Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ooops, Did I offend you?

I've been thinking a lot about racism recently.  Did you know that brown people think about racism more than white people do?  It's true, if you've ever lived or even visited another country and been the minority, you might have noticed how much more AWARE that you are of your race and culture when you are around people who are different from  you.
So what's the different between racism and plain old cultural insensitivity?  Although I've grown up in a pretty diverse area, and haven't experienced much racism that I know of, I've been a victim of lots of cultural insensitivity.  Maybe you haven't thought about the difference between the two.  Let me try to explain.  (Some of these are made up examples, some have actually happened to me.)  

A waitress seating a brown family in the back of a restaurant, away from the white patrons - racism

A waitress scrunching her nose, when an Indian customer asks for hot sauce to use with her spaghetti, french fries, toast, etc... (I love hot sauce) - cultural insensitivity 

A classmate asking me if I was educated by the Christian Children's Fund  - hmmmn, racist or just rude? There may be some overlap here.

Someone looking at Eli's lunch of chappati and potato curry and saying "What's that? Gross!" - racist? culturally insensitive?  There are lots of gray areas, aren't there? 

Someone saying, " I think he's too brown to be the head of this committee." - racist

A photographer asking an Asian woman to "open her eyes" more when she smiled for a picture - culturally insensitive?  

Wow, this is hard.  I guess racism and cultural insensitivity should be taken in context.  But one thing in common with both, and is true in most any context, is that these comments are rude and can hurt people's feelings.  So what should we do about it?  When you hear or see someone being racist or culturally insensitive, should you speak up?   

I know it's hard to tell from my wordy blogs, but I am an introvert. Most of the time I don't speak up.  Unless its a close friend saying/doing something inappropriate, I let it go.  But if we (meaning ME) continue to let it go,, how is it ever going to change?  How are people going to know that what they are saying is rude to different cultural groups?  How are they going to become more AWARE?  

Much of the racism and/or cultural insensitivity that I've experienced has not been done maliciously.  But not being AWARE of your actions/words doesn't make it ok.  I think I'm gonna start to speak up more, in a nice way, just to point out and start dialogues about they way we speak about our cultural differences.  What do you think?  

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