What paths brought you to the position you are in now?
My interest in race and racism is very much entwined with my personal identity.
I'm of mixed heritage -- Chinese and Belgian -- and I spent most of my childhood in Asia. I grew up identifying as mixed or "Eurasian" (a common term in Asia for people of mixed Asian and European heritage) and everyone around me identified me as such too.
But when I moved to the United States, I noticed that attitudes towards mixed race identity were very different. Here, people felt uncomfortable when I identified as mixed, and would often recategorize me into a single box: "Oh so you're really just Asian then."
After a while I learned about the history of the one-drop rule, which stated that if you had even one drop of black blood in your ancestry, you could not be considered white. I realized that this "you're just Asian" attitude was very much tied to that historical legacy.
The one-drop mentality is still extremely strong in the United States. Just think of Tiger Woods, for example. He is a multiracial person of mixed African-American, European-American and Asian-American ancestry. Yet most people would classify him just as "black."
New Demographic actually began as a way to educate people about the myths and stereotypes that exist about mixed race people and interracial relationships. But soon I realized that I was actually using these two topics as filters through which to discuss race and racism in general.
Today, New Demographic's seminars cover many different aspects of race and racism. But the seminars about the myths and realities of mixed race identity and interracial relationships are still among the most popular.
Why do you think we are "addicted to race"?
I chose the name "Addicted to Race" for New Demographic's weekly podcast because I felt that it really captured America's obsession with race.
Why are we so obsessed? Probably because race is so deeply engrained in the fabric of this country.
The concept of race has stuck around because it has proven to be so useful in keeping power (economic, political and social power) in the hands of some people, and keeping power out of the hands of other people.
For example, blacks were thought to be inferior to whites, to be child-like and needing adult supervision. This belief system was a way to justify the existence of slavery. If blacks weren't quite human, it wouldn't violate this country's principles of freedom and democracy to treat them so poorly.
how do racial stereotypes start?
from ellen age 10
Ellen, thanks so much for your question!
The origins of many of today's racial stereotypes can be traced back to the very first interactions between Europeans and non-Europeans. In some cases, we can trace them as far back as the 16th century.
For example, one of the most prevalent stereotypes is that Asian men are effeminate and weak. Some people argue that this stereotype started because when the first European explorers visited China, it was fashionable for Chinese men to wear gowns and grow their hair long. To these early explorers, this may have seemed "girly" because the customs were quite the opposite in Europe.
Also, many of the first Chinese immigrants to the U.S. made their living by doing laundry or childcare - activities that were considered "women's work" at the time. This may have solidified the idea that Asian men weren't "real men."
But of course, all these stereotypes have a long and complex history, and we cannot pinpoint for sure where they all came from.
What is white privilege?
Think about it this way. If you're right-handed, like me, you never have to think about the fact that you're right-handed. You don't have a problem using scissors because they were designed for people like you. You're the majority, you're "normal," so much so that you never even think about the fact that you are right-handed.
White privilege refers to the benefits (earned or unearned) that white people receive simply by being white, by being part of the majority. I would highly recommend reading Peggy McIntosh's book, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. This web site has republished some of the "Daily effects of white privilege" from the book:
1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
What's important to teach little kids about race, and how do you do it?
I would highly recommend that you check out the excellent discussion on my other blog, Anti-Racist Parent. A reader had written in to ask if there were some race topics that were inappropriate for her 9 year-old son. Here are some of the comments that people contributed:
"By the time my kids were in 1st grade, they were reporting hearing names and slurs against all kinds of people including those against gays and lesbians - not just people of ethnic and racial diversity."
"I believe that if we don’t begin teaching our kids about the powerful meanings behind language aimed towards discussing race and racism (and that also goes for sexism and heterosexism) in our own homes and at age appropriate ways, that they’ll just pick up all the information from their peers and often it’s in ways I don’t care for. I liken it to sex education."
"I don’t think the content itself is too much, but the level of explicitness could be. For example, I don’t think a 9 YO needs to see the infamous lynching postcards and photographs - it’s probably too much for a sensitive kid to handle, and it could be a desensitizing thing or easy target for the kids who haven’t developed enough empathy yet. Just knowing that people were attacked and killed for the color of their skin, ethnic origin, talking back, standing up, etc. could be enough to get the point across."
"Race and racism are often “special topics” — segregated from the rest of life. I think kids are MORE ready to discuss more subtle forms of racism. I mean, I think most kids aren’t going to get why the “n” word is worse than, say, calling a friend stupid unless they understand more subtle forms of racism."
"We have been discussing, reading children’s books, and watching documentaries about these topics with our daughter since she turned 5 years old, because that’s when she started asking questions. We do screen for scary images. I don’t know how to explain the importance of the struggle for civil rights without explaining what was being done to people."
"I may be the only one that thinks 4th grade is late to talk about racism. We talk about it all the time — we don’t describe lynching but we talk about people who harm others or treat others badly because of their race. We read the I have a Dream speech every year, we talk about the Japanese internment, bus boycotts, assumptions and stereotypes made on the basis of race, slavery in the U.S. and present day slavery in many parts of the world."
"My son, who is black, came home from first grade last year asking us about the N-word. We had sure hoped he wouldn’t hear it so early, but someone had applied it to him, ALREADY. It turns out that it was a friend who had learned it from his teenage brother."
"Race isn’t just a historical issue - it is a fact about every day life in America. It should come up everywhere - the fact that it doesn’t makes it clear that us adults need to become more comfortable talking about it too."
"But when explaining the historical aspects of racism, I think the explanation should avoid going into graphic details until the child is at an older age. A child should be aware of racism and it’s roots but a teacher/parent should be careful about creating racial boogie-men in the child’s mind. This country has a problem where many people think that if they are not like a racial boogie-man (a Nazi, a lyncher, a segregationist, etc) that they are not a racist person."
"During Black History Month I have already had opportunities to talk to my daughter about racism in ways I didn’t expect, sometimes adding to the information she gets. Her teacher apparently neglected to mention that MLK was killed for taking a stand, probably because parents want to control when that information hits them and many would think age five is a little young. As far as I can tell after revealing that iformation, she did not then conclude that she would be killed for taking a stand: it just seemed to help her understand what made him so brave."
I was recently at a meeting where the term tolerence came up, and someone said that tolerence should not be our goal - we should not merely tolerate others, but we should accept and welcome them - this I thought was an excellent point. How come tolerance is so often a goal when it seems that is setting the bar so low?
I'm so glad you brought up this point! I also abhor the term "tolerance."
Think about it: what do we tolerate? We tolerate messy roommates. We tolerate unpleasant smells. We tolerate micro-managing bosses. These are all unpleasant, undesirable things
By encouraging "tolerance," we make it seem as if there's something wrong with being non-white - that it's the white person's burden to "tolerate" them.
I absolutely agree that we should not make "tolerance" a goal.
What percentige of the U.S.A's population still believe in racism?
Also is there anything we can do to stop racism?
Final question is if someone is a racist is there a way to try to get them not to be racist?
Thanks for your question! I think that first of all we need to define what we mean by "racism."
As I wrote in my Scientist on the Spot profile, most people think racism is all about white hoods, burning crosses, and racial slurs. But racism isn’t limited to intentional displays of hate and prejudice. Racism also includes the belief that physical and intellectual abilities can be attributed to racial differences.
Many people, for example, think that all blacks are good athletes, or all Asians are good at math and science. These are “positive” stereotypes, but they’re still racist because they reduce individuals to two- dimensional caricatures.
If we think about racism in this way, the truth is that all of us hold racist beliefs.
If you want to do something about racism, first you have to learn to see it. So I would recommend that you start by educating yourself: read books, watch movies, talk to people. Know that ideas about race were developed over history and used to oppress certain groups while giving power to other groups.
Think about what stereotypes exist about your racial group? How have those stereotypes affected you? Have you ever felt at a disadvantage because of a stereotype about your race? Has a stereotype about your race ever given you an advantage over someone of a different race?
Become more aware of your own beliefs. What racial stereotypes do you believe in—even just a little? Why do you believe those stereotypes? How can you overcome those beliefs?
why is it that people tend to segregate themselves even though they know that racism is wrong. For example, in high school, durinng class hours everyone would work together and be friends but at luch time you can clearly see the separations. Theres a side for asians, blacks, whites, hispanics etc...so why do we do that?
I think that most of us have a tendency to assume that we'll have more in common with someone of our own racial or ethnic background. Often there's a shared set of references, a shared culture, that makes it easy to reach a level of ease and comfort that would be more difficult to achieve with someone of a different racial or ethnic background.
But even in a case like this, we are making assumptions based on race and we'll often be wrong. For example, I may assume that I can joke easily with another Asian-American I just met about overbearing Asian mothers, but it's possible that this person has not had the same experiences as me and therefore can't relate. :)
I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with having friends predominantly from your racial or ethnic group, it's more a problem if you're making a conscious decision to not associate with people from other backgrounds.
What are some key points to remember when engaging someone in conversation about race? What can someone do for example, in situations where an individual is being resistant to the very idea that racism is still very much apart of our everyday existence?
To be honest, this is something I still struggle with every day, and I don't think I've found the magic formula yet. But here are some general principles I try to adhere to.
1) Express empathy. If you can convey to the other person that you feel where they're coming from, even if you disagree with them, the conversation will probably be more positive and productive.
2) Stay cool. It's important to stay as calm as you can during these conversations, even if the other person is saying things that make you want to pull your hair out. Escalating the conversation into an argument accomplishes nothing.
3) Critique the argument, not the person. Refrain from criticizing the other person's intellect, character, etc. Telling them that they "just don't get it" or are "misguided" doesn't really move the conversation forward.
4) Demonstrate that we are all affected. More likely than not, at some point the other person will get angry and accuse you of labeling them as a racist. It's important to point out that we *all* hold racist beliefs because we have spent our entire lives exposed to racist messages and institutions. As I wrote in my profile, having racist beliefs doesn't make you an evil person. But we each need to work on ourselves to overcome these beliefs.
That said, there are some people who won't want to hear about racism, no matter how well you state your case. Ultimately, you need to pick your battles.
As an African American/Irish American woman working for my local county government, I continue to get sterotyped by my co-workers. If I ask questions about work activities, I am aggressive, and if I don't ask any questions than I am lazy. I find that a person of color I am always having to adapt my personality and work style to fit in with my white co-workers, but that is not done for me. Do you or have you experienced this in your work place or any other place in your life? Thank you
Jamie, unfortunately what you've described is a common experience for people of color. Many of us are stereotyped based on our race. Because I'm Asian, for example, I've been in many situations where my supervisor thought of me as quiet, shy and timid, even when I acted in quite the opposite manner. And I know many black women who are labeled by coworkers as "angry" or "difficult" for no reason at all. Some people just can't get past the stereotypes they've created in their minds and see the reality in front of them.
I would highly recommend that you pick up the book Minority Rules: Turn Your Ethnicity Into a Competitive Edge by Kenneth Arroyo Roldan. It's an excellent book jam-packed with great advice. One of his tips is to find a mentor -- also a person of color -- at your company who can help guide you through some of the office politics. I interviewed Roldan on episode 53 of my podcast, Addicted to Race.
You may also be interested in reading a new blog I launched recently, Race in the Workplace. It explores how race and racism influence our working lives.
What do you mean by the term "antiraciism"?
To me, "anti-racism" means actively challenging and working against racism. Many people feel that as long as they themselves aren't being overtly racist in thought, words or action, that's enough.
I have a question about why Asians are still considered the model minority? There are many asians, including myself who aren't at the top of the class and have no asperation for that. Any ideas on how this stereotype can be broken, at least in our lifetime? Thanks...
The "model minority" stereotype is actually fairly recent, compared to some other stereotypes about Asians and Asian-Americans. The term "model minority" was coined in the 1960s by a demographer named William Petersen and was used to compare Asian-Americans to Jewish-Americans. "Petersen described Asian Americans and Jewish Americans as examples of two formerly marginalized groups who, because of their hard work and determination, have risen above the ranks of 'problem minorities.'" (source) Politicians and other public figures have often used the model minority idea to pit racial groups against one another, holding Asian-Americans up as the "good" minority in contrast to the "bad" minorities like African-Americans and Latinos.
"Positive" racial stereotypes are harmful not only because they -- like all stereotypes -- are limiting and dehumanizing, but also because they suggest that other racial groups are inferior in that particular department. That's why I'm a strong believer in challenging "positive" stereotypes just as much as the negative ones.
I actually think that we may see the model minority stereotype about Asian-Americans significantly eroded in our lifetimes. While the Long Duk Dong archetype arises every once in awhile in pop culture, we're seeing a greater diversity of representations of Asians (particularly Asian men). Movies like "Better Luck Tomorrow" and "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" certainly challenged the idea that all Asian guys are math nerds. And we're seeing more complex, nuanced Asian men on TV too. Check out my list of the 5 most fascinating Asian male TV characters for some examples.
How do you feel about being included in an exhibit on race at a Science Museum when associations between race and science have had such negative implications?
Actually I'm really glad that the Science Museum of Minnesota is hosting this exhibit. I've been aware of this project for quite awhile, and I know that one of the main goals of the exhibit is to challenge people's perception of race being a biological reality. From its web site:
The Science of Human Variation
Racial and ethnic categories, which have changed over time, are human-made. We now know that human beings are more alike genetically than any other living species. Scientifically, no one gene, or any set of genes, can support the idea of race. This section focuses on what current science knows about human variation and our species' history.
Once you realize that racial categories are arbitrary, social constructions, you realize that many racist ideals simply make no sense: the opposition to interracial relationships, for example.
I think it's great that this museum is bringing the conversation about science and race to the public in this way.
I truly know and believe racism and hatred to be wrong, but in a society that's supposed to promote tolerance, acceptance, and openness of other opinions, how does one reconcile competing values-- forceful desire to make someone accept "good" racial beliefs-- with the inevitable freedom to allow everyone their thoughts, however "bad" they might be?
Thanks so much for this question -- it's a really thought-provoking one. I won't try to speak for other folks engaged in anti-racist work, I'll just speak from my own perspective.
I'm not necessarily out to force people to "accept 'good' racial beliefs," as you put it. I don't think it's advisable (or realistic) to force someone to think the way you do. The best I can hope for is to present people with information they may not have known about before -- whether that's historical information, a certain analysis of media representations -- and then let them make up their own minds.
Most people engaged in civil rights or anti-racist work probably agree on some broad principles, but apart from that, there are many different points of view - and we don't all agree of everything. And that's healthy, in my opinion.
It seems like many people are against interracial relationships even though they say that they are not racist. Is it considered racism if they're against interracial relationships? Why do you think some people are against these relationships?
"Is it considered racism if they're against interracial relationships?"
The short answer is: yes. But people's reasons for opposing interracial relationships are not necessarily confined to the old ideas about preserving racial purity, etc.
In my seminar, Not Just Fetishists and Race Traitors: Myths and Realities of Interracial Relationships, I identify some of the common myths that exist about interracial relationships.
One of these is the idea that who you're with indicates where your loyalty lies. Many people believe that dating or marrying outside your race is a betrayal to your community, it's an act of "selling out."
If you consider the history of this country, it's really not surprising that some people of color -- African-Americans in particular -- would be offended by people who willingly engage in relationships with white people. In November 2002, an article in Essence Magazine titled Making the case for teaching our boys to 'Bring Me Home a Black Girl' said: "it seems almost anti-self to want to mate with someone from a culture that has historically denigrated, despised and oppressed you -- and continues to do so."
Some folks are also suspicious at people's motivations for entering interracial relationships. People tend to make all kinds of assumptions about interracial couples: that one person has "jungle fever," or that the other has an "Asian fetish," or that one person wants to benefit from white privilege through his/her partner.
One of the messages I try to emphasize is that we shouldn't be so quick to jump to conclusions about why interracial couples are together. If you think about it, people in general enter relationships for all the wrong reasons: people marry for money, stay in abusive relationships, settle for what they can get just so they're not lonely, and so on. We don't automatically make assumptions about "monoracial" couples. But why is it that with interracial couples, everyone feels entitled to an opinion?
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