as possible.

POSTED APRIL 30, 1998
L.A., 29, white female, Boston, MA

ANSWER 1:
I am from Thailand, where this custom is still practiced widely. The hair is shaved more for hygienic reasons, as the climate in our country is very humid. The head is not completely shaved - usually a patch covering the crown is left. This is to protect the head, as the crown is still not fully formed in the child's first year. In choosing a child's hairstyle, parents will give a couple of clay dolls with differing hairstyles to the child (some with pigtails or topknot, or as many as three to four knots of hair). The child will choose one style for himself/herself.
POSTED JULY 23, 1998
K.P., Chinese-Thai, Bangkok
To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
R377: My grandma nursed the babies of the white woman she worked for in the '30s, but she still had to come in the back door, and she still couldn't sit at the white woman's table. It's been 35 years since I first asked why this happened, and I still would like a better answer that what I've received. Does anyone have one?
POSTED JULY 18, 1998
A.A.W., 42, black female <
anabwi@aol.com>, Plantation, FL

ANSWER 1:
This is not a particularly logical attitude, but I think it has a simple explanation. The aversion to having blacks use the front door or sit at the table was not because it put them in close physical proximity, but rather that such actions implied equality. Thus, blacks could cook and serve meals, but not sit at the table with whites. "We go to keep them in their place!" was meant very literally, and anyone growing up in that society knew when the line was crossed. Many cultures through history have been perfectly willing to live in close contact with "inferiors" as long as the recognition of differential status was maintained. The particular indicators of differential status varied between societies. Nursing of white babies by a black woman in the South was probably a little unusual, but there is a long history of "inferiors" being used as wet-nurses. For example, read the story of Moses in the Bible.
POSTED JULY 22, 1998
T. Douglas, 52, white male, Jacksonville, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
Thanks T. Douglas, for your response. Grandma was inferior, but her milk wasn't; seems 50 percent racist to me. Either you are or you aren't - and so the world turns. Thanks again.
POSTED JULY 23, 1998
A.A.W., 42, black female <
anabwi@aol.com>, Plantation, FL
To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
R367: Why do people in the United States put their aging parents in convalescent homes? I come from both an Asian and Latino background, and I know this would be absolutely unacceptable in those cultures and a great source of disrespect.
POSTED JULY 1, 1998
Michela, 23, Latina-Asian female, Los Angeles, CA

ANSWER 1:
First of all, the percentage of the population over 65 living in nursing homes is extremely small, despite what we may think. My mother went into a nursing home when I was a teenager. She should have gone in about 10 years earlier. She had a very bad case of multiple sclerosis, and became a quadriplegic, as well as very mentally disturbed, quickly. My father worked days, leaving my older sister and I to care for her. Her own family was estranged from her because of her mental problems, and we could not keep a housekeeper or nurse working with her for any length of time. She only went into the nursing home when my sister left for college. The experience of having one member's needs dominate the entire family tore us apart. We paid a huge price for trying to care for her ourselves. Seeing the other patients in her nursing home, and how much care they needed, made it obvious to me that few families have the ability to care for a parent as ill as these people. I am now the mother of a Chinese baby girl. I would never want her to sacrifice herself and her family as I did for my mother. It can be very easy to judge when one hasn't experienced caring for someone with, say, Alzheimer's disease and/or multiple health problems, and still work or care for a family. Also, American families are often smaller than other families, and there may be fewer adult children to share the work involved.
POSTED JULY 22, 1998
P.J., 38, white <
civserv@yahoo.com>, San Jose, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
Having cared for my mother-in-law in our home when she was in fairly advanced Alzhiemers, I can tell you that most families are not equiped to handle these intense and demanding duties. We coped, and only moved her to a care facility when she broke her hip, but the burden was great. After working all day, I would have to fix her meal (separate from the other family, because eating to her was a full-time job for both of us), then take her to the bath and bathe her, and eventually put her in bed. Putting her in bed could take two to three hours, as she would continually get back up and get dressed again. Finally I could sit down and relax. My husband did morning duty to balance the duties. Getting her up in the morning was the reverse ritual of going to bed. When illness is that demanding, it is really best for all concerned to be in the care of people who have the equipment and facility to cope.
POSTED JULY 23, 1998
48-year-old white female, Houston, TX

To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
R369: How universal is the concept of "Black Time"? When my black friends arrive hours late for a luncheon or haven't finished preparations when I arrive on time at their home, they just say with a smile that they are on "BT." In 20 years with our mixed group of close friends this hasn't hurt relationships, but I wonder...
POSTED JULY 15, 1998
Beth, white female, 60, Orlando, FL

ANSWER 1:
Everybody who's black has heard of "CPT" (Colored People's Time). My grandmother, who's 103, taught me. CPT, or "BT" as you call it, is only an excuse, but it's funny! I told my wife about CPT because she is always the last one to get ready to leave the house for, say, a movie. Even though she's Native American, she still qualifies, so she just falls in line, and laughs with the rest of us. Hey! Grin and bear it!
POSTED JULY 22, 1998
K.R., 51, straight black male, Oxnard, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
Funny, in the queer community, people talk about GST (Gay Standard Time). This is to account for the fact that a certain percentage of gay men tend to be late for things because they talk too much or spend too much time fussing with their hair. It's all in good humor, but I know a lot of queer events, even serious ones, not just dances or parties, are planned with the expectation that about a third of the people will be late by at least five minutes, while a few will come in 20 minutes after, or even later.
POSTED JULY 23, 1998
Wendy D., 23, white bisexual female <
wiebke@juno.com>, Atlanta, GA
To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
D15: Our family was recently at the community pool. Our five-year-old son saw a little girl swimming who had lost her hand in some sort of accident. He was petrified when he saw it and ran under a towel for the rest of the time we were there. Now he's nervous about going back to the pool. When we asked him why he was upset about it, he said it scared him and he wanted to know if the girl was going to be OK. What would be the best thing to say to him to make him less fearful of this girl and this type of situation in the future?
POSTED JUNE 17, 1998
R.D., white female, Jacksonville, FL

ANSWER 1:
Tell him she may have been born without her hand and has never missed it. Plus, she seems to get along well without a second hand, and he would learn to do the same if anything like that happened to him. Finally, tell him she probably feels bad when people stare at her, and may not mind if he asks her how she lost her hand. She might even turn out to be as sweet and nice as he is.
POSTED JULY 21, 1998
Mike <
thewests@ctsi.net>, Richmond, VA

FURTHER NOTICE:
First of all, I'd acknowledge your son's fear. After all, many adults are frightened by someone else's disability; we just hide it better. Then I would be honest - tell your son you aren't sure what happened to the girl's hand, whether she was born that way or lost it in an accident, but that nothing is going to happen to his hand. I suspect your son is afraid that one day he'll wake up missing something, but can't quite put his fear into words. Finally, I'd point out that, while the little girl's hand won't grow back, she is definitely OK - she's swimming and playing, just like your son. Help him see that she's still a kid, just like him, who probably watches TV and gets in trouble and likes to eat ice cream, just like he does. The important things are to help your son understand that A) with or without a hand, the little girl is OK, and B) he's still safe, and nothing is going to happen to him.
POSTED JULY 24, 1998
Laura, 37, white female, MD

To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
RE77: To Muslims: Please comment on the recent attacks of Muslims on Chinese people in Indonesia, wherein some would shout "God is great" before doing terrible things such as looting, raping and killing. Why would they say this?
POSTED JULY 15, 1998
I.C. , female, Manila, The Philippines

ANSWER 1:
"God is great" has been a battle cry for Muslims for five centuries since the original battles were against the "infidels," which at that time were the armies determined to smother the new religion and deny the One God. Modern Muslims who see themselves as fighting this holy war still use that phrase, though to an outsider it seems quite horrific. It is, in essence, no different from any other religious fanatic who believes that by killing the "unbeliever" he is defending something sacred. There is, however, a great deal of disagreement within the Islamic world about what constitutes a "holy war." By no means do all Muslims accept what you are talking about.
POSTED JULY 20, 1998
Halima B. <
exhiled@yahoo.com>, Jaén, Spain
To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
R374: Does it hurt that much to be an African American?
POSTED JULY 16, 1998
Rev. J. O'Daily, 38, European American, Tallahassee, FL

ANSWER 1:
It only hurts when people disrespect us, just as it probably hurts when people disrespect you. All we want is to be treated as equals. Remember this: We are all members of the same race. The Human Race.
POSTED JULY 20, 1998
B.V.R. (Beyond Visual Range), black male <
alski96@airmail.net>, NY

FURTHER NOTICE:
I don't think being black hurts at all. Anyone of any race, creed or color can be proud of that heritage and upbringing. I am a young African-American female who has always found pride in myself and my race. I hear my fellow blacks talking and complaining about "the white man" and what he has done and continues to do to us, but we can only use that excuse for so long. I have not walked a mile in someone else's shoes, but I know my own trials and believe that although it may not be easy, we can still rise above racism and prejudices of all kinds; black, white, red, woman or man. It may sound idealistic, but it is definitely possible. So if I had it to choose all over again, I would put my money on black any day!
POSTED JULY 23, 1998
Shawn, 28, African American, Orlando, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
It doesn't hurt at all being black, and I never felt I should feel inferior because of it. I love who I am, but if you mean as a whole do blacks endure unnecessary stress just because they are black, I would say yes ... and that hurts. That is not fair. You wonder sometimes, "Why me?" You don't let the hurt dictate how you live, love and feel, but it does nag you like a gnat.
POSTED JULY 23, 1998
Joyce J., black single female <
PLatimer@MSN.COM>, Detroit, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
It doesn't hurt to be African American. The racism received for being an African American and the reactions we get as a result of stereotyping does hurt. The worst experience I've had where my feelings were hurt happened just five days ago. I was in a major department store looking for some soap. So was a white woman and her four-year-old son. I was standing about 10 feet from the lady and her son. Her son was hanging off the edge/end of the basket. He fell. I rushed over to help him up because his mother looked stunned. He wasn't crying. When I reached down and picked him up, he started to cry. I was telling him it was going to be OK when his mom literally snatched him from me and looked at me with accusation flaring in her eyes. I was shocked. Here I was trying to help a child up and his mom is looking at me like I knocked him off the edge of the basket (please remember I was standing about 10 feet away). Belatedly, she gained her wits and thanked me. Feeling rather wilted, I quietly told her she was welcome and that it was no problem. As I was turning to leave (my feelings crushed), she was telling the child to thank me. He was silent. She asked him if he would tell the "nice lady" thank you. He answered her with a resounding, "No!" I just gave a sad little smile and told her that was OK and walked off. I felt as if my heart were breaking. I kept remembering the look she gave me when she snatched her son and the way he wasn't even crying until he looked up and saw me. I think this is the worse feeling I've ever had. I will definitely approach the situation cautiously when helping another white woman and her child. Oh, and I never did get my soap.
POSTED JULY 23, 1998
Whitney T., 18, Southern black <
wkthomps@olemiss.edu>, Oxford, MS

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
Imagine you wake up every day paid lower than your white counterparts with the same education and stopped by the police because you appear suspicious. It could be because of the car you drive - it may look too expensive. Are the police implying black people can't drive a car over a certain dollar amount? Imagine you're at work, and your employer takes work from you to justify giving a white person more work to increase her pay. The prisons are full of black men on petty charges. In jail for possessing a small amount of marijuana. White people can murder and get out in five, but some states imprison you for life for possessing a small amount of marijuana. So imagine waking up being black: Yes, it hurts all of the time.
POSTED JULY 24, 1998
A. McGee, Forestville, MD

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
The majority of the time it does not hurt. I don't wake up every morning saying, "Boy, am I glad I am/am not an African American!" I wake up just glad to wake up. The times I dislike being an African American are when I have to buy something and endure people following me in stores because of the stereotype that all blacks steal. Also, when I buy a car, house, etc. and always have that little nagging question of, "If I were white, would the price still have been the same?" I always feel like I have to approach these situations with full armor on, if you know what I mean. I go in with "attitude," so people know I am not stupid because of the color of my skin. Yes, sometimes it is hard to be black, but most of the time it is just great to be alive.
POSTED JULY 24, 1998
Cheryl, 44 , black <
blackcherrie@yahoo.com>, Jacksonville, FL
To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
R357: What are some ways whites who genuinely want to break down color barriers can do so amid antagonism from all ethnic groups, even other whites? That is, how can we distinguish ourselves from whites who are racist?
POSTED JUNE 25, 1998
Jeffrey D., white, KY

ANSWER 1:
You obviously feel a need to distinguish yourself as being different from the modern stereotype white people are now being labeled with. This is a paradox that many white folks feel: If they don't show outward signs of being non-racists, they believe they will be labeled racists. I suggest that you don't worry about trying to show you are a good white guy, but to simply focus on developing a mature, balanced perception on all issues you feel influence your life . As for race issues, you may begin with reading information on the Internet of the early slave trading days, not just the history but the stories written during that era, and work your way up through the Civil War and civil rights days. Take a critical, objective look of the history and listen to all intelligent sides of the issue. Find out what Africans are saying about African Americans and what is happening in Europe with their race problems. Expand your view and you will find that it is complicated - like a big ball of tangled fishing string - and that African Americans and whites don't have a perfect description of the problem. Educate yourself and save yourself from the feelings that come with trying to be a token good white guy. Just be a quality guy !
POSTED JULY 17, 1998
Dave <
GILSTRAP@MS13.HINET.NET>, S.C.

FURTHER NOTICE:
When among whites, refuse to participate in conversation or humor that promotes racist viewpoints. If you are with people of a race other than your own, just be yourself. You don't have to advertise that you are not racist. If the conversation turns to the subject of race, join in, be honest and don't think that you necessarily have to agree with the majority point of view. You may have a unique perspective to share. You may also learn you have some attitudes that still need adjustment. There are just so many things we unconsciously pick up from our parents and our culture that we may not even realize are racist. If you are not a racist, it will be obvious to other people, regardless of what ethnic group they belong to.
POSTED JULY 18, 1998
Suzanne, 45, white female, NJ

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Many years ago, this thought came to me when I encountered a problem because of my skin color (I'm white), and I asked a woman of color who was feeling antagonistic towards me: "Did you choose what skin color you were born with?" She answered sarcastically, "You know I didn't!" Then I replied, "I didn't either." She turned and gave me a long, hard look. "You really mean that, don't you?" she said. "Yes." The folded arms came off her bosom, her hand came out to mine, and from then on we were good friends. If we can get past the outside wrapping color, we will find warm, loving friends. After all, we're all pretty much alike inside. But, you have to take time to get to know someone personally and individually.
POSTED JULY 20, 1998
Vera F., 60, grandmother <
vfurry@kumc.edu>, Wichita, KS
To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
R304: Why does it seem that many families of American Indian and Hispanic descent go generations without upgrading their educational and economic status?
POSTED JUNE 3, 1998
Female, 36, Antelope, CA

ANSWER 1:
It's my belief that government programs such as free health care and cheap, if not free, housing bleed the will of people to promote themselves. I see it a lot here.
POSTED JUNE 27, 1998
Married to woman of native descent, Tulsa, OK

FURTHER NOTICE:
Many people assume government "handouts" encourage laziness among First Nations peoples. On the contrary, it is the shortsightedness of most government programs that keeps the recipients of subsidized housing, etc., from improving their living conditions. What good is a house, and how can it be maintained, when, as is often the case, essential services like running water, electricity and sewage systems are not provided for a reserve, and the profits from a house's construction go into the pockets of white contractors? As a teacher at a Native-run university, I meet people every day who, with help from their own communities, have managed to overcome enormous obstacles to improve their own lives and those of their families and friends. Recovering from long-term discrimination and economic disadvantage is a slow process, but there are many people of courage and vision who are seeking and creating positive social change.
POSTED JULY 20, 1998
Patricia M., 41, white, Regina , Saskatchewan, Canada
To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
R363: What are black people's opinions about why eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are not very prominent in their culture? It seems to me that even in two middle-class families, one black and one white, the girls in the white family are much more concerned about their weight and are into dieting than are the girls in the black family.
POSTED JUNE 28, 1998
Charlotte, 16, white, <
fleure_@hotmail.com>, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

ANSWER 1:
Throughout my life, I have watched many of the women in my family jump from diet to diet (and spending quite a few dollars) with little or no success. Some women in my family are just naturally thin, just like any other. I have heard studies that conclude that black people are on average heavier than others, which I believe is a cultural thing - much of traditional "soul food" is very fattening. You will find a lot of pork and fried foods, which may have a lot to do with the high incidence of heart disease and the like within the race. Furthermore, sitting down to a big meal with family always had a significant value, and as a child, we were always encouraged to eat plenty.
POSTED JULY 17, 1998
A. Moore, 29, African-American <
Moore29@aol.com>, Orlando, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
Anorexia and bulimia occur in the black culture, though at a far lower rate, the reason being the extra weight is not unacceptable in body consciousness. Many foreign black societies value women with more weight as a sign of beauty and fertility, and some of that may still linger in current black culture.
JayJay, 44, black female, <
Lady_Jackie@yahoo.com>, Dayton, OH
To respond
BACK TO TOP


THE QUESTION:
D17: I would like to know why being fat has such a negative connotation in our society. It seems to bring out a "wounded bird in the flock" reaction in some people. "Fat slob" or "lazy, fat slob"; these words almost go together automatically. Do we ever say "skinny slob" or "lazy, tall slob"? Being skinny, tall, short, bald, long-haired, etc. doesn't carry the same insult. Being fat is almost synonymous with being disgusting. I've struggled for years to improve and maintain my self-worth in a world that says I'm defective and disgusting. What's up?
POSTED JUNE 24, 1998
38-year-old mom, fat, married and loved, Overeaters Anonymous member, Long Beach, CA

ANSWER 1:
I have been struggling with my weight my whole life, and know how it is to be on "both sides" of the fence, so to speak. How did the word "fat" get a negative connotation? I think "fat" is just like any other word; that is, the most important questions are "Who said it?" and "How did he/she say it?" I do not have a problem calling myself fat. I was, and still am, a little fat. Why do use the word "fat" to describe yourself? Do you consider yourself "fat"? If you do, then deal with it. Otherwise, use a better term. I like "overweight." My feelings are, if you have a problem with a word, do not use it.
POSTED JULY 20, 1998
G. Mills, 25, male, "a little fat" <
TW@sprynet.com>, San Diego , CA
To respond
BACK TO TOP


Copyright and disclaimer