Why are people hesitant to use race as a description?

Why does it matter who came up with it, given the numerous terms for that group that have appeared and fallen out of favor?

I don’t really understand race.

I saw a magazine once, I think it was Ebony, with some old white guy on the cover, and the headline said: “America’s Most Successful Black CEO” or somesuch. I’ve seen “white” people darker than “black” people, I have no clue what hispanics are supposed to look like, and don’t even get me started on Jews.

It would only aggravate the problem if I said “It was the black guy”, and have everybody looking for an African-American when it turns out the guy I’m talking about is Indian or Columbian or whatever.

I think people who are afraid of using race as a descriptor are almost always white people who are afraid of beign called racists.

I wasn’t asking about the word for the title itself.

The only time when race descriptors bother me are when race is totally irrevelant to the conversation. As in, “I was standing in the check-out line, and this black lady had a nervous breakdown.” There’s nothing wrong with being described as a “black lady”, but it makes the speaker sound like that’s the first thing they noticed.

Once, I accidently brushed against a car parked on the side of the street and broke a tail light. I was almost to the parking lot, so instead of blocking traffic I sidled over to a parkinglot as fast as I could and then made tracks back to the site of the accident so I could leave a note. Lo and behold, someone had beat me to the punch. The note said, “An African American woman driving a van hit your car”. I admit, it kind of bothered me that my race was mentioned. What was the driver going to do with that information? Send out an APB for an African American woman driving a van? In Newark, NJ? Yeah, good luck with that.

Indeed. And some members of this human race are, say, black. And when one needs to point out that member of the human race when no other member of the human race in the vicinity is black, it’s the best way to identify him.

Huh? When the two races came together it was an obvious and helpful line of demarcation between the two groups. As was the term “white”. I have no idea what you’re getting at.

Oh, come on. Just because the descriptor isn’t always helpful doesn’t mean it is never helpful. Some individuals are hard to categorize at a glance, so it’s not helpful. Others fit quite clearly iinto our idea of black, hispanic, or asian.

AHA! You’re sexist! Why point out that he was a male?

Seriously, wouldn’t the additional information of his race, if it was known, be more helpful than not having it?

It’s rude to use the most noticeable and distinguishing thing about a person in a description of them. It might hurt his feelings to be reminded that everyone who sees him immediately knows that he’s black.

What reality are you talking about? There is so much unnecessary bigotry ove the differences in the human race. The color of one’s skin, eyes, nose shape or etc. does not define a person.

There are Indians (from India) who have blacker skin then a lot of those of direct African decent. Skin color does help in a discription but it is not a race.

One could say a person has dark brown, white, or Black skin, in a discription, some people of African decent can be described as Caucasian their skin is so light.


I damn near got whooshed with this one.

But did “woman” bother you as well? It seems like the gender description would be equally useless to apprehending the perp (I’ve just always wanted to use that word).

I’m not asking to be snarky. I read that sentence and the race description makes me uncomfortable and the gender description doesn’t, but I can’t put my finger on why that should be.

I think this is the smartest post so far on this board, and these are my sentiments, exactly. Well done.

I really don’t get the discomfort if skin color is used as a descriptor in order to distinguish one person from another. If the person I am referring to is the only one in the room wearing glasses or the only one with red hair or the only one who is over 7 feet tall, does that mean I am discriminatory? No. It means that in a room full of people I found a way to distinguish one individual from another.

If, however, I arbitrarily mentioned skin color, such as saying, “This black guy at work told me he had a good time in Vegas,” then it is discriminatory because race has nothing to do with the story. Who gives a damn that it was a black man that had a good time in Vegas? Only someone with a slight racial bend.

Change it from people to puppies. I want to point out one particular puppy but they are all moving around so I cannot simply say, “The third from the left.” Since I do not know their names I will have to give you a description so you can know which one I am referring to. “Do you see the smaller male with the brown spot over his eye and the black stripe down his back?”

Out of curiosity, would you similarly condemn someone who said “I saw the cutest brown puppy today”? In both cases it’s irrelevant information, which to me is a morally neutral thing.

(Emphasis mine)

Yes, it does.

(Emphasis mine)

That’s the very definition of discrimination!

For shame.

“African-American woman”. The first thing I notice is the pointless mention of ethnicity. The gender thing is also unnecessary, but it gets eclipsed by the first.

If the note had just read “A woman hit your car,” then I’d take ample notice of gender.

I’ve spent the whole day thinking about this question, and I’ve finally come up with an answer.

The difference is a gender label is equal opportunity. Everyone has been referred to as “that lady over there” or “this guy here” some time in their life. And everyone refers to others by gender–it’s built into our pronouns. Therefore, it’s not unnatural or weird to say, “I know a woman who’s so crazy she stole an elephant from the zoo”. No, her gender is not relevant to her insanity, but if we replace “woman” with “person”, we’re also going to have to replace “she” with a neutral pronoun.

But when it comes to race, it’s only the minority who really gets casts as the “fill-in-the-blank guy”. If you hear someone say, “This black woman I encountered yesterday…”, you can generally assume the speaker is not black. Chances are they would not say “This white woman”, because to them “white woman” is the default for “woman”. For me, that’s where the discomfort comes from. But I only feel like this when race is being thrown out gratituously.

As far as identification purposes, I’ve found that black people tend to describe other black people in more specific ways than white people. For a white person, saying “black” is generally enough, whereas a black person is more likely to give skin tone (light-skinned, medium brown, dark). Kind of like how a white person is more likely to give hair color rather than just say “white”.

I can fully agree with your analysis. But would an African American (like you) describe a random stranger woman as a “white woman” and use it as a descriptive term and not mean anything negative by it?

I understand what you are saying: That we naturally only describe things that are different, and a white person saying that another person is “black” is implying that the person is “different” or not normal.

I am just wondering if you do the same in your conversations with other African Americans…

The point I’m trying to make is that I am culturally ignorant. I see your outrage that you found a note saying “An African-American woman driving a van hit you” and you concentrate ONLY on the race descriptor. Not the gender, and not the type of car.

Could you imagine how silly it would be if someone said, “Why did they have to say “van”? Surely SUVs and passenger cars can hit other vehicles?” ?

But I am a white male who has never suffered from discrimination. Could this be ignorant blindness on my part, or extra racial sensitivity on your part? I’m not being a smart ass, but asking a serious question…