Is "going native" offensive in this context?

Is this article, specifically the use of the term “going native,” offensive?

It doesn’t strike me as offensive, but then I’m a white guy.

I perceive that references to “natives,” particularly when speaking of tribal Africans, can often be offensive. I infer that it’s because it’s generally in the context of seeing them as something like untamed savages, with the implication that they are in some way inferior (uneducated, unsophisticated, uncivilized, etc.) to the well-off white folks calling them that.

I can’t say that I have a similar perception to the phrase “going native.” I seldom run across it. The only specific case of it’s being used that I recall is in Charley Pride’s hit song “Tennessee Saturday Night” (with the line “They all go native on Saturday night”), which has its own irony as he was the only black country star of his era.

In the absence of ever hearing of Pacific Islanders objecting to the term “native,” and considering that in the cited article it’s clearly not referring to Blacks, I wouldn’t expect it be offensive. But I stand to learn from someone who has a different perspective.

I think the expression goes back to when Britain had an empire to govern. It did so by sending young Britishers out to the outposts of the Empire, to govern at a distance (socially) from the natives. Of course, some of these British administrators fell in love with the local culture, adopted local customs, and even fraternised with the natives. That was “going native” – and the phrase implied looking down on the natives as being inferior to the British.

It was then used in the TV series Yes Minister and Yes Priime Minister, where it alludes to the Minister arriving from the different culture of Parliament to administer part of the Civil Service. If the minister gets caught up in the civil service culture, he has “gone native” – and from the point of view of the Chief Whip, this would be a bad thing, but from the point of view of Sir Humphrey Appleby it would be useful to keep the real wheels of government well-oiled.

So it can be moderately offensive, or not, depending on your point of view.

I might be hesitant to use that expression due to it’s overtones of Kipling and The Heart of Darkness. My personal experience of it is mostly in the context of the British Empire, the Raj, colonialism, and “the white man’s burden.” Still, in that particular piece I don’t see that it’s particularly offensive.

I’m really getting tired of “is this offensive”.
It can be anything from “I like this place and want to live like these folks” to the authors thoughts of Africans wearing bones in their noses.

It all depends on what the speaker/writer means by it folks.

This is a term that has always perplexed me. The first time I heard it, one guy says to another who had just lost a lot of weight, “Hey Scott, I don’t want to go native on you but you really look great.”

Each subsequent time I’ve heard it has been in a different and unique context.


I’ve heard it used as a way of mocking whites who are “slumming” with non-whites and taking on their styles and habits. I seem to remember first running across the phrase when watching a documentary about the Cotton Club during the Harlem Renaissance, when many whites would come uptown to partake in black culture.

But as [url="]this
article demonstrates, the term does not have to have racial implications.

I have never heard the phrase used in the way the OP’s article uses it, though. I don’t think it’s offensive, but users should be aware that it does have negative connotations. As used historically, there’s an implication that “going native” is a thing that proper people don’t do.