Best of the Week
of Aug. 22, 1999

Best of Week Archives

Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of Aug. 22, 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 recently ran across the name "Hashem" as a name for God. I never saw this before, but it was on a web page about Orthodox Judaism. I wondered about the derivation of it and consulted my dictionary, but all I found was "hashemites," who were a group of people, so that didn't fit. So what is the etymology of the name "Hashem"?
POSTED 8/27/1999
Nancy, Tucson, AZ, United States, Female, Christian, White/Caucasian, Technical School, Mesg ID 8219924932
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Question:
Why is it that whenever I hear something just totally crazy, something I would never have thought of doing, it's always white people who are doing it? For example, devil workship, white kids killing their own parents and other kids, and even weird sexual fetishes. I even saw something involving white kids eating human waste for a keg of beer. I don't see any people of color doing this kind of stuff, unless they grew up with white people or hang around them too much. I'm not talking about all white people because I have some cool white friends. But do many white people not have any self-esteem?
POSTED 8/27/1999
Cheemama, New York, NY, United States, 25, Female, American Indian/ Latino, Lesbian, Entrepreneur, 2 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 825199980116
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Question:
This has bugged me for months: I have heard the word boo used by black women in describing a relationship. Now, I was married to a black woman for 17 years until she passed away, and I thought I was pretty knowledgable, but this word really doesn't make any sense to me. What does it mean?
POSTED 8/27/1999
Dorssie M. Jr., Pensacola, FL, United States, <www.lavernemelvin@prodigy.net>, 52, Male, Agnostic, White/Caucasian, Straight, Retired soldier, 2 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 826199925223
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Question:
My family has been invited to a celebration of circumcision for our neighbors' newborn baby. I am not sure what to expect. We have two boys ages 11 and 14, and she said they should come, but would not have to watch. Could someone explain what might be involved, and also what an appropriate gift might be for this occasion?
POSTED 8/25/1999
Beth Y., Emporia, KS, United States, <yewells@valu-line.com>, 38, Female, Catholic, White/Caucasian, 4 Years of College, Mesg ID 7229992649

Responses:
I presume you are referring to a Jewish cirumcision, called a Brit Mila. There's some fairly brief ceremonial stuff, some blessings, the baby is passed from his grandfather to father and also to an honored person, vaguely like a "godfather." The actual circumcision is performed by a specially trained person called a "mohel," (pronounced moy-el). It is done quite fast; a good mohel can do it so fast that if you don't pay attention you'll miss it. It's all followed by a lot of eating and socializing. The kid tends to scream for a brief moment, and then it's over. Come to think of it, kids tend to scream anyway. I think you ought to go, and bring your kids, and encourage them to watch. They're old enough to understand what is being done. I think that you ought to explain the whole thing to them before you go, so they're not shocked. It's really cool, and there ought to be no problems. I invited a friend with three kids (from about 12 to 6) to the Brit Mila for my youngest, and they were cool and really enjoyed the experience. Any gift that you give for a newborn would be appropriate, like baby clothing or toys.
POSTED 8/27/1999
Jesse N., Herzliya, NA, Israel, 40, Male, Jewish, Engineer, 4 Years of College, Mesg ID 825199910435

I'm Christian and had never been to a bris until my girlfriend's son was born. I went with much trepidation and a preconceived notion that a bris was "barbaric." I felt the best place for this procedure was a hospital with a qualified doctor in attendance. I was very surprised to witness a beautiful celebration. I was not in the room when it was done, and I don't recommend that you or your children be a witness to the act. What I did find very sweet, however, was that when it was done, he was placed in the loving arms of his family, and not put in his cold basinette at a hospital. If the gathering is anything like the one I was at, you can expect a "Christening" kind of atmosphere, along with a naming ceremony. The only people present at the actual circumcision were the immediate family (except for the baby's mother, who couldn't watch). As for a gift, I would think anything you would give to welcome a baby into the world would be appropriate and appreciated.
POSTED 8/27/1999
Barbara, New York, NY, United States, Female, White/Caucasian, Mesg ID 826199924611
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Question:
My sister has William's Syndrome, a little-known, very rare (1 in 20,000) disablity that gives kids physical, emotional and educational problems. While William's kids do have a certain "look," it is not as recognizable as a Down's look, etc., because it is so rare. This leads to funny looks from strangers when my 10-year-old sister (who looks like a normal kid) does things such as fussing and whining over small things, etc. I get embarrassed by my sister doing these things, and strangers just thinking she's a spoiled brat. Is this right? My parents says she's my sister, and I should learn to live with it. Also, my parents say this does not reflect on me, just them, because they are the parents. I say they are wrong, it reflects on everyone with her, including me. What do other people think. If you saw a 10-year-old girl who looks normal doing something like crying and whining over small things, what would you think of her, and the people with her?
POSTED 8/23/1999
Matt C., Arlington, MA, United States, 15, Male, Jewish, White/Caucasian, High School Student, Less than High School Diploma , Middle class, Mesg ID 8209942425

Responses:
My sister, who is just a year younger than I, is a high-functioning autistic. I can relate very much to what you're saying. Aside from her posture (she slouches sometimes), she appears as a perfectly normal person. This is only appearence, though. Even at 18, she still throws tantrums in stores, screams, yells, cries and just about everything that should make me feel self-conscious in those public places. What I've learned has been a difficult lesson, but a good one. First, I know that I can't apply the world's rules of logic to her. This means that anything can happen at any time and it's not her fault The second thing is the realization that I don't care what people around me think. She's my sister and I love her more than anything in this world. Your concern shouldn't be with image. Trust me on this. You've got to be a good big brother for your sister. You've got to be there for her and try to understand her, no matter how frustrating it gets. And never be ashamed of her, please, just never be ashamed of her. In many ways you're blessed to have her as a sister. Trust me on that, too.
POSTED 8/24/1999
D.G. Brown, Tigard, OR, United States, 19, Male, Christian, White/Caucasian, Straight, College Student, 2 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 824199935717

I understand how bad being embarrassed in public can make you feel. My brother is not disabled but throughout my childhood I was known as the sister of Daniel the weirdo. He used to wear deliberately awful-looking clothes and spoke in a voice that nobody else used. Even now as an adult he has this amazing ability to embarrass me in public. Obviously my situation is enormously different, and I was perhaps able to argue and fight with my brother in a way that you are not with your sister. I know that people will always say to you that it doesn't matter what other people think, and that the only opinions you should really care about are from your friends and family. Of course that's true, but it doesn't prevent embarrassment. The only thing that prevents embarrassment is having enormous self-confidence, something I'm getting more of the older I get. By the way, if I saw you with your 10-year-old sister while she was crying/whining, I would think how mature and responsible you are to look after your sister when she is upset. Big cars and expensive trainers aren't the only things that impress people.
POSTED 8/24/1999
Beth, Edinburgh, NA, United Kingdom, <ebaines@holyrood.ed.ac.uk>, 25, Female, Atheist, White/Caucasian, Straight, PhD Student, Over 4 Years of College, Mesg ID 824199973848

My understanding of Williams' Syndrome is that your sister, although challenged with limitations in her reasoning, has extremely heightened hearing, musical ability and emotional depth. You need to understand that no two people receive information the same way, and less so for your sister. However, as you continue to finish your education, you need to understand that you will, more and more, learn to appreciate your sister's heightened abilities as gifts. Compared to the person you are going to be when you are 25, right now, you are a mess. Otherwise, there would be no further need to educate you, and you would be on your way to the world of the working week at the age of 15. I'm not saying it's easy, just that you need to understand that you will be compensated for your patience, if you don't abuse your situation too much.
POSTED 8/27/1999
Mike L., Walnut Creek, CA, United States, <mleung@mikeleung.com>, 29, Male, 4 Years of College, Mesg ID 824199994710
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Question:
It seems to me that women take longer than men to accept, trust and be open with each other. Men seem to band together and have more of a laugh, yet women seem to be less sociable with their own sex. Is this part of our genetic makeup, or is it based on socialization and expectations?
POSTED 8/23/1999
Anatole R., London, NA, United Kingdom, 25, Female, Taoist, White/Caucasian, Straight, Over 4 Years of College,Middle class, Mesg ID 81999101840

Responses:
Women are instinctively very communal - meaning we are naturally very social and look to one another for support. Women rely on each other for emotional help, advice, help with daily chores, etc. This type of closeness forms very strong bonds between women, but it requires the women to be close, not new acquaintances. Women often view women they do not know as threatening, and therefore are cold to them. I don't know if this is instinctual or due to socialization, but women tend to view other women as competition for male attention. I have noticed that in situations where no men are present, women tend to be much more open to women they do not know who are introduced into the group. It definitely takes women longer than men to become friends, but the friendships between women are generally closer than those between men.
POSTED 8/24/1999
Lucy H., San Jose, CA, United States, <Lucy357@aol.com>, 24, Female, Hispanic/Latino, Engineer, 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 823199981438

I partially disagree with your analysis, and I also think that the answer is socialization and expectations, nurture rather than nature, if you will. I disagree with your premise of how fast it takes women vs. men to make friends. Men make superficial friendships more quickly, that is true, but women make long-lasting, deeper friendships more quickly, in my experience. During youth, men are grouped together in sports, in playtime, and women are pitted against each other in social competition. How close man and women are differs also on the basis of where you are from. When I lived in Africa, there were more activities in school where girls were grouped together, so I found myself able to meet more people. On the other hand, when I returned to the States, I became more of a Man's woman, and made friends with men more easily, but not the chummy kinds of sporting events or "pub" friends most of my male friends have. I found that for my male friends, they were looking for someone to talk to about how they feel, what they think, what their goals and dreams are. This was something they often did not get from their male friends, or so they told me. I'm willing to bet that it differs from country to country.
POSTED 8/24/1999
Tinu, Greenbelt, MD, United States, 27, Female, Sprirtualist, Black/African American, Straight, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 823199921547

Before I became a parent, I believed in socialization/expectation. When I had my sons, I stayed at home to raise them. I expected them to be people, not stereotypical men, and I spent an enormous amount of time trying to teach them that. They are in their teens and I now concede that it's an impossible task. I've learned that men are men and women are women. It's not about socialization. Our friendships, problem-solving, and committment to the group are (generally) totally opposites. The "yin" and "yang" of men and women is from birth - ask any parent.
POSTED 8/27/1999
Colleen, Quantico, VA, United States, <congdon@illuminet.net>, 38, Female, Stay-at-home-mom, 2 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 825199982749
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Question:
I've always wondered why some smokers seem oblivious to the fact that throwing their cigarette butts to the ground wherever they just happen to be is actually littering. These same people would probably never consider throwing a candy wrapper on the ground or out their car window, yet don't hesitate to dispose of their cigarette butts that way. Do these people think that cigarette butts disintegrate (biodegrade) quickly? I'm sure they don't. Are these people so consumed by backlash against anti-smoking advocates that they see this as a form of passive revenge? I find it amazing and sad that I can't stop in my car at a curb anywhere without seeing the curb littered with tens or hundreds of cigarette butts. I've even seen people who think nothing of emptying their entire ashtray in the middle of the road or in a parking lot. I used to work at a company that had large ashtrays outside the door where people gathered to smoke. Yet the landscaping directly in front of this area was littered with dozens of cigarette butts. What gives?
POSTED 8/23/1999
Jim C., Dayton, OH, United States, 34, Male, White/Caucasian, Gay, Systems Engineer, 4 Years of College , Upper middle class, Mesg ID 8209943644
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Question:
What is the theology behind Catholics not eating meat on Fridays?
POSTED 8/23/1999
Nancy, Thomas, AZ, United States, Female, Methodist, White/Caucasian, Mesg ID 8219924304

Responses:
It's not a question of theology or doctrine so much as it is a pious practice of Catholics to do penance for their sins. Christ died on Friday. Meat is somewhat of a luxurious food. So we give it up. Fish has historically not been considered 'meat' for these purposes, though it would be hard to take lobster tail or steamed shrimp seriously as penances, for these are if anything more 'luxurious' than beef, pork, or chicken. You can also go vegetarian or vegan, that's your choice. It is just a token of respect to Our Lord and His suffering. By the way, many Catholics think this practice was done away with (except for during Lent) by Vatican II. That is not true. The relaxed attitude of modern Catholics does not accurately reflect traditional Catholic faith or practice.
POSTED 8/24/1999
Augustine, Columbia, SC, United States, 38, Male, Catholic, White/Caucasian, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 823199984022

I am Catholic but not an expert in all things related to my religion. It is my understanding that Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent as a form of sacrifice and remembrance. Meat is considered a luxury or a treat, and forgoing it is a way of making a personal sacrifice in remembrance of Christ's suffering. It used to be more common that Catholics did not eat meat on any Friday, but now this practice is usually restricted to Lent (a 40-day period leading up to Easter). Incidentally, I read recently that this practice, as well as some other religious practices regarding what people eat or how it is prepared, may have started because of food safety problems. Centuries ago, when these practices started, there may have been problems with bacteria or disease, so the religious leaders told their followers that God wanted them not to eat meat (or to prepare food a certain way, etc.) and the practice held up over time, although the reason may not have been known.
POSTED 8/24/1999
Michelle, St. Louis, MO, United States, 27, Female, Catholic, White/Caucasian, Straight, Accountant, 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 8231999114553
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Question:
I have noticed this all my life: Why is it that black women who are overweight exude self-confidence, while most white overweight women hate themselves and try desperately to change their bodies? Is it a cultural thing? Has anyone else noticed this?
POSTED 8/23/1999
Jennie, Huntington, WV, United States, 22, Female, Christian, White/Caucasian, Straight, Office worker, 2 Years of College , Lower middle class, Mesg ID 8219964358

Responses:
As a black woman who has been overweight most of my life, I can say that one reason for the confidence we have is that our men culturally seem to prefer our curves - they tell us that they prefer a curvy size 9 to a skinny size 6. They say they prefer a slightly rounded belly to seeing our rib bones sticking out. Other women of our culture reinforce this preference up to a certain point. As long as we are proportional and healthy, we make the cut. For my height, I have always been a little too big by cover girl standards, a D cup and wide hips. But this is the first time in my life I have felt truly overweght, and even now I am only 30 pounds outside my ideal. We also did not necessarily internalize the national/international standard of beauty because it did not include us, but this is changing. Bulimia and anorexia nervosa is increasing in young black teens at an alarming rate. Hopefully the majority of us will see our curves as a blessing, and maybe the world's image of what a beautiful woman is will change back to what it was before about 100-200 years ago, a healthy medium. After all, the average size woman, black or white, is a size 12.
POSTED 8/24/1999
Tinu, Greenbelt, MD, United States, 27, Female, Black/African American, Straight, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class,Mesg ID 823199923222
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Question:
I want to know why Y? Forum allows asinine and degrading questions about blacks or any other race's physical features to even be posted. For example, I've read posts questioning why blacks have big lips, why blacks' palms and soles are white in color, etc. To post questions of this type implies that the physical features of whites are the standard, and that anything else is abnormal or deviant. Nothing positive or informative can be obtained from questions of this nature, so why are they even entertained on this forum? As an Afro-American, I find them offensive, and an error in judgment on the part of the webmaster of this site.
POSTED 8/20/99
Shawn, Baltimore, MD, United States, <mrmoore15@hotmail.com> , 30, Male, Baptist, Black/African American, Straight, MIS Professional, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 8161999110700

Responses:
I think you are over-reacting. The questions you use in your example come once in a blue moon. Agreed, "Why do black people have white palms" is a silly question. But, what would you rather see, an ignorant Caucasian (like myself) post a question like that on the Internet, where no real harm is done, or have the same person stop you in the middle of the street and say, "Hello, black person, tell me, Why are your palms white?" only to embarrass both you and that silly honky? Admit it, there are worse questions that could be posted, and I think Y? Forum does a good job weeding out the "questionable" ones. You say, "As an Afro-American, I find them (questions) offensive." Well, Steve, as a Caucasian, I find (some) of these questions informative. I never knew what "melanin" was until I read the "white palm" question. Agreed, the questions could be better worded, but they wouldn't be as interesting. Why don't you take the opportunity and post some of your own silly questions like "Why do all rednecks seem to be inbred?" or, to borrow a page from comedian Chris Rock, "Why don't white people have any butts?" (That question blows your "Whites are standard" theory.) Anyway, loosen up and just take these questions for what they are : Questions! Peace
POSTED 8/20/1999
Murray C., Halifax, NA, Canada, 31, Male, Unitarian, White/Caucasian, Straight, Draftsman, Technical School , Middle class,Mesg ID 8209913536

If you can't ask questions like that here, then where can you? I mean, isn't that the whole reason for this site? Do you want to pretend that the culture of America is not overwhelmingly white? This seems incredibly thin-skinned to me. I have a question about blacks: Why do so many young black males seem to walk around with one pant leg pulled up? What does that signify? I never see any other ethnic group doing that.
POSTED 8/20/1999
Chris H., Kokomo, IN, United States, 41, Catholic, White/Caucasian, Straight, 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 82099120002

Your question is very thought-provoking. At first thought I would suggest you just click off if the questions offend you. However, then none of us could learn from you. When Y? Forum is at its best is when questions are asked, hopefully in innocence, and the responses have turned on a light. While it may anger you to see questions about the color of the palm of your hands, as a white person, I can't begin to tell you the hooey I heard about that growing up in white neighborhoods. Finding out that simply asking can provoke anger is good data, also.
POSTED 8/20/1999
Steve, Houston, TX, United States, 39, Male, White/Caucasian, Engineer, Over 4 Years of College, Mesg ID 8209925912

I disagree with you completely. Questions regarding the minor physical differences between whites and non-whites are as valid as any other question. You claim that the questions assume that the physical features of whites are standard and everything else is deviant. On what evidence do you base this assumption? The only logical basis for the questions you detest would be curiosity about something different from one's self. How is that racist or sinister? Determining the cause of differences in physical characteristics of human beings is the entire thrust of genetics and genetics research. Is that entire branch of science invalid and degrading, because it seeks to determine why two people (or groups of people) might have different physical characteristics? Your interpretations seem to assume racist assumptions on the part of anyone white asking questions regarding physical differences between people of different races. Do you really believe that you can assume the motivations of every person asking an honest question? Do you really believe that every white person asking such questions must be doing so out of a racist point of view? Or is it just as possible that you are making the racist assumptions? By the way, I do admit that it is at least possible that some of the questions come from people trying to be offensive. By the same token, most of the questions seem to come out of simple ignorance, not ulterior motives.
POSTED 8/20/1999
John K., Cranford, NJ, United States, <jkeegan3@home.com>, 26, Male, Chemical Engineering, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 82099121837

I think we all judge the world we see from the perspective of our own experience. I don't think that asking a question about the physical characteristics of another race necessarily means the questioner believes that those characteristics are abnormal or deviant, just different from our own. For example, Shawn assumed that the person who asked the question about palm color was white, when that message only indicated the questioner was Canadian. Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics also live in Canada. However, Shawn seemed to assume that any person who would make an (in his view) insulting comment about African Americans would have to be white. I hope Y? Forum continues to post as many questions as possible. I might be offended by some questions about why women or whites or Christians seem to have some characteristic, but I would rather be slightly offended and try to respond in a mature manner than to have someone continue to walk around in ignorance. If we are going to learn from each other, we all need to develop a thicker skin. No matter what tone that skin is. I'm glad most posters here seem to be able to do that.
POSTED 8/20/1999
Stacee, Houston, TX, United States, 30, Female, Christian, White/Caucasian, Straight, TV production, Over 4 Years of College , Upper middle class, Mesg ID 82099115835

I have to defend Y? Shawn, your point of view is lopsided. You insinuate that Y? is Anglo-oriented, but you don't realize that the Y? director is of Italian descent (not white American). You notice "degrading" questions about blacks more because you are from that race. Remember that the most degrading thing a human being can have is ignorance, and white Americans have plenty of it. But it's OK - that's why Y? exists in the first place. I answer stupid questions about Latin/Hispanics all the time, but to the ignorant they are not stupid, they are valid questions. Their ignorance is not their fault. Through us, Y? is doing a great job of helping eradicate ignorance; let's keep up the good work.
POSTED 8/23/1999
Nelson A., Caracas, NA, Venezuela, 30, Male, Catholic, Latin/White-Caucasian, Lawyer/Business, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 82199124259

To deny that differences (physical and cultural) exist between the various races is to hide one's head in the sand. The large majority of questions posed about physical differences between the races have answers grounded in scientific fact (regardless of whether these facts make it onto this forum or not). I see no offense in asking such questions. Likewise, most of the cultural questions posed have answers grounded in historical fact, and these questions, in my opinion, are no less reasonable. Perspective, I believe, plays a role in your animosity. What if those questions had been asked by Asian females or by an African-American curious about his/her own physical characteristics? Would you be any less offended? Does your theory of "standards" still apply? Or is it merely the fact that they were asked by Caucasians? If the latter is the case, then I don't think the real problem is with the questions being asked but with the reason offense was taken. This is a forum about differences, and as long as the questions asked are asked in an intelligent manner devoid of malicious intent, they should be allowed. The only way any of us will ever truly "get along" is to understand and embrace these differences and quit persecuting those who notice the differences - which is virtually everyone with a fully functioning set of senses.
POSTED 8/23/1999
David, Columbia, SC, United States, <dash@netside.com>, 30, Male, White/Caucasian, 4 Years of College. Mesg ID 8219925207
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Question:
I am a 41-year-old man who has worked for a large international corporation for 18 years. The company recently decided to change its pension plan which, in effect, reduces my pension by about 40 percent. The plan primarily affects mid-career employees such as myself. Those near retirement age (25 or more years of service) are allowed to choose between the old and new plan. Our state representatives in Washington are looking into the legality of this and call it age discrimination. How do people in the business sector view this? Discriminatory or not?
POSTED 8/19/99
Bill, Burlington, VT, United States, 41, Male, Over 4 Years of College , Middle class, Mesg ID 81999102850

Responses:
I'm 40, and I've got 18 years with a big American corporation, so I'm in a very similar situation. Let's face it, big business has no regard for its employees. It will treat you with no respect whatsoever and will do whatever it can to increase profits this quarter. The rank-and-file employees are dead last on the management's priorities. Those are the sad facts of life, so you had better get used to it.
POSTED 8/23/1999
Jesse N., Herzliya, NA, Israel, 40, Male, Engineer, 4 Years of College, Mesg ID 8221999112441
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