Social Question

poofandmook's avatar

How do some people make it day to day being as terribly politically incorrect as they are?

Asked by poofandmook (17272points) April 23rd, 2013

I’m not talking about “PC” hooey like not being able to say “Merry Christmas” for fear of offending someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas (don’t even get me started on THAT)...

I have a driver here at my job who was having a conversation with our boss and casually described someone as “Oriental”. Which reminded me about something that happened to an female acquaintance who happened to be Asian in high school over a decade ago, where a teacher said to her, “Aren’t you Oriental? Aren’t Oriental people supposed to be good at math?” to which she replied “Ma’am, “oriental” is a rug. I am Asian. Aren’t teachers supposed to be smart?”

How in the hell do people with that kind of ignorance about what is and is not appropriate (nevermind accurate) make it through every day? That teacher had her ass verbally handed to her that day, and I’m willing to bet it was a long time before she made that mistake again, if ever… and maybe she actually learned something that day.

But how can anyone live in this day and age and not know these seemingly obvious things? That Indians aren’t Arabs, and that Asian people aren’t Oriental, etc? I’m sure there are a ton of examples I’m missing but you get the gist.

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79 Answers

livelaughlove21's avatar

Haven’t you ever heard that ignorance is bliss? What is obvious to you may not be to someone else, and the reason for that isn’t always the same.

I’ve corrected quite a few people that described a person as “Oriental.” I don’t become annoyed until they try to argue with me that “Asian” and “Oriental” are synonymous, or that I’m wrong altogether.

I don’t make it a habit to be offended or angered by people using incorrect words unless they are using that word in a discriminatory way or if they know the word isn’t accurate or appropriate. I don’t judge the intelligence levels of others based on a word here or there.

I find “nigger” much more offensive than “Oriental,” because no one thinks that’s an appropriate word, whether they use it or not.

poofandmook's avatar

I wasn’t really offended. The driver using that word reminded me of the situation in high school, and how everyone who knew her it seemed went into an uproar, boycotted the teacher’s classes, etc. etc.

I just don’t understand how, when it seems like sneezing the wrong way somehow offends someone, that someone could still be unaware of how inappropriate some terminology can be.

livelaughlove21's avatar

They obviously haven’t been corrected yet. I’d feel free to do the honors.

Boycotted the teacher’s class because she used the word “Oriental?” Seems a little overboard.

tom_g's avatar

Cultural insulation? There are groups where this type of thing is completely acceptable. So, if everyone they know is talking like this, what corrective mechanisms are there?

There are certain working class communities in the Boston area that feel like a snapshot in time. You might here (or “heah”) things like, oriental, “That’s so qwayah (queer)”, “That’s so retahhded (retarded).”, etc. If everyone they socialize and work with talks like this, and they are embraced for their “given it to the man” anti-pc attitude, then they may never understand why it might not be appropriate.

poofandmook's avatar

@livelaughlove21: Yes, it was overboard. But of course, this was a bunch of hormonal, angry teenagers. Probably seemed perfectly normal to them at the time.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Ask a random sampling of Americans to locate, say, New York state or Ohio on a map of the United States. The results might astound you. If so many Americans are ignorant of their own geography, how can they know that the Orient includes much of the middle east, that Asians aren’t “Orientals,” that many African countries are Francophone, that people from Iran are Persian, not Arab, etc., etc.,?

ETpro's avatar

I see @livelaughlove21 beat me to it. It takes almost no brainpower to remain clueless. Easy as… Humm, what’s easy? I would point you to this.

keobooks's avatar

I remember being stunned hearing a woman use the word “mongloid” to desribe her granddaughter with Down Syndrome. This was her own granddaughter! You’d think she’d be a little more sensitive and up to date on her terms. I don’t think anyone’s used “mongloid” sine the 1940s or 50s.

(Sorry I am on a publi terminal and the letter SEE key is broken.)

josie's avatar

Maybe they just don’t give a shit about what anybody else thinks.

Some people do, some people don’t.

tom_g's avatar

@keobooks – “mongloid” was used quite often in the 70s and early 80s in this community.

tom_g's avatar

@josie – Are you saying that they lack empathy? I don’t think many people willingly use terms that they know will hurt people on a regular basis because they are psychopaths. I suspect it’s just ignorance. How many white guys walk around being badass psychopath guy, calling people “nigger”? They don’t do it (or most don’t) because they realize that to do so would be to intentionally hurt someone (and probably get themselves hurt in the process).

poofandmook's avatar

@tom_g: I’m more inclined to believe that it’s out of fear for themselves should the wrong person hear them say “nigger”. If they’re thinking the word, I kind of feel like they don’t much care if they’re hurting someone.

Pachy's avatar

Two reasons: First, because they belong to a huge club, and second, because too many people not in the club let them get away with it.

tom_g's avatar

@poofandmook: “If they’re thinking the word, I kind of feel like they don’t much care if they’re hurting someone.”

I guess that’s my point. We don’t think in terms of “nigger” or “queer” or “faggot”, etc because we’re more aware now.

Everyone here has a hard-on for busting on “pc”, whatever the hell that means. Most claims about “pc” persecution are mere fantasy. But if there is anything at all to gain about words falling out of favor, it is that is beneficial to be aware of the words we use. It helps us – the process can bring more awareness and compassion to a group.

josie's avatar

I am saying they don’t care as much as you or others do.

For the record, Oriental is derived from Latin pertaining to East. Just like French refer to the Levant when they mean the part of the world that is East. Both words have a literal base in the word “rise” as in where the sun rises-in the East.

Expanding, Occidental also comes from Latin meaning West.

It doesn’t have to be an insult.

Reminds me of when David Howard had to resign for saying “niggardly” which means “stingy”. He was talking about the budget in Washington DC.

poofandmook's avatar

@josie: It doesn’t have to be an insult, but really, neither does “nigger” or “faggot”. The difference is, regardless of where it came from, it has evolved into something negative. You can’t call someone a “faggot” and claim you were calling them a bundle of sticks or a cigarette and educate them on the roots of the word. It just doesn’t work that way.

tom_g's avatar

@josie: “I am saying they don’t care as much as you or others do.”

So, they have less empathy towards other human beings, but they’re not completely lacking it. I see. I guess I misunderstood this…

@josie: “Maybe they just don’t give a shit about what anybody else thinks.”

…as meaning they lacked empathy completely.

@josie: “For the record, Oriental is derived from Latin…”

For the record, who doesn’t know that? And negro was once the preferred term. The origin is black – I don’t know need to go on. I think we both know this stuff. You didn’t really mean to go there, so I’ll leave it at that.

@josie: “Reminds me of when David Howard had to resign for saying “niggardly” which means “stingy”. He was talking about the budget in Washington DC.”

I can’t see how this discussion would in any way remind you of this.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Words like “faggot,” “nigger”, “queer” are designed to be insults. I’ve never heard the word “Oriental” said as though it was an insult.

keobooks's avatar

@tom_g – The link you used in the thread replying to me linked to THIS page. I don’t think fluther was around in the 70s and 80s.

tom_g's avatar

@keobooks – It was a permalink self reference to my comment.

poofandmook's avatar

@Dutchess_III: I should correct myself. I don’t think “Oriental” is an insult, but has evolved into a word that does sometimes offend. Like “midget” didn’t used to be bad, and now it’s offensive.

tom_g's avatar

@Dutchess_III – Maybe “negro” and “colored” would be better examples.

josie's avatar

The question was How do some people make it day to day being as terribly politically incorrect as they are?

My answer is an explanation of how they do it.

How do some people make it day to day wound up so tight that they sound angry all the time?
Who knows?
Here’s a GA for your trouble.

tom_g's avatar

@josie: “My answer is an explanation of how they do it.”

Cool. Thanks.

@josie: “How do some people make it day to day wound up so tight that they sound angry all the time?”

I don’t know. Maybe they feel persecuted by an imaginary force of left-wing pc “weenies”.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Dutchess_III “Queer” doesn’t really belong in that list. That’s one of the meanings of the Q at the end of LGBTQ. The word once had a more negative connotation, but the gay community has taken it back. Shows like Queer as Folk and Queer Eye For The Straight Guy helped with that as well. Sure, you can use it in a negative way, but it’s not inherently discriminatory anymore.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@Dutchess_III “Words like “faggot”...are designed to be insults.”

“Faggot” is from the taxonomy family classification Fagacae, which includes oak and beech trees. The word became associated with homosexuals when they were burned at the stake.

Given the hateful, unconscionable history of that word, how can anyone use it? And, I’m including gay men who affectionately and/or jokingly call each other “fags.”

poofandmook's avatar

@livelaughlove21: I thought it was offensive if anybody else said it, but if they said it, it was fine. And I’ve actually never seen LGBTQ. Just LGBT. Learn something new every day.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t think people should get all wound up in a knot for using Oriental instead of Asian. I do think they should be told that Oriental can be offensive and the proper term is Asian. In sme communities they still use Oriental and don’t realize that is an old term that is out of favor when referring to people of East Asian descent. But, don’t even get me started on using Asian to only describe people from east Asia. Indians, Arabs, some Jews, some Russian, and others are from the continent of Asia. So even the PC people don’t always make sense. Being from the continent of Africa does not mean you are necessarily black, but we use African American in America synonomously with black. I have known many white blonds from Africa.

Now, the other part of your question is making assumptions about various groups, like how good they are at math. That is another separate topic in my opinion. Those sorts of prejusdices and assumption usually don’t work out well, especially when putting stereotypes onto an individual. I don’t know how people don’t realize that can be offensive. Usually I think it is because where they live they are not exposed enough to diversity, but that is me making an assumption.

Just because someone says something that shows their ignorance certainly does not mean they are hateful or prejudiced.

poofandmook's avatar

@JLeslie: Oddly, at the time, the only part people were really pissed about was that she was called “Oriental”.

CWOTUS's avatar

Sometimes it’s just too damn much work to keep track of which words and phrases are or are not au courant. For example, Indians aren’t even Indians these days, at least in North America. Sometimes they are Native Americans and sometimes they are First Nations and sometimes they are “the indigenous people of the continent”. I loved it when I once described a woman I know to someone who did not know her, and I mentioned that she was ethnic Indian. Right away my friend asked me, “Feather or dot?”

Most often, people don’t mean to give offense with the terms and words that they use to describe others. On a case-by-case basis, you may decide otherwise and act accordingly. Life’s too short for me to try to correct everyone else’s vocabulary, you whippersnappers, you.

ucme's avatar

I wonder if Margaret Thatcher is currently being “spit-roasted” by Satan’s minnions…that’s actually pretty P.C, in the strictest sense anyway.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@poofandmook Well, the Q can either mean queer or questioning (or both). Queer has become a whole new identity – sometimes even separate from gay or lesbian. I’m sure there are gay people that are still offended by the word queer, but I’d imagine only when there’s a discriminatory meaning behind it. I mean, some colleges have “Queer Studies” courses.

I haven’t seen Simone_De_Beauvoir around in awhile, but she describes herself as queer on her profile. She probably knows way more about it than I do.

It’s actually LGBTQI – I standing for “intersex.”

This makes me think the flip side of this question – people who think they’re being politically correct when they are not. Like those that think African American is the PC term for black. Which it’s not.

Dutchess_III's avatar

OK. Can someone explain WHY it would be considered an insult? I’m just not getting it. “The Orient” just means the East, which would include China, Japan, Arabia, Indonesia, India, etc. How is it an insult to make a vague reference to a geographical location any more than it would be an insult to refer to a person as European? How did it become an insult? In what ways was it used to convey an insult?

Also, I know that “colored” and “negro” weren’t originally used as an insult, but it turned into one. Even “nigger” was widely accepted usage and wasn’t always an insult.

JLeslie's avatar

@poofandmook You might interested in the_idler’s comment at the end of this Q. It seems it varies around the workd whether it is offensive or not. There have been other Q’s on the topic, but I failed to find the exact one I was looking for.

augustlan's avatar

It really bothers me that people “don’t care” enough or think it’s “too much trouble” to go a tiny bit out of their way in order to spare someone some unnecessary pain. I mean, what the fuck.

I certainly understand if you don’t know that a particular word is now considered offensive, but once you know, don’t be a dick. How hard is that???

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III Oriental in America seems to be at about the same level as colored from what I can tell.

tom_g's avatar

@livelaughlove21: “This makes me think the flip side of this question – people who think they’re being politically correct when they are not. Like those that think African American is the PC term for black. Which it’s not.”

That’s my point. The exercise of keeping up with the current term is itself worthwhile, in my opinion. Growing up, everyone in my family called anyone who spoke Spanish, “Spanish”. Now, they might not have meant any harm. But it matters to the people who they were calling “Spanish”. Note: At some point it changed to “Puerto Rican”, even if the people were from the Dominican Republic or Mexico.

It’s worth the effort. We will make mistakes. But I think the effort to adopt the current terminology a group prefers to be called is a valid exercise.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Ahmmm! Auggie said the F word IN FULL!!

Well, I guess I’m glad I read this question. Now I know it’s offensive. I didn’t know it before, although I don’t think I’ve ever used the term in reference to a person. I would use “Asian.” Is that OK?

Now, I need to get rid of this damn offensive rug that’s in my living room that I love so much!

augustlan's avatar

You guys might be interested in this related question I asked a while ago.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I just told my husband that we can’t use the word “Oriental” in referring to people, any more. He said, “We can’t?”
I said “No.”
He said, “What about the rug?”
“We have to get rid of it.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s PI.”

You know, when I hear the word ‘Oriental’ I just think of exotic things, and that includes societies. Shogun. The Last Samuri. It never had a negative connotation to me. Now I’m sad all day.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@Dutchess_III “Now I know it’s offensive. I didn’t know it before”

My husband, who’s intelligent, educated, and anything but a racist, recently referred to someone as “mulatto.” He honestly had no idea that the term is offensive; he thought it was just a benign, descriptive word (he was born and raised in a whiter-than-white section of Connecticut, nowhere near the south, so he really didn’t have much familiarity). He’d never even heard of the equally-unacceptable “quadroon” and “octoroon.”

Blackberry's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul Yeah, I met a middle aged woman in MS that didn’t know where Oregon was.

Sometimes I forget, being 27 and technologically saavy, that other people aren’t the same way. I get frustrated that my mother doesn’t understand certain things about phones or computers.

It is kind of similar with people in their own social bubble. I dated a white woman who said that if I wasn’t there, her family might have cracked a black joke or two, because they were used to doing that.

Now, if they went ahead and made the jokes anyway, without regard to social awareness, I would think they were slow in the head.

Maybe your co worker is just stupid. Lol.

josie's avatar


Call it a Persian rug. It isn’t quite one thing or the other. It will do until Iran gets a Nuke.

Dutchess_III's avatar

:) Kk! But wait…it isn’t from Persia. It came from a flea market in Kansas (SCORE!)

deni's avatar

I don’t see what the big deal is with Oriental in the original description. I don’t refer to people as Oriental, I call them Asian if I don’t know anything more than the fact that they are Asian, but I guess I’m ignorant, because I don’t see why it would be an insult if someone did? Does the Orient not refer to the general east/Asian area?.......Would someone whose roots were there not be Oriental then? Did it become derogatory at some point? If so, that is not anyone’s fault but the people who use it in a derogatory manner. Same with nigger, I’ll never use that word but yes it has the potential to be offensive IF the person saying it intends it to be. If not, black people say it to one another all the time, don’t see the big deal or the difference.

ucme's avatar

I’m offended by the conceited pc brigade who preach garbage for a living, at least I would be if I bothered to give a fuck :-)

flutherother's avatar

It’s like us being called ‘Westerners’. It isn’t very offensive but it would be better if they took the trouble to find out what country we are from. India is quite different from Pakistan and they don’t like being lumped together as Asians.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yeah. I told my husband that if one of our Asian neighbors came in and saw the rug they’d think all we liked them for were the rugs they made.
My husband thought for a moment, then said, “And their egg rolls.”
:) Sometimes we trade food with them….they give us egg rolls, and we give them oat meal cookies, which they’d never had before we introduced them to them at one of their barbques.

Dutchess_III's avatar

(I have a Vietnamese neighbor. When I asked him what his name was he said, ‘Charlie.” I almost fell over! He’s my age! He remembers the Vietnam war!)

JLeslie's avatar

I love the Charlie bit. LOL.

It is still PC to call a rid an Oriental rug as far as I know.

@flutherother has it that it is best to use the country not the continent or region.

It all gets ridiculous after a while. I met my neighbor two weeks ago and it came about that my husband is Mexican. We told them which apt we moved into and another neighbor mentioned the guy who lived their was Israeli. The first neighbor said, “figures,” and proceeded to describe some of the annoying things he did. She happens to be first generation Lebonese-American. I don’t know if her stereotypes about israelis have to do with her own middle eastern background or Israelis she has met here in America. Anyway, my husband’s paternal side of the family is Israeli! If we had given our last name when we all introduced ourselves, she probably would have known not to make the comments she did. Even so, I don’t assume she is antisemitic or hates Israelis.

@tom_g Usually I hear people use Mexican to mean anyone from Latin America when I hear that sort of mistake. Our friends in TN were surprised to hear that I prefer my husband be referred to as Mexican rather than Hispanic. That was when I learned they use “Mexican” in a derogatory manner. So what the hell are Mexican’s supposed to do? It makes me laugh actually.

I had a couple friends in college who called my exboyfriend’s Mexican and I would correct them that his family is from Ecuador. Although he would say, “I’m American, I was born here.” and, then kind of smile.

poofandmook's avatar

@JLeslie: Do you ever watch The Office? One of the first couple of episodes in the American version was Diversity Day. Michael Scott asks Oscar what he is, to which he replies that he is Mexican. Michael Scott asks if there is a less derogatory term to use. It was funny in the show, but sad in actual society that Mexican is considered derogatory.

jordym84's avatar

After having read through the whole thread, I honestly can’t see what the big fuss is. As other jellies have already pointed out, in most cases, an ethnic term is only as offensive as the party using the term intends it to be. Now, I know that there are highly ignorant people who use their ignorance as an excuse to be offensive but, in my experience, they’re the minority.

Where I’m from, we use the term Oriental to collectively refer to people from the East and Occidental for those from the West. I’ve never heard either term being used in a negative manner and I’m just now learning that they can be misconstrued as such. We even use those two terms to refer to people from the respective coasts within our country.

It really bugs me when people are too politically correct; not only does it make them sound pretentious, but also highly ignorant. For instance, I’m originally from Africa though people who don’t know me always assume I’m of Hispanic origin because I “don’t look African” and “don’t have African hair” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). A few months back I was hanging out with one of my really good friends, her fiance and a friend of theirs whom I had just met and, for reference, all three of them are White. We were all having a pleasant conversation and, I can’t remember what exactly prompted my friend to say the following, but I think I made a joke or something and she said “You’re my favorite African.” Now, I never get offended with such comments, especially coming from my friends because we joke around all the time and they know me well enough to know that I just really don’t get offended with such things. But my friends’ friend, the guy I’d just met, suddenly got really upset and went off on my friend saying that, just because I’m tan/dark skinned does not mean that I’m African and it’s wrong of her to say such things. He just kept going and going and I just stared at him. When he was done I turned to him and said “But I am African.” He turned really red in the face and I’m sure felt really stupid about his rant. I just wish people would stop being so ethnically/racially sensitive.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I agree. ^^^^

CWOTUS's avatar

To follow up on what you said earlier, @augustlan, I almost never want to insult, demean or offend anyone (unless that is my specific intent, which is hard to miss), but in my lifetime the terms that refer to the negroid race in the USA have gone from the perfectly acceptable “negro” to the perfectly acceptable “colored” to the perfectly acceptable “black” to the perfectly acceptable “African American” ... and I don’t know what the term du jour is. I’ve seen in some places that it’s “Black” with a capital B. I’m not even complaining that it’s perfectly acceptable for some black folks to call others “nigger”, but it’s wholly unacceptable for me to do that, even in apparent good fellowship; I get that.

It’s bloody difficult sometimes knowing which term applies to which person at which time. I try to keep up; I really do, but I don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to adapt my language to peoples’ changing sensibilities, and I’m getting of an age where my language just isn’t going to change much, because pretty soon I’ll be “elderly” or “advanced in years” or whatever the hell I’m supposed to be instead of “old” and set in my ways. Part of the problem, aside from my advancing years and declining memory, is that there are more and more people individuating themselves in more and more ways and developing more and more sensibilities.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I don’t know… I often wonder how some people manage to live life at all, being as over politically correct as they are.

poofandmook's avatar

Oriental has always been a no-no, for as long as I can remember. I was told this by what would be known as Oriental people.

again, I’m not offended by the term. I’m not offended by most terms… since they don’t apply to me, and I’m not typically one to be offended by things that don’t apply to me—not my battle to fight. The only time I was bothered was when I was the only caucasian at my part-time job and they called me Snowbunny. I guess that’s the new “cracker”?

I’m not big on being “pc” myself… it just seems to me that I’m firmly in the minority—hence the question about how other people make it in this world every day being so not “pc”.

JLeslie's avatar

@poofandmook I have seen parts of a few episode. I absolutely loathe that show, it is difficult for me to watch it makes me so uncomfortable. But, what you describe is exactly what I am talking about. LOL.

My husband was asked by the woman who conducts the diversity class for his company ask him how he can be Mexican and Jewish. Now, I appreciate and defend her for asking, and not just staying in silence and ignorance, but my husband was annoyed that the company expert on the topic could be so ignorant.

One of those college friends I mentioned in my previous post who called my Ecuadorian boyfriend Mexican all the time, even though I corrected her, actually became a journalist. She is a very smart woman, and helped me realize how people don’t things if they just don’t know, it isn’t about smarts necessarily. One time early in her career she was telling me about some Brazilian men she met and how I would have fun speaking Spanish with them. I asked her if she is sure they speak Spanish, and she basically reiterated they were from Brazil. She had no idea Portuguese is the language of Brazil. I don’t expect everyone to know every language of every country, I certainly don’t. But, Brazil kind of surprises. A few years ago I was visiting and for some reason the continents of the world came up and I mentioned it is 7 in America, but taught as 6 in many other countries, some it is 5. She had no idea. By this time she had been an anchor on a local ABC affiliate station. Hell, her family is very into sports, and I was surprised she did not know the 5 rings for the Olympic symbol is for the 5 continents.

jordym84's avatar

@JLeslie I’m also always surprised when people think that Spanish is the official language of Brazil. They also always assume that I’m Brazilian when they learn that Portuguese is my native tongue. Oh, and the best one ever: someone, I can’t remember who now, was arguing with me that Portuguese is only spoken in Brazil and that Portugal speaks something else…go figure!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Play me a vodicille

I had a friend on Widm who spoke Spanish. I asked him to translate the song for me. He ‘splained it was in Portuguese, not Spanish. (Used to be able to google the word ‘vodicille,’ which is a word I made up for the title of the song, and part of our conversation on would come up. Gone now, tho. :(

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III Well, if you don’t speak either language it is understandable you might not know what it is. That’s different than not knowing Brazilians speak Portuguese, so you get a pass :).

Bellatrix's avatar

I’ve never called anyone Oriental, I too would say Asian, however, I do think the whole ‘you can’t call people that! can get totally out of hand. Even people who are considerate and caring can slip up because they haven’t had the email that says ‘that term is now offensive’.

I got an email at work a few months ago telling us how we must refer to our First Nations people. Words that were okay and we were told were okay, are not okay anymore. Not sure who made the decision but even Indige… sorry First Nations people I work with are going ‘what the?

If it’s an innocent mistake, can’t we just calmly say “you know that term’s considered offensive by Asian people don’t you?”

Plucky's avatar

Many do it because they don’t know the current acceptable term…meaning they don’t know any better. Also, there are many who do know the correct terms but do not correct those who use the incorrect ones.

My partner is East Indian, from Fiji. My immediate family had always used the term “packy” to describe all East Indians. When I’d try to correct them, in the past, they laugh and say “you know what I mean”. Now, since I’ve been with my partner, they have claimed to not know it was a bad term. Yet, at first, they’d never ever use that in front of her. So, yeah, they knew. My mother and sister have learnt since then, especially my sister. Even their partners have learnt to be more respectful/correct because of this. My brother…well he’s still an asshole.

It is not uncommon for my partner, and her family, to call East Indians “brown people”. It is also not used as an insulting term. I’ve adopted the term because I hear it so often. Sometimes I have to catch myself using it in front of others because it comes off as a racial slur…as I am white.

bkcunningham's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul, this is REALLY offensive to me and many other who pride themselves on being Southerners. WTF? How arrogant, ignorant and offensive. ...“no where near the south”...

“My husband, who’s intelligent, educated, and anything but a racist, recently referred to someone as ‘mulatto.’ He honestly had no idea that the term is offensive; he thought it was just a benign, descriptive word (he was born and raised in a whiter-than-white section of Connecticut, nowhere near the south, so he really didn’t have much familiarity)...”


jordym84's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul Mulatto is considered offensive in the US??? I honestly did not know that…back home, it’s a term of endearment and is used all the time.

JLeslie's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul I don’t think of mulatto as being as offensive as quadroon and octoroon, but it is out of favor, I guess we use biracial now. Quadroon and octoroon were used during the abolishinist movement I think. Now we don’t get so caught up in percentages.

@bkcunningham I think southerners 50+ years ago would be more likely to know what the terms mean. Even though the terms were used by northerners also back in the time of the abolishinist movement. Many more parts of the south dealt with issues of slavery and black people in general. There were parts of the north and west that were barely touched by it and so unless those people took an interest in what was happening in the south, or were very well read, they were oblivious to issues and even vocabulary referring to a mixed race person. Knowing the words does not make someone a racist if that is why you were offended. Someone living in New Mexico 50+ years ago would have been likely to have known what a taco is while someone in Massachusettes might have had no idea.

keobooks's avatar

Piers Anthony used the term “octaroon” in his book “And Eternity” which I hated for many reasons other than that. This was the book that made me stop reading him for good. Anyway, I was always surprised that “octaroon” was not only chosen by Anthony to refer to someone in his book, but that his editors let it pass.

I had never heard the term before reading this book, embarrassingly enough. I looked it up and saw that it hadn’t been in use for most of the 20th century. And when I realized he was using the term to make the character sound more physically appealing to the reader, I was grossed out even more.

JLeslie's avatar

@keobooks I wonder if in the UK it is still in use? Or, did your research cover the use of the word throughout the world?

We still classify people as ½, ¼, 1/8, etc. for some things. I think to qualify for free college tuition in America you need prove being at least 1/8 Native American, but I might be remembering the requirement incorrectly. Back when I was in school I was taught someone half black is black, unless they are half Polynesian then they are Polynesian. Polynesian was at the top of the chain so to speak. I doubt they teach anything like that now. I remember learning what Mulatto meant when I was in school, I don’t know what class it was? It might have been regarding the history of Latin America. I hear Latin Americans use the word now and then. Possibly it is a perfectly acceptable word in Spanish Speaking countries. I think the word is from Spanish, in fact I think all of them, quadroon, and octoroon are from Spanish roots? You can check me on it if you feel inclined. I have never heard anyone present day use quadroon or octoroon in my presence and am shocked like you a book written in the 21st century would utilize it. I have seen them in literature and movies that are period pieces.

keobooks's avatar

I researched most of it for the US. I did find a neat documentary a few years past based on light skinned hispanics coming to the US in the 19th – early 20th century. There was an interesting “problem” for the lightest skinned hispanics who wanted to pass for white—but their grandparents were darker skinned and they wanted to take care of them in their old age. There was this song called “Your Grandma, Where She Be?” – The song was about people pretending to hire their grandmothers as live-in maids so they could have them in the family but nobody would know they were relatives. One way to keep up the illusion was that grandma always had to stay in the kitchen and couldn’t interact with the family unless company was gone.

JLeslie's avatar

@keobooks Interesting. A close friend of mine is the darkest in her family. She grew up in Jacksonville, FL. She is the great granddaughter of a white slave owner. One of her uncle’s lived and worked as a white doctor he was so fair and was not questioned in the white community. When her mom was very ill and hospitalized she went to go visit, she was living in south FL at the time. When she arrived one of her brother’s overheard the nurses out in the hall saying how nice it was that her (the patient’s) girl came to visit. Remember her mom and brother’s are much lighter than her. This was about 15–18 years ago by the way, I am not exactly sure how many years, but I met her 20 years ago, so I know it is less than that.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I was at a family reunion in Texas once where several generations of my family grew up. There was a picture of some long-gone ancestor on display. Don’t know who it was. I commented, “She looks black.” A deathly silence fell over the room. Now, who was being politically incorrect? Me or them? Same reuninon, BTW, where they had a special line on the family tree to note if someone (such as my oldest daughter) was adopted. It was a sucky family reunion that year.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@bkcunningham “REALLY offensive to me and many other who pride themselves on being Southerners”

Whoa! Please let me back up and clarify. No offense was intended, and I wasn’t casting dispersions on either the south or its people.

Growing up, Paul and I never heard the terms “mulatto,” “octoroon,” or “quadroon.” Neither of us was raised in a culturally-diverse region, or near a strong African American community, and those words simply didn’t exist. (I’d never heard the n-word until I was 18-years-old, which is rather nice.) If I were to go to my hometown and mention an “octoroon,” I’d get an uncomprehending, blank stare and a “Huh?”.

I had no exposure to the word “mulatto” until I’d moved to northern Virginia, which has great diversity and a blend of northeastern and southern cultures. The first time I used the word, a friend immediately told me that it’s passe and offensive. That was also the last time I said it.

Some years ago, Paul—another transplant with a background similar to my own—referred to someone as a “mulatto.” I cringed and said that the term hasn’t been acceptable for a long time. Paul was stunned; he’d learned the word somewhere, truly had no idea that it’s outdated and hurtful, and had meant no harm.

So, please know that I was never suggesting that I come from a “better” part of the country, or that southerners are racist, ignorant, etc. I was just saying that different regions have their own lingo, and Paul and I were very unfamiliar with certain terminology and felt silly after having used it.

Peace, brother (sister).

Dutchess_III's avatar

I knew what you were saying @SadieMartinPaul!

bkcunningham's avatar

I knew what she meant too, @Dutchess_III. I was trying to make a point about how people can say something offensive without any malice or ill intent. We are only humans and are all evolving and learning. At least I hope we are. My dad is 93 and is the kindest, gentlest soul you’d ever meet. He worked and fought to bring about much social change and justice in this world we now enjoy. If you talked to him, I’m sure you’d hear a phrase or two that isn’t used much anymore and is considered offensive. He’d probably say Negro and say it with much pride thinking he was saying something very respectful and modern. Something that set him apart as being part of a change.

You know what I mean. And Peace to you, @SadieMartinPaul. I’ve seen enough of your words to know you weren’t really trying to make it sound like southerns are any more or less racist than other people. I’ve never heard anyone use the words octoroon or quadroon.

You’ll never go through life without making mistakes or offending someone. It doesn’t matter how carefully you select your words. It is going to happen. To me, the key isn’t trying to tiptoe through every conversation and it isn’t trying not to offend everyone; it is trying to be kind when you know you have offended someone or when someone offends you with words. Look into their heart and into your heart and search for the true meaning there.

jordym84's avatar

@bkcunningham I love this “You’ll never go through life without making mistakes or offending someone. It doesn’t matter how carefully you select your words. It is going to happen. To me, the key isn’t trying to tiptoe through every conversation and it isn’t trying not to offend everyone; it is trying to be kind when you know you have offended someone or when someone offends you with words. Look into their heart and into your heart and search for the true meaning there.”

mattbrowne's avatar

Driving political correctness to the extreme, should be seen as politically incorrect.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@bkcunningham Rick’s dad is 90. He uses phrases that are outdated, without meaning an malice too, especially regarding blacks. He was watching American Idol with us once. Jordan Sparks was singing. He said “She’s really good but her color is against her.” I almost fell on the floor!

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