Response to a comment: “Discussing Race”

June 22, 2008

I think this is meant for a joke. But there are real issues that cut a little deeper. I have been raised around many people with backgrounds different from my own. I have had things brought up by friends and lovers of different races and religions that would make any openminded person rethink their friendship and defend their background. Last night I was posed with a question by my arab boyfriend who has grown up in many countries and been exposed to many people. He says: ” This is the first time I have been around Black people on a regualr basis for such a long period of time, Is it common among Blacks to support other Blacks regardless of their ability just because they are Black.” This was his response to a family friend supporting a commentator he felt was inadequate and that the family friend on liked because he was Black..This amy sound trivial but in his question I felt a distance and seperation not only between us as races but almost as if he couldn’t see past soemthing as an individual preference and decieded to generalize an entire race. I won’t deny that things that deal with Black people pique my intrests but is that any different than any other group of people? It hurts and I never thought I would have to decode and teach a person that I love.

I actually think that generalizing is somewhat natural.  We all seek to understand the world and the things in it.  We’ve been doing it since we were children:  water is wet, the stoves are hot, glue is sticky.  Most of what we knew about the world was gained from first hand experience.

As we get older, we get more of our knowledge from books, tv, etc., and hopefully our personal experiences grow as well.  If those experiences are limited, and/or those experiences seem to bear out what we’ve heard and read, it can be a problem.  Two examples come to mind for me. 

I knew a Turkish kid in college who had come to the U.S. to learn English.  He was friendly and smart, but a couple of times I heard him say:  “American girls are this.” or “American girls think that.”  I had to tell him that he cannot generalize an entire country of girls based on the behavior of the handful with which he had regular interaction.  He hadn’t even met every girl in the school, never mind the country!

Another is of a girl I used to know, who had moved here from the Arab world.  She was living in lower income housing in a heavily hispanic immigrant neighborhood.  One day I met her at her house and we were walking to a nearby grocery store.  She spotted an empty beer bottle on the sidewalk, rolled her eyes, and said in disgust, “Spanish!” and then went on to complain about rowdy neighbors, loud music, and littering.  I tried to explain to her that what she was witnessing was a class issue and not an ethnic one, giving her my own experiences with middle and upper middle class hispanic classmates. 

Only you can decide how much “educating” you are up to.  You cannot expect someone who is not of your culture to understand it or always know when they may come off wrong.  You should absolutely expect basic respect, a willingness to learn, and the ability to self-check when it is pointed out that he is generalizing.

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One Response to “Response to a comment: “Discussing Race””

  1. Felicity Says:

    Good topic and sometimes it is easy to generalise and we have to remember people are individuals.

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