Link: How to Ask Someone About Their Ethnicity Without Being an Asshole

“This means I am a walking version of this fun little game called ‘What Kind of Not White Person Are You?’”

I don’t really agree that people are really being assholes or that there’s such a lack of a not-asshole way of asking, but whatever. The examples are prime. Also, this is me breaking my usual no-Jezebel rule.

3 responses to “Link: How to Ask Someone About Their Ethnicity Without Being an Asshole”

  1. Japh Avatar

    Nice. It’s basically common sense, right?

    I love to travel, experience different cultures and languages, etc. so I’m always curious to talk about places and find out where other people have been. This sometimes leads me to dangerous territory in terms of the “What’s your ethnicity?” question. Usually, I don’t lead with that, and I phrase it “What’s your heritage / ancestry?” or sometimes “Have you done much travel?”

    Often what actually inspires these questions is someone’s accent, rather than the “brownness” of their skin. I don’t assume someone with brown skin has done any travelling, and that’s really what I’m interested in: “Where have you been and what’s interesting there?”

    It’s a difficult question to ask without seeming like you have some negative agenda though.

    1. Japh Avatar

      By “negative agenda”, I probably more accurately mean “prejudice” or “ignorance”.

    2. Helen Avatar

      Well, personally I don’t actually start from a base assumption that people are being malicious or anything like that when asking, which is probably contrary to what it seems like sometimes with what I link to 🙂 That said, I think context is what changes everything – randomly coming from a stranger first thing is aggravating because it makes you feel like you’re nothing more than your race; curiosity from somebody who’s getting to know you is more often than not just a typical flow of the conversation.

      I know I’m always noticing shifts in how I ask questions or differences in things I don’t normally ask. For instance, I actually don’t often ask somebody where they’re from because I know for me that’s a very difficult question to answer, as I’ve moved around a lot. I also grew up in a military-heavy town, so most people I’ve known have a similarly difficult time answering the “from” question. I tend to ask where you live, or where your hometown is, or something more specific like that. I don’t think everybody should be the same way or anything; it’s just interesting for me to observe patterns and the whys.

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