Social Question

Arisztid's avatar

To people of ethnic minorities (or any other minority) who "pass" as the majority, how does this affect your life?

Asked by Arisztid (7115points) December 17th, 2009

I am referring to any person of a minority populace, be it ethnic or any other (such as sexual orientation), who “passes” as a member of the majority populace to do such things as have an easier time getting jobs or housing… or just to avoid the looks and attitude directed at whatever minority group you are in.

A couple of examples would be a pale member of a normally dark skinned ethnicity passing as white or a gay person saying that they are straight when asked their orientation. If for some other reason, please let me know.

This could be “passing” full time or part time.

My specific question: how does this affect your self image, interpersonal relationships, relationships with your family, opinion of your ethnicity, etc?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

67 Answers

CMaz's avatar

“be it ethnic or any other ”

Would that not apply to everyone?

Arisztid's avatar

@ChazMaz My main thing is asking about minority populaces passing as majority, whichever minority they are. I just picked a couple of examples out of the hat.

christine215's avatar

As an Italian -American, I pass for Jewish pretty easily

CMaz's avatar

@christine215 – That sounds like a good thing.

Do you find plenty of people want to feed you?

_Jade_'s avatar

I can’t see as it would affect my life in the least. I’m not saying it’s right or even okay that they should feel the need to HAVE to do this in order to get the same treatment as the majority….but, sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do in order to survive.

janbb's avatar

As a Jewish-American, I pass for Italian pretty easily.

dpworkin's avatar

Jews are Italians, except the Italians have prettier synagogues.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Well, I’m bisexual and i certainly don’t try and pass as straight but I don’t go around advertising it either. If the question is put to me, I will answer honestly but I rarely volunteer the information. Naturally, people assume I’m straight. Sometimes I hear talk of how bisexuals “are just kidding themselves” or “can’t make up their minds” or “are really greedy” and it pisses me off. I don’t say anything to these people though because they already have this opinion and I don’t want to cause any more conflict.

I tend to avoid these people, however.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

To many people I pass as a woman though that’s not how I identify and straight though I’m queer – this is because all they see are what they want to see and assume – the norm which I’m not…you have no idea how often people say ‘you’re not straight? but you’re married!’...I rest my case…People also assume I’m American in that I don’t sound like I am from any other country though I am…they assume I’m monogamous…I could go on…

It all affects me but I am not suprised by it – I am surprised by some people’s continuous ignorance AFTER I have explained to them about my identities

tinyfaery's avatar

I pass for straight. But as soon as anyone knows me for even a little bit of time, they become aware that I am not. I refuse to hide who I am. I refuse to denigrate my relationship by denying it.

I am Latino (½), but I pass as white. I grew up with Latinos, in a barrio, so I associate more with the Mexican side of me. I only know my Mexican family. My mother’s family disowned her when she married a Mexican. I feel at home among Spanish speakers and those of a Latino background.

It’s funny because white people can tell I’m not white. I have olive skin and brown hair and eyes. However, Latinos usually think I am white. I have never really felt a part of either group.

I am biracial and bisexual. I live in between worlds. Maybe that’s why I give no credence to group identity.

Jude's avatar

I pass for straight, as well. When I’m out at a gay/lesbian bar, people assume that I’m the straight friend. My mannerisms? Quite feminine. With work (teaching), and meeting new people, no one as ever pegged me for being gay. I guess that I could say that being a teacher and not being perceived as being gay is probably best. I teach at a Catholic School and I’m sure that I’d get a bit of grief from the parents and my co-workers, if they thought that I was gay. Of course, I don’t think that it’s right (I hate that I have to hide my sexuality)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@jmah people get sexuality mixed up with gender all the time – there is no reason someone with feminine mannerisms isn’t gay

galileogirl's avatar

Did I step into a “way-back” machine and end up in 1950? Being who you are is cool in the 21st century.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@galileogirl sure if you’re straight and white and christian and married.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir: I think @jmah meant that most people assume that a feminine woman is straight and that all non-feminine women are gay, another nasty stereotype that has to go. :/

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@KatawaGrey oh I know – I am agreeing with you and with @jmah

wundayatta's avatar

I pass for healthy, mentally speaking. Today, I was in a therapy session, and my cell phone rings. I pull it out because generally the only time it rings during the day is if there’s some emergency with my kids. I see it’s my boss, and, stupidly, I answer. He starts talking about some decision we need to make, and I can see it will go on a long time. So I tell him, “can I call you back a little later? I’m in a…. doctor’s office.”

He says, “Is everything all right?”

It’s been an emotional session and I’m sure my voice sounds choked up, as if I’d been crying (which I had). I am not good at making up stories on the spot. The “doctor’s office” raises some red flags. But then, “Hey boss, I’m bipolar” sounds infinitely worse.

Technically (legally) he can’t ask about my health issues. He has a workplace to run, and I’m a very significant part of it. But he’s a nice guy and is concerned. Later on, I call him back, and after we discuss the issue, he asks again, twice, if I’m ok.

It’s a strain, trying to pass for mundane. I’m not “out” to my family or my employer. I have great admiration for people who do come out. It’s a risky thing. Who knows what you might suffer as a result. I’m pretty much a coward. You won’t find me on any front lines in the battle for “crazy” pride. It’s not my job to educate people in my real life about what it’s like to be mentally ill.

So guess what? I’m ashamed. Typical.

galileogirl's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Maybe it’s where I live but the people I know don’t need to depend on others prejudices to establish an identity. Ikea makes closets with glass doors.

tinyfaery's avatar

@Gail Bullshit. I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world. People have to pass here all the time.

Maybe in places where everyone looks, thinks, and fucks the same it’s okay to be yourself.

Arisztid's avatar

@tinyfaery Has passing as white affected you personally?

@tinyfaery @KatawaGrey How does having to hide your orientation affect you?

@jmah I can definitely relate.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir People’s ignorance never surprises me.

@daloon I have had friends with mental illnesses who had to lie about it in order to get a job. The main ones were the ones with Bipolar, BPD, and Schizophrenia.

@galileogirl Afraid not. I have known people who did it quite a bit in the past (say, earlier than 1990) and have known quite a few since then. It makes their lives a lot easier.

If I missed anyone, my apologies. I am trying to combine a reply into one so I do not fill the page up.

I could not pass as white but I could pass as a white/Native American mix (my Clan has that look, not all of my people), Hispanic, or the nebulous “Mediterranean” which many of my people do in America (Rromani Gypsy). However, at the times I have thought of doing that I can see, in my mind’s eye, my father’s disappointment (he is long deceased and my mother died birthing me).

The people I have asked who do this about it describe it affecting them from very little to a great deal.

tinyfaery's avatar

Honestly, I don’t think about it much. Like I said, I don’t try to pass, it’s not conscious. I just happen to fall into peoples assumptions about what gay and Latino looks like. I correct people all the time.

I could see being in a situation where I’d be safer passing as straight. If I tried to pass myself off by having to deny my relationship I’d feel awful, like I was betraying the person I love. I hope I am never put in such a situation.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Arisztid: I think people are mostly surprised when they find out I’m bisexual, mostly because so few bi people actually talk about their sexuality. Mostly it affects me because I feel as if I have to defend myself and others of my sexuality. I have numerous arguments prepared for when people start in on how bisexuality is not a legitimate sexuality. I have never been in a relationship with a woman or had a sexual experience with a woman I am female so a lot of people say I can’t possibly know if I am bi or not.

Obviously I don’t face the kind of social problems that gay people face as far as orientation goes, but it gets old real fast when I have to defend my sexual preferences.

galileogirl's avatar

@tinyfaery People HAVE to pass? Under what compulsion? Isn’t it because it is easier or more comfortable, that comes from within. I hope at some time in your life, you won’t be judging yourself

KatawaGrey's avatar

@galileogirl: Well, @tinyfaery doesn’t have to pass if she doesn’t want to. Of course, hispanics in this country get treated like second class citizens as well as perceived lesbians. So, technically she doesn’t have to but it would be more “comfortable” for her to be able to get a good job and not be labeled as “the latina lesbo.”

@tinyfaery: I certainly hope my above comments did not offend you.

tinyfaery's avatar

The compulsion to get work, to be safe, to eat and be accepted by others. We are social animals. For many (think transgendered) they must pass simply to live.

Pazza's avatar

Anyone who actively puts themselves into a box or a stereotype is only increasing the level of intolerance to said box or stereotype.

There are no men or women, or blacks, or whites, yellows or halfcasts. There are only human beings flesh and blood, with thoughts and feelings.

Only when we stop teaching our children seperatism, wether it be racism or sectarianism, will we be trully tolerant of one another.

prude's avatar

I don’t “pass”, but my kids do.
They get in less fights when they can successfully “pass”

Arisztid's avatar

@galileogirl As @KatawaGrey said, nobody has to pass. Some do to make their lives easier. It is a personal decision. It is done to make your life easier, not as personal judgment of yourself by yourself. It is a sad fact that passing makes many people’s lives easier.

@KatawaGrey Bisexual people get it, from my observation, equally to gay people. I am bisexual and just do not talk about it much.

@Pazza I happen to agree with you but many do not agree with us. It would be nice if this were to come to pass but, unfortunately, how we raise our children does not change society. Maybe, in time, things shall change (but I doubt it), however that does not change the facts of bigotry.

@prude How do you and your children feel about this? I know that I am sad that it would make my life easier to pass as something other than what I am.

@tinyfaery very true about transgendered people.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@galileogirl yeah more comfortable, not dead..stuff like that

SuperMouse's avatar

I have a different take on passing for something that I am not. I live in a nice house in one of the nicer suburbs of my city, I drive a decent car that I bought used with a bunch of miles and got a screaming deal on, I am fortunate to be able to take my kids to school and be home with them in the afternoons. Right now I am on food stamps, my kids get free lunch, and I am barely scraping by every single month. I don’t admit to that and I pass as another white suburban housewife with money to burn. In reality I am a single mother, a full-time student trying to finish my college degree and I have a part time job.

I do nothing to fuel people’s assumptions, I don’t have to, I live where I live that is all they need to make their decision about what type of person I am. I also can’t help but wonder what they would think if they knew the reality of my financial situation. Would they think less of me? Keep their kids away from mine? Who knows, but to be on the safe side, I keep the details of my income and assistance to myself. I am starting a second job next month and will not require some of the assistance I am currently receiving. I will still be broke and barely making it, and my neighbors and even people in other parts of town who hear where I live, will continue to assume I am rolling in dough.

Arisztid's avatar

@SuperMouse I think that is a wise choice.

galileogirl's avatar

I can’t believe that the usually young and bright jellies are so such dinosaurs on this subject. WE don’t have to live by THEIR standards. Don’t accept oppression. Speak, think and live free, It has always worked for me and since their is nothing special about me. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for anybody else.

Arisztid's avatar

~I am not getting into it. Over and out.~

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@galileogirl there is such a thing as not wanting to fight oppression 24/7— I am tired of educating all the live long day – sometimes I just want to be left alone without having to explain myself – I do not think that is too much to ask

Pazza's avatar

Fair play to you and I hope everything works out for you, but I’ll tell you this, there is a woman that I work with who is in a very similar position to yourself, she has to keep her mortgage on interest only just to scrape by, but from my perspective, nothing she has or hasn’t got has any bearing to me on who she is, she is a friend and a works colleague. We also work with a guy who is all about status, and who regularly slags this woman off because he can’t handle how she is able to afford the things she has, but he doesn’t know what I do, and to be honest, he wouldn’t care. He would then actually be happy with the knowledge that he was in fact better off finacially than she is. The thing is, I see all and I know that ultimately he isn’t happy with his own life and gealous of everyone around him whom he thinks are better off than he is, because he only looks at finances.

So to summerise I think there are more people out there like myself, than the obnoxious arse that we have to work with, and I think you may be a little paranoid about how many people would dis you because of your situation, and if they don’t want to know you fuck’m, I’d rather be alone than socialise with people who only want to know me for what I have. An hey, really I think you shouldn’t give a sh1t what they think status is not something to aspire to, but being loved, appreciated and having like minded friends is.

Be all you are and not what they want you to be.

Peace out from the silly strawman.

galileogirl's avatar

Who said anything about fighting 24/7? I said speak, think and live free and don’t let others’ prejudices define you.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@galileogirl it is all part of it – to live and speak free, one must explain and fight (I don’t mean in verbal fights, I mean fight for acceptance) often (especially about identities others don’t know about or don’t want to learn about)

galileogirl's avatar

I don’t give a rat’s ass if a bigot or anyone else accepts me. My identity comes from within and I may or may not discuss it with people AS I CHOOSE.. I don’t owe anyone an explanation of my race, religion, philosophical views or anything else and I certainly don’t look to others for validation.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@galileogirl it’s not about that – I’m with you on all that – this isn’t about validation for me…I know there is nothing wrong with who I am..I am activist for others so that others may know the same.

Pazza's avatar

Well put.
And said.

Arisztid's avatar

~I am not going to get a lot of answers to this now. If anyone wants me for anything contact me on my page via pms. I am cancelling notifications of this thread.~

shilolo's avatar

[mod says] Please try to stay on topic. The question isn’t whether assimilating is right or wrong, but rather, how does it affect a person if they do behave in this way. Thanks.

Keysha's avatar

I am Arisztid’s Lady. AB’ers know me. :) I, personally, am not a minority, but know enough of them that I decided to put my 2 cents in. I think that it must be both easier and harder. Easier to cope, publicly, because you don’t have all the stresses that come with being a minority. No people being rude over it, no worries about losing work because of it, and no feeling that you were treated the way you were, just because of your ethnicity.

Harder, because you are living a lie. You can’t be you to anyone, anywhere, unless you know them well and are safe. You have the tough decision of telling people you know, eventually, about it, hiding it forever, or leaving them behind, because you couldn’t make that decision. You live in fear of someone you call friend, turning away from you, and your secret being told. You live in fear of discovery by accident, and having everyone around you upset, either because you are the minority you are, or because you lied about it.

I think I would hate to be a minority in this day and age. Many people give lip service to ‘equal rights’ and ‘political correctness’ but, personally, don’t feel that way. And even though they try and hide it, hate, mistrust, and bigotry always show through.

Arisztid's avatar

I just learned that the tilde (~) means sarcasm here. I was not meaning sarcasm, just using a noticeable punctuation mark to set my text apart.

@Keysha Thankyou, love.

I am back out of this thread.

jerv's avatar

@galileogirl I guess you’ve never been denied a job, housing, service, or hunted down, beaten, or killed. just because of what you are _(though I can easily see it happening because of who you are) I agree that you should be proud of who you are, but I also have a self-preservation instinct. If you want to let arrogance override intellect then I won’t stop you, but I sure as hell won’t agree with you

Personally, I don’t like having to pass for normal. I have to dumb myself down a lot, remember not to use big words, speak slowly, feign interest in insipidness, and generally not be me.


I already have enough anxiety. I already have reasons to be reclusive. I don’t need and more, and I REALLY don’t need obnoxious delusional optimists like @galileogirl spewing nonsense. Not only does it make me want to stay indoors, it makes me want to destroy humanity and let the cockroaches have a shot at running this planet.

Ivy's avatar

This is a really complicated question about a historically complicated issue, and it’s hard for white Americans to understand the complexity unless they, or someone in their family, has married outside their ‘race’ or come out of the closet, etc. I’m a white American and would never have understood the complexities if I hadn’t married a black man and had two interracial sons at a time and in a region where it ‘just wasn’t done.’ My oldest son married a Mexican national, and my youngest son married a Southern black woman. My grandchildren are black/Mexican/white, or as I like to call them, BMW’s. One of them is gay. And we live in an area surrounded by some of the poorest and most pitiful Indian reservations in the country, and where discrimination against Indians is a way of life. I have a lifetime of personal experience where racism and it’s devastating effects have played out in every way in my life and the lives of the people I love most. Aristzid asked a personal and thoughtful question with a desire to begin a helpful and intelligent discussion among people who have experienced a social phenomena and how it has affected their life to do so. An excellent topic and one in which I hoped to learn something from other people who are forced to think about these things for real and personal reasons, and especially about Aristzid’s experience as a Rromani man in America. No matter who we are or what we’ve experienced, there is always more to learn and understand. If some people had less of an agenda to be heard and more of an intent to LISTEN and LEARN, in this case from people who have had to consider the safety and benefit of passing (which can mean a variety of things), this would have been an excellent thread. Thanks to the people who opened up their thoughts about their experience to properly answer a really good question, and to Arisztid for asking it.

galileogirl's avatar

@jerv Please don’t dumb yorself down any more.

jerv's avatar

@galileogirl You are correct, it is. If you knew me better, you’d know why too. In fact, you’d probably take back a few of those words as well if you actually knew the facts of the matter.

However, it seems that you like to avoid facts enough to edit your original reply in an effort to make me look crazy. Kind of a pity because the original post made you seem more like a real person.
C’est la vie.

AnonymousWoman's avatar

I am part Native American and I totally pass as white. It’s annoying when people look at me and say things like “You’re Native?” in disbelief. Then again, I was born and raised as a Canadian. I don’t think it’s right for people to HAVE to assimilate just to feel accepted. People should just naturally be accepted for who they are as long as they are not hurting anyone or for other GOOD reasons (that I can’t think of right now). @galileogirl, as much as you try to deny it, racism still exists. It doesn’t matter if it’s now 2009. It doesn’t matter if you’re blind or ignorant of it. It STILL exists, regardless of what you’ve tried to convince yourself.

prude's avatar

@Arisztid it does make their life easier and part of me is sad it is this way, but because they can “pass” another is happy.

galileogirl's avatar

@AnonymousGirl Darlin’, you and @jerv and the other kids who think you must school me need to look back at my answers. I have been around long enough to have witnessed and been subject to legal discrimination in employment, housing and credit (look up red-lining). I also understand that there are always new forms of discrimination (ageism and disability) to face as time goes by. What I have said in every post is that—-

I refuse to pretend I am anything different than I am and I refuse to let others’ bigotry define me.

Read my posts and that is all I have said. @jerv I changed my answer (evidently at the same moment you responded) because it was something I thought better said in a pm, If you want it public OK.

@jerv I have faced discrimination all my life but I refused to let it turn me into the angry, foul-mouthed, violent-minded person you showed in your attack on me. That comes from within you.—- Beyond that, I am not a mental health professional or psychiatric researcher so I have no desire to know what makes you that way.

jerv's avatar

@galileogirl When you put it that way, you come across as less of a bitch. The problem here really is that all we have to go on as far as figuring out what type of person/people we are dealing with is a bunch of letters on a screen, and to me you came across totally bitchy at first. (I am not always good at judging intent though, for reasons that you expressed a specific disinterest in.)
As for me being angry etcetera, I’ve done my best to avoid it, but the only way I can really succeed there is to be a total recluse, which leads to other problems

galileogirl's avatar

Excuses and justifications

jerv's avatar

@galileogirl And that is a prime example of why living in a world full of neurotypicals is so hellish for me. You (I use that word in a collective sense, not a personal one) often just don’t understand because your mind is different enough that said differences actually show up on an MRI. Nor do many even make an attempt to understand, sometimes going so far as to express a desire to not understand, preferring their own brand of bigotry instead.
Okay, maybe I misinterpreted some of your earlier posts as headstrong to the point of willful ignorance. Part of the reason I feel the way I do and have to make efforts to “pass” is because I have to “pass in order to survive.

But you (personally) seem to have no interest in why and seek to belittle me.

Thank you for proving my point and reaffirming that I am correct.

Arisztid's avatar

@Dracool , @AnonymousGirl , thankyou for your backup. I think that yours and @Keysha ‘s answers prove my point nicely. Keysha is not of a minority but she has seen what I have gone through and, in fact, defended my people long before I knew her (she is my hero). I have also seen some shit she has to put up with for various reasons, like because most of her heritage is German.

@prude It is sad that it it so but, frankly, that is a way to avoid shit in this life. It is a sad statement of society.

@jerv You proved my point very nicely. Thankyou.

I know that I have been tempted to pass as something other than Rromani Gypsy but I see my father and my Ancestors frown at me in my mind’s eye. Because of that I take what being honest gives me, which is often not terribly pleasant. Frankly, much of what I have encountered is more than most people would imagine. I have been attacked physically (I won), been turned down for jobs, I have been called the most amazing array of things (that is no big deal though), etc.

While I have refused to pass, I do not hold anyone in onus who does choose to pass because, frankly, nobody should have to take it. Nobody. I know how bad it can get and do not look down on those who choose to not take the hell.

I cannot imagine anyone who has really faced discrimination blasting those who choose to pass. Disagreeing with them, yes, but objecting as strongly as has been shown in this thread… no.

If anyone is wondering why I have returned, it is explained on my profile.

prude's avatar

@Arisztid yes, it is sad, but thank you for understanding

Arisztid's avatar

@prude No problem. :)

I think it is just plain wrong to judge someone unless you have walked a mile in their shoes, or at least shoes that are similar. In this instance the judgment should be on a society that makes it easier, sometimes necessary, to pass rather than the person who passes. Instead of railing, ranting, and condemning those who pass, rail, rant, and condemn the society that causes this.

galileogirl's avatar

Neurotypicals of the world unite! We don’t have to pass for atypicals no matter what pressure they put on us (or onus)

prude's avatar

@Arisztid I couldn’t agree more!

jerv's avatar

@galileogirl I fail to see how uniting the majority really makes any sense. There is no need for them to “pass” pretty much by definition!

galileogirl's avatar

Who knows? The way atypicals seem to be increasing, we may become an endangered species. We may become the largest minority group but a minority group nonetheless when there is no majority group.

jerv's avatar

@galileogirl People like me are well under 1% of the population so I think it’ll be a while until we get that far along.

galileogirl's avatar

@jerv my guess would be more like 1 in 6 billion.

jerv's avatar

@galileogirl Well, exactly like me, yes. I was basing my numbers on epidemiology reports that place ASD rates pretty low (<1%) and AS as no more than 25% (and possibly less than 10%) of that number.

Arisztid's avatar

@jerv Would you have an accurate link handy that shows such stats? Would you have one for dyslexia as well?

jerv's avatar

@Arisztid Actually, that number is a composite guess. See, there is a wide range of estimates. Without double-checking, I think the range is from 28-per-10,000 up to 1-in-150 depending on the source, and AS ranges from 1-in-5 to 1-in-17. Therefore, the best I can do is quote estimates, ranges, etcetera.
It might be easier to find numbers for Dyslexia since that is easier to diagnose and had been in the DSM longer, so epidemiology records would (probably) be more accurate.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I’ve always blended as far as being the acceptable and non threatening minority only because no one can pin a label on me off of sight alone. I don’t identify with being “white” but so many people I know laugh at me and say, “but you are white… aren’t you?”. It’s weird not having just one or even two ethnicities to identify with. I always was jealous of friends who had a “community” or identified with “a people”.

There’s a scene from Blazing Saddles where a black pioneer family isn’t allowed in the white wagon circle to fend off attacking natives and the narrater says, “they wouldn’t let us in so we made our own circle” and I laughed to see the ridiculousness of the single family driving round and round alone- I’ve felt like that so many times.

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