Does casual mention of a person's race bother you?

I was talking to my mom on the phone the other day and she started telling me about her last week at school (she’s an elementary teacher). I noticed that she kept on referring to her students’ races, both white and black. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed it, of course, but it was really getting to me this time. (Both my mom and I are white, FWIW.)

I don’t plan to bring this up to my mom at all since I have bigger fish to fry, but I’m just wondering if I’m the only one this grates on. What’s the point of mentioning their race? I’m never going to meet any of these kids, and it sounded a little demeaning the way she phrased it, i.e. “sweet little black girl,” or something. Almost infantilizing in a way, and it also makes her seem more than a bit racist. Of course we’re all a little bit racist, and I’m more than a little bit sensitive, but still, I don’t know if this is just me being sensitive or if I have a real gripe here.

I’m also in a couple of writing groups, and one of the things I WILL remark on is when a writer will mention an insignificant character’s race without any point at all (“the black cashier handed back the change”–yes, I’ve actually seen that one). I’ve seen this in printed books, too, and it’s one of those book-flinging lines. Unless it’s important to the story, or the character is a main character (and even then, it only needs to be mentioned once, not over and over like some authors do), what’s the point of mentioning the race? Anyone else bothered by this too?

It doesn’t bother me but I grew up in a small Southern town that was 50/50 black and white. We lived in relative harmony but there was a huge cultural divide. It would be a little odd to leave out someones race because it was probably the second biggest descriptor after sex. I know the correlation isn’t that great everywhere but people do try to picture someone you are describing and a race description is a shorthand way to convey that type of information. People do it with other things as well such as noting that someone is blonde or a redhead or even handicapped.

It does irritate me, because it’s almost only mentioned when the race is not the person’s own: white people will say, “I was driving down the road, and this black guy cut me off,” but never, “I was driving down the road, and this white guy cut me off.”

When I encounter folks doing this, I’m always tempted to start mentioning everyone’s race to them: “My white brother told me that at this club he DJs at, the white bartender makes really strong drinks, but his white manager doesn’t approve. The white and black and Asian customers, though, really like it.”


It does bother me. It has always bothered me. I use to work with someone who, if you mentioned anything about anyone, would ask “Is he black or white?”

I had to sit her down and tell her I have never considered people in terms of color, and what difference does it make anyways?

If there’s no functional need to know the person’s race, it bugs the hell out of me. On the other hand, when someone comes up to me and asks me if I know Mary, and I get “the look” when I say “she’s the black girl at that table on the left” I get equally annoyed. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning a person’s skin color in certain instances. If you’re using the statement to reinforce a stereotype or hate agenda, I’m probably doing this: :rolleyes:

Does she mention other characteristics of the children as well (e.g. “red-haired girl,” “skinny kid,” “boy who always wears a baseball cap”)? Maybe she’s just a very visual person who likes little descriptions that help her and/or her listeners visualize the people she’s talking about?

It bothers me as well. Partly because, as LHoD mentioned, white people rarely describe others as ‘white’-- I think it feeds into the subconscious idea that white people are the default and other races are add-ons.

I’m with Kalhoun on this one. If there is no need for me to know the race of the person being mentioned, don’t mention it. If it’s germane to the situation, do mention it.

Sometimes. I listened to the audio book Little Scarlet by Walter Mosely recently–and he always pointed out the races of the characters in his descriptions. Now, in fairness, it is mystery novel, but also a work of historical fiction set in LA just after the LA race riots in 1965. So race matters a lot more than it should in today’s world. (Race is also relevant to the mystery) Still, the amount of emphasis on skin color as a descriptor of people bugged me. (Not black/white so much as coffee colored, or very dark skinned).

In the 2000 Newbery book, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, he always describes white people as “a white lady” or “a little white boy” but doesn’t specify the race of black people. I thought this was a nice touch, because it made me think about all the times the reverse is true but I don’t notice it.

I wouldn’t say it bothers me per se. If it’s just used as an additional descriptor of a person, no big. If it’s being used as in the example above (I got cut off by a black guy!), then I would be annoyed. I tend to only use it when I’m describing a person, or if I can’t remember their name. (You know, that guy…tall, black, wears glasses, used to date Sharon…)


I was talking with this black kid once when he started doing exactly as the OP describes. It really bothered me. An Asian guy who had overheard the conversation started getting in his face about it before some Jew came over and calmed things down.

I think you responded to the wrong thread!

Driven by a white guy, I bet.

It bothers me if there’s a negative on it. Oherwise skin color is just as valid a description as “tall, short, fat, thin, ugly, smoking hot, ruddy, sallow, etc. etc.”

Casual doesn’t bother me. Irrelevant makes me wonder why they’re mentioning it.

And yes, I do describe white people as white. If someone comes into my office and is looking for someone they’ve never seen, I’ll tell them, “He’s white, tall, brown hair…” Whatever describes the person.

Yes, unless there is a reason for including it that is pertinent to the tale, it bothers me very much.

But why even mention that he’s a guy?
“I was driving down the road, and this black guy cut me off”
is bad, then
“I was driving down the road, and this guy cut me off”
is also bad.

Based on the above logic, we should say
“I was driving down the road, and this person cut me off”

But, I think we are going too far. So what if someone mentions that a guy, woman, black or white cut them off?

Adding descriptors, even ones that have seemingly no correlation to the story, gives the audience a more exact image of what happened.

“A person came into my store today and bought candy”
is much more boring than
“A blonde woman came into my store today and bought candy”
“This massive bald dude came into my store today and bought candy”

It bothers me mostly because I hear of from people who claim they aren’t prejudiced and then make fun of certain racial or ethnic groups. My grandfather can’t mention his friend Pete without reminding everyone that Pete is black. He says it to imply that he’s a great guy because he has a black friend. The he tell a story about how he supprised the Hell out of the big, black woman who was his nurse that Pete was his ride home. Cause you know how racist black people are that they don’t hink that black people and white people can be friends. Don’t get him started on Arabs and ‘typical New York Jews’ and gays and male chauvinists…

I can’t say I’ve heard truly neutral use of an unnecessary racial descriptor. When saying that Pedro is the hispanic guy at the end of the plant, that is a necessary descriptor. When saying that Pedro is the hispanic guy whe doesn’t understand his job, that is just unnecessary and probably being used to imply racism.