General Question

Yellowdog's avatar

Is it perceived as 'racist' to ask a question or tell of a specific incident or cultural trait when understanding the race gives clearer understanding ?

Asked by Yellowdog (12183points) May 31st, 2019

If I were to ask a legitimate question, “Why are so many black people on disability?’ —some might counter that the statement is racist. Or note that there are a lot of white people also on disability.

But someone I know who is an advocate for the disabled, and is disabled herself, explained that African Americans rarely can get good neonatal care. Mentioning race, in this instance, explains the problem African Americans face getting good health care or education or other societal issues.

In another incident, I might tell a funny story of when I was buying sunflower seeds for the birds. The black man who helped me find it at Walmart said, “You mean you WANT more birds in yo yard?” That might sound racist. But the truth is, black people can say things with more (what in Yiddish would be called) “hutzvah”—
stronger and funnier than a white boy sales clerk would say it.

Blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, Italians, many others, all have ways of saying things. That’s why you probably made a choice to watch Fonzie on Happy Days or JJ on Good Times. or Archie Bunker on All in the Family—in the ‘70s.

In a third case, writers used to write dialogue phonetically if it was pertinent to the speaker and his / her culture. If a man in the old south would say in that bold sing-song voice, “Steam Boat A’Commin…” It helps if we can visualize a black man rather than a Burl Ives or Tom Hanks.

In a fourth case—I may quote a minister at a certain First Congregational Church. It may mean something else to you, or you might understand the context better, if I state that the minister is a black lesbian, who is pastor of a well-educated, liberal, mostly white congregation, because it helps you to understand the context and it is not from a typical white guy you visualize when yo think of a minister.

There’s more behind it if you understand who its coming from and what their experiences might be.

Do we assume most mentionings of race are racist, or do they help explain what is being told or asked better?

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13 Answers

ucme's avatar

No, blatantly not always.
It’s a particular trait of the professionally offended to get their wee panties in a bunch & knee jerk their way to oblivion…pity them for they know not what they do :D

zenvelo's avatar

It depends on context.

If you are relating something with respect, it isn’t racist. If you are making a generalization as being specific to a race or culture, without regard to it being common or frequent to other races or cultures, then it is racist.

And you might put something into context by describing a person, but if you then attempt to describe how they talk, that can be racist if it is demeaning.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Do you mean here on this site or in general conversation face to face?

Here, wording/phrasing is very important, as we saw another question posted the other day that many thought was very racist and unacceptable. I don’t believe the OP was intending it that way, so you have to be careful in your phrasing so it doesn’t come across as demeaning.

Yellowdog's avatar

That’s kind of why I posted this question.

janbb's avatar

What I consider racist in the common understanding of the term as negative is when one generalizes about a whole group of people from a small sampling or a fw personal experiences..

kritiper's avatar

There is no reason to ever mention someone’s race. One could speak of it in general terms without being race specific.

flutherother's avatar

Questions like “why are so many black people on disability” don’t generally lead to clearer understanding because they are not based on facts. Such questions often arise in the minds of those with racist inclinations and once they start looking for black people on disability they find many and believe their racism is confirmed. A more logical approach is to look without preconceptions at everyone on disability and see whether trends emerge and if they do you can try to figure out why.

JLeslie's avatar

Tricky question. I think you have to be very aware that people are on the look out for racism, which I think is justified, because we don’t want to be a racist society, and so when asking questions or making statements that involve race we need to take the time to explain and qualify.

My dad, who is a sociologist, was loathe to mention race at all when I was growing up. Truly I never heard anything about race in the house. We had stereotypes about cultures and groups and I learned about different customs and norms and he even cited statistics, but I don’t remember it ever being about race. It was national background or sociology-economics that were usually the parameters he used. I have friends and acquaintances who are black, who identify as black, who I never saw as black until they said something. Just yesterday I was talking to a friend about this (he’s white) and he said the same thing happened to him with a work colleague. On a side note, some black peoples find this offensive I think.

Back to my dad. My dad now, does mention race, maybe because I’m adult, or maybe because he changed how he looks at it. For instance, if he talked about high school drop out rates he would talk about it affecting the black community more, but he absolutely would not think of it as though that race is inferior when it comes to education, now that would be racist. He would want to know why that community is affected more, knowing that in the same circumstance any race or group would likely be affected the same way. So, that begs the question the OP is asking, is it necessary to name the race at all? I think maybe yes, if it is statistically justified, if that is a way to get the problem addressed. It’s a big maybe though from me. What if we say poor people are more likely to drop out of high school? Then are the poor offended?

I think we need to be aware of how our words impact others. The only way to have these complex conversations is when everyone trusts the parties who are discussing it. We tend to trust the intention of our own, so when Oprah said, “English is your friend,” maybe African Americans were willing to hear that, even though most likely some were pissed. If a white person said the same I think the backlash would be enormous.

There is talk again of reparations for African Americans, which in a way is saying circumstances in America have held that community back. They (and their supporters in this quest) are separating the community, saying there is a difference in circumstance for them compared to others. Of course at this point many African Americans are very successful and basically equal, but it’s an overall statement about circumstances in history and even today as the history affects the present. So, then we are saying it’s ok to group people in some cases.

@flutherother It sounds like the OP did have facts.

Yellowdog's avatar

The question may INDEED involve race.

I knew a woman on disability who was the 1973 Easter Seals poster child, with Spina Bifida and Chiari II Malformation. Through her activities, social life, hospitalization issues, government aid issues, Although it is not true that most black people are disabled, I got to know quite a bit about the needs of the disabled in several different living situations and medical situations. it is true that the overwhelming majority of people with birth defects or disabling conditions in my city are African American.

The DIsabled communities actually have quite a sense of community. They are like family. They know each other through medical, housing, and social situations, I got to know quite a bit about the disabled communities (I was involved in the office for students with disabilities in college as well)

it was very rare to see anyone other than an African American in any of these places, unless their condition was Spina Bifida, autism, or a few other conditions that are primarily among caucasians or evenly distributed.

So, why, then—do so many African Americans have birth defects and disabling conditions? It is a legitimate question and has its roots in the reality of lack of proper neonatal care and neonatal education in the African American community. Yes, you could answer this in a very general way about people of all societal classifications. But it is a problem particular to the African American community that does not need to be ignored or denied. There is nothing hateful or derogatory in the question or response.

It might be better if a study or probe came from the African American community themselves, addressing their needs. But I have found that most disenfranchised or less privileged communities of people appreciate when a need is recognized and addressed, particular to their community,.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@Yellowdog Start with disabilities study rather then start with color, then it would less loaded and leading question.

” What disabilities are among demographic groups? ”

When you start with an assumption and then try to prove is is color, it is acting a a bigot or racist.

Yellowdog's avatar

That sounds actually like a better way of doing things to avoid controversy or misunderstanding.

The assumption is not that it’s race but a problem within a particular community or demographic.

JLeslie's avatar

@Yellowdog If you use other parameters is it necessary to bring up race? If you use economic level isn’t it enough? Since black people in your city are more likely to be poor, using the socio-economic grouping captures them anyway.

Or, if you study your city vs other cities and the circumstances there.

Edit: what if there is more mental illness in your city, more religious, more high school drop out, more drug abuse, less literacy, less access to medical care, your city has a few of those. Who knows what affects birth defects in total compared to similar cities until it’s studied.

janbb's avatar

Certainly there are reasons for comparing outcomes by race when there is data to support the differences. I have been hearing African American doctors and sociologists recently addressing the questions of greater mortality and morbidity outcomes among African American pregnant women. One of the conclusions they’ve come to is that many doctors are dismissive of the women’s questions or complaints. The danger, as TW states, is jumping to any conclusions as to causation without scientific study of the data although this might also be biased.

But taking a small anecdotal example and making sweeping generalizations about any group is bigotry.

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