Social Question

silvermoon's avatar

Since when did asking for ones ethnicity become a question to be offended by?

Asked by silvermoon (753points) February 27th, 2011

Since when did asking for someones ethnicity become a question to be offended by? Today I have been called a racist today once by discussing ethnicity & a second time just for asking for someones ethnicity. I didn’t realize that people now find it offensive.

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23 Answers

IHateMusic's avatar

They are probably just hypersensitive.

Nobody asks me my ethnicity and if someone did, it would make my day to drone on and on about it lol

chocolatechip's avatar

This really irks me about today’s hyper-politically correct society. Make any mention of race and it’s automatically racist.

markferg's avatar

I suppose there is an implicit thought that you are using the information to make some kind of erroneous assumption about them. I’m not saying that this is the situation but I can see how people would make this connection. Perhaps you could tell us why you were asking about ethnicity? I’m finding it hard to think of an example where the information can be used to determine a conclusion that isn’t open to accusation of ethnic stereotyping. That’s typically how us white, northern europeans think, lol!

@IHateMusic – I don’t understand the direction of your reply, unless you are covering both bases deliberately! First you mention hypersensitivity, as if being asked about ethnicity is no big deal, but then you say you would drone on and on if personally asked, as if it actually is a big deal to you.

augustlan's avatar

We need more context to even consider why these particular people found your particular requests offensive. Can you tell us what was going on, who you were asking, and why you were asking?

perspicacious's avatar

If it offended someone, it’s not you who has a problem.

everephebe's avatar

Well, it depends on how you ask…

jca's avatar

People will sometimes ask me if I am Irish (which I am not at all) and then i will tell them what I am. I don’t find it offensive in the least.

I am with the others – I would like to know more details about your question. What circumstances led to them getting offended? Were you asking their ethnicity out of curiosity?

12Oaks's avatar

It may depend on how the question is asked. It actually more offends me that one somebody asks what your ethnicity, and I answer “100% American,” (which I am), they can’t accept that and want to know where I’m really from. Which is America. And then want to argue with you that, for some reason, “American” is the only unacceptable answer to that question. If they press, I then would say, my great great great grandpa was from Croatia. They’d accept me then being Croation, despite it not being formed a country until June 25, 1991, 22 years after my birth. Not too sure how that works…..

marinelife's avatar

It is like asking about someone’s looks. It is way too personal. Why is it any of your business?

By the way, I don’t think it has become offensive. I think it was always offensive.

zenvelo's avatar

It is rude to ask. It always has been. There was even a whole Seinfeld episode about Elaine trying to find out the ethnicity of the guy she was seeing.

Besides, what difference does it make?

The_Idler's avatar

I’ve only ever experienced this once, ever, and I generally talk about family history and ethnicity with everyone I meet within about about 15 mins of chatting to them. It is something I have lots of interest in.

Where I’m from, it is not generally considered rude to ask…

I don’t understand how you can say “what difference does it make?” ...
It doesn’t make any difference, any more than what course theyre studying, where theyve been on holiday, what music they enjoy, what books theyve read, what they did last Saturday, all make any “difference”, but if you never chatted about things that “don’t make any difference” I think you’d probably struggle to get to know people… =/

The irony of the situation in which someone got offended by me asking him about his family history, is that he was Indian, and being part Indian myself, I am interested in the history of British Indians, and like to hear about different parts of India, if they’ve visited, because I plan to visit myself, when I can.

Soubresaut's avatar

Asking someone’s ethnicity, no matter how well intended…

It’s like telling them you don’t think they belong where they are, but somewhere else. Because of that it’s touchy.
I know people that are throughly American, never been to their ‘ethnic’ country, hardly speak the language, and eat McDonalds regularly. But because their parents or grandparents are from that other country, they have to answer as if they’re from it, too.
Then there’s a girl I know from Bosnia. She spent half her life in Bosnia, but because she looks like the typical “white-American” everyone thinks she’s American, and she’s not.

It’s all being read skin-deep. People are more Fred, Mary, then they are a country, and they liked to be acknowledged as their selves rather than their ancestor’s country of origin.

Like @markferg said, it can feel like you’re then using it to judge them. I’ve had it happen to me. I was asked where I’m from. ‘America’ I said. ‘No, what other country?’—My great-great-grandparents immigrated to the US in the mid/late 1800s. But to that person, when I told them that, I was now “German”. They took a step back, looked at me, and went ‘huh,’ like it changed something about me. I really didn’t like it, and since then refuse to answer at all.

Now I’m not saying you judge like that—but: people who have been asked “what are you” in the past and get that response are going to be more defensive about the question; people who are native to the country they’re standing in might find it a bit insulting.

To those being asked, it’s not ‘when did it become offensive’, but ‘when did it matter’.

The_Idler's avatar

I know it is very, very different in the US, with its recent history of slavery & racial discrimination. So obviously I behave differently there.

6rant6's avatar

I haven’t been confronted with this question much, so I acknowledge that people may have reason to feel sensitive about it. I don’t. It just seems like one of those questions people can ask without being too personal or creative.

“What do you do for a living?” [__hate it__] “Have you always lived in California?” “Are you a Chargers fan?” Not much of a conversation to follow usually, but it shows interest.

For that matter, what kinds of questions can you ask that won’t offend anyone? Stop me if you’d heard this…

I used to interview people for jobs in IT, and I had an ice breaker question: “What’s your favorite kind of ice cream?” I asked for several reasons. First I sometimes got ice cream for the staff, so I really was curious. Second, it was a real softball question that kind of let the interviewee know that we weren’t deadly serious all the time. Finally, on rare occassions, someone would get defensive and unwilling to answer the question without more information – which was to me a scary foreshadowing of their work style.

Anyway, one day I interviewed a black man. I asked the same question of him and he answered after a moment’s thought, “Neapolitan”. And I realized from his delivery that my question had seemed to him about race (or at least that he wasn’t taking a chance). I never asked it again. Never did come up with another icebreaker.

The_Idler's avatar

@DancingMind Ok, well I just want to say that in the UK, me and 99% of the people I’ve met love talking about our origins.

I’d have asked you the same thing, and when you’d said you were a little German, I’d have asked if you’ve ever visited. If you’d said no, I’d have said aaaah, and told you all the things about Germany that I love, and why you should definitely go! We would be having a conversation about all things German, not “DancingMind the German”

So would you have been offended if I’d asked? Or were you offended because you met a shallow, judgemental person?

See, for me, I love travel, and I like to hear about and talk about different places and cultures, so it’s just something I’m interested in.

If I asked someone who looked South Asian where they were from, and they said “England”, and I asked where their family originated from, and they said “does it matter?” I would say “of course not” (thinking “not any more than anything else we’d be talking about for at least half an hour, let’s talk about something that matters then, like the weather or the pop charts…eh?”) and then I would be offended, by them implying I am racist, just because I asked about their family history.

To me, that is as rude as someone replying to my question, “What do you study”, with “Why do you care?”

Obviously, I know there are reasons behind it, but I think theyre unjustified, and anyone who immediately implies I am a racist, just because I asked where their family originated from, is most definitely the one at fault, with regards to being shallow and judgemental.

The_Idler's avatar

I was actually quite offended by it. More, in fact, than being told to “fuck off out of our country, paki”, because people who say that aren’t accusing me of doing anything that is actually wrong.

Soubresaut's avatar

@The_Idler: Okay, if they had been someone like you looking to make chitchat, it might’ve turned into a nice conversation. I see how there can be another motive to it now. (What a great faux-conversation we had up there! : ) I won’t think of people asking as a bit racist anymore. (...but I’ll still probably be hesitant to answer in case they’re not as like-minded…)


I don’t see it as racist. People ask me all the time what my “ethnicity” is, and I am never uncomfortable with it. Because I’m a visible minority and Asian, I get asked that a lot. People even ask me “Are you Chinese, Korean, Thai, or Japanese?” When I tell them I’m half Chinese and half Japanese, they sometimes remark, “Oh, you look more Japanese than Chinese,” or “Yeah, I can see the ‘Chinese’ there”. Lol.

I think some people are just overly sensitive about these things. It’s not like they’re asking “Are you a foreigner?”

silvermoon's avatar

Hi all, I see a lot of you have asked for clarification.

I was actually in worldwide chat rooms & was curious about what cultures/ethnicities I was talking to, I like to then ask questions about them if given the chance (I was not given it yesterday). I also ask so I can attempt to not be offensive. I’m definatly not the kind of person to jump at someone & tell them to go back to their country – I can’t stand people who treat others like that.

I think also people take offense to most things online, simply being unable to see the face of the other person & so then misinterpret the question. I believe I have the right to ask questions and so does the person that I’m talking to. I am a random friendly talker so it surprises me when people suddenly stop reading me as friendly & turn me into some kind of ogre.

We live in a world with so many cultures/ethnicities that I’m quite horrified that such a simple question can be taken in such a wrong way. I have so many cultures/ethnicities amongst my friends & am deeply hurt and offended by being called a Racist, until yesterday I had never been called one.

whitenoise's avatar

People ask me where I am from all of the time… out of curiosity.

maybe that is because I live in Saudi Arabia and I am as Dutch as it gets

markferg's avatar

A lot of people ask me which planet I’m from…

mattbrowne's avatar

Any question has this potential. Or not.

Where did you graduate? Oh, I dropped out.

Oh, I am so sorry. Did I offend you?

Well, then I founded Microsoft.

ninjaapantz's avatar

@mattbrowne is totally right. It becomes racist in the way you ask, your tone, your stance, how aggressive you sound. If you look relaxed & asked me, I’d answer every single question. But if I can feel you judging me in the slightest, the conversation will end abruptly. Online I’d look at the tone of the questioning, your grammar, spelling & the direction it’s leading to. I’d also ask for clarification on why you’re asking. And if you incessantly bagger me on the question making me feel uncomfortable. I’d think your a little scary crazy & hope to never come across you ever again.

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