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Does heritage prevent equality?

By djpotter in Op-Ed
Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 11:15:55 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Christmas. Christians, Jews, Atheists. African-Americans, Native-Americans, Chinese-Americans, etc.

By maintaining and promoting these areas of individualism, are we supporting a form of racism and prejudice?

The generally-celebrated December/January holiday season has brought with it some newer forms of celebration within the last quarter century. Now, not only do we have Christmas, we have more and more emphasis on Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and other celebrations. I am not condemning these celebrations by any means. I feel that every individual is entitled to their belief and happiness. It's the crowd mentality about some of these that make me wonder. I'm also tired of the titles that are so casually used in the media and speaking - African-Americans, German-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Native-Americans. I'm not advocating racial epithets towards any person, but why must we have <racename>-Americans? Aren't we all Americans? And furthermore, aren't we all human beings? I fear this distinction brings with it a seperatist mindset for some people.

The emerging cultures (emerging to mainstream view, anyway) - "African American culture", "Jewish-American culture", etc.; while maintaining some ancient traditions and in some cases teaching some valuable lessons, are also providing an almost "cult-like" atmosphere in some cases, I fear. By so strongly holding traditional views and stereotypes, inherited generation after generation, can we ever move past our current situation? Religion is another hotly-debated area, and more deaths can be attributed to religious fervor than any political war in history. How many died in the Crusades, "bringing Christ to the heathens"? And the middle east is still in turmoil due to religious and political beliefs.

I'm not advocating a diminishing of individuality - in fact, I'm not sure exactly how to address this problem, or if it's even a real 'problem.'

More and more, however, I see some lines being drawn around "my culture" and "our heritage" that excludes other people. What does the K5 crew think?


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Is there too much 'heritage'?
o Yes. We're all just people. 14%
o No. Everyone deserves to know their history. 17%
o I'm not sure. Some heritage is good, but it can go too far. 32%
o Shut up, you sound like Jon Katz. 26%
o I don't care. 9%

Votes: 137
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by djpotter

Display: Sort:
Does heritage prevent equality? | 47 comments (41 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Not really. (3.50 / 12) (#1)
by simmons75 on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 06:03:49 PM EST

It promotes a form of seperatism, but not racism. It might evoke racist thoughts among those inclined toward racist thoughts, but the celebration of culturally-significant holidays and events is not racist, IMHO.
So there.

We're not all Americans! (3.75 / 8) (#5)
by pak21 on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 06:19:38 PM EST

why must we have <racename>-Americans

Interesting question. Especially for those of us who aren't Americans - we do exist, you know :-)

But more seriously, our culture and where we came from is important - I'm proud to be part of a country (UK) which was on the `right' side in WWII. But OTOH, we are one human race, and it doesn't matter what your skin colour is, where you grew up, who your parents where - what really matters is how you live your life and what you do with it, not what people have done before you.

I liked this... (4.00 / 10) (#6)
by Phage on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 06:29:10 PM EST

And I voted it up.
But I thought that you could expand on the (possibly more relevant issue to K5 readers) issue that it may be the improved communications channels that technology provides that has allowed people to find groups to associate with that they would not have been able to previously.
We know that people wish to belong. This creates side-effects like peer pressure and Katz, who is constantly striving to be identified as part of the "new" intelligentsia.
People now have a far wider choice in sub-cultures to choose from when selecting their preferred sub-group. In effect you could say that technology has facilitated the fragmentation of your society !

Personally, I love it....there are very few gamers in my age bracket !

I don't find Heathens to be sexy, as a general rule.

tall poppies in the herd. (3.54 / 11) (#7)
by jann on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 06:33:21 PM EST

Tall poppies in the herd. (WARNING! everything below is a generalisation)

We, as human beings, have a community bent ... the herd atmosphere (call it civilisation)... but we also desire to distinguish ourselves from other members of the herd and from the herd in general ... we do this by subdividing the herd into little herds, I believe, so we have a greater ability to stand out in the herd (or, even, within our little subdivision) due to an inherent requirement of our ego to be "seen" by our peers ... kinda like a tall poppy in a field.

eg. We are all animals on the planet earth ... but we are all humans ... but we are white skinned anglo-europeans ... but we are english speaking ... american ... german american ... republican voting.

But, we also sterotype, because it makes "humanity processing" decisions somewhat more optimised within a certain acceptable level of error ... I generalise that middleaged female asian's can't drive and, generally, I am right. I am sure that some of them are better drivers than I am but most of them insist on cutting me off.

SO ... we not only pigeon hole ourselves but we pigeon hole others. One for our ego and the other for an ease in dealing with the rest of the herd.

I put it to the reader that this is an inherent part of our human nature. And, therefore, that conflict between these little subgroups is an inherent part of our human nature. Why? if another group is a challenge to our groups place in the herd we, as animals, rise to the challenge and fight. Hence the history of conflict within the human race. Combine limited resources with desire for a better life (to be at the head of the herd) with competition and you have a brutal world ... where everyone bands into little groups that share something in common to further their mutual desires for a better life.

But finally ... sterotyping allows us to make "optimised" decisions about who our enemies are within the herd. In the hunt for a mate every other male is an "enemy". In the requirement for land anyone who does not belong to my "country" is someone who has a stake in the land my country needs to expand and prosper within the herd etc. etc. etc.

Where is this going ... whilst we are one glorious herd we appear to inherently need to subdivide within our groups ... as the story poster "distinguished" the american subgroup from the herd of human beings. It is just our human nature.

Does heritage prevent equality ... kinda ... but who wants equality ... I bet that YOU do not ... I certainly do not ... look at communism ... which pushed a kind of equality ... it sucked ... and failed. Heritage is one means of asserting our individuality within the herd.

Repeat after me "WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS!"

I'm not ! (2.25 / 4) (#8)
by Phage on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 06:39:04 PM EST

It had to be said....
I don't find Heathens to be sexy, as a general rule.
[ Parent ]
What's the problem? (4.50 / 8) (#9)
by espo812 on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 06:51:40 PM EST

Is the problem the media? Well yes, the media caters to these sepretist views. But why should we let the media dictate our feelings?

Is the problem the government (in this case, of the USA)? Well yes, the government has a duty not exclude any single religion/group of people. It also has the duty to not INCLUDE officially any single (or multiple) religion/group of people. But why should we let the government dictate our feelings?

American was founded on the oppertunity to be DIVERSE. That's the wonderful thing about this country, that every person is free to exercise their religion and family background in any way they see fit. Is there too much heritage? Well, there's as much heritage as any individual wants. Less heritage for you? Your choice. More heritage for me? My choice.

So what really is the problem with different people celebrating whatever they want however they want?


Censorship is un-American.
Media wants eyeballs; this gets 'em (none / 0) (#41)
by cryon on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 08:27:30 PM EST

Stirring up racial "hate" brings eyeballs to the media advertisements, and brings money to the media. They like money.

You have perhaps heard of the old professional wrestling maxim, "Blood Turns Green"?
Well, in the news media, hate turns green ("hate" here being the current buzzword/slogan which substitutes for a more descriptive phrase which I will call "racial identity politics").

But some types of "hate" are not politically correct. You can't stir up "hate" (see the aforementioned aside) among the majority (white folks), because then they will just stop letting in more immigrants, and they will close off the workplace to minorites (like it used to be); that's bad for rich folk and shareholders of corporations; it means less workers on their American holdings. A rancher always wants more sheep on his land, right?

And they pay the media....

[ Parent ]

What if the government supported this... (3.60 / 10) (#10)
by gauntlet on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 07:37:12 PM EST

As an aside:

What if the government stepped in, and created a cabinet position called "Secretary of Heritage", whose job it was to ensure that any individual in the country could freely practice their own traditions within the bounds of the law?

Would that be a good thing? Or would it further stratify the population?

That's what we have here in Canada, although it's called the "Minister" of heritage. This minister supports religiously-aligned groups, ethnically-aligned groups, nationality-aligned groups, and just about anything else you can fit under "heritage".

Now, to bring this back to the point of the article:

can we ever move past our current situation

I'm going to presume that by "current situation" you mean prejudice, intolerance, stereotyping, bigotry, etc. The answer is no. These sorts of groups are created by prejudice - the prejudice that if one aligns themselves with people of their own faith, nationality, or race, they will lead better lives. People are intolerant of things that make their lives worse. They stereotype for efficiency of decision making, and they are bigoted only when the stereotypes they choose are extreme, or inaccurate.

These things are the causes of the societal groupings, not the result. Not only will these things not go away in the current situation, neither should we want them to.

The first three are not, by definition, bad. They actually tend to make people's lives better. I have stereotypes, and prejudices, and intolerances. I'm sure there are addicts and criminals out there that would call me bigoted. But I believe that for the most part they actually improve my quality of life.

My prejudices are close enough to society's average that I'm considered "normal". Other people are not so lucky.

Into Canadian Politics?

Doesn't just apply to race (3.50 / 10) (#11)
by enterfornone on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 08:01:35 PM EST

There are many areas where labels are applied to people causing minor features to be amplified to major aspects of their being.

I'm black, I'm male, I'm gay, I'm an American, I'm a Christian, I'm a Republican, I'm fat, I'm a geek etc. Why are these things any more important than I have brown eyes, or I like pizza?

Everyone is unique. We shouldn't go trying to fit people into groups as if they were different flavours of ice cream.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
Self-labelling (4.00 / 5) (#13)
by driptray on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 09:30:43 PM EST

<p><i>There are many areas where labels are applied to people causing minor features to be amplified to major aspects of their being.</i></p>

<p>Yes, but what about people <b>self-label</b> because they feel that the label signifies a major aspect of their identity? I think this form of self-labelling occurs because people feel that their identities are being submerged into a majority/dominant identity that doesn't respect them.</p>

<p><i>I'm black, I'm male, I'm gay, I'm an American, I'm a Christian, I'm a Republican, I'm fat, I'm a geek etc. Why are these things any more important than I have brown eyes, or I like pizza?</i></p>

<p>So you choose not to self-label. That's fine. The real problem is when the labelling is done by others in an attempt to reduce people to some particular aspect, rather than seeing them as a whole person. Denying the right of others to self-label means you're trying to force them into the majority/dominant identity that they clearly feel they don't belong to.</p>

<p><i>Everyone is unique. We shouldn't go trying to fit people into groups as if they were different flavours of ice cream.</i></p>

<p>Indeed, but if people want to do that to themselves its pretty mean to not recognise their efforts.</p>

We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
[ Parent ]
You're right... (4.33 / 3) (#15)
by djpotter on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 09:55:41 PM EST

And that's kind of my point...in a 'shiny happy people' world, we'd all get along. I'm not that naive (I think), but those (black/male/gay/Christian/American) are the kind of things that help compartmentalize all of us.

More simply, I'd rather be djpotter - that guy in the US who occasionally doesn't put his foot in his mouth - than a White US Christian Geek Republican Hetero Blue-eyed slightly overweight Germanic/French/Danish/Norse descended male who reads too much K5 and that other site.

But that's just me. :-)


"Anyone remotely interesting is somehow mad." - Dr. Who
[ Parent ]
Brown eyes!? (3.00 / 3) (#23)
by davidduncanscott on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 10:33:42 AM EST

And you dare to raise your head and speak among humans? My grandparents were killed by brown-eyes! My father fought against your kind all his life, and when I die I just hope I can take a few brown-eyes with me!

Personally I prefer to think of myself as a Me-American.

[ Parent ]

Because they tell us something (4.50 / 2) (#29)
by zakalwe on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 02:10:46 PM EST

Why are these things any more important than I have brown eyes, or I like pizza?
They're used because they're useful, and knowing it tells you something about a person. What you think it tells you may be wrong, which is the whole problem with stereotyping, but it often does tell you something useful about a person. If you're black/American/Irish etc, I can guess something about your culture. Knowing your sex and sexuality, politics, hobbies and other things tells me more. Some of the generalisations I could make based on these would be wrong, but they're often right enough to be useful, and so the terms are used when trying to describe someone.

Other descriptions (Brown eyes, hair colour) tell me nothing beyond the obvious, and so aren't really useful, except when they're also an indicator of a cultural background (Skin colour, accent).

Making generalisations based on these terms isn't completely a bad thing, because they do give a starting place to know something about a stranger. The assumptions made just tend to be relied on too much.

[ Parent ]

I sense...ignorance (3.36 / 11) (#12)
by persimmon on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 09:03:11 PM EST

I feel that every individual is entitled to their belief and happiness. It's the crowd mentality about some of these that make me wonder.

What crowd mentality? What I hear you saying is that "not everybody is celebrating Christmas", and somehow this is a problem. People are diverse and celebrate that diversity. How you feel this is a problem mystifies me.

And what "cult-like atmosphere" have you encountered? Groups I work with (the editorial group of a Jewish feminist magazine and a group of Wiccan women creating woman-empowering religious traditions) are creating a place for themselves to belong where they formerly had none. This is not a problem. This is a solution to a homogeneous whitewashed male-centric vaguely Christian view of the world.

No, it is not polite to assume all North Americans of African descent celebrate Kwanzaa, or that that all people of Chinese descent throw red-egg parties for their newborns. But to imply that we should not be continuing or creating traditions to celebrate ourselves and create a place to belong because they mark differences between people, and differences are bad, is even worse.

It's funny because it's a blancmange!
And I sense extremism and hostility...am I wrong? (3.20 / 5) (#14)
by djpotter on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 09:49:29 PM EST

Actually, I never meant to imply that "not everyone celebrating Christmas" being a problem. In fact, I had meant to convey that Christmas and Christianity were in fact, powerful sects who also create separatism and 'cult' status. Christianity itself has different factions, as well as being at odds with other religions.

As far as your female acquaintances creating a place - why should they have to? That's my point...instead of having people carve out their little niche, we could all be part of a global community, with our own set of characteristics, that could be working towards world-wide goals. I'm not saying "down with individuality", I'm trying to say that I'm for a more cooperative worldview.

I don't feel that the "homogeneous whitewashed male-centric vaguely Christian view of the world" is right. I am a caucasian vaguely Christian male geek" if you want to get into that, but getting beyond those things is exactly what I'm advocating.


"Anyone remotely interesting is somehow mad." - Dr. Who
[ Parent ]
hostility, hell yeah (3.30 / 10) (#17)
by persimmon on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 11:45:49 PM EST

Why do the women's groups I'm part of work so hard to create a place for themselves? Because they have had none. Because they have been isolated from each other, and are not necessarily ready for people from widely varied backgrounds to hear their opinions without having the support of people who share their views.

Coming together with like-minded people is not something we need to "get beyond". It's a healthy component of the global community you claim to advocate, and not all that different from a Linux UG meeting.

Yes, it is good to share. But just because I do something you don't, and I meet with other people who do the same thing, and we're not eager to share our ideas with the rest of the world, doesn't make me dangerous or separatist. Extremist...whatever. If you're all for a global community, that seems like a useless word to me.

It's funny because it's a blancmange!
[ Parent ]
good story +1 (3.71 / 7) (#18)
by tacitus on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 12:39:45 AM EST

I have read some comments on this one and I think some people may miss the point of this.

Being a Canudian I see the same studd happening here even more so. There are no true Canadians or Americans other then the natives but they immigrated here too. The natives would say they where always here but they definitely where not here when the ice sheet covered it all.

So in a land where we all are immigrants this is an important issue. There was a time when people dropped the xxx-american/Canadian classification. You came to North America to be a Canadian or an American and you where proud and excited to become one or the other. But when you look into your family's past you see the romantic Euro-hollywood-heritage (Bravehart, Gladiator, Robin Hood) and people now want that connection to their heritage. The - is their connection.

I don't know if it is good or bad. I mean it is good to know the connections you have with a global community and how your family has not always been in one place. It could mean there is a rise in a global awareness.

It could also mean their is some need to define how you are different and your history is better then some one elses. I wonder how many German-Americans/Canadians use that "-"?

Who knows what is going on, but to understand it the K5 community should discuss it not mod it away. This isn't just a classification thing, this runs much deeper.

Disclaimer - It may be Molson talking here.

The ILLenium

Bah! Check yourself. (3.36 / 19) (#19)
by elenchos on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 12:52:17 AM EST

You are tired of people using hyphenated titles for their ethnic group? CLUE: They aren't using them to please you. It is not about you.

You know, back in the day, you didn't hear that complaint about Irish-Americans, or Italian-Americans.* But then, a few people came along and said, "Please stop calling us Black. Call us `African-American' instead. Thank you."

"WHAT?! You want WHAT?" was the outraged reaction, "Oh, sure, and while you're at it, take BOTH my kidneys too!"

For some reason, this was just asking too much. Could it be that it was no big thing for a white man to be proud of where his family came from, but when they are not like you so much, well, it just bugs you, doesn't it? Doesn't quite sit right. You don't mention St. Patrick's day. Celebrating the Irish heritage doesn't bother you? We've been celebrating it for decades and no one complained about the divisiveness, or the "cult-like" movement of people all wearing green and getting drunk.

African-Americans are not an "emerging" group. They have been here for 400 years, and they existed for quite some time before that. They are just as American as anyone else and don't have to justify their culture to you or anyone else. The next people on your list are Jews. Funny how the first people on your list are African-Americans and the next ones are Jews. Remind you of anything? Anyway, they are not an emerging group either. Do I really need to go through all of this in detail? They have existed as a distinct culture for millennia. And they have every right to continue to be a distinct culture! Like Native-Americans, they are under no obligation to assimilate into what you think should be the cultural norm. And even if a homogeneous culture were a desirable thing, why exactly to you expect everyone else to get in line with your cultural standard? Why is it they who have to do the work to become more like you? If you want us all to be `just human,' then why don't you get to work assimilating with the dominant ethnic group on Earth? It is not the white, American, Christian male, I can assure you of that.

* Well, actually, there was a time long ago when there was widespread discrimination an prejudice against groups like Irish or Italian immigarnts. They were denied jobs, housing, suffered abuse from the police, and right-thinking Americans complained about them `watering down' or `contaminating' the `pure' American culture, whatever that was supposed to be. Shouldn't we have finally learnd something from all that?


Yow, a little over-sensitive, huh? (4.33 / 3) (#27)
by Karmakaze on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 12:57:44 PM EST

You know, back in the day, you didn't hear that complaint about Irish-Americans, or Italian -Americans. But then, a few people came along and said, "Please stop calling us Black. Call us 'African-American' instead. Thank you."

Err, actually, the original poster was complaining about "Irish-American", etc. I don't think he was even touching the issue of using xxx-American in place of other words for race.

However, to address your issue...

I still say black as opposed to African-American partially because African American is awkward to say and partially because there are black people who aren't American. Do we call people in Canada African-Canadians? How about Nelson Mandela? Is he an African-African? I suppose we could say Negroid, which is more or less equivalent to Caucasian but anything with the root Negr is even more charged.

I certainly don't expect to be called an European-American, and never have been. Given that my ancestors were kicked out of every country in Western Europe*, I can't pin it down any closer than that. I can't say "white" all that accurate (according to the electronic format photos of me it's closer to #D1A896...), but it is at least in common usage.

That second point is one of my concerns about the xxx-American trend in this country. Everyone is defined except the "old white men". Why should they have the default term and everybody else needs a modifier? Blacks (particularly those who trace themselves back to the slave trade) have at least as much right/seniority to be "just plain" Americans as whites, and more so than any of the more recent waves of immigration.

That said, if an individual tells me there is a label they prefer, I'll use that in their presence. There's no point in offending people just to be difficult.


* Except possibly Italy. I have strong confirmation for Spain, France, Germany, Wales, Denmark, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, and Sweden, and tenatative confirmation for most of the rest. And I do mean kicked out - most of them seem to have left in quite the hurry.

[ Parent ]
Native Americans (3.00 / 1) (#34)
by flieghund on Sat Dec 30, 2000 at 02:21:53 AM EST

I'm assuming you're using the term "Native Americans" to refer to the original inhabitants of the American continents that predated European settlment. I assume this because, as a natural born citizen of the United States of America, I am a "native American."*

"Native Americans" is a very generic term for a very diverse group of peoples, equivalent to "Asian" or some other geographic-based distinction. I'm curious to know if you think all Native Americans are the same? Cherokee and Chinook are about as similar as Korean and a Vietnamese. There is no such thing as a "cultural norm" for Native Americans, yet they always seem to be lumped together, and the projected image is almost always that of the Plains nations (with teepees, big feathered war bonnets, horses, buffalo hunts, etc.). Mixed tribal events (pow-wows and the like) admittedly add to the confusion, but when your individual nation has been reduced to a few hundred (or fewer) members, it's often difficult to find enough to hold a big event.

I'm not really trying to criticize your general point because it is a good counterpoint to the main article. But I have to agree with Karmakaze that you seem a wee bit tense about the subject.

*(For the record, I am an incredibly tiny fraction (1/128) Cherokee and Choctaw. I don't actively identify myself with either nation, though I do ruffle my feathers when people complain of cultural insensitivity and use "Native Americans" as an example.)

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
Just in case anyone is still reading this thread.. (5.00 / 1) (#43)
by elenchos on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 02:41:35 PM EST

I think the most plain way I can explain my point is to ask you what you do when you meet someone named Richard, and he says "Call me Rich." Do you say, "Sure, no problem Dick. Whatever you want Richie-boy?"

Of course you do. If your intention is to be rude and antagonistic, and create a conflict with this guy over nothing, that is. You could give some "reasonable-sounding" argument claiming that "Dick" is a standard nickname for someone named Richard, or that in your family "Richie-boy" is a term of respect and endearment. Why, I know lots of guys who like you to call them Dick, so how can this guy complain? What will the result of this be? Richard is going to think you are a jerk, and he is going to wonder why you are so motivated to cause trouble. Maybe you have some other axe to grind. Maybe you don't like him for some other reason, and you are using this childish name game as a way of making his life difficult.

On the other hand, you could just call people whatever they ask you to call them, and save your arguments for issues that amount to something. If a guy gets all annoyed when you call someone who breaks into computer networks a "Hacker," or if you don't pronounce the 'G' in GNU, yes, maybe he's got a problem, maybe he should get a life. But why fight about it? Yes, it is sort of awkward to say "African-American," but so what? It just is not that difficult, and if that is what most people are happy with these days, go along with it.

The conventions of English usage are constantly changing, for reasons that are constantly confounding the schemes of kings, bureaucrats and grammarians. "Negro" was replaced by "Black" and "African-American" replaced that. No, 100% of the people don't agree on it, but this ain't an exact science. It is not logical either. If logic is so important to you, why don't you choke when you say "American" to refer to a citizen of the USA? What is logical about that? Natural language refuses to conform to these kind of arbitrary prescriptive rules. Any native speaker of English knows intuitively that the sentences "He don't want none" and "He doesn't not want any" have opposite meanings. Shakespeare wasn't worried about being misunderstood when he wrote "I will not budge for no man's pleasure." It wasn't that he didn't understand logic, it was because he understood people and our language.

As far as the term "Native-American" goes, I am well aware that it is no more logical than the others, although it is less of a misnomer than "Indian." At the last pow-wow I was at, I heard speakers from the Spokane tribe and others use the term interchangeably with "Indian" or with the specific name of the nation in question. Most of them didn't seem to care too much about terminology. Which is all the better, I suppose. Some people don't care how you pronounce Linux either. But for me, the term "Native-American" seems to be the most accommodating for the most people.

So why do I seem so sensitive about it? First, I am an admirer of such over-the-top writers as Hunter S. Thompson and Camille Paglia, who are masters of a tradition of invective that stretches back to the Roman orators. I think the skilled use of strong language is a fine art, and I try to practice it whenever I get the chance. Such language is a far cry from mere insults, tantrums or the unsophisticated use of objectionable words like "cunt" or "fuck" or "documentation." I never use such language, but if I can manage to have an equally strong impact without it, I will not hesitate to do so.

Second, and finally, my instinct tells me that when people complain about the term "African-American," they are disingenuously attempting to introduce a racially motivated attack into an otherwise polite setting. Under the guise of being "reasonable" and "logical" and even the kind-sounding claim that "we're all just people, aren't we?," a racist attitude is being expressed. Whenever I have gotten to know such a person well, I invariably learned that they were quite willing in private to show themselves to be racially prejudiced against non-whites, and that their complaint about "African-American" being illogical and awkward was just a cover for their true feelings. Yes, I am making a seemingly unwarranted leap, but I trust my experience and my instincts, and I think revealing a racist attack for what it is is something worth taking a stand over.

What about the feelings of those who are are offended by my attitude? Am I not being just as insensitive towards them? No.

If they can't take it, they shouldn't have raised the issue to begin with.

[ Parent ]

Still reading :-) (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by flieghund on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 01:18:39 AM EST

You bring up in your example how the Native American speakers interchanged various terms (including "Indian" and specific tribal names) to describe themselves. I think that internal inconsistency, combined with frequent hostility towards "outsiders" who use the wrong word(s), is what leads to the confusion and frustration of others regarding the ever-changing terminology. For example, it is generally considered taboo to refer to "African-Americans" using the infamous "n-word," yet they frequently use that term to refer to themselves. Why is it okay for one group to use a descriptive term, but not another? Especially when the division line between these different groups lies along racial lines? That would seem to reinforce the "acceptable" terminology as being racially charged, rather than a neutral description.

Another example (unfortunately along the same lines -- I'm afraid I'm not feeling particularly creative at the moment): In the movie Rush Hour, Chris Tucker's character walks into a bar, greets the black bartender, and gets a handshake. Jackie Chan's character walks in right behind him, greets the black bartender with the same words, and a bar fight erupts. It's that kind of inconsistency that frustrates people who are trying to be "sensitive" and serves to reinforce differences. It also seems to make people nervous as hell when it comes to referring others of a different race or cultural background, for fear of committing some kind of esoteric faux pas.

Of course, if it is done intentionally to antagonize, then it probably should be met with an equally hostile response. But honest, un- or mis-informed errors are often met with the same response, and that is really the wrong way to go about it.

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
Correction (none / 0) (#46)
by spiralx on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 08:57:44 AM EST

In the movie Rush Hour, Chris Tucker's character walks into a bar, greets the black bartender, and gets a handshake. Jackie Chan's character walks in right behind him, greets the black bartender with the same words, and a bar fight erupts.

I think you're wrong there; as I remember it, Chris Tucker greets the black doorkeeper using that term and then Jackie Chan uses it to greet the white bartender. Hence the fight.

You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey
[ Parent ]

Wow! You get a.... 10 !!!! (none / 0) (#40)
by cryon on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 08:17:26 PM EST

...on the scale of political correctness.

This means you may now receive the Diploma of the San Francisco Foundation for Ethnic Lesbian Media Marketing:

..**^!^**..You are Hereby and Officially..**^!^..
..**^!^**......... Politically Correct..........**^!^**..

You may now pursue a career in some appropriately hip field such as dotcom multimedia web page design!

[ Parent ]

Diversity == Good (4.33 / 6) (#20)
by dorsai on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 06:04:28 AM EST

I don't see how the origin_hyphen_country is bad... but then again IANAAmerican.

The people of Portugal (my country) have spread throughout the world. Some have come to be completely assimilated, some form "enclaves", others still find a middle ground - and those, in my experience, contribute have a positive impact or both their current and original communities.

I feel that the presence of diverse traditions in a community makes it a richer, more humane group, where people can explore the "there's more then one way to do it" world and, perhaps, be more open-minded because of it ?

Think of k5, for instance... do you think it would be a better "place" if all users were americans, or do you think the diversity of countries,backgrounds and beliefs brings added value to the community ?

Dorsai the sigless

Dorsai the sigless

It's a peculiarly American thing. (4.00 / 6) (#21)
by pwhysall on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 08:32:02 AM EST

Maybe it's because the "American" identity is only 200(ish) years old, and therefore relatively new and unformed?

Maybe it's because the $ORIGIN component of an $ORIGIN-American is so much more concrete and well-defined, that they see themselves as $ORIGIN first, and American second?

These are unknowns to me. I'm sure I'm about to get flamed to a crisp. But hey, enlighten me.

What I do know is that (1) these tags aren't there for your benefit, and (2) these tags don't really exist on this side of the pond. You don't hear about "Scottish-Britons" or "Asian-Britons". Feel free to disagree, but it's my opinion that mainstream Britain is somewhat more integrated with its immigrant subcultures than the USA is with its. However, I also think that it's only a matter of time, and as the American identity crystallises over the years, the insecurities regarding it will start to fade away. "$ORIGIN-American" will come to be regarded as a quaint, old-fashioned way of describing something.
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.

Hey Jimmie! (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by Paul Dunne on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 12:42:15 PM EST

> You don't hear about "Scottish-Britons"

Jesus, Peter, don't you know *any* Scots? They're more likely
to just leave out the Brit part nowadays altogether, it's true.
Try telling a Scot he is just a Briton, no more; I hope you've got
private medical insurance.
[ Parent ]
mumble ramble (4.00 / 2) (#33)
by _cbj on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 08:06:13 PM EST

Until very recently (within last 6 years), in Scottish schools they taught you to put "British" on any application form under nationality, simply because Scottish might not be recognised as a valid nationality.

'Scottish-Britons' would be anathema even when it may have been considered new after 1707. Racially almost indistinguishable from the English; culturally...well, culturally indistinguishable since first Anglo-Saxon-Jute invasions too, truth be told (different climate and general environment inevitably forged something unique for a while... I maintain the rest was willpower). Memetically quite seperate though, fiercely holding onto the genuine pre-Angle differences that existed for as long as the island's history, and the distinct education and legal systems we have now (which, like those of any Westerner, are The Best In The World).

Most Scots will tell you they are 1. Scottish 2. European 3. British, in that order. They (we) only add British because the question is always phrased "Are you more Scottish or British?"

Asian-British is something I've heard. We hear of the Asian Community, the Black Community, the Gay Community, all terms propagated by the London media and since picked up across the land by lazy newscasters and journalists who prefer cliché to invention and wanking to thinking.

[ Parent ]

Interestingly (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by pwhysall on Sat Dec 30, 2000 at 06:28:43 AM EST

I'm from Leicester, which will be the first city in the UK to have a minority white population at some point in the next 10 years. Growing up in and around a place like this was, I think, very good for me. For a little example, by the age of 10, I'd had school visits to Sikh, Hindu, Jain and Muslim places of worship. (It is rumoured that the Jain Temple in Leicester has the single finest carved marble frontage outside India.) More importantly than that, it placed the practices of my schoolfriends in a wider context.

In Leicester you don't hear about the "Asian" community. You hear about the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim communities. Alternatively you hear about divisions along language lines; the Punjabi-speaking community, the Gujerati-speaking community.

I knew I was in a special place when, several years ago, the Diwali lights (organised and paid for by the Hindus) were far and away superior to the Christmas lights (organised and paid for by the City Council).

Leicester at Diwali is well worth a visit. Head for the Belgrave Road area of town.
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
[ Parent ]

Actually, I do. (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by pwhysall on Sat Dec 30, 2000 at 06:21:04 AM EST

I work with several Scots. (My employer has several Scottish offices, with whom I work on a regular basis). We've had the drunken discussions about Scottish independence in the pub, and basically there was a spread of opinion as to the "Britishness" of a Scot. The majority had no strong feelings either way, a couple of guys were very Scottish, and the other one was too drunk to answer :)

The broad feeling seems to be that Scottish Independence is inevitable, at least for some value of "independent". Personally I think that total sovereign independence is a non-starter because I can't see where the economic basis is; however, I think that the Scottish people should have the right to be told all the facts and then make up their own minds.

The only thing that rankles me at the moment about Scotland is the fact that Scottish MPs, despite having their own parliament with taxation powers, sit in the parliament at Westminster. That sucks.

And why would I need private health insurance? Are you implying that (a) all Scots are pathologically violent, and (b) I wouldn't be able to use NHS services?
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
[ Parent ]

If you REALLY want to piss off a Scot (none / 0) (#45)
by PenguinWrangler on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 07:13:56 AM EST

Call him English....!

"Information wants to be paid"
[ Parent ]
accentuate differences (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by ooch on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 02:04:16 PM EST

You often see that minorities accentuate differences instead of things they share with other people. That's a large part of what gives a culture its identity. That's OK, but you shouldn't forget those things you share. When an african-american would travel to Africa he would find that he is in the first place an American, with american values, customs and the like, and only then an African, if he or she would recognise any African tradition in his or her own lifestyle

Me myselfe I feel like a Frisian, and not dutch, even though the cultures are almost completely the same, so I fully understand people who have these feelings, but sometimes you need to think about things you have in common, then things in which you differ.

[ Parent ]

Other end of the spectrum... (2.85 / 7) (#24)
by AgentGray on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 11:40:59 AM EST

How many died in the Crusades, "bringing Christ to the heathens"?

How many died in the Coliseum, "just wanting to worship Christ?" And it wasn't just there. I'm also reminded of the Holocaust. I think that religious fervor can go both ways...

How many died in the Coliseum? (3.33 / 3) (#31)
by davidduncanscott on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 03:19:43 PM EST

Not very damned many, actually, and almost certainly not as many as the Christians put to the sword when they came to power. There's a great section in Gibbon about this -- I recommend it highly (Oh, and I'm not a follower of the Roman gods either).

[ Parent ]
not very many for either (3.00 / 3) (#39)
by xriso on Sat Dec 30, 2000 at 04:11:09 PM EST

If you compare how many died from crusades/coliseum in the past, to how many are martyred recently, the past is really quite insignificant. I know that there are quite a few countries out there which are Christian-phobic, particulary in Asia.

Usually, they are just censored in a mild way, such as imprisonment or torture, but in some cases the death penalty is used (for example, Islamic governments will kill blasphemers of any sort). The tens of thousands of Christians killed in Islamic countries every year don't matter too much over here. It's not reported about because it's pretty old news, as it's been happening for a long time.
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
[ Parent ]

the war against racism continues (4.70 / 10) (#30)
by motty on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 02:51:14 PM EST

> Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Christmas. Christians, Jews, Atheists. African-Americans, Native-Americans, Chinese-Americans, etc.

>By maintaining and promoting these areas of individualism, are we supporting a form of racism and prejudice?


In the States, as here in the UK, the dominant culture is basically white and basically Christian. Members of the dominant culture sometimes have difficulty understanding what it is like to be a member of a group which is not part of the dominant culture. This is just as true for people who live in the more cosmopolitan areas as it is for those who do not. If you look around and see a large mix of cultures living together all higgledy-piggledy, more or less in harmony (with a few exceptions), you might assume that the same holds everywhere. It's not true.

Human history in general seems to consist of a bunch of stories about groups of people moving around, intermingling or waging war, or both, or neither, in a ceaseless stream of wooden (or metal) carts and a wide range of ways of transporting luggage. With today's huge increase in world population and mobility, there seems to be an awful lot more cosmopolitanism than ever before. Nevertheless, I would assert that most places actually *aren't* so cosmopolitan.

As a British Jew, I feel a lot more comfortable in a large cosmopolitan city where a) there are also a lot of other Jews, even if I don't actually participate in the community that much these days, b) there are also a lot of other people from different ethnic backgrounds whose experiences may be similar and analagous to my own, if filtered through the lens of a different culture, and c) members of the local dominant culture are broadly used to the fact that they are living in one of the cosmopolitan parts of the country, have met Jews, Asians, and so on before, and don't want to make a big song and dance number out of it. I don't feel I have to apologise for this. It's the shape of the world. I've lived in places which are more and which are less cosmopolitan, and I know which I prefer.

Without wishing to get into a big argument about Israel, there is nowhere I can go and be part of the dominant community. Many people from many backgrounds are in the same boat; the same is particularly true for people who are from a mix of backgrounds and may have to live with never being fully accepted *anywhere at all*. We don't just gravitate towards the cosmopolitan cities - we constitute them - and here we can go around being happily cosmopolitan - occasionally feeling free enough to pretend that we neither have nor need a particular ethnic identification, occasionally splitting off into ethnic groups to discuss how our respective communities are 'in crisis' (with six billion of us running around the planet all of a sudden, most communities are in crisis whether they are aware of it or no) or to participate in whatever other community affairs might be in order. People from the mainstream community may see this as seperatism, but they fail to understand that it is partly a reaction to never being fully accepted into the mainstream community, and partly the simple, natural expression of the community itself.

As we know from k5 itself, community does not just happen. It must be created. Different communities have different issues; one which affects us all is the continued success of multiculturalism and the ongoing fight against the racism which still exists both in the wider mainstream communities and within our own communities. That's what promotion of different holidays at the festival season is about. It is part of the essence of cosmopolitanism, or multi-culturalism - getting people to understand and be aware of the different cultures around us. Cosmopolitanism is about people being broadly aware of and tolerant towards the different ways and modes of cultural expression that various communities have. And, as I am reminded every time I leave the safe, cosmopolitan big city, or encounter racism anyway within it, whether from the mainstream community or from within one ethnic group against another, there's a long way to go yet.

Aren't we all Americans? (4.66 / 3) (#32)
by moho on Fri Dec 29, 2000 at 07:43:57 PM EST

Last time I checked, I wasn't. (Sorry, I couldn't resist)

More seriously, though, I don't understand why this article is being voted up so strongly. The idea that such classifications are *promoting* racism is a little extreme. At best, they are promoting some sort of definite social groups to which people unwillingly belong, and therefore these people may be the targets of discrimination. But that's pushing it.

This article reminds me of a lot of the ridiculous "political correctness" that goes around. "Theres no such thing as black people, white people, whatever people.. we're all just PEOPLE". When fanatical groups back these kind of things it can lead to the kinds of stupid situations where merely referring to the colour of a person's skin becomes socially forbidden. In such cases, is anybody really better off? It seems pretty screwed up to me.

While membership in some groups is optional (religion), and compulsory in others (race), not recognising people as what they are is a poor attempt at stopping racism. I'm not offended if someone *mentions* my race, and I don't want to have to be constantly reminding myself not to do so to others. If it's not derogatory, what's the problem?

These days, technology is already killing off and merging cultures... Must we further this by refusing acknowledge these cultures, and the people who belong to them?

Trying to sort it out... (3.75 / 4) (#35)
by aphexddb on Sat Dec 30, 2000 at 03:28:04 AM EST

I agree that ethnic communities severely damages racial relations in this day and age. I attend a liberal arts school with a very evenly mixed population of whites,blacks,asians,indians,etc. (I'm white, or rather norwegian-scottish-american) However my school has a "black student union". Its supposed to function as a place for african-american students to take pride in thier ethnicity and cultures. As a white student, this bothers me. If I were to start a white student union to celebrate northern european cultures and the like I would probably be labeled a racist and opresser. I don't see the need for such a student group when there is so obviously not a need for it at such a balanced school. Much inter-racial dating occurs and (as far as I have observed in 3 years) there are no racial hostilites on campus. In fact, I feel opressed that a black student union exists.

On another note, my african-american neighbor across the street at home has a black santa claus in his front yard. To me this is an example of the "cult-like" attitudes that perpetuate racial stereotypes. How you may ask? I utterly fail to see how a traditional european fairy tale featuring a white (whoops, that should be caucasian right?) santa can be converted into another ethnicity in order to increase cultural equality in some way.

And then there are some things I will never understand. Kwanza...? I know it has something to do with harvests and that it was invented somewhat recently. I don't understand why its embraced an "african-american" (or black if that floats your boat) tradition. An attempt to compete with a caucasian christmas? Yet another snag in better relations with our fellow man.

the dilemma of rascism (4.00 / 6) (#38)
by boxed on Sat Dec 30, 2000 at 12:39:14 PM EST

Rascism is based on a single assumption: that there are human races. Modern genetics has shown us beyond any doubt that this premise is not only wrong but downright laughable. The genetic variation in humans is extremely small. (The common example is: two humans from opposite parts of the world are genetically closer to each other than two normal individuals in a chimpansee group.) People need to catch up to what has been happening in science.

Race itself is a myth and using the word "rascism" only promotes the idea. Arguments like "all races are equal" or "the races should be separated" are meaningless since they are both based in rascism.

An historical example (5.00 / 5) (#42)
by yigal on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 10:45:59 AM EST

When I read this question, an interesting piece of Dutch history immediately sprang to mind: the period 1917-1967. During these fifty years, the Netherlands dealt with a similar problem. Let me explain, and maybe shed some light on this conversation.

The Netherlands has always been a very tolerant country; if you had money, or if you could help others make money, you were more than welcome. This resulted among others in several religious groups living 'together'. Most notably were the Catholics and the non-Catholic Christians (protestants).

At the beginning of the previous century (the 20th), a third group emerged: the socialists. Since one of the dogma's of socialisms is the absence of religion, they were clearly a third group.

These groups stuck together more and more, and finally around 1917 this resulted in what has been called the 'verzuiling', which is probably translated as 'columnization'. Dutch society was not only divided in the usual strata (elite and non-elite) but much more importantly they were divided in columns. Each column had its own elite and non-elite strata and each column minded its own business. Historically, four columns have been identified: the catholic, the protestant, the socialist and the 'neutral' or 'liberal' column. The neutrals thought that columnization was stupid and therefore they are ironically grouped in the fourth column :-)

So far, this does not differ from the American example. Different groups which share a common culture and are not completely happy about the other groups. However, columnization had a historically unique aspect: every column had roughly the same size, the same social status and the same political power.

The media played an important role in the foundations of this columnizations. Every column had its own radio broadcasting corporation and every column had its own newspapers. Furthermore, every column had its own shops, its own clubs and of course its own political party. In short, there were four 'nations' within one nation, all living happily separated from each other.

This meant that e.g. during elections no single party could get the majority. In other words, differing parties had to form a coalition and cooperate. And the elite of every party was more than willing to do so. This prevented many excessive things from happening (since no minority point of view could be accepted), most noteably the fact that there could not be any offical discrimination (apart from the colonial parts of course, but hey, who minded them in those days? :-(

It wasn't until the sixties that the columns grew back together again. WW2 started this process ("we're all dutch against the others") but it was the western-worldwide culture change which meant the 'end' of the columns.

The results are still visible. In the Netherlands we still have loads of political parties and media companies (even though my generation is not quite sure which company has which beliefs :-), coalitions of two or three parties with oppositions of four of five parties have reigned as long as I can remember, and cooperation is an essential part of dutch politics. There is hardly any resistance to the formation of new 'special' schools, like muslim schools. All in all, I think I live in a pretty tolerant country nowadays.

So, how does this all relate to your question? I think this example shows that this 'my culture, my heritage' thing can eventually result in good things, provided that there are multiple parties with equal social/economic/political powers. Unfortunately, I do not have the impression that this is currently the case in America.

But I believe (or hope :-) that this will change. I'm not quite sure of the demographic numbers, but AFAIK black people and hispanic people already form a large population in the US. If only they were to have their own political parties, a lot of discrimination would disappear. (Note, with discrimination I mean giving some parties less rights than other parties. I think that 'thought-discrimination' will never disappear).

Just some food for thought.

It's the human nature... (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by Zenith on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 01:21:07 PM EST

Human, among all living things on Earth have one major similarity, an instinct to be in a group that they can identify. When you seriously look at it, most people (if not nearly all) are in some way selfish, we goal is always started from ourselves, then to our family, relatives, friends, suburb, town, city, country, world.

With that said, its not hard to understand why people who migrate to other country want to be identify and being SOMEONE, weather it's their heritage, or culture backgrounds they want to stick together and be known as someone.

I don't really see the problem that exist in such, the diverse of culture will remain, but as the new generation appears more and more will be like the people they migrate to, their skin colo(u)r or races, however, will remain with them forever.

"Truth is what people conceit, but in reality there is no real truth, just opinions." - Zenith

Does heritage prevent equality? | 47 comments (41 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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