Best of the Week
of Dec. 20, 1998


Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of Dec. 20, 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.

Question Code Key:

A=Age

GD=General Diversity

RE=Religion

C=Class

G=Geography

SE=Sensitive Matters

D=Disabilities

O=Occupation

SO=Sexual Orientation

GE=Gender

R=Race/Ethnicity


THE QUESTION:
R565: I live in Japan now and have some questions concerning Japanese manners: Why do Japanese people feel the need to always compliment me on the fact that I can use chopsticks, and why do they say I must be fluent in Japanese simply because I can say the morning greetings? I would never say to a Japanese person, for example, "Wow, you can use a fork really well! Where did you learn to do that?" Also, conversely, why do the Japanese laugh when someone tries to speak their language? In North America, there is nothing ruder than to laugh at someone you know cannot speak the native language but who is trying his or her best. Yet in Japan, people laugh so much at my Japanese - even when it is correct - that I don't want to speak it anymore. Why is that?
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Todd <
tdbuk@hotmail.com>, Miyazaki, Japan

ANSWER 1:
The longer you are in Japan, the more you will learn that it is their way of interacting with you. Because of our racial and cultural tensions in the States, Americans' sensitivity to actions and comments from people different from us is much higher than we realize. Just as you can read on this forum, many people think some races are over-sensitive to actions of other races and easily scream foul or racism. Well, other cultures feel that way about Americans in general. So you may be a bit over-sensitive to how they are treating you. As for the chopsticks, hey they are complimenting you, and as for speaking Japanese, your pronunciation is probably good, and they believe you know more than you do. Relax, and as many in Asia will tell you, "Don't think too much"! You have an opportunity to become worldly being in Japan that most people who follow this forum would love to have. Enjoy.

Also, many people in Asian cultures are shy and often respond with laughter, even sometimes covering their mouth while they do so. And because you are a newcomer, you stick out like a square peg in a round hole and perhaps looks a little humorous. Good luck , hope you gain a lot living there.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Dave, American in Taiwan <
Gilstrap@ms13.hinet.net>, Taipei, Taiwan

FURTHER NOTICE:
I am not Japanese and have never been to Japan, but being from a "foreign" country living in America, I feel I can respond to this entry. I think what you are experiencing is basically "individual reaction" to something that is unusual to that person, not a reflection of the Japanese people as a whole. In fact, I believe Americans (individuals, that is) tend to make fun of "non-Americans" just as much as anyone else in any other country (I can vouch for plenty of times when my "dialect" and the way I tend to pronounce some words was a source of outright laughter to the person(s) I was speaking to). I've been to France and Italy and never experienced any ridicule when I tried to speak French or Italian (both of which I know very little), as opposed to what I experience in America when I'm speaking English (and "English" is my official language; just spoken differently from Americans).
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Trevor S., black Jamaican, 32 <
tsteer@worldnet.att.net>, Ypsilanti, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
In some Asian cultures, laughter can be a sign of embarrassment, similar to covering one's mouth in the United States. Not sure about Japan. It could be the listeners are embarrassed for you because of butchered pronunciation.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
B. Hale <
halehart@aol.com>, Hartford, CT

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I lived in Japan for four years and, so I know what you are describing, but I advise you to not let it bother you. Living in a foreign country has so many wonderful aspects that you should try to focus on those aspects and enjoy Japan - it's an interesting country with many beautiful and friendly people. Having said that, let me try to answer your question. The Japanese, in general, are taught that their language and culture are unique in the world and that foreigners cannot possibly learn and understand them. Japanese people, especially in the smaller cities and countryside, are delighted to discover that you can use o-hashi (chopsticks) and speak a few words of Japanese. I think it would be the rare Japanese person that would compliment you with a sarcastic intent.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Henry R., 41 <
henry_richardson@hotmail.com>

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
I see that with Chinese people, too. I think it is because most Asian people don't normally think of non-Asians speaking "their" language or using chopsticks. This is probably due to the colonization or occupation of various Asian countries, where forgeiners refused or did not want to learn the language and/or customs of that country.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
C.C., Asian female, 19 <
petitecosette@yahoo.com >, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
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THE QUESTION:
RE127: To Jews, Muslims, atheists and other non-Christian Americans: How do you feel about the assumption many Americans make that "Christmas is for everybody"? Do you feel alienated? Pressured to assimilate? Does it not bother you?
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Rhiannon, 28, proud cultural Jew and religious agnostic <
rock0048@tc.umn.edu>, Minneapolis, MN

ANSWER 1:
I'm so glad you asked, at this most annoying time of year. As a free-thinker, I don't like to rain (or snow) on anyone's individual parade, but also I don't care to be forced to celebrate someone else's holiday. Everywhere you turn there are Santas, shoppers and sprinkled over the top of it, the insistence that "Jesus is the reason for the season." Last night, my sweetie and I lit candles all over the house to celebrate the solstice and eventual return of the sun. I shouldn't have to feel defensive about acknowledging the fact that the tilt of the earth on its axis is the reason for the season, but all this "Christmas" blitz does make me feel that way.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Becky, free-thinker married to Jew, Indianapolis , IN

FURTHER NOTICE:
I celebrate the commercialistic part of Christmas ... the tree, the lights, the gifts, TV specials, etc. My Christian friends also do, but in addition they celebrate the religious part. To me, it's a birthday party ... why wouldn't someone want to celebrate that? But if you really feel alienated and pressured, I suggest you make a stand, and go to work on the 25th of December.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
M.P.B. <
CISMPB@aol.com>, Medford , NJ

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
As a Jewish youth, I often feel alienated, probably more than adults, due to the predominance Christmas holds in our little kiddie minds (gifts, mistletoe, vacation and spiked eggnog).
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Jewish youth <
ajacobs14@yahoo.com>, Elkins Park , PA

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I fully understand that I am living in a country that consists mainly of Christians. And I fully accept the fact that they have a right to celebrate this season. In fact, I often willingly participate in their celebration, and have for years. Where I have a problem is when my government (city, county, state, schools, etc.) spends its energy and funds on religious observances, even if the celebrating agency tips its hat to me by including my religion. That's when I am made to feel I am some kind of guest in my own country.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Jerry, 65, white Jewish male, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
Christmas is my least favorite time of the year because it is when I am subject to the greatest amount of proselytizing. It is a nearly constant thing and there are many Christians who cannot take "no" for an answer. I am not evangelistic in my atheism, and I believe it would be unconscionably rude for me to berate a Christian (or any other religious person for that matter) for his or her faith. Yet it seems many Christians have no compunctions about berating me for my choice of no religious belief. That said, I realize that it is only a few Christians who have this attitude ... the rest are generally pleasant and reasonable people. I find that it is usually easiest to graciously accept a well-meant "Merry Christmas" and reply with "happy holidays" or something similar. My roommate is a Jehovah's Witness, and she has considerable more difficulty than I do. In her case, simply being gracious and polite is not enough, and this is a very difficult time of the year for her. When someone asks her what she is doing for Christmas or something of that nature, she usually replies along the lines of "I don't celebrate holidays, but thank you for asking. I hope you have a pleasant holiday." This often results in her having to explain her religion to everyone who says Merry Christmas, and then frequently having to listen to people explain to her that she is going to hell, that she is not a real Christian, etc. It seems to me that people with religions other than traditional Christianity have a more difficult time than we atheists, although there is pressure to conform on all of us.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Randy S., 32, white male atheist, Atlanta , GA

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
I grew up in Toronto, so I'm not speaking from a typically American standpoint, but a more general North American one. Growing up culturally (but not necessarily religiously) Jewish in a predominantly non-Jewish public school in the '80s, I always looked forward to Christmastime because it meant we'd have the annual school assembly where all the kids would pack into the gym and sing Christmas carols (and back then, we recited the Lord's Prayer every day after the National Anthem and were allowed to sing religious carols as opposed to just cutesy ones). In fact, my favorite Christmas carol to this day is "Away In A Manger" - I love the melody.

Feeling that Christmas was all around me when I was growing up didn't take anything away from my being Jewish. I still looked forward to lighting the Menorah at home, and learning about why we celebrated a different Biblical story at the same time as my non-Jewish friends. The same goes for Easter and Passover coinciding. I love tradition - I love Christmas songs, Christmas specials on TV, attending the Christmas Mass service at a friend's church, egg nog, tree decorating, family get-togethers ... it's what Christmas represents that I really enjoy. I find it sad, however, that Christmas has become so commercialized for some that they get stressed out because they haven't "crossed everybody off their shopping list" by a certain date. Each year, I love receiving Christmas/Happy Holiday cards from my friends and family around the world to let me know I'm being thought of during the holiday season. Anyway, that's my two cents. Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Mele Kalikimaka, happy holidays and Happy New Year to all.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Taneia, 25, mixed ethnicity/Jewish <
taneia@sprint.ca>, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
I have noticed that Christians everywhere tend to think everyone celebrates Christmas. Even some of my friends who know I'm a witch were surprised to find I didn't celebrate it. I don't think this is an American phenomenon, though, since I found the same type of thing in Australia, too. I've never had any problems regarding my beliefs. Some people are surprised, but I've had very few negative responses from people. Most of those were from hardcore, born-again types (no offense intended to the non-preachy born-agains), and those people are difficult to begin with. The Christmas season doesn't really bother me much. I find the commercialism a bit tacky, but most people do, and after all, yule was a pagan holiday to begin with, so I celebrate my own way while everybody else celebrates theirs.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Elric L., 29, Celtic/pagan <
elefay@hotmail.com>, Pasadena, MD

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
Although I have been a practicing witch for more than 15 years, I don't feel alienated during the Christmas holiday. I have warm memories of Christmas as a child with my family and continue to celebrate it each year with Christmas morning gift-giving and a traditional huge holiday meal with my family. Like most Wiccans, I am well aware that the timing (Winter Solstice or Yule) and many of the trappings (Christmas tree, mistletoe, wassail, yule log, etc.) are derived from pagan sources. My friends and I get a chuckle driving around pointing out houses decorated with pentagram (five-pointed star) lights on them this time of year. For seven years I DJ-aed a weekly alternative spirituality radio program and always included several multicultural programs to cover Yule/Hannukah/Christmas/Kwanzaa/Solstice, which included Jewish, pagan, Native American, feminist spirituality, lesbian/gay and ethnic Christmas sources. I still yearly share Winter Solstice ritual with my coven sisters. This is the first year I've had close friends celebrate Ramadan, so I've been learning more about this Muslim observance.

The times I have felt most alienated in the past were when I refused to attend Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at my parent's Methodist Church (where I was a member before converting to Wicca). At that time my mother was quite vocally rejecting of Wicca and badgering me to rejoin the church. This irritated me immensely, so I stayed home alone while the rest of my family attended church, even my nominally Jewish brother-in-law. She has since lightened up on the subject. After my father died and I nearly lost mom to a heart attack two years ago, I have become more accommodating about accompanying her to Candlelight Service. I no longer feel I am compromising my spiritual beliefs as much as I am helping my widowed mother feel a sense of family togetherness. Maybe this is what people mean when they say "Christmas is for everybody" - not that everyone celebrates the Christian observance, but that this time of year is often marked by an outpouring of compassion for others and a sense of love, hope, joy and peace on earth.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
WitchWomon, Dianic witch <
WitchWomon@aol.com>, Southfield, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 8:
Although Christmas is technically the celebration of Christ's birth, there are so many other evolved aspects of the holiday that anybody can engage in. I am an atheist, and my husband is an agnostic, but we still take part in some aspects of Christmas. We view this as a good as time as any to catch up with friends and relatives. Also, we exchange gifts, and Santa Claus visits our children every year. The religious aspect is never mentioned. I have a friend who is a Unitarian who is married to a Buddhist. My friend tells me that her family celebrates the same way we do. I have considered it is presumptuous of some people to assume that everybody is a Christian by telling us all "Merry Christmas." I don't get too bent out of shape over it, though, because I believe these people are just trying to extend good will.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Michell, 31, white female, Panama City, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 9:
Where I live, Christmas is for everybody, whether you like it or not. Christmas carols, decorations and cards everywhere! And if you "aren't in the Christmas spirit" you're a scrooge. I'm an atheist, but my family is Jewish, so I've never celebrated Christmas. I feel like the whole world is in a club that I'm not a member of. I can get into Santa and Christmas trees but I can't swallow the rest of it. It is in the spirit of Christmas that many "Christians" tell me I will burn in Hell.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Amy, 29, atheist

FURTHER NOTICE 10:
I don't often feel like an outsider in my own society, but as a non-believing Jew, this is a surreal time of year for me. America seems to think Santa and Jesus and reindeer and elves are for everybody, but in truth there are many of us who just don't give a damn and aren't part of the Big Happy Christian Family. I don't feel pressure to assimilate - I'm not an assimilating kind of guy - but I do feel eager at times for Christmas to just get finished already. Thanks for the question.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Andrew, 35, Jewish background <
ziptron@start.com.au>, Huntington , NY

FURTHER NOTICE 11:
Although I am an atheist, I can understand why Christians believe it is a holiday for , mostly because it is a time when families come together. We all enjoy that - those are human feelings that have been around long before people started making up religious beliefs. Actually, I am more offended by local governments and merchants who put up "Jesus paraphernalia" around the holidays, completely ignoring Jewish people and us atheists.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Greg, 36, atheist <
greg@hotmail.com>
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THE QUESTION:
D31: I'm a severe arthritic and use a three-wheel scooter to get around. Why is it that I'm invisible to some people? They cut across my path like they are playing chicken, or casually stroll in front of me and then seem amazed I'm there, stopping with a jolt. I encounter this all the time, and it makes me furious. One mother whose child ran into me yelled that I didn't belong in the mall. And why, when I'm in line next to some people, do they look at me like I'm from outer space?
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Shirl, 51, married, white female, Londonderry, NH

ANSWER 1:
I have noticed there seems to be among some people an incredible hostility toward people with disabilities. I cannot explain it, except to say it seems to come from the same place as sexism, homophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry. I have a chemical sensitivity; I have needed to ask at jobs that the people with whom I am working refrain from wearing scented products. My current employer is cooperative, but I was out of work two years while being fired or having offers withdrawn when employers found out I needed accommodation (yes, this is illegal). I remember an exchange in Dear Abby when a reader complained about sitting near a disabled woman in a restaurant; the woman's husband needed to feed her and the writer was upset. Abby's response was that she would rather look at the disabled woman than the writer of the letter, adding "people like you make me sick." I realize I am not really answering your question. All I can say is your experience is no more unique than the constant brushes with racism experienced by an African American or the constant sex discrimination experienced by a woman.
POSTED DEC. 24, 1998
Carol, disabled female, Castro Valley, CA

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THE QUESTION:
A21: Why are many old people, in my opinion, so mean and grumpy?
POSTED JULY 18, 1998
Brian W. <
CoyoteBw@aol.com>, Lincroft, NJ

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
We had all the fun; they had a tough life. Old people are grumpy because they grew up broke during the Depression, lost friends and brothers in WWII, lived with the very real fear of nuclear war in the '50s, and then worked their butts off anyway to raise kids who turned into dope-smoking protesting hippies in the '60s. Now they face the inevitable fact that they're going to die real soon, having had much more to worry about and much less fun than their Boomer kids and Gen-X grandkids. The old folks had it tough, and they feel unappreciated. They did all the work, and we got all the rewards. I believe they're p----d. Especially about the Sexual Revolution thing.
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Eric S., 50, white male , Canadian American <
simandl@sprintmail.com>, Las Vegas, NV
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THE QUESTION:
SO110: I'm a 14-year-old gay teenager and would like any of the older gay men out there to please give me some advice about coming out, etc.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
Gay, 14, <
ham111@hotmail.com>, Ontario, Canada

ANSWER 1:
It is incredibly tough to give advice on this, especially at your age. First, you must be sure that you yourself have accepted (as much as is possible) your own sexual orientation. At your age, this may be quite difficult to do. After that, start with your immediate family (mom and dad). Try to choose a time when everyone is relaxed and there is adequate time for you to spend discussing the issue. Try to gauge your parents' feelings regarding homosexuality by asking questions here and there without actually coming out or seeming obvious in your questioning. You should be able to tell how receptive your parents will be. Just realize that his will most definitely be a defining moment in your life. Your parents are not going to be happy or necessarily accepting at first. Once they have time to think about it and realize you are the same person you've always been, they'll gradually be more accepting. Coming out is a very long process. Be patient - best wishes.
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Brian, 26, gay white male

FURTHER NOTICE:
A lot depends on how your parents will take the news. What do they think of homosexuality ? For instance, if they see a gay story on TV, what comment would they make? Are they likely to react in an aggressive way? You may want to access local gay organizations that may have youth support groups, if there are any in your area. It is really difficult to advise what to do in this situation without knowing the specifics of your relationships with your family, the area you live in, etc. One critical thing is to be yourself. I wouldn't give your parents a serving of gay rhetoric; it might create the impression that this isn't you speaking, that you've been influenced by someone. So make it clear that this is how you are feeling, that it is your individual decision.
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Ben S., 30, queer Caucasian male <
bscaro@hotmail.com>, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
First, be careful about how "out" you are, depending on where you live. Remember Matthew Shepard. Although polls show that most people take a "live and let live" attitude about homosexuality, there are still plenty of confused, ignorant, hate-filled people who are more than happy to beat you up for something you have no choice about. I'm not trying to scare you into the closet, I'm just warning you that you can be a martyr and wear your sexuality on your sleeve, or you can, to a certain extent, blend in with society. It's your choice, and if you're lucky enough to live in a big metropolitan area where there is a large gay community, so much the better, because someone else has done the work to make life easier for you. I'm sure this bit of advice will enrage a few, but those of us who aren't the type to protest and scream (I have nothing but respect for most of those brave enough to do it) far outnumber those who do. We're out, but quietly, and we do our part to earn the respect of straight society and help just as much to further the cause of putting down our repression by showing we're just like them in all ways but one.

Second, be gentle with your family and friends about coming out. Do it quietly and with compassion about their feelings. Don't do it for shock value. If you can get their support, life is going to be a lot easier. Don't expect them to embrace your sexuality immediately, and be prepared to lose some friends because of it. They may never bring themselves to the point where they completely understand homosexuality, but perhaps eventually you can at least make them understand that being gay is not a choice and that you embrace it and enjoy it.

Some help in coming out can be found in books at most larger bookstores and libraries in the human sexuality section, and online. Read them and then share them with the people who matter to you. Remember that if you can't find support from your family, you'll be making family for the rest of your life through gay friends. Some of mine are closer than family.

One more thing and I'll shut up: Practice safe sex. Read everything you can get your hands on about HIV/AIDS. There are hundreds of thousands of people in this part of the world, and plenty in your city, who are HIV-positive, and they can and will pass the virus to you if the proper precautions aren't taken. The new advances in medicine are great, but they aren't a cure. The medications being used by positive men and women to control the disease have terrible side effects that you don't want to live with. Until a real cure/vaccine is found, assume every man you ever have sex with is HIV-positive.

Good luck. You're in for a fun ride. Enjoy it!
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Michael, 39, gay white male, Winston-Salem, NC

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
You say you are from Ontario, but you don't say if you are from a city or small town. If you are in a city, you should be able to connect with a lesbian or gay youth group. If you are in a rural area, this may be more difficult, but in Ontario there is a province-wide youth hotline called the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youthline. I think it has a website with a telephone number. My advice is that you contact one of these groups and talk to someone, especially someone close to your own age. Having been a volunteer with a number of gay youth groups over the past few years, I think it best that you talk to another young gay person. Good luck.
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Doug K. <
dkerr@uwgt.org>, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
First, coming out has to be viewed in perspective. My coming out at 35 meant I lost a couple of friends, a relative or two, but not much more. I'm established in my work career in a very open company, so no danger there. At 14, however, the stakes are far higher. There are kids on the streets here in Dallas who came out at 15, 16 and 17 and were summarily thrown out of their homes; no continued financial support, no continued education, no continued security. They earn money at menial jobs and depend on older guys to buy them dinners, sometimes with "strings" attached. It's great to be out and feel free to associate with gay people in the gay neighborhood, but it's not such a great feeling if you're having to work the street to stay there. Analyze your own situation, i.e. where would you live, where would you get money for food, how would you finish high school if you came out and were then thrown out? In some cases, it's better to wait until you have some stability before you make the leap. Tap into resources available at www.oasismag.com, www.planetout.com, XY Magazine, local gay/lesbian resource providers or the Metropolitan Community Church for additional information or help. Good luck, and please make safe and careful choices.
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Mark, 38, gay white male <
bentley@cyberramp.net>, Dallas, TX
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THE QUESTION:
R553: As a person very proud of my Southern heritage, I advocate displaying the Confederate Flag and things associated with it, but I am strongly against racism or prejudice. Is there a way I can show my Southern pride without offending people who associate the Confederate Flag with racism (since Hollywood and uneducated people have made the two synonomous)?
POSTED DEC. 4, 1998
Stacey M., 21, white female <
smcabee@coj.net>, Middleburg, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
Kudos, sister, for bringing out an important point. It is very difficult to explain to people from outside the South that love for our heritage and culture and love for our country (the old CSA) is not synonymous with hatred and oppression of our black neighbors. Unfortunately, the problem you will encounter with displaying the Confederate Battle Flag in public is the preconceptions that are so firmly entrenched in the minds of the flag's enemies. My suggestion is to consider the original Bonnie Blue Flag or First National Confederate flag as symbols of your Southern pride. Many people don't recognize them, and they are not as inflammatory as the battle flag. Most importantly, just live your life in such a way that that your actions speak far louder than your symbols.
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Wallace, Confederate-American (love y'all!, serve y'all!) <
tdbuk@hotmail.com>, Suwanee, GA
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THE QUESTION:
GD54: To people who are undergoing or have undergone fertility treatments: How do you justify spending thousands of dollars in an attempt to have a baby when there are millions of children in the United States and around the world who need families? Are other people's children viewed as "used goods"?
POSTED DEC. 4, 1998
Heidi J., 31, childless <
heidij@ix.netcom.com>, Simi Valley, CA

ANSWER 1:
There are several reasons people may choose to employ artificial insemination or other fertility treatments to give birth to children rather than to adopt children. For some, the process of pregnancy, birthing, nursing, etc. is seen as a wondrous miracle, nurturing and rewarding, fulfilling a primordial creative urge, a natural affirmation of one aspect of womanhood. For others it is a type of immortality - a continuation of a family bloodline or gene pool. As part of the animal kingdom, humans may even exhibit some of the lingering animal need for dominant males to ensure their own progeny (as displayed by male lions killing the pride cubs of a prior dominant male). Much of the concept of legitimacy and illegitimacy is based on a traditional desire of men to ensure inheritance (including sovereignty) to their "natural" children. Men could have many wives and concubines, but women were expected to be monogamous to assure indisputable paternity.

Having children of their own may also represent a visible bond between two people who love each other - a part of a dearly loved person that will live on after the loved one is gone. To see their grandparents' eyes in their grandchild's face is to reaffirm their place in the continuation of life. For lesbians, single women or others who have either been legally prevented from adopting or otherwise encountered prejudicial obstacles to adoption, artificial insemination may be both a less expensive and more expedient alternative to adoption. While there may be some potential parents who look down on adoptable children as "bastards," "junkie's kids," "problem children," or "used goods," I suspect many simply want to experience the miracle of birth. Others may be frightened by highly publicized cases of birth parents suing to re-establish parental rights to children supposedly given up for adoption.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
DykeOnByke, 48, lesbian mother and soon-to-be grandmother <
DykeOnByke@aol.com>,Southfield , MI
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THE QUESTION:
R557: I spent several years growing up in New York City. During that time, I was beaten up on eight different occaisions. Seven of those beatings were by groups of young black males. I have always been wary of young black males ever since. I don't trust them. I do not have this same instinctive fear when I encounter black women, elderly black people, etc. I have been told this is a racist position and that I should "get over it." OK, maybe it is racist. But I often hear African Americans saying they don't trust white people because they've had bad experiences with them, but I'd never get away with telling them to "get over it." Isn't this a double standard? I almost got killed and I'm just supposed to forget it?
POSTED DEC. 9, 1998
Dan, white male, New York, NY

ANSWER 1:
In response to the "getting over it" part, we (Afro Americans) do just that on a daily basis. You will never understand what it's like to be black and to be discriminated against on a daily basis, and I know you don't want to hear it (I'm sure you've seen the 20/20 and Dateline stories on the disparate treatments), but we adjust and keep on living. Despite all the attention given to the discriminatory practices toward all minorities, they still exist because this is the kind of society we live in.

Now, to specifically respond to your statement/question, I don't think you should have to forget your experiences; just don't transfer the hurt or bitterness onto other young black males like myself. Don't judge me based on your past experiences - you're being unfair to me,because I didn't do anything to you, and you're being unfair to yourself, because then you deprive yourself of maybe a very positive and productive encounter with others like myself. One last thing: You mentioned having an "instinctive fear" of young black males - that suggests to me that this fear is like second nature to you, or something you were born with. Not so. Prejudice is something you learn, so please unlearn this way of thinking, and judge me for me.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
Shawn, 29, black male <
smoore15@aol.com>, Baltimore , MD

FURTHER NOTICE:
I feel it is silly and really counterproductive to generalize from a small group of thugs to an entire group of people because you've had bad experiences with those few thugs. I notice you said black males were responsible for those beatings seven out of the eight times - why not generalize about the group that beat you that eighth time? Still, it is understandable to say that some fear on your part is warranted in certain situations because of direct experiences. Just know that all black males are not thuggish and out to beat you to near death.

There is a bigger issue, though. And that is how the "angry, black male'' stereotype affects us all. I, too, get fearful sometimes when approached by groups of black males. I often catch myself allowing my thoughts to run into that irrational world, but I usually rather quickly dismiss those thoughts as the nothings they are. If we all were allowed to be more honest without being labeled racist, etc., you would find out that not only whites, but blacks as well, sometimes feel those types of fear of black males. The black male stereotype generated through movies, television, newspapers and magazines has a lot to do with that irrational fear, but too many black males themselves (I'm included in this group) perpetuate that stereotype by trying to prove their manhood through physical acts. For some reason or another, too many people think a group of white thugs is just a group of white thugs, while a group of black thugs is indicative of all black males. Stereotype any group and you are bound to be incorrect.

In response to the first answer, I don't have to "get over it'' everyday because on most days I'm not faced with racism, direct or otherwise. I'm pretty certain that some blacks are faced with that everyday, but not all of us. And I also believe if we stopped saying that people can't possibly understand what we go through, then they might actually try to understand what we go through. We as blacks don't own discrimination or feeling put-down, as we sometimes seem to think, and as soon as more of us admit that, then maybe we would have a much better chance at true racial dialogue. And yes, whites have to realize that if millions of black people are yelling and screaming, saying something is wrong, then it would serve them well to at least honestly investigate the notion that something actually could be wrong.
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Issac B., 25, black male <
ibailey@thesunnews.com>, Myrtle Beach , SC

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
This question raises the greatest diversity question of all: How does an individual reconcile behavior that is rational and justifiable from a personal standpoint, yet harmful to others and society at the same time? The ability to discern patterns from limited data is a sign of intelligence and a survival skill. Yet it is also a form of stereotyping. Of course it is rational for a man who has been mugged seven times by groups of young black men to avoid or fear groups of young black men. Simultaneously, it is unfair to the large majority of young black men who would never commit violent acts. The difficulty is that in order for the questioner to perceive the individuals as individuals, he first must get close enough to expose himself to potential assault. Another example is a storeowner who may experience frequent shoplifting by groups of teenagers. Does she tail teenagers throughout the store to protect her livelihood, which would be unfair to the many law-abiding teenagers, or ignore the pattern and lose thousands of dollars? To respect the dignity of the many means exposing oneself to the harm caused by the few. I can image thousands of years ago, men would have had to identify a stranger at a distance as a member of one specific clan or another, complete with stereotyped assumptions as to risk of violence and with big consequences for being wrong. Obviously, caution would rule over giving everybody the benefit of the doubt. How do we get beyond this in a multi-cultural society?
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
B. Hale, white male <
halehart@aol.com>, Hartford, CT
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THE QUESTION:
G61: Why do people think that people in the Midwest of the United States are all boring, un-cultured idiots?
POSTED DEC. 18, 1998
B., 28, white male, Minneapolis, MN

ANSWER 1:
I grew up in New Jersey and have lived in the Midwest the past seven years. In my experience, Midwesterners aren't particularly boring or uncultured. However, I find many white people here in Minneapolis terribly naive and awkward when it comes to people who are not white. I'll never forget meeting a young suburban man who, upon hearing I was headed to a Hanukkah party, proclaimed: "Oh! I know someone else who's Jewish, too!" I'll never forget an acquaintance who casually infomed me that he moved to Maple Grove because it has the lowest minority population of all the suburbs. I like Minneapolis, but I miss the diversity of the East Coast, and I'm sick of suburban hicks who think that anyone different from them is exotic.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
Rhiannon, 28, white Jewish pseudo-Midwestern female <
rock0048@tc.umn.edu>, Minneapolis, MN (for now)

FURTHER NOTICE:
I am from the Midwest and now live in Buffalo. Look at how the Midwest is portrayed in the media, TV shows, movies, and in general. That is where people get their ideas if they have never been there. Also, while traveling through these parts to go down South, my husband and I have encountered many people who are not open to a cultural mix. Not all people believe this, but people without any experience from the real world are not open to change. Let's face it, we are all creatures of habit, and not many of us adjust to change and new ideas very well.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
Babs <
Babs127@aol.com>, Buffalo, NY

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I am from Minnesota, and while serving in the Marine Corps I was stationed in Virginia and really loved that state, but the people thought that we closed down the state during the winter months. They truly wondered how we got from point A to point B without dying from the bitter cold. And many of them thought Minnesota was either over there by Montana or east of Michigan. Don't get me wrong, I really thought the people and culture of Virginia were wonderful and kind. It is just that those I met didn't travel much farther than the western border of their own state.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
34, male, <
gjmurd@willmar.com>, MN

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I don't think they all are, but I think there's less divergence from the norm there, and less tolerance for being outside the norm. This may sound terribly elitist, but here are some things I've had a lot of trouble finding every time I've ventured into our nation's middle: Excellent ethnic restaurants. Unusual book stores. Theaters specializing in foreign and/or independent films. Neighborhoods full of art galleries (not just one or two). Decent coffee. Good radio. I'm sure all these things exist in some parts of the Midwest, but when I've lived on the east and west coasts and in New Orleans, I had all of those things at my fingertips.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
Andrew, 35, tri-coastal (East, West and Gulf) <
ziptron@start.com.au>, Huntington, NY
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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

FURTHER NOTICE 10:
I'm not from the United States, but I collaborated with a nursing home for many years there. I have an answer: The average white American is encouraged to leave his or her household as soon as they finish high school (age 19). If they don't leave, they practically get kicked out by their parents for being "freeloaders" and "bums." In return, when their parents get old, the sons won't take care of them, either, because they have other duties to attend to, like their own families. (andAlzheimers cases in nursing homes are far from being the majority). To me, it's a cultural thing: Latin and Asian families have certain values. The parents take care of sons until or if they marry (whatever the age), and sons in return take care of their parents if they later need it. No nursing homes.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
N. Agelvis, 29, white Hispanic male <
nelsoneas@hotmail.com>, Caracas, Venezuela

FURTHER NOTICE 11:
As a nursing home administrator, and having had a grandparent in a nursing home as well as an aged parent in my home, I can speak from some bias on the subject. I think the difference is greater than American vs. non-American, but is strongly divided on racial lines. Previous respondents noted that 1) Small family size, 2) desire for the aged to remain independent and 3) presence of available non-working caregivers are important factors. In our business, we see that African Americans who are admitted nearly always come from a large, extended family. Nearly always they are admitted from living with a child, grandchild, godchild, niece or nephew. Nearly all the Caucasians admitted were living in apartments, private homes or condominiums before admission. In all cases, they come to the home because either the labor required to care for them, the cost of caring for them or the toll on the family life is too great. It's not a shame to put someone in a home; it's just a shame when you don't visit.
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Anonymous, South Florida

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THE QUESTION:
R212: I've noticed it seems more prevalent for a black male to date a white female than it is for a black female to date a white male. Is this because black males pursue white females more, or is there less of an interest between white males and black females dating?
POSTED APRIL 24, 1998
B.H., 30, male, Sterling Heights, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
As a black female, I think white women really don't have anything to offer a black man because white people didn't struggle the way we did. We as black women backed our black men up and took care of their children. Second, back in the day when a white woman and black man passed each other and the black man may have said "hello" to that white woman, she would run and tell white men that a black man assaulted her. A black man would have been killed over things a white woman had lied about; that is why I say white people should stick to their kind, and hopfully we will stick to our kind.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
Peaches, black female

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
Women are still seen as a commodity in this culture, and white women have a whole marketing program in the media designed to convince us that skinny, pale women with long flowing hair are the highest prize. Trophy wives. African-American women do not receive the same sell. Caution, though: Individuals make connections for many reasons, and although I know folks (both male and female) who have hooked up with white partners in order to try to escape their heritage, I know others whose white partners have become part of the African-American community. Personally, I would like to be judged for myself, not for my connection to a man, but I realize in this country that is naive. As a white woman, I benefit from that "marketing program." I cannot, therefore, discount the anger expressed by people like Peaches. All I can say is, who are your people? Is solidarity proven by skin color? Then what do we do with people like Mary Church Turrell, Charles Drew, even Louis Farrakhan? Leaders whose skin color might label them as white. I have to admit that I find myself getting angry and making assumptions when I see a brother with a white partner. And I'm white! But I try to let their speech and action have the final say. This is such a hard one. I would like to hear more from other African-American women to learn if there is a way for a white woman to be committed to an African-American man and still show respect for African-American women.
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Lori, white female, Fort Myers, FL

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THE QUESTION:
G11: Why do some people in the United States think that people in Canada still live in igloos and have snow year-round?
POSTED JUNE 24, 1998
Greg H., mid-30s, white male, Woodstock, Ontario, Canada

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
Because that's all that many of us have seen from TV and movies - just like Alaska conjures up images of dogsleds and Eskimos (or Inuits). Sadly enough, many people I know (I live in Tennessee) have gross misconceptions about life in Maine.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
Emily, white female, 24 <
Darrow25@aol.com>, Memphis , TN
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