(mis)handling non-US content April 18, 2014 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Between the comments on this post about a story written by a Singaporean writer and the framing of this post about Storypick, I feel like Metafilter does not do non-American content well.

Those two posts feel like the reaction to non-US or even non-Western-world content is "lol whut" or "I don't get it" or "look at these silly foreigners" rather than engaging with the content. In the Amanda Koe post, the inability to understand the context of the content is blamed on the writer, and there's even comments mocking the outrage by the AAPI community, which is unnerving. On the Storypick post a few other people have been engaging with the site's actual content, and the OP says they mean no insult, but it's still sad to see Storypick solely in terms of its derivative nature (ironically something the Koe essay addresses).

I know the Metafilter memberbase is predominantly American, but it's not exclusively so, and even some of us based in the US hold immigrant backgrounds. Can we be better at not evaluating everything outside the US in terms of how much it's like or unlike Americana?
posted by divabat to Etiquette/Policy at 1:48 PM (330 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

Since the vast majority of participants here are American, why would you expect otherwise?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:55 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Because Americans are not the center of the universe.
posted by divabat at 1:58 PM on April 18, 2014 [86 favorites]


Since the vast majority of participants here are American, why would you expect otherwise?

The point is that people not pretend that they are not American but that they be mindful of the fact that

1. Not everyone on MetaFilter is American and it's useful to have that as a general guiding principal when you're commenting here
2. Stuff may be posted that you may not, as an American (or other nationality, but American is what divabat is referring to) fully understand but that an "lol wut" response to something that may be just a regular old part of other cultures is sort of ... not a great way forward if we're trying to maintain a userbase of many different kinds of people including nationalities, races, etc.

So, my take was that zarq's post was more just a tough-to-grok article from a number of perspectives and I think most of the 13 comments seem to be addressing that in some way or another. It's tough sometimes to draw a line between what is misunderstanding a culture and what is just not understanding or not liking an article.

Stuff that requires a more-than-101 level of understanding of race/class/gender issues is always a little fraught though I think we've been doing better. Which is not to say we can't continue to do better. I didn't even look at the other article so can't speak to it at all.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:00 PM on April 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


It's the responsibility of non-Americans on this website to frame posts from a non-American standpoint. As an American, I feel that I am nearly powerless in this regard.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:01 PM on April 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yes, Metafilter is frequently awful at non-American / non-Western content. To put it in the common parlance, there's a certain privilege in not needing to know about any culture apart from one's own to understand a lot about the world - similar to the privilege of English speakers not really needing to learn another language to travel.

I have in the past tried to go into threads to counter the worst misrepresentations of countries/cultures I knew something about; these days I mostly shrug and read something else.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:01 PM on April 18, 2014 [23 favorites]


Can we be better at not evaluating everything outside the US in terms of how much it's like or unlike Americana?

I think it's worth making that effort, for sure, yeah. Folks being mindful that they're on a website that very much includes people with different perspectives and basic cultural assumptions is a good thing and worth encouraging.

The "we" part is tricky because this isn't a case where there's any question of enforceability or even necessarily agreement on the terms since there's the issue of folks not intentionally asserting an American-centric agenda at a personal level; a preponderance of American users can have the affect of presenting a lot of US-flavored discussion without any of the individuals proceeding with that specific goal in mind, etc. The result isn't any less frustrating, but that's part of the challenge of looking at how to try and encourage folks to be more thoughtful about this stuff.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:08 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Saying that Metafilter is frequently awful at non-western content is excessive. I've found some sincere engagement in topics that far outweighed the occasional "what is this, I don't even" weirdness. I'm glad divabat posted this though, as I'd missed zarq's post.
posted by arcticseal at 2:08 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


From my western perspective, the framing of that buzzfeed post bothered me a little bit. Not a lot, but a little.
posted by Think_Long at 2:09 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can we be better at not evaluating everything outside the US in terms of how much it's like or unlike Americana?

I sympathize, but I'm not sure what there is to expect when people who are ignorant of a certain culture want to engage in a conversation about it because of whatever reason it is they want to engage. What else do they have except their experiences with something they think is similar?

I mean the answer to that question is "hopefully a sense of curiosity that extends beyond popping into a thread to say WHAT'S ALL THIS THEN" but I've long, long ago stopped assuming people are so much as going to bother reading the content of the FPP's links. Expecting people to do some additional boning up on foreign-to-them cultures before jumping into a thread about said cultures is hoping for the moon. Expecting them to not contribute because they have nothing relevant to say is an equally losing gamble.
posted by griphus at 2:16 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Stuff that requires a more-than-101 level of understanding of race/class/gender issues is always a little fraught though I think we've been doing better.

To take the Storypick post as an example: that didn't even need a more-than-101 level understanding of political issues. That was just a site collecting posts about Indian pop culture. It is interesting that they've taken Upworthy's layout wholesale, but the framing of the post made it sound like its resemblance to other clickbait sites was the only interesting thing about it.

As far as the Koe post goes: how different would the reaction have been if Koe was based in the US or her Singaporean-ness was not stated?
posted by divabat at 2:17 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


how different would the reaction have been if Koe was based in the US or her Singaporean-ness was not stated?

In my opinion only? I think most of those 13 comments would have been the same. I think there's an open question about whether the writer's style (that some people found offputting) is informed by her culture and that may have been what people in the thread were perceived as pushing back against but we didn't get around to discussing that.

Storypick framing? Yep I thought that was odd in a similar way that you describe.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:28 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's the responsibility of non-Americans on this website to frame posts from a non-American standpoint.

I can't even parse this. Do you mean "clearer to Americans" or "more clearly about something non-American"?
posted by psoas at 2:29 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I feel like that Storypick post is being unfairly called out here. I wouldn't have posted it myself because I find it thin and the framing confusing, but is it really "look at these silly foreigners"? Or is it even really "this site is derivative"? To me the post is intended to be an exploration of the Buzzfeed/Upworthy model, and some clarity about that model can come from stripping it of the context which is usually inseparable from the model itself - basically (and caveat this is arguable) a white, middle class, American pop culture savvy, socially liberal context. It's interesting to look at the clickbait model in a different light, basically. I don't see how that necessitates "lol foreigners" in any way. And I happen to be Indian-American so I'm at least nominally part of both milieus.
posted by naju at 2:31 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


jessamyn: " So, my take was that zarq's post was more just a tough-to-grok article from a number of perspectives and I think most of the 13 comments seem to be addressing that in some way or another. It's tough sometimes to draw a line between what is misunderstanding a culture and what is just not understanding or not liking an article. "

I was actually nervous that the headline would upset people who didn't click through to the link and felt it was racist. I was convinced that was much more likely than people not grokking the article. So I explicitly pointed out the author's name above the fold, and that she is Singaporean below, to make sure people knew whose voice was speaking.

Once the post was up, the comments didn't really surprise me, anyway. Although I do wish more people had addressed the content rather than the style. (My common poster's lament.) Shakespeherian once said that posts about art, artists and artwork (of which he's made quite a few cool ones) typically receive fewer comments and favorites than those about many other topics. Perhaps people are uninterested. Perhaps they're simply not comfortable with the material. I sort of think the Koe essay/fpp falls into that category. Some context / experience might be needed to really "get" it.

Yesterday, I got an annoyed email from a Korean-American friend I've known for over 10 years complaining that the headline upset her. She hadn't clicked through to the link before emailing me.

Not every post will be for everyone. I get that. Personally, I enjoy reading essays with writing styles that are a bit more creative, and I know that there's a higher risk when posting stuff like that to mefi that people will not like them. That's fine with me.
posted by zarq at 2:33 PM on April 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


zarq, there is definitely a (small?) contingent of us who very much appreciate the art/ist posts, even if they don't get the same response as new-tech or outrage-politics.
posted by psoas at 2:36 PM on April 18, 2014 [21 favorites]


That's good!
posted by zarq at 2:42 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some context / experience might be needed to really "get" it.

I made a similar comment to this on your post, zarq, and now I'm thinking that while that's true, that seems like an unfair expectation to have on Metafilter.

There's a ton of US-based content posted here without any expectation that people "grok the context" before appreciating it. In those posts you do get a very international range of people commenting - and yes, there is some back-and-forth about the specific US contexts behind the post, but it is still possible to have a good conversation about the issues brought up in the post beyond "lol whut".

American topics seem more "neutral" than non-American topics, with those from the rest of the English-speaking world (Canada, Australia, UK) and Europe coming close to that level of "neutrality".

The Ashol-Pan post is a great example of what I'm seeking for done right. It was about something inherent to a part of Mongolian culture, posted by someone based outside Mongolia (I am assuming DiesIrae isn't themselves Mongolian). The Mongolian heritage is acknowledged in the posts and comments, and still the conversation has largely appreciated the culture as it is, rather than going "lol foreigners".

It is possible, and (unlike what oceanjesse seems to be saying), it doesn't need to solely be the responsibility of the person from the culture to present that culture sensitively.
posted by divabat at 2:46 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can we be better at not evaluating everything outside the US in terms of how much it's like or unlike Americana?

...No?

This has been a problem with this site forever. It's a problem with a lot of similar sites, including ones that generally have high quality content and discussion shit the bed on this.

I'm not saying that as some sort of "fuck off" or anything, but just that this will not occur. A few people will read this meta and maybe consider it when they post in the future. Then other people will make new FPPs that do the exact same thing.

I just don't see what the real resolution could or would be here. This is a problem based in the fact that a lot of the population of most english language sites was raised in a way that without even realize, they kind of have their blinders on and engage with this sort of stuff in a not-totally-awesome way.

I realize this can come across as essentially "get over it", but i'm honestly not seeing an actual solution here.
posted by emptythought at 2:57 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying you're wrong, divabat, I'm saying I don't always know how I could meet those expectations. Are you suggesting that people be more specific about geography, or is this something more complex?
posted by oceanjesse at 3:11 PM on April 18, 2014


The latter is what makes me dubious.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:12 PM on April 18, 2014


I feel like that Storypick post is being unfairly called out here. I wouldn't have posted it myself because I find it thin and the framing confusing,

the framing certainly confused me enough at first glance that I just assumed it was satire I wasn't getting. Now, taking a closer look, I find it a quite revealing site (and in a good way). Like this one, 12 Simple Ways To Piss Off An Indian:

3. Comparing Mumbai with Slumdog Millionaire
posted by philip-random at 3:13 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I read the Koe post as a (very slightly) experimental look at one aspect of racism, not necessarily something with a particular nationality attached. I've read very similar things from Asian-American writers (as well as some things about skin-bleaching and hair straightening from African-Americans and so on).

I thought most of the irritating comments were typical "talking about racism is dumb" crap that shows up in almost every thread that addresses race (and gender and class and...).
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:18 PM on April 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


divabat: " I made a similar comment to this on your post, zarq, and now I'm thinking that while that's true, that seems like an unfair expectation to have on Metafilter."

I agree... but I also think that when it comes to global events and politics and entertainment this is the more the case than certain "niche" topics like minority racism or sexual assault or even art. When it comes to the latter, direct experience may be... well, not required but helpful... because people may not be able to intuit complete understanding without it. Sometimes I build an FPP with the expectation that the person reading it will have little to no foreknowledge of its topic so they're more accessible. Maybe (as I think you're implying) they shouldn't have to be made accessible? Asians are marginalized and mocked and stereotyped and misunderstood so thoroughly in Western culture. It's hard to break away from that.

I have quite a few Asian friends and was in a long-term relationship with a Chinese American woman for over 6 years in my 20's. No doubt I understand the essay better because of those experiences. Not a big deal, but without that I don't know if I would necessarily have understood Koe's meaning right off the bat?

But if I don't understand something, I try to ask questions. Or I say something stupid and get corrected. ;) jenfullmoon said, "what the heck was that" in thread, and it was nice that she did because it gave me the opportunity to post an explanation. An explanation that is probably incomplete and missing additional context, though.

Was truly happy that you commented in the post. Thank you for that.

It is possible, and (unlike what oceanjesse seems to be saying), it doesn't need to solely be the responsibility of the person from the culture to present that culture sensitively.

As much as I'd like to say, "Sure, and I'm a good example. I'm not Chinese. I'm not even Asian. And I posted the thing!" that friend I mentioned above who was upset would say otherwise.
posted by zarq at 3:20 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


...which, I should hasten to add, does not mean MetaFilter isn't bad at non-American content, but the reaction to the Koe FPP is an example of another, more basic, problem MetaFilter (as part of the internet) has.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:22 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


That Storypick post should've been deleted because there's nothing there. You wouldn't link to the Buzzfeed or Upworthy frontpage and to frame it as Upworthy for Indians was a bit orientalist. Had I seen it earlier I would've flagged it.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:28 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


What exactly are you looking for in the Koe post? The thing only had 13 comments prior to this Metatalk so I'm not sure how off-the-rails it could be said to be, eh?
posted by Justinian at 3:34 PM on April 18, 2014


What exactly are you looking for in the Koe post?

I certainly can't speak for divabat, but I was looking for something more than complaints about the (not particularly hard to understand) style with some sniffiness about the "progressive grievance-industrial complex." Maybe, you know, interacting with the content of the linked articles would be a start....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:44 PM on April 18, 2014 [13 favorites]


So you're saying Metafilter users don't RTFA?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:45 PM on April 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Justinian: Discussion about beauty standards and how they can affect your position in life. The ways marginalised people (particularly women and/or of color) are expected to go out of their way to change themselves to be better. The damage perpetrated by seemingly-playful expressions of stereotypes and how people still don't seem to get it, to the point that lawsuits seem like the only way to get anyone's attention. How all of this gets to be explained away by doctors and those in authority as normal and standard, rather than actually examining how it's fucked up. Explorations of how this plays out in other cultures and countries.

What happened in the thread? "what the heck is this" (unlike zarq I'm less charitable about that comment) and "grievance industrial complex". No actual engagement with the material. That it was only 13 comments - even a few days later - also says a lot.
posted by divabat at 3:45 PM on April 18, 2014 [10 favorites]


> Since the vast majority of participants here are American, why would you expect otherwise?

From the POV of naive (rather that world-weary and cynical) expectation, because the majority of those American users present themselves as being intelligent and enlightened and clearly believe that they are. So it would not be completely lunatic to anticipate their acting intelligent and enlightened, rather than not.
posted by jfuller at 3:46 PM on April 18, 2014 [16 favorites]


I think that's a factor of the style rather than some inherent non-Americanness. Metafilter hates that style with the passion of a thousand burning suns.
posted by Justinian at 3:46 PM on April 18, 2014


computech_apolloniajames: Even if they did RTFA, all they seem to comment on is the "lol foreigners" aspect of it. And it's not just the comments either - I'm also talking about posts on the Blue and how people frame websites that come from a different cultural context than theirs.
posted by divabat at 3:46 PM on April 18, 2014


zarq, another vote for more like this please. I enjoyed the article and I'm mailing it to my wife.
posted by arcticseal at 3:49 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


So you see, my dear, it's not them - it's you. Best you don't worry your pretty little head about it…

(Yes, deliberately patronising. That's my point…)
posted by Pinback at 3:50 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh god now I remember why Opera only shows one layer of <small>.
posted by kmz at 3:54 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wait, no that's <sup>. Ugh.
posted by kmz at 3:55 PM on April 18, 2014


Even if they did RTFA, all they seem to comment on is the "lol foreigners" aspect of it.

Accounting for all of the comments before the link to this MeTa thread, I see:

1 comment on an American lawsuit from an American perspective, plus 1 factual followup
7 comments on the article's content, including meta-discussion from divabat and zarq
4 comments on the article's format that seem to be really culture-neutral, like an article on Grantland in the same format would elicit the same reaction
1 comment that barely comes close to 'lol wut', but is really more just "I didn't understand this, but the one I did get was sad".
1 comment from a resident MeFi conservative curmudgeon would would have said the same in any thread.

Maybe it was cleaned up? I somewhat agree with the thesis that MeFi can be very US-centric, but I really don't see that this thread is a good (i.e. bad) example of that.
posted by The Michael The at 4:02 PM on April 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Michael The: A couple of the content-based comments came after this MeTa. "All they seem to comment" was probably a bad choice of words. I just wished there were more engagement on the topic, as GenjiandProust mentions, rather than griping on style.

emptythought: If there was no hope of changing then why even talk about site issues here? We've had discussions about racism, sexism, transphobia as it manifests in Metafilter and there's been quite a bit of change. And - as I've tried to demonstrate with my comment about the Ashol-Pan post - it is possible to present content from different cultures with sensitivity and respect and do it well. I'm asking for more of that.
posted by divabat at 4:08 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


That it was only 13 comments - even a few days later - also says a lot.

Complaining about the content of comments and framing of posts is one thing, and I totally agree that the framing of the Storypick post was bad, even if I found the actual post enjoyable, but complaining about people not posting goes too far, for me. Posters and commenters should have an obligation to participate in good faith productive ways, but there's no obligation to participate unless you've got something to say. The fact that people weren't interested in having a conversation about that link is fine, so long as people who do behave themselves.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:10 PM on April 18, 2014 [21 favorites]


If you put something in front of a large and diverse audience -- and America-centric though it may be, I am hard pressed to think of a more diverse audience to be found online -- and it fails to connect, you could blame the audience. Or you could blame the content. Or you could consider that maybe not all content is going to be accessible to all audiences in exactly the way you want it to be. And that maybe that is okay.

This isn't to say that the issues discussed in the content therefore don't have merit or aren't worth discussing -- it's that metafilter isn't a consciousness-raising exercise, it's not primarily about teaching people about Important Issues. Not everyone is going to be interested in discussing the same aspects of that content that you are. Discussing the style of something is as valid as discussing its content, even if that doesn't happen to be the aspect of it you personally are interested in.

Active xenophobia and lolforeigners would be a different story but I am not seeing those things happening here at all.
posted by ook at 4:16 PM on April 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


I just wished there were more engagement on the topic, as GenjiandProust mentions, rather than griping on style.

I feel that. I went through a period from late 2002 through 2003 where the most comments on a post I made was eight, the rest from three to five. Great* posts, including one on the 50th anniversary of Aperture Magazine, the history of frozen food, and two separate archaeology-museum-exhibit-related posts. Alas, the philistines deemed them (mostly) not worthy of comment. Sometimes it's just not to be.

* for some value of great
posted by The Michael The at 4:39 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Or you could blame the content. Or you could consider that maybe not all content is going to be accessible to all audiences in exactly the way you want it to be. And that maybe that is okay.

That's a good way of putting it.
posted by The Michael The at 4:40 PM on April 18, 2014


the framing of this post about Storypick

Given that the thread included a generous dollop of people saying the framing the was weird/inappropriate isn't your issue with the poster and not Metafilter at large?

In fact it seems to me that the events went:

1) One person makes post that appears to be LOL foreigners.
2) Bunch of people say WTF?
3) One person says "oh yeah, I didn't meant it that way."
4) ???
5) MetaTalk.

Admittedly I'm biased because I found the post useful and interesting. It would have been even more interesting with pointers to the buzzfeed clones for a bunch of countries, but they can't all be winners.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:46 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I just wished there were more engagement on the topic, as GenjiandProust mentions, rather than griping on style.

Understandable, but commenting is only one potential good side effect from posting, too. I read the article and found it interesting, but honestly didn't feel I had anything to contribute comment-wise. But if it hadn't been posted, I wouldn't have read it. Metafilter is as much a source of content as it is a discussion platform.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:48 PM on April 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


Tell Me No Lies: as demonstrated by the fact that I linked to two separate posts on here, I'm noticing an emerging pattern, and am trying to shed light on the pattern before it starts being a even bigger problem. There's been other MetaTalk posts about general site issues that used one thread as their main example, so I'm not sure why this post has to be any different.
posted by divabat at 4:48 PM on April 18, 2014


can a mod please fix the spelling error in the title? I didn't catch it till long after the post went up and now it's the main thing I notice. I'm sorry :|
posted by divabat at 4:50 PM on April 18, 2014


Sure, title is fixed.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:51 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


> I thought most of the irritating comments were typical "talking about racism is dumb" crap that shows up in almost every
> thread that addresses race (and gender and class and...)

Just let me be sure I'm not misunderstanding you. You're talking about irritating "talking about racism is dumb" comments here on metafilter, in the thread spawned by zarq's fpp?

If that's the case then there's jpe's post (the first one) which uses the word "dumb", and no others. Is that the comment you object to?

Because jpe isn't at all saying "talking about racism is dumb", jpe is very clearly saying that the specific complaint embodied in the lawsuit "Asian and Pacific Islanders of Los Angeles County v. Miley Cyrus" (in which a single individual, Lucie J. Kim by name, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Asian and Pacific Islanders in LA against Miley Cyrus for being photographed while pulling the corners of her eyes back, and asking $4000 in damages for each of them, with the total amount being four billion dollars) is dumb.

Are there other "talking about racism is dumb" comments in the thread that I missed? Because the thing jpe said is dumb is dumb.
posted by jfuller at 4:57 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


jfuller: There's also this one from Alaska Jack.
posted by divabat at 5:00 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Alaska Jack's comment is unsympathetic but it takes a black belt in tendentious reading to parse it as "talking about racism is dumb."
posted by jfuller at 5:08 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


divabat has it, although jpe's leading with that comment was a bad way to start off a thread.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:09 PM on April 18, 2014


Yes Metafilter is Americacentric. Slightly irritating but understandable. What is fucking annoying is when in a thread about X in Yland someone will soon talk about X in America and thats it. Downhill from there on in.
posted by adamvasco at 5:14 PM on April 18, 2014 [36 favorites]


Alaska Jack's comment is unsympathetic but it takes a black belt in tendentious reading to parse it as "talking about racism is dumb."

Really? He dismisses the linked piece as part of the "progressive grievance-industrial complex." Which is pretty much sneering at people who assert that racism hurts them in a thread about an article about how racism hurts people.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:17 PM on April 18, 2014 [22 favorites]


Yeah, adamvasco has a good point --- its also kind of natural (people want to discuss, but they only have their own experiences), but its still a really good way to start a derail. Discussing your experiences / whatever with the country in question as an American is one thing, doing the "In America we do it like THIS" or just moving it straight over to American politics or something is annoying.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:18 PM on April 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


adamvasco: your comment reminded me of the first few comments on this thread about C-sections in Brazil.
posted by divabat at 5:22 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, Metafilter is American-centric. Perhaps less than the many other forums, but still noticeably so. We've even had a MeTa on the topic already this year.

But people will respond differently to (generic) you to posts. Something you find profound can be found by others to be pretentious. Something you found engagingly elliptical can be seen as maddeningly obtuse.

One of the basic rules of FPPs is you can't control the reaction to them, and indeed threadsitting is discouraged. The userbase won't always want to discuss an article in the way you want them to, or focus on the parts you find most interesting. They might not even want to discuss the article at all - there's been so many great, great posts which have had very few comments.

That the Singaporean writer's article post didn't get many comments could even be a sign that some users read the article but didn't comment because they didn't want to add their perspective as they didn't think it would add anything, which would mean there would be a portion of the userbase trying not to just be all Amerocentric and making threads all about their perspectives.

MetaFilter's US focus is one issue. The (perceived) lack of interest, or 'good' comments on an FPP, even though specifically non-American subjects are being focused on, is another. And really, just because the userbase isn't reacting to posts the way you want them to isn't a problem with MetaFilter so much as you getting annoyed at 10,000+ other people not caring the same way about the same things you do. They won't ever do so.
posted by gadge emeritus at 5:44 PM on April 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


That the Singaporean writer's article post didn't get many comments could even be a sign that some users read the article but didn't comment because they didn't want to add their perspective as they didn't think it would add anything, which would mean there would be a portion of the userbase trying not to just be all Amerocentric and making threads all about their perspectives.

I tend to avoid leaving (what feel like) minimal-content comments like "thanks, this is great, food for thought" but I'm starting to think that maybe they're actually useful.
posted by Lexica at 5:49 PM on April 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


It sounds like you're trying to moderate stupidity. Good luck. As for MetaFilter threads appearing dumber and thinner the longer you are a member, come on guys, that's got to be a thing.
posted by phaedon at 6:22 PM on April 18, 2014


Not a lot of comments is one thing (I've spoken about my frustrations with this elsewhere, I think). Having the bulk of those comments, when they do happen, be disengagement is also a problem. I'd rather have 13 comments that actually talk about the content, or even 13 "this was good food for thought, thank you", rather than "what is this I don't even".
posted by divabat at 6:31 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


adamvasco: your comment reminded me of the first few comments on this thread about C-sections in Brazil.

Honestly I winced when I saw that there were comments on that post period, because the number of Brazilian women on MetaFilter who have given birth in Brazil is not high. The number of people who know family or friends who have given birth in Brazil is also not too high. Both of these groups *were* represented in the comments.

The third--and due to MeFi demographics, inevitably larger--group was women/families who have given birth anywhere in the world but especially the US. That post would have had maybe five comments total otherwise.

So people who had fit half the target population (people who have had C-sections, rather than people who have had C-sections in Brazil) commented. My opinion on that one is caught uncomfortably somewhere between 'women should not be shut down when talking about an issue which transcends cultures, most especially on a topic where the entire article is talking about how women are shut down by patriarchy when it comes to giving birth the way they want' and 'yeah, but it's easy to let the privileged voices override the less privileged ones and to some extent that's what happened there.'

For what it's worth, I thought long and hard about the best way to engage with that thread (and the broader issues it concerns which you bring up here) before deciding the only way to win was not to play.
posted by librarylis at 6:47 PM on April 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


That it was only 13 comments - even a few days later - also says a lot.

Eh, the Amanda Koe piece was purposefully impressionistic and sort of nebulous. That's great! But when a writer makes that choice, don't expect it to inspire the same debate as fiery op-ed that makes a clear, contestable claim that people can get their argue on about.

I'm a gay dude who's pretty ambivalent about the same-sex marriage movement. If I pen a bunch of moody vignettes about heteronormativity it's just not going to get the same reaction as an op-ed on HuffPo Gay Voices entitled This Is Why No Gay Man Should Support Gay Marriage.
posted by dontjumplarry at 9:26 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Looking at this from another angle entirely: MeFi is where I come to learn about (mostly) America and what (mostly) Americans (mostly) think about (sometimes allegedly and also mostly American) cool stuff.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 11:19 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am so shallow that I didn't read the link or replies until after I saw the controversy on MetTalk

Let me explain!

I am a relative newcomer to Mefi and am still figuring out the the different styles of posting topics to the blue. The posts and replies in question didn't strike me as much American-centric as much as writing style critisism or pithy. I read Askme to get some insight into how things work. I know I am totally over my head in here.

From the header on the Singapore article I expected an article mocking western attitudes towards the oriental eye. I didn't even click on the link because there wasn't enough to make me feel it was worth my time since my first reaction to the header was "Really nsfw? I don't have time for a vulgar mocking satire piece on western attitudes." Old news to me and I didn't need anymore convincing. Besides, I was at work.

So, here I am poking about on MetaTalk and the Post I had noted and dismissed as not worth my time is a topic. Of course I wanted to see what the fuss was.

So now, I read the article, it wasn't what I expected. And I found it very informative and thought provoking. I also found the link to Storypick interesting. Nothing that was so provoking as to prompt me to respond. But I don't read the links so I can post. I read MeFi to get leads on things I might never run across.

As to how the threads progressed. With the complaints about the writing style, I am kinda suprised no one complained about the fonts.

Each ended up being an interesting link for me, but they were just links. And I enjoyed reading each, but neither caught my attention until there was a controversy. Like I said, I am that shallow. There might be more of a reason than only AMERICAN R JERKS for the thread putting on a poor show.
posted by moonlily at 12:04 AM on April 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


> "Can we be better at not evaluating everything outside the US in terms of how much it's like or unlike Americana?"

...No?

This has been a problem with this site forever. It's a problem with a lot of similar sites, including ones that generally have high quality content and discussion shit the bed on this.

I'm not saying that as some sort of "fuck off" or anything, but just that this will not occur.


I have been thinking for a while that the relative number of non-US users on Metafilter must be on the rise. Simply because that's a pattern I've seen on other US-based websites.

Is this true or not? Does anyone know?
If it's not true, then at least I can stop waiting for this to become an international site and accept that it's basically a US site with a few foreigners.

If it is true, then I expect the US-centrism to decrease over time all by itself.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:51 AM on April 19, 2014


Is this true or not? Does anyone know?

pb's off doing Easter but he should be able to peek at IP addresses and see if that's the case or not. That said, knowing this site it just may show up that we have more expats than we used to (I can think offhand of a number of US MeFites in non-US countries) but it should tell us something.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:42 AM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


pb's off doing Easter but he should be able to peek at IP addresses and see if that's the case or not.

Wait, before he answers let's get some wagers going. Also, what are we considering Canada: foreign or domestic territory? Technically it is not the USA, but considering it a foreign country is like going out for dessert and coming back with plain yogurt.

Also, I bet 90% of traffic is US-based.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:12 AM on April 19, 2014


The Storypick framing was absolutely terrible and I'm glad people called it out in the thread. The lol whut part was mostly in the framing more than the comments, though one person did say " this video is in Indian so I didn't understand it" and when I mentioned there's so such thing as Indian as a language and divabat helpfully shared a link about why saying "In Indian" is offensive and incorrect it was just hand waved away like "it's good shorthand for one of the hundreds of languages spoken there" or "whatever people say 'Chinese' too."

I'm Indian American and think there's a lot of dismissal and disregard of Asian and Asian American issues on this site. It's seen as silly and unimportant and it's really frustrating.

As an American, I probably engage to some degree in thinking about certain posts in American terms and I do think we could all try to do better about that and not be all, "but we're mostly Americans here" dismissive.

A while ago I posted a video by an Indian sketch comedy troupe about sexual violence in India. It was a darkly comic take on the "she asked for it" phenomenon. A lot of the comments veered off into "well this won't help Americans' views about rape, they'll just be like well Indian men are animals and not think it applies to them."

Like it literally did not occur to some people that this sketch comedy video would be seen by Indians in India and could have awareness raising effects there.
posted by sweetkid at 7:15 AM on April 19, 2014 [25 favorites]


metafilter does non-US content better than any other american-owned website i've ever seen.
posted by bruce at 8:13 AM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


metafilter does non-US content better than any other american-owned website i've ever seen.

This may be so, but that doesn't mean that MetaFilter can't try to do better and aspire to more.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:23 AM on April 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


metafilter does non-US content better than any other american-owned website i've ever seen.

Damning with faint praise.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:25 AM on April 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


In reality Storypick should have been deleted - as outside of its "Indian-ness" it was just LOL-Buzzfeed knockoff
posted by JPD at 8:27 AM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


In reality Storypick should have been deleted

I'm inclined to agree with you, but this sentiment doesn't really address the point of the MeTa. How can we actually discuss non-American material in a better way? What can we learn from that FPP that will let us do better in the future?
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:40 AM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would definately enjoy a lot of these discussions more if people didn't populate the thread early on with complaints about writing style. I don't really care if the writing style is not to your tastes, and don't see how it forwards any discussion. It's a schoolmarmish version of "meh."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:42 AM on April 19, 2014 [13 favorites]


Is this thread just for Americans? Seems pretty focused on Americans and their Americaness and stuff to me. There is an obvious reason for that, which I'm sure someone will now pontificate on for long paragraphs, but as a non-American I just want you to know that I love you anyway, even when you're being unintentionally ironic.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:45 AM on April 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


but this sentiment doesn't really address the point of the MeTa. How can we actually discuss non-American material in a better way? What can we learn from that FPP that will let us do better in the future?

It sort of does - in that the way we normally handle non-US content is to reframe it back into an American context, with the occasional LOLZ - and I think its a very fair point that the community needs to stop doing that.

Frankly I think the core complaint on the Singapore one is that it didn't garner enough conversation or that people attacked it stylistically. The former is transparently not an issue and the latter has nothing to do with its non-US nature.

I don't have may FPP posts, but the one post I made about an entity I thought was uniquely interesting and reflected a community inside of a group widely reviled w/in MF trying to bring about reform got I think 2 comments. That's the way it breaks sometimes.
posted by JPD at 8:52 AM on April 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


This has been a problem with this site forever. It's a problem with a lot of similar sites, including ones that generally have high quality content and discussion shit the bed on this.

I'm not saying that as some sort of "fuck off" or anything, but just that this will not occur. A few people will read this meta and maybe consider it when they post in the future. Then other people will make new FPPs that do the exact same thing.

I just don't see what the real resolution could or would be here.


Not to be all Grandpa Time or whatever, but I remember a time when this site was sooooooo dude-centric that the word "boyzone" was often tossed around, and people had lots of conversations about it in MetaTalk, and over time Metaftiler has become waaaayyyyy less dude-centric. If that can happen, I see no real reason why Americans can't learn over time to dial back their "I don't get this" and "lolforeigners" type of comments. I give the big raspberry to the notion that there's no use trying to get people to be more thoughtful on Metafilter.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:03 AM on April 19, 2014 [29 favorites]


I liked the storypick link as an American seeing those sorts of web techniques applied towards a different culture. I wasn't laughing at the culture, just interested in the technique more easily viewed from a different perspective. So that's what I was aiming at, but apparently failed to get across, with my post. So I really did post it from a American, or at least non- Indian perspective because being outside the target audience is what makes looking at the framing more easy. And I thought it was great that people were excited about the food links and quizzes that were on the page because they weren't the same old same old.
posted by garlic at 9:25 AM on April 19, 2014


It sort of does - in that the way we normally handle non-US content is to reframe it back into an American context, with the occasional LOLZ - and I think its a very fair point that the community needs to stop doing that.

Deleting the storypick FPP would lead to better engagement with non-American links on MetaFilter? If your point is that it should have been deleted as "possibly a good FPP, try again with better framing," I guess I can see that. It might be worth seeing what people think would have been a good framing, in a "How can this FPP be saved?" sort of way.

I guess I've sen enough MeTas where someone brings up a problematic aspect of the community using a particular FPP as an example, and there are often people whose answer is "that was a bad FPP; it should have been deleted" which doesn't really address the underlying problem -- even if the post was an error, what it shows about how the community deals with an issue is not necessarily untrue.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:41 AM on April 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


It sort of does - in that the way we normally handle non-US content is to reframe it back into an American context, with the occasional LOLZ - and I think its a very fair point that the community needs to stop doing that.

This is the core of it. It seems obvious to me; but this is one of those privilege things where a bunch of people are going to say "I don't see the problem" and get all dismissive, contemptuous, and argumentative about it.

There's no avoiding the practical results of this being a American majority site — but we Americans could sure do a hell of lot better at not acting as if the rest of the world doesn't exist.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:47 AM on April 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


If the point of the Storypick post was to talk about clickbait sites as it manifests around the world, what would be better would be linking to an article that analyses different clickbait sites worldwide and talks to the founders about their methods. I don't know if such an article exists - the closest I can think of isthe interview with the Upworthy folks that got FPPed a little while ago. Or even a roundup of international sites with something like "here's what's going viral around the world", or similar. Not just picking one site and singling it out for its derivative nature.
posted by divabat at 10:05 AM on April 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


the quidnunc kid: I've noticed it be more of an issue with Americans on the site, though I'm sure it happens sometimes from non-Americans too. When I looked up the OP of the Ashol-Pan post as an example of a good culturally-sensitive post, I was a little bemused to see that they're based in Switzerland.
posted by divabat at 10:11 AM on April 19, 2014


One thing I've noticed on occasion is when we have a link to a video of someone with a Scottish accent, someone will make a jokey comment confusing the person with Shrek, or Merry and Pippin from the LotR films. I wonder how those same people would feel if a person with a southern US accent was compared to Foghorn Leghorn, or whether in the case of an Chinese speaker, Charlie Chan cracks would pass as unremarked. Personally I don't find it deeply offensive and I doubt a Scot would bother being terribly offended by it either, more just embarrassing on behalf of Americans, not all of whom are so parochial.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:57 AM on April 19, 2014


metafilter does non-US content better than any other american-owned website i've ever seen.

Damning with faint praise.

But still a refreshing break from the more usual faint with the damn praising, perhaps.
posted by jamjam at 12:56 PM on April 19, 2014


I wonder how those same people would feel if a person with a southern US accent was compared to Foghorn Leghorn

Let's bury - ah say, let's bury the hatchet, but not in anyone's head, boy.
posted by codswallop at 1:56 PM on April 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


> I wonder how those same people would feel if a person with a southern US accent was compared to Foghorn Leghorn.

That it was a profound compliment. But alas unmerited. If only I could find a voice coach who could actually give Mel Blanc lessons, I'd jump on that in a heartbeat.

But. I was expecting an Earth-shaking KABOOM! first, even before Foghorn.
posted by jfuller at 3:24 PM on April 19, 2014


Also, I bet 90% of traffic is US-based.

Metafilter uses Quantcast, so the numbers are available: 64% of users are in the US, 72% of traffic comes from there.
posted by effbot at 4:23 PM on April 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


...I liked the storypick site, though it made me hungry; I want to try the non-hot Parsi dishes (I am a spice wimp and the description of the curry made me break into a sweat) and apparently Northeastern India makes awesome food. I actually kind of like the breathlessness of Short Feature framing a lot of the time - it makes life seem So! Exciting! OMG! Food! And Pranks! And Awesomeness! We! Have! Such! Joy!

The framing on Mefi sucked, though.

One of the nice things about the internet is the ability to overhear people as they talk to audiences that aren't us. I've really enjoyed reading and seeing things which aren't aimed at middle class white girls, for example; it often highlights blind spots in my vision and experiences. I think it can be a challenge to read and react to without trying to interrupt or reinterpret within a cultural lens, though, and the effects of that is what we're seeing in these two posts.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:20 PM on April 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


I agree that this is a perennial challenge on mefi, but I'm not sure the two posts are great examples of it. FOr me the Ukraine thread - which immediately veered off into a discussion about America's reaction etc - is a much better example.

That the Singaporean writer's article post didn't get many comments could even be a sign that some users read the article but didn't comment because they didn't want to add their perspective as they didn't think it would add anything

Is exactly why I didn't comment on it. I find that style of writing mannered and a bit precious - there was no point dropping a turd in the thread, though.

More broadly, I don't think there is a solution to this, except on an as-it-comes basis. I feel that mods are pretty good at countering derails, cultural or otherwise, in mefi these days, and a flag or a note usually garners some action. At the same time, we need to recognise that people are allowed to engage with a topic however they see fit. It's regrettable that some people have verbal diarrhoea, and in ability to engage with the world except insofar as it relates to them and their milieu - but I feel that's an opportunity to expand someone's horizons, rather than censure.
posted by smoke at 5:49 PM on April 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not to be all Grandpa Time or whatever, but I remember a time when this site was sooooooo dude-centric that the word "boyzone" was often tossed around, and people had lots of conversations about it in MetaTalk, and over time Metaftiler has become waaaayyyyy less dude-centric. If that can happen, I see no real reason why Americans can't learn over time to dial back their "I don't get this" and "lolforeigners" type of comments. I give the big raspberry to the notion that there's no use trying to get people to be more thoughtful on Metafilter.

If there's anything that I've learned in my life, it's that if you bang on a drum long enough, with constancy and consistency, you'll start to see some change, if the cause is just. Not because it makes noise, but because of the golden rule of learning anything: repetition, repetition, repetition.

There's a quote that I like that I think on often: "Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different."
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:26 PM on April 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


A convo with another Mefite has made me be better able at articulating why the "you can't force people to engage" comments bothered me.

We've had posts here before about Hollywood and how execs think that if they cast anyone who's not a straight white guy the movies are too 'niche'. Except, as shown by box office numbers, it's clear that those movies appeal across the board.

I feel like this is a manifestation of the same thing. Not American? Oh, too 'niche', not interesting for me.

Juso No Thankyou's comment is illuminating. It's Best of the Web, not Best of the American Web. I want to challenge the idea that Mefi is not "consciousness-raising". It doesn't have to be political, though that gets included too - how many times had we have major FPPs about some US-based Prop or other, calling people to action? But there's a world of pop culture, knowledge, events, art, people, etc that is more than just "look what the foreigners do", and I'd like us to take a much more active interest in those things, rather than assuming that because it's not American it can't possibly be relevant.

Another commenter upthread talked about how Mefites like to paint themselves as more intelligent or worldly than most. I'd like that to be actually TRUE. This is why I'm pushing so hard for this - I've seen it happen, and I want more, and I want us to live up to our reputation (within and without) of having good informed conversation
posted by divabat at 6:49 PM on April 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


FWIW, although I agree that the framing for the storypick post sucked, it also seemed like that was remarked on and handled pretty well in the actual thread.
posted by kavasa at 8:09 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just wished there were more engagement on the topic, as GenjiandProust mentions, rather than griping on style

I don't know if the demographics of the site really allow for a lot of the frequent users to have any kind of meaningful engagement with the topic. I've gotten the impression there are a lot of white male Americans/North Americans on this site, and it's not like that group has a lot of anecdotes to share about eyelid surgery. I read it, it was interesting and surprising to me but I'm not sure I had anything to add as a white Canadian guy. Does that mean I am handling it badly?
posted by Hoopo at 9:01 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Online, the sound of people who don't care about a topic and are elsewhere doing other stuff is hard to distinguish from the sound of people who are sitting down to listen respectfully.

Then again, Hoopo, it would most likely be fine to post 'I read this, it was interesting and surprising to me'. Don't you think that could work?
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:38 AM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


As this nearly contentless comment demonstrates, I am a staunch proponent of popping into a thread to say something short and positive. Posting "I like this!" is helpful. Keep doing it!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:09 AM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't know. It doesn't seem possible to me to say both that people should engage more with topics that are foreign to their personal experience, and that people shouldn't comment in ignorance of the topic.
posted by gerstle at 5:40 AM on April 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


That the Singaporean writer's article post didn't get many comments could even be a sign that some users read the article but didn't comment because they didn't want to add their perspective as they didn't think it would add anything

This was me. I read it, was mildly confused, realised that while I understood it I didn't have anything to say about it other than 'well, that's pretty fucked'. So I didn't comment.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:44 AM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I do think that divabat has a point here though.

I post rarely, but comment frequently. The Australian userbase is small but active - occasionally we have some Australia-centric threads. There is a definite phenomenon of some US users trying to crowbar discussions about issues in other countries back to US issues. For example, in my recent post on Australian political comedy, some US users immediately wanted to talk about US free speech laws, requiring Australian users to, yet again explain the different cultural and legal contexts.

Everyone involved was polite, but it struck me as a bit tone deaf.

I've noticed this happening often in threads about Australia (although admittedly much of that in the past was probably attributable to a certain US expat user that had some issues with Australia, and some strange, unexamined ideas).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:57 AM on April 20, 2014 [15 favorites]


I don't know. It doesn't seem possible to me to say both that people should engage more with topics that are foreign to their personal experience, and that people shouldn't comment in ignorance of the topic.

I have been thinking a lot about this recently.

First, I repeatedly catch myself assuming that the community here is much more homogenous than it is, in part because those (American or European, white, 25-45, tech-focused) voices are often the loudest and most confident in taking up rhetorical space here. That is probably the largest single group, but not an actual majority, and moreover that grouping contains a lot of diversity within it. Even so, we would do well to be aware of the times when the conversational space is being framed and taken up in certain ways and to consider how that may be silencing to some of the voices we would like to be hearing.

Second, I don't know whether it is problematic framing or the same issue of some people taking up too much oxygen, but I think some of the non-US conversations get tracked in directions that don't bring out a diversity of voices. For example, discussions about poverty in the developing world tend to get a lot of comments from people like myself who have studied the issue in graduate school and have worked on it professionally, but who aren't coming out of that lived experience. Whereas an FPP about poverty and food stamps in the US will immediately make clear that a significant proportion of the userbase grew up poor and/or are living poor now, and yet those perspectives or comparisons don't tend to appear in the non-US discussions.

Bringing that back to the Singapore article, I think there are a number of ways to engage in informed and critical ways that don't involve having lived in that country or having personal experience with eye surgery. If that's not happening, it's not because the majority of the users here don't have the tools and experience to engage with an accessible and well-written story.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:21 AM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


As a non-US, non-anglospherical occasional poster, it is my experience too that MeFi does not do non-US content well. One reason has little to do with the US/anglo-centricness of MeFi: making FPPs on non-US/anglo topics is harder because 1) there's much less material available in English and 2) there's much less material suitable for MeFi available in English. Not only the US/anglo press is often terrible when reporting on other cultures ("no cliché left behind") but material written in English by non-anglophones may be not up to MeFi standards of literacy, quality and (ironically enough) sensitivity or just be too puzzling for US readers.
The second reason is that, due to the overwhelming percentage of US MeFites, the only way a non-US FPP can moderately thrive is to provide, willingly or not, an angle that US members have strong opinions about, so it's basically US-derail or bust. And ironically again, this is not a bad thing: in a FPP about non-American X, I'd rather have Americans discussing smartly about American X (at least I can learn something) than ignorantly about non-American X. I've seen the mods try to rerail things but it's pretty much a lost cause. A more general worldview is not impossible: I used to hang out in a tech forum that was much more international, so a discussion about, say, free speech (or copyright, or guns etc.) did not have to revolve around the US constitution because it was taken for granted that members were not Americans per default: everyone was a guest and behaved accordingly. Until MeFi can attract more non-US (and non-anglospherical) members I can't see the situation changing.
posted by elgilito at 7:33 AM on April 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


I've gotten the impression there are a lot of white male Americans/North Americans on this site, and it's not like that group has a lot of anecdotes to share about eyelid surgery.

Well, I am a "white male American/North American," and I've heard a bit about eyelid surgery, enough for the piece to resonate with me. Back in the 90s, I occasionally read the Asian-American press, and it seems to be a fairly perennial theme.

It's not like eyelid surgery/hair straightening/skin bleaching/other cosmetic surgery to appear whiter is some weird unknown thing. Here in the US we have the notable example of Michael Jackson, who, for all he is usually presented as a tragic one-of-a-kind headcase, was clearly acting out some of the common anxieties of race and status. Because of his wealth and fame, he was able to carry his obsession to body horror levels, but there are plenty of news stories of people (mostly women) harming themselves through attempts to appear more white.

I don't think Koe's piece even had that much to do with Singapore, although I bet that there are specific cultural eddies that change some of the ways that the more general "race game" gets played in that specific context.

That article was not some crazy technical document that required a huge about of knowledge to interact with. Googling "eyelid surgery" or "eyelid surgery racism" would get you enough to talk reasonably intelligently about it. Now, I don't expect everyone to be interested in the topic, and I think there's no shame in not participating in threads that don't grab you, nor do I think that you had to approach the article from a Singaporean point of view -- eyelid surgery is pretty common in Asian populations, both in Asian countries and elsewhere -- I was annoyed by the number of early comments that were "I didn't like the style" (and focusing on the legal action to the exclusion of the rest of the piece) which were a lot of noise.

tl;dr -- I don't think there is ever a duty to participate in a thread*, but should you decide to do so (especially early on), I think there is a duty to avoid derails and to try to keep within the purview of the FPP as much as possible. Once the thread is established, exploring related ideas is much more OK.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:05 AM on April 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


And it wasn't just about eyelid surgery anyway! The first vignette was about American assumptions about the Other, and there was a section about fashion models and about museum curation then there was the side article about what's it like to edit and publish in Singapore. So many avenues than just eyelid surgery.
posted by divabat at 9:31 AM on April 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


Ooops, I forgot my asterisk:

*I have the individual duty to comment in any threads on Proust of The Tale of Genji, of course, but I do not apply this duty to others. divabat, for example, can ignore as many threads about divas or bats as she wishes, with no judgement from me.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:39 AM on April 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


elgilito: how are we supposed to attract more non-US readers if we don't really pay attention to the ones that are here?

And your "unsuitable for Mefi" claim gives me pause. What do you mean by "suitable for Mefi"? Are there some cultural assumptions being made? Is "being American" what you mean by "suitable for Mefi"? I'm being reminded of people who decry deliberate hiring or casting of minorities by saying "well we need the BEST PERSON for the job!" without noticing how myopic their ideas of "best person" are.
posted by divabat at 9:40 AM on April 20, 2014


And your "unsuitable for Mefi" claim gives me pause. What do you mean by "suitable for Mefi"? Are there some cultural assumptions being made?

Huh, I just took that as an acknowledgement that it's difficult to find good English-language material on events/culture in many non-English-speaking countries. Considering that FPPs on Anglophone material get deleted for being thin or otherwise inappropriate, it must be even harder if you are trying to find substantial accessible web material on Anglophone coverage of things in Nonanglophone countries/cultures. I didn't read that as "American stuff is better" at all.

I'm not sure how the community (and mods) would react to nonanglophone FPPs....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:49 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, "suitable for MeFi" just means "stuff likely to generate an interesting discussion without too much derailing". I do wish that we non-US MeFites should not have to take into account the fact that the majority of the readership is from the US but it's just the way it is. We have to tiptoe around this when making non-US cultural posts or take the safe road by making "culturally neutral" FPPs about tech/science or international pop culture.

I'm not sure how the community (and mods) would react to nonanglophone FPPs
This has been discussed extensively over the years: 1 2 3 4. Such posts are nicht verbotten, but they tend to end up in MeTa.
posted by elgilito at 1:19 PM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


It is harder because an FPP about non-American stuff often needs to have more background info for people who don't live in that culture. Whereas in American topics such a background is often taken for granted.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm being reminded of people who decry deliberate hiring or casting of minorities by saying "well we need the BEST PERSON for the job!" without noticing how myopic their ideas of "best person" are.

divabat: Y'know, I completely agree with you the site has an American bias, but just because someone isn't fully supporting your point isn't really cause to imply that they are full-on institutional racists.

And for the eyelid-surgery article you were disappointed didn't get more commentary - the people complaining about the style were discussing the article. Style can trump substance. It is also possible that people may have read this article and simply not enjoyed it or particularly engaged with it. Users have spoken up in-thread that they didn't feel they had anything particularly useful to add, and that should be a fair response as well. There is no requirement to post.

Your ongoing contributions to this MeTa have covered the American bias in pretty much exactly the way the previous thread on the topic did, and now seems to have a focus on the idea that to you, the userbase isn't posting about the right things as much as you'd like, aren't reacting to things the way you would like - they aren't agreeing with you as much as you'd like.

I mean, talk about things that give one pause? I thought you saying this was illuminating, troubling, and also incidentally incorrect about how the site deals with political issues:

Juso No Thankyou's comment is illuminating. It's Best of the Web, not Best of the American Web. I want to challenge the idea that Mefi is not "consciousness-raising". It doesn't have to be political, though that gets included too - how many times had we have major FPPs about some US-based Prop or other, calling people to action?

The answer to that last one? In the FPP itself? Those posts get deleted. MetaFilter is not your activist group. It is a mug's game to try and make it such.
posted by gadge emeritus at 2:27 PM on April 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


the people complaining about the style were discussing the article. Style can trump substance.

For some people maybe. Substance over style is why I'm still on Q-Link.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:07 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I do wish that we non-US MeFites should not have to take into account the fact that the majority of the readership is from the US but it's just the way it is. We have to tiptoe around this when making non-US cultural posts or take the safe road by making "culturally neutral" FPPs about tech/science or international pop culture.


This is unfortunate. As an American I really appreciate the fact that there are people from across the globe here, giving their perspective and insights. The posts about things going on in cultures other than mine are some of my favorite things about this site.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:13 PM on April 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


I do wish that we non-US MeFites should not have to take into account the fact that the majority of the readership is from the US but it's just the way it is. We have to tiptoe around this when making non-US cultural posts or take the safe road by making "culturally neutral" FPPs about tech/science or international pop culture.
To be fair to the US-based MeFites, this is not a MetaFilter problem alone - it's simply an example of how the wider world works. There would be very few countries where most people don't have a general idea (however warped) about US culture and politics. The proliferation of US content in film and other media, particularly TV, has seen to that. However, the reverse is not true in that Americans as a whole seem to have a very vague idea at best about the wider world.

When you live in a country that sees itself as the leader of the free world and that produces such a large proportion of popular media, it would require an active engagement and curiosity to know much about anything that doesn't involve US interests. I think that, on average, MetaFilter members are more likely to have that curiosity and are likely to be better informed on cultural issues outside the US. It's still a shame that, where nobody has to explain the cultural, political or geographic context behind pretty much anything in the US, it's often necessary for all of this to be laid out for anything relating to the world where US mainstream media hasn't already provided that context.

What's even worse is that, due to the overwhelming influence US media has here, that context is getting confused even for locals. I don't know how many times I've explained to people that, no, the Australian constitution doesn't have anything about the right to free speech or the right to bear arms in it. It's scary that people are so overwhelmed by the way popular media shapes their view of the world that they sometimes only seem to know the world based on what they see on TV and have no idea of what happens in their own back yard.

Hmmm, got a bit sidetracked there :-(. TL;DR - not just a MeFi problem, a world problem.
posted by dg at 3:36 PM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


The Australian userbase is small but active - occasionally we have some Australia-centric threads. There is a definite phenomenon of some US users trying to crowbar discussions about issues in other countries back to US issues. For example, in my recent post on Australian political comedy, some US users immediately wanted to talk about US free speech laws, requiring Australian users to, yet again explain the different cultural and legal contexts.

Eh, I'm Australian and I find it refreshing when US Mefites bring their own perspectives and parallels to discussions on Oz-related topics. Those two comments you cite were a good example. Sure, the laws are different, but a US conception of free speech is by no means irrelevant to a discussion on how speech is regulated in Australia.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:21 PM on April 20, 2014


I want to challenge the idea that Mefi is not "consciousness-raising". It doesn't have to be political, though that gets included too - how many times had we have major FPPs about some US-based Prop or other, calling people to action?

Pretty rarely unless it's a topic that is already considered to be something MeFi-in-general is already on board with (anti-web-censorship, gay marriage, save the libraries, whatever). Which I know can seem frustrating if you have call to action topics that may not already be in that category. And, these posts tend to make bad posts for MeFi (in my personal and mod opinion) since there's often not a lot to talk about and they're often provincial in a way that doesn't/can't involve everyone.

The maxim is that if your reason for posting is "People SHOULD know about this" that's a little lateral from the "Something cool on the web that you think will spark discussion from people" Which, hey, it's everyone's MeFi but I feel like the goal posts are moving a bit from "People should be less US-centric" which I think is a really useful thing for people to keep in mind, to "People don't comment enough in threads on topics that I think are important" which is a different sort of critique and one that is a lot more qualitatively subjective and difficult to reach common ground on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:03 PM on April 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


the people complaining about the style were discussing the article. Style can trump substance

People regularly complain about any article that isn't written in a very mainstream styele. It doesn't mean that the style is the problem, and the compaints tend to distract from the discussion rather than contribute to it. Most of the time when I read this sort of thing, the complainers sound to me like the playwright who once responded to one of my plays by saying, "I don't like genre plays," and then proceeded to complain about the fact that it was a genre play, and I wanted to interrupt him and say "you're not actually obligated ro express an opinion. If it is personally disasteful to you, you can recuse yourself with the words 'it's not to my tastes and so I'm not sure ny response would be valuable.'" He didn't and his responses were not valuable.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:41 PM on April 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


MetaFilter is a an American website with a mostly American userbase, and a mostly American point of view. There's no getting around it, but, as others have pointed out, MetaFilter is better than most other web communities out there when discussing non-American issues.

I do find there is an American bias on MetaFilter, even with American exceptionalism commonplace (the US Constitution, while a grand achievement, is not universal), but people are usually pretty good about being reflective and respectful when prompted.

I think the post in question is a good example of "othering" (which leaves a bad taste in my mouth) in that it's only funny when taken out of context. In the context of India, the website is just as interesting (and moronic at times) as Buzzfeed itself.

I've lived away from my home country a lot over the last 20 years, and I don't think of other places as being particularly strange, exotic, or otherwise "other" any more, and I would hope that other MeFites would have the same attitude.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:54 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


divabat: how many times had we have major FPPs about some US-based Prop or other, calling people to action?

Too many times, and I'd rather not MetaFilter strive to fail more.

American-centric derails should be deleted in threads about other nations/cultures/etc. But some of your complaints in this thread aren't about derails, they're about other posters not having the same take as you. You've also repeated your "only x comments" criticism too too, which is at cross purposes with your other criticisms. Do you want more people who can't speak intelligently on the topic to post?
posted by spaltavian at 5:33 AM on April 21, 2014


Do you want more people who can't speak intelligently on the topic to post?

My take is that it would be nice if more people would apply their intelligence (or curiosity, maybe?) to posts about non-American topics. You don't actually have to have in-depth insider cultural knowledge to comment intelligently about things outside your lived experience -- you do need a bit of humility, and you do need to give up any need to sound like an expert, and I think that's actually where a lot of members here get tripped up.

"This part [quote] was really interesting to me, but I'm not sure what she means," is a perfectly intelligent comment, for example. Or even, "I loved the last vignette, but I'm having trouble connecting it with the second one." Comments can ask questions as a way of engaging; they don't always have to answer them.

That same humility and curiosity would have been helpful in framing the Buzzfeed-ish post, too. (The poster may have had them, but they didn't come across in the writing.) "Hey, this seems cool, I wonder how common it is?" or something along those lines.

Other cultures are not actually that hard to engage with, though it's obviously impossible to master all the nuances of an experience not your own. But that's true of men talking about women's experiences, people in an ethnic or racial majority talking about experiences of people in a racial/ethnic minority, etc. We tend to expect ourselves and the other members here to engage with the experiences of others in not only a respectful but also a meaningful way, and I don't think it's too much to ask for people to do the same for non-American experiences.
posted by jaguar at 7:15 AM on April 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


[about Canada:] considering it a foreign country is like going out for dessert and coming back with plain yogurt.

This actually really bothers me as a way of phrasing it. While I get that you're saying that Canada, being U.S. adjacent and having most of its population concentrated near our border and having a lot of common cultural elements, isn't exactly foreign, it seems to encode in it an assumption that other countries should or must be exotic for our pleasure. Which. Is. Not. The. Case.

Countries are. That's what they do. There are other Commonwealth and formerly Commonwealth countries that are not as exotic to the U.S. as they could be, owing to a that common origin. But no country owes anyone to be more interesting than any other. And that I think is part of the problem with U.S. centrism in Metafilter - we sort of privilege this idea that other countries and their people are or should be exotic.

I get being a neophile and a xenophile, I really do. I have that drive a lot of my geeking out on my interests, but when you have privilege I see it as our common responsibility to use that privilege to make the world better and more joyous for everyone in it, not just us. So part of that is examining this kind of privilege and deciding what parts of it are interesting and joyous for other people to enjoy. So I would tend to celebrate Canada's differences from ours rather than diminishing their accomplishments by comparing them so tightly to us.

For instance, I really groove on the Canadians' cultivation and continuing and unfailing support of Canada Council for the Arts and their living-wage-esque grants to artists, writers, teachers, musicians and other creatives. To people who push and explore the cultural envelope and who transgress traditional boundaries. When these boundaries get pushed, even in traditionally conservative areas of Canada, even by deeply transgressive liberal artists, they trust in the council and in the mission of preserving and creating culture and do not gut the innards of the Council for the sake of their own comfort in tradition. This is quite unlike how we in the U.S. treated the National Endowment for the Arts, as you might remember where in key points (e.g. Piss Christ) we gutted the funding and mission for the NEA based on a few disturbing pieces and performances over the past few decades.
posted by kalessin at 7:17 AM on April 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


My take is that it would be nice if more people would apply their intelligence (or curiosity, maybe?) to posts about non-American topics.

As a "going forward" suggestion, it might be helpful for people who want to read non-American topics/authors for the post to make it clear that it's a non-American topic or author.

For example, when the Amanda Lee Koe FPP came up, I read the pull quote and had the same reaction that moonlily had. I've heard enough stupid anti-Asian bigotry to last a lifetime (being half-Asian and able to pass as white sometimes means that people will say remarkably horrible stuff that they wouldn't say if I looked more Asian to them), and people making fun of racism doesn't do much for me. Nothing in the pull quote gave me any indication that the essay was going to be anything other than stuff I'd read a million times in Asian-American Studies classes. I'd have to click on the writer link to find out that the writer is from Singapore, and I don't click on writer links if the subject matter of the essay isn't already interesting to me.

I might have been more curious to read the article if I'd known the writer was Singaporean, because a non-American perspective is NOT something I've read a million times before.

So I will cop to being lazy and/or making unwarranted assumptions (that an author is American unless specified otherwise), but I'm not incurious about non-American authors or topics. I might not have a lot to say in the comments, because I'm just not a chatty person in general.
posted by creepygirl at 8:19 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


You could have discovered that the author was Singaporean by clicking [more inside]. You didn't have to leave the site to find that out.

I could have made it more explicit. Maybe I should have. Will keep it in mind for the future. Have just never really felt clicking [more inside] was a high bar. Which isn't a criticism. It's always helpful to know how people are seeing your posts.
posted by zarq at 8:39 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


As a "going forward" suggestion, it might be helpful for people who want to read non-American topics/authors for the post to make it clear that it's a non-American topic or author.

That's exactly what I wouldn't like to see. I'd love it if people wouldn't automatically assume an American context.

If we were to develop a habit of labelling posts as "non-American" that would just enforce the attitude some people have of "American culture is the default and everything else is considered exotic/other". Ugh.
posted by Omnomnom at 8:41 AM on April 21, 2014 [11 favorites]


What jaguar and Omnomnom said, pretty much.
posted by divabat at 9:33 AM on April 21, 2014


You could have discovered that the author was Singaporean by clicking [more inside]. You didn't have to leave the site to find that out.

What more inside? I don't see one.

If you had included this sentence "It's an examination, in vignettes, of various assumptions people make about Asians and in this case specifically Chinese women." from your comment in the actual post , I think it would have avoided a lot of the comments about the style, since people would have known what it was going in. And maybe more of the commenters who are interested in the conversation divabat wanted to have, would been interested in the post.

"American culture is the default and everything else is considered exotic/other". Ugh.

Except, American culture is the default here. You don't have to exotify* something, but giving more context than the title and author is necessary if you actually want to engage the Americans** who don't have background knowledge of the subject of the post.

*I'm not sure this a word, but I'm using it anyway.
**Some Americans will have background knowledge of the subject of a post about random!non-American topic, but most won't.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:01 AM on April 21, 2014


American culture isn't the default here. It's the dominant one.
posted by polymodus at 10:53 AM on April 21, 2014 [12 favorites]


Also, not even American, but "American" i.e. relatively progressive, educated, likely non-Black and so forth, etc… a multiple privileges subset of American.
posted by polymodus at 10:55 AM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


American culture isn't the default here. It's the dominant one.

Exactly. I don't mind the latter but I wouldn't want to give the former more traction in some people's heads, by always pointing out non-American content as if it diverges from some default mode.

At the risk of losing some American people's interest who immediately assume an American content.

I feel like far from being a solution to the OP's problem, this suggestion and the mindset behind it is actually exactly the problem discussed in the OP.

It's like a blind spot.

(I would also like to add that I like this place and its US-centrism is not a huge problem to me. Just stating my position.)
posted by Omnomnom at 12:40 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, just as an example, did anybody bother to add any context to the exploding peeps post? Did anybody worry that Omnomnom, not being American, might not know what this exotic, toxic looking, arguably foodstuff might be and that therefore I might just skip that post in confusion?

NO.

You didn't. Not to worry, I never skip any post about food. Because I am an international polyvore, that's why.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:48 PM on April 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


If we're going with the idea of "the title didn't give me enough context and therefore I will not read it" -

If you didn't know what a peep was (and they're not particularly common outside the US), the title just reads like "here's 100 ways to kill someone".

I don't want to discount the reluctance creepygirl felt about not wanting to click on links that start off with a possibly racist comment. I get that sense too sometimes for similar reasons - sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised and sometimes it's "oh this shit again". My only hint that it could be more than what it is is recognising the author's name as Chinese, which may be too subtle for some people.

I can see where the framing could be better for that post given the title, but as Omnomnom points out I don't want Mefi to function on the idea that USA is the default and everything else needs some sort of 101 background piece even for things more banal and nonpolitical. And even as we're discussing the post here almost all the comments were either about the eyelid surgery or the lawsuit - when there was a lot more going on in the piece, one part of it was specifically about America. So the comments that were there on the post were disappointing - it felt very surface-y.
posted by divabat at 12:57 PM on April 21, 2014


If you didn't know what a peep was (and they're not particularly common outside the US), the title just reads like "here's 100 ways to kill someone".

Saying "peeps" instead of "people" is common outside the USA?
posted by josher71 at 1:36 PM on April 21, 2014


Don't know about that, as I don't live in an English-speaking country, but out on the internet I see the word 'peeps' being used for people as often as I see it used for oddly-shaped marsh mallows.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:54 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I've seen it get used as an example of American slang for people (usually when people are trying to fake or mock American hip-hop). The marshmallow thing is less commonly known.
posted by divabat at 2:24 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Polyvore want a cracker? I suppose yes obviously.
posted by biffa at 2:24 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Polyvore want an ALL THE THINGS.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:38 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


After reading Omnomnom's and divabat's comments, I'm retracting my suggestion. I'm sorry for contributing to the US-centricity problem here. It wasn't my intent but I know that's how it came across.
posted by creepygirl at 3:10 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


"This part [quote] was really interesting to me, but I'm not sure what she means," is a perfectly intelligent comment, for example. Or even, "I loved the last vignette, but I'm having trouble connecting it with the second one." Comments can ask questions as a way of engaging; they don't always have to answer them.

I don't know how much these types of comments actually add to a conversation. If you're genuinely curious, there's nothing wrong with asking, but on the other hand, giving some faint praise and asking a token question in order to fulfill some engagement quota doesn't seem like an effective way to encourage good threads. A thread filled with comments like these would be like watching chatbots trying to converse with each other.
posted by Pyry at 3:36 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I said nothing about token questions. My whole point is that engaging with material can mean asking questions about it and learning something new, not just pontificating about it and telling us what you already know.
posted by jaguar at 3:42 PM on April 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


So, what's the solution?

Americans should comment less?

Non-American s should comment more?

Because, when it's all boiled down, each of us can only comment from the place we're sitting. I've studied other parts of the world; I've been to other parts of the world; I grew up in a border town; I regularly consume international media (sometimes in the original language!); but at the end of the day I'm an American and that's going to color what I think and say.

If you want me to butt my fat Yankee nose out of FPP's related to other countries I can do that.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:02 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


(BTW I *do* have a largish nose, but here in New York we only consider you a Yankee if you come from New England.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:08 PM on April 21, 2014


(Dammit, I just made this thread about the U.S. You're totally right; we can't help it and I'm so sorry.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:10 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wait, Storypick wasn't a satire of Buzzfeed from an Indian perspective? I thought it was taking the piss.

Does that mean I should actually move to Lucknow?
posted by klangklangston at 4:51 PM on April 21, 2014


how are we supposed to attract more non-US readers if we don't really pay attention to the ones that are here?

You don't necessarily have to "pay attention to them" exactly to start making changes which stop Othering them so much and stop making them feel invisible, unheard, etc. This is a real issue with any kind of inclusion. In male dominant forums, you get the "Oh, my god, it's a girl!"* phenomenon where one of the problems is that men focus too much on women when they self identify as female and in all the wrong ways. So sticking a mic in someone's face and going "Oh, it's a Foreigner! Tell me what YOU think, FOREIGNER!" is not really a path forward (and I am not saying that is the suggestion here, really, but I am trying to make a subtle distinction and hoping the strong contrast will help illustrate my point).

Anyway, it's a hard thing for me to explain so I have stayed out of this thread up until now, even though I have been following it somewhat because it is the kind of thing I find interesting. But being inclusionary is not necessarily about giving equal time to people who are different so much as not putting up barriers to them participating if they wish. And when you can figure out what the cultural barriers on MeFi might be, you can hunt them down and kill them and then see subtle but substantial change. **


* I have written about this elsewhere but mefi seems to not like when I self link and I do my best to stay out of trouble etc.

** I wrote about this too elsewhere.
posted by Michele in California at 4:55 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Self-linking is acceptable in comments
posted by Kattullus at 5:17 PM on April 21, 2014


1 comment from a resident MeFi conservative curmudgeon would would have said the same in any thread.

I freaking love the idea metafilter offering resident curmudgeon positions. It's like a poet laureate but completely the opposite. However, still awesome.
posted by srboisvert at 5:31 PM on April 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


Those that have flamed out are curmudgeons emeritus.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:28 PM on April 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


klangklangston: I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, but from what I can tell Storypick is earnest and sincere - though I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were self-aware about their resemblance to Upworthy (especially since one of their posts is all about Bollywood ripoffs of Hollywood).

The Underpants Monster: There has been a TON of great suggestions on this thread, none of which are "get your Yankee self out of this thread". In fact what I'm calling for is the exact opposite: join the thread, join the conversation, but have the conversation be more than just "Well in the USA we do X" or "why are foreign people so foreign".

Michele in California: What I was going for with that statement was more about how there have been a lot of FPPs about non-American stuff, by and large posted by non-Americans, and yet they don't necessarily get as much attention or engagement as posts about Americana. To an outside reviewer it would look like American stuff gets more attention (the sort of effect Juso No Thankyou refers to) and so it doesn't seem particularly welcoming to non-Americans. Like "oh clearly they're not for people like me". It's absolutely not about "OH LOOK A FOREIGNER", which I've been championing against here, but actually noticing when non-Americans speak up, in FPPs or in comments (rather than brushing them off, like sweetkid talked about earlier).

I keep bringing this back to the Ashol-Pan thread as an example of this working well: we didn't get a Mongolian Culture 101 attached to the post and yet people were still able to engage on their own terms. The Rose Chan thread I made is getting similar sort of positive attention too. It can be done.
posted by divabat at 7:21 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


"I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, but from what I can tell Storypick is earnest and sincere - though I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were self-aware about their resemblance to Upworthy (especially since one of their posts is all about Bollywood ripoffs of Hollywood)."

Yeah, it's pretty obvious that they're riffing on Buzzfeed and Upworthy, so I thought they were taking the piss with the form. Can you even be earnest with content like that? I mean, it seems weird to match that much of the layout and not be dropping a wink-wink Desi parody. I mean, it's not Feedbuzz, but if they're not satirizing, that just feels… sad.
posted by klangklangston at 7:56 PM on April 21, 2014


I was going for with that statement was more about how there have been a lot of FPPs about non-American stuff, by and large posted by non-Americans, and yet they don't necessarily get as much attention or engagement as posts about Americana. To an outside reviewer it would look like American stuff gets more attention...and so it doesn't seem particularly welcoming to non-Americans.

I agree that it would be nice for Americans to take more interest in the world outside of our own country, especially given how isolating America can be. However, my experience has been that people tend to be more drawn to articles that discuss topics that they can relate to easily and directly. An article about a cultural issue that exists primarily in a foreign country may draw an audience, but not as many as an article about something that impacts a persons' own community. A strike at a local company is probably going to be more interesting to the surrounding community, say, than a similar strike that takes place on the other side of the world.

I realize that it sounds like I'm trying to support myopia, and I'm really not. I do think that you have a really great point, and it's a change that I would like to see, I just question the desire and ability of the community to push people towards topics that may not interest them in the service of the greater good.
posted by Shouraku at 8:19 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone needs to be pushed towards reading or commenting on topics they're not interested in, but there is a trend of people making "WTF is this" type comments in threads about non American topics (and the eyelid surgery/social experiences of Asians vignette post is also a topic that affects Americans, specifically the ones of Asian descent) and I think that should be avoided.

I also feel like if something's framed from a Western perspective ABOUT another country rather than from an internal/native voice about that country, there is either less commentary or weird pushback. This happens all over the web and here as well, but Metafilter is a place we can discuss and work to make better compared to All Of Internets.

It seems like people get all over a foreign topic if it's tied to a Western/American narrative or topic, but not if it's a native voice. That's a problem and a bias on the part of some users.
posted by sweetkid at 8:41 PM on April 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


klangklangston: they saw a format that worked and ran with it. What's so sad about that?
posted by divabat at 9:01 PM on April 21, 2014


also feel like if something's framed from a Western perspective ABOUT another country rather than from an internal/native voice about that country, there is either less commentary or weird pushback

I phrased this incorrectly - meant that when a foreign topic is framed by a native voice it gets weird comments and pushback here- if it's from a western or white voice on those topics, there is more engagement and respect.
posted by sweetkid at 9:25 PM on April 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


when a foreign topic is framed by a native voice it gets weird comments and pushback here- if it's from a western or white voice on those topics, there is more engagement and respect.

I'm sure that there is prejudice present in the situation that you're seeing. Prejudice and bias exist in most aspects of society, but I don't think that's the entire problem (though it's still a big nasty one). I think that it's also important to realize that western voices are usually speaking to a western audience, regardless of the topic, and therefore are going to do so in a way that's geared towards that group. Native voices are likely not writing with a western audience in mind, and won't be attempting to tie the information to a topic that westerners can relate to, or present it in a way that would be easy for a westerner to absorb.

My point is, it's not surprising to me that writing that is written for a western audience is more palatable to westerners, than writing that is written by a native voice for their own community. I just don't see how that's something that can be overcome in a MeTa.

I do, of course, agree that the "WTF is this?" comments can exit stage left. That's something that can tackled directly, and really should be.
posted by Shouraku at 10:27 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


To actually address the concern about the inability of MeFi to constructively address the experiences of other cultures, I'd like to add that at least MeFi gives me more of an opportunity to see what is out there beyond my own experiences. I would be very hesitant to post how sad and tragic I thought the body image issues were. Because I think that would be seen as a judgement in its self.

As someone who is part of Western culture. I try to be aware of cultural differences, I have grown very reluctant to comment on anything. But isn't there a point where one can say "As a human being, [genital mutilation, caste systems, child labor, oppression of women,obsession with physical attributes, religous intolerance, and a myriad of other cultural differences] are sad and demeaning to other fellow human beings. I am sure there are lots of other touchy cultural topics I forgot.

One takes a big risk commenting on what others do and value. But to be worried about not always getting an opinion right, especially when experiencing a cultural eye opener is pretty off putting. For others to forget that some of us are rather culturally isolated even in a first world country is very much the the same as their initial complaint.

I mean, really I expected more of Mefites. (snark)

As far as the style derail, there wasn't any "more inside" inside. The post about the article was so vague that it came off as clickbait to me. Would adding just a bit more info about the nature of the link produced politically acceptable comments? We may never know.
posted by moonlily at 2:25 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


The only thing that really bothers me about the US-centrism of MetaFilter is the propensity some people have to use any FPP about any political acts in a foreign country as yet another pretext to complain about the US government. Some other country did something good? "This is my chance to contrast it to the US!" Some other country did something a little bad? "That's not as bad as what the US is doing!" Some other country did something terrible? "The US will be doing that in a year or so!"

I'm not a big fan of politicsfilter, so I generally stay out of US political/social threads, but it sucks when there's a post which is informative and educational about Nepal, or Austria, or Belize, only to see that a bunch of Mefites think the most interesting thing about a development in those countries is that it can be used as yet another springboard to discuss what's wrong with the US.
posted by Bugbread at 3:10 AM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's interesting - it has a curious effect overall, where, by the time I've read the linked content and the MF comments, I've generally learned a lot more new things about America than the original subject country.
posted by forgetful snow at 3:27 AM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


What more inside? I don't see one.

If you had included this sentence "It's an examination, in vignettes, of various assumptions people make about Asians and in this case specifically Chinese women." from your comment in the actual post , I think it would have avoided a lot of the comments about the style, since people would have known what it was going in. And maybe more of the commenters who are interested in the conversation divabat wanted to have, would been interested in the post.


Oops, sorry creepygirl. Could have sworn I had mentioned her nationality after a [more inside]. I apologize. Mea culpa.

As for the rest... Sure. I have no problem explaining things in more detail in an FPP, especially on difficult topics. (Obviously, from my posting history.) However, knowing my own posting style I would probably not have done so above a [more inside] in this case, so it would have made little difference to creepygirl or any other drive-by-without-clicking-through reader.

At some basic level, there is an assumption any OP has to make that people will click a link, or barring that, read a post. Ms. Koe's nationality is obvious if one clicks the link. I freely admit that I should have stated it explicitly up front in the post. But I cannot reasonably anticipate every possible reader interaction. BUT: In this case, since I was already aware there could be a potential backlash over the headline, I clearly should have framed the post differently. Sorry about that, folks.
posted by zarq at 4:33 AM on April 22, 2014


"klangklangston: they saw a format that worked and ran with it. What's so sad about that?"

Because it's such a slavish recreation if it's earnest, down to the color scheme and layout, and Buzzfeed's model has huge flaws in it, so recreating that in a naive way is idiotic. Instead of creating something that could be a real Buzzfeed analogue for Indians, they instead created an ebaumsworld.

Which is, again, why I assume they've got to be self-consciously satirizing; otherwise, they're just inept.
posted by klangklangston at 8:46 AM on April 22, 2014


I think that it's also important to realize that western voices are usually speaking to a western audience, regardless of the topic, and therefore are going to do so in a way that's geared towards that group. Native voices are likely not writing with a western audience in mind, and won't be attempting to tie the information to a topic that westerners can relate to, or present it in a way that would be easy for a westerner to absorb.

People should be able to absorb a situation without "here is a white person to explain this to you."

I think a lot of times people identify more with the "western/white savior/white man's burden" perspectives than native perspectives on their own countries' issues, which is something that people should examine for themselves (me included).
posted by sweetkid at 8:59 AM on April 22, 2014 [8 favorites]



People should be able to absorb a situation without "here is a white person to explain this to you.


I said westerners. Nowhere did I say "white person," as westerners are not entirely composed of white people, and neither are western writers. American writers, for instance, come in all races and write towards other westerners of all races.

Please don't put raciest words in my mouth. It's uncalled for and not indicative of my stated point:

I think that it's also important to realize that western voices are usually speaking to a western audience, regardless of the topic, and therefore are going to do so in a way that's geared towards that group. Native voices are likely not writing with a western audience in mind, and won't be attempting to tie the information to a topic that westerners can relate to, or present it in a way that would be easy for a westerner to absorb.

posted by Shouraku at 9:45 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's not "putting racist words in your mouth." It's actually less about what you said than a general phenomenon, which I explained in my later paragraph:

I think a lot of times people identify more with the "western/white savior/white man's burden" perspectives than native perspectives on their own countries' issues, which is something that people should examine for themselves (me included).


Taking things so personally is part of why people can't really hear each other on this topic. Also Westerners are not just white people is a thing that is true in fact but gets lost often in practice.
posted by sweetkid at 9:50 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


Self-linking is acceptable in comments

Yup, I know that. it does not change the fact that it often seems to go over poorly when I do it. It has tended to go over better when I send a link via memail and say "I thought you might be interested." And even if it doesn't, then I have somehow offended one person, not dozens or hundreds or whatever the fuck. I usually try to not comment on it but I was quite tired when I wrote my comment yesterday evening and was not really happy with the quality of it but..it is what it is. My life doesn't happen to be perfect and never will be.

Michele in California: What I was going for with that statement was more about how there have been a lot of FPPs about non-American stuff, by and large posted by non-Americans, and yet they don't necessarily get as much attention or engagement as posts about Americana. To an outside reviewer it would look like American stuff gets more attention (the sort of effect Juso No Thankyou refers to) and so it doesn't seem particularly welcoming to non-Americans. Like "oh clearly they're not for people like me". It's absolutely not about "OH LOOK A FOREIGNER", which I've been championing against here, but actually noticing when non-Americans speak up, in FPPs or in comments (rather than brushing them off, like sweetkid talked about earlier).

divabat, I apologize for the poor framing of my remarks. it was in no way a criticism or rebuttal of anything you said. Your remarks struck me as a good jumping off point for my thoughts. Whenever I do that, the odds are high it will get misinterpreted. Sometimes I know how to mitigate that upfront and sometimes I don't. Yesterday, I didn't.

I was a moderator for TagFam at one time, which (IIRC) runs the oldest set of listservs for its area. I was a moderator for a few weeks when the founder asked me to become "Director of Community Life." She was trying to make the transition from just a website and a few email lists to tax deductible charity and was putting together a board of directors. I was later a moderator on Cyburbia, which was at the time (and probably still is) the world's foremost online urban planning community. I also probably have the third highest karma of any openly female member of Hacker News. I have a long history of a/b testing different approaches to handling certain things in online forums and of exercising significant influence even when I am only a member and not a moderator.

I have no idea how to claim those credentials. Even at the time that I was a moderator, I was not really respected or taken very seriously by the owners of the above listed sites, who are very technically inclined and do not know how to relate to the social things that are my forte. It is clear to me that at least one moderator on MeFi finds it offensive that I think I know anything about building community or making it work better than it does currently. I am a relative newcomer to this community, I am medically handicapped (and thus sometimes just can't seem to keep my feet out of my mouth) and I am homeless and very open about that which does a lot to hurt my credibility with anyone who is more classicist than they would like to think they are (which is probably quite a lot of people).

So while I really love digging around in topics like this, I try like hell to tread lightly because I have a lot of reason to believe my remarks will not go over well, will not be taken seriously, etc. and it will thus not help the community, may in fact undermine the goal of furthering certain things, and will also not help me, may in fact just come back to bite me in the arse.

And what I am trying to say is that while I don't spend enough time on the blue to have any real idea myself of which MeFi cultural quirks are really discouraging foreign participation, my long experience (and study -- because I have also taken college classes like "Social Psychology" and "Negotiation and Conflict Management" and non-college classes...blah blah blah) suggests that the relatively "obvious" answers of "this topic isn't getting the same amount of attention as an American topic" is probably not the real barrier to more international participation. It is probably a symptom of the problem rather than a cause of the problem. It is probably something less obvious (at least to Americans) and less visible that is tripping up the foreigners and keeping them relatively silent. And if those less visible issues are ever solved, this more visible issue will likely disappear seemingly spontaneously, of its own accord.
posted by Michele in California at 10:11 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Then again, Hoopo, it would most likely be fine to post 'I read this, it was interesting and surprising to me'. Don't you think that could work?

It's kind of low value, no? It doesn't really add to an intelligent conversation. To me, "intelligent" is somewhere beyond saying "neato!"

And it wasn't just about eyelid surgery anyway! The first vignette was about American assumptions about the Other, and there was a section about fashion models and about museum curation then there was the side article about what's it like to edit and publish in Singapore

It was an example. I picked that out of the article because it seemed to me to be the most dramatic part, but regardless there is certainly a theme of "eyes" running through it. The first 3 vignettes, and then the Miley Cyrus one, makes it 4 out of 6. But this more or less outlines why I try to keep the hell away from threads like this. I can only say the wrong thing.
posted by Hoopo at 10:25 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Westerners are not just white people is a thing that is true in fact but gets lost often in practice.

I don't understand this. Can you explain what you mean by "lost ... in practice"?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:31 AM on April 22, 2014




Westerners are not just white people is a thing that is true in fact but gets lost often in practice.

I don't understand this. Can you explain what you mean by "lost ... in practice"?


In practice, we have memes like White People Problems which could be about middle class people of any color, we have people born in America but with "foreign" last names & skin colors asked where they're "really from," we have people often making comments that are meant to conflate Western perspective with white perspective. That is not meant to be taken personally by every person who has commented in this thread, but it's something I've observed being the American born kid of Indian immigrants and I'm not really alone in that.

If that's something you think is completely untrue, because you think of course everyone knows the common use of "Westerners" includes people of all colors, then I can't really explain the phenomenon fully to you.
posted by sweetkid at 10:56 AM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


It is clear to me that at least one moderator on MeFi finds it offensive that I think I know anything about building community or making it work better than it does currently.

Just for the record and because you mentioned it, I do not have any idea what you're referring to here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:57 AM on April 22, 2014


That's okay jessamyn. I didn't expect you to. I was merely trying to say, and probably badly, that I take a lot of factors into account when trying to decide what discussions to participate in and how to participate. And probably should have stayed out of this particular discussion on MetaFilter and stuck to blogging about it, like I initially did.
posted by Michele in California at 11:05 AM on April 22, 2014


Hoopo: I wasn't meaning to pick on you, I'm sorry if that's how I came off. I made that comment because I'm seeing that in both this thread and the other one most of the comments are about eyelid surgery, and people not being able to relate to that because that's not particularly American (or whatever), when the very first thing in the story is about America (no one's even made a comment about that opening vignette in either thread). Yes the article is about eyes in various senses of the word, but people are picking on one or two and assuming that that is all the article is about.
posted by divabat at 11:09 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


(no one's even made a comment about that opening vignette in either thread).

That is partly because the first vignette is the least compelling piece of the whole thing plus, in some ways, the most baldly critical of American prejudice. If you want {group} to change their ways, making them feel personally attacked, especially where the criticism is true, is not a good way to do it. People need to save face. It generally works better to give them an out and let them feel like "It's not ME who is the racist asshole here, it's OTHER PEOPLE. I am one of the Good Guys. I am just a smidgeon ignorant, is all. Honest!"

Also, the eyelid surgery piece was just derail fodder. I say this as someone who is very open about having been sexually abused, currently being homeless, having a serious medical condition, blah blah blah and just generally being someone who has a knack for inspiring derails. I have a long history of saying long, thoughtful Thing and having someone pull one remark out and go apeshit on that one thing, often even in cases where everything else I said was supportive, conciliatory, blah blah blah and that one sentence can be taken as criticism or attack and that's what they want to talk about, and not in a good way. I have a gift for that.

So, yeah, the eyelid surgery is just derail fodder and the only way that wasn't going to become the focus was if zarq (the OP) or one of the very first replies had actively worked to make sure that was not going to become the focus. And that's a tricky thing to do because you typically need to remark on the derail fodder upfront, thus drawing attention to it, as part of making your point that "BUT...I don't really want to talk about this obvious train wreck that I know will have everyone rubbernecking. I really want to talk about this other thing that I think is deeper, more meaningful, etc. And this is why I think this other thing is the real asset in this piece. This is why I am intrigued, in spite of this crazy piece of derail fodder that I don't really want the discussion to revolve around."

And you can't do that without a) recognizing derail fodder in advance and b) having a bit of a talent and some practice at redirecting people's attention. Because if you just ignore the derail fodder entirely while trying to redirect attention, the most common result is that the derail is just all the worse because of the audience pushback you will get from folks going "I can't believe you didn't comment on Obvious Derail!!!!!!" and that tends to be a worse nightmare than just letting folks rubberneck and gawk at the thing you didn't want them doing that with.
posted by Michele in California at 1:03 PM on April 22, 2014


What? No. There's so much wrong going on with your comment that I don't have the time to get into right now, but the tl;Dr version is that you're getting into tone argument territory, assuming that she's writing for the benefit of an American audience rather than honestly portraying reality, and "not all X" is NOT a useful means of activism (assuming she's even trying to be activisty here).
posted by divabat at 1:37 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just to be clear, I got the impression from the article that she was portraying reality, but not with the specific goal of being an activist. Though, activism doesn't have to be intended, and I realize that. As in, it was observations of her community directed towards an audience of her community, but not necessarily for the purpose of activism.

Am I misunderstanding the intent of the article here?
posted by Shouraku at 1:47 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


you're getting into tone argument territory, assuming that she's writing for the benefit of an American audience rather than honestly portraying reality

I am assuming you mean my comment, though that's not entirely clear to me. If so: I am not saying Koe was writing for an American audience. I am saying I am not surprised that the eye surgery is a derail with this audience on MetaFilter and that zarq or another early commenter could have potentially resolved this. It wasn't commentary on koe's writing but on group dynamics here -- which is what MeTa is for. The blue is for discussing Koe's piece.

I am not assuming anything at all about the original piece, just the framing of how it got presented here. Gory details of surgery and the horrific aftereffects for an audience that can't readily relate to the reasons why someone would choose to put themselves through that is practically guaranteed to get rubbernecking.
posted by Michele in California at 1:58 PM on April 22, 2014


There must be some other way to interact with cultures that are not our own, especially cultures that we are privileged above, that doesn't involve insistently lecturing them that their comments and criticisms are going to be ignored because we do not like the way they phrased them, and that this is their fault.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:52 PM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Michele in California: "Also, the eyelid surgery piece was just derail fodder."

As the OP I might be biased, but I believe all comments in the thread are directly relevant to the content of the post and the thread has not been derailed.

The conversation may have gone in unexpected directions or been more shallow that some people may have preferred, but that's not a derail.
posted by zarq at 2:54 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Shouraku: that's what I got from the piece too, that she's expressing many different ways a particular issue (eyes and the gaze) is explored within her community and those related. While I wish people talked about more than just "ew eyelid surgery", given that that was actually a thing mentioned in the article, it's not a derail.

Michele in California:

If you want {group} to change their ways, making them feel personally attacked, especially where the criticism is true, is not a good way to do it. People need to save face. It generally works better to give them an out and let them feel like "It's not ME who is the racist asshole here, it's OTHER PEOPLE. I am one of the Good Guys. I am just a smidgeon ignorant, is all. Honest!"

Firstly, she never personally attacked anyone in the piece. She was relaying a conversation as-is, a conversation that either actually did happen or is very close to some that have happened. Here are some examples detailing the problem with "not all white people are like that!" and "not all men are like that!"
posted by divabat at 2:59 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


zarq, I am trying to speak to how MeFi can deal with non-American-centric topics better. And really regretting the effort. I had about five minutes earlier this afternoon where I was tempted to email the mods and say "Yeah, just delete all my dumbass comments from that Meta, please, thank you." And I am not feeling any better about it now.

I am not the one saying "MetaFilter does this badly." I am only trying to express thoughts on how it can be done better for those folks who would like to see it done better because, in spite of always winding up an outsider, I find community building very interesting and valuable and so on.

Anyway, I hope to have the good sense to bow out at this point and stop digging my own grave deeper and just leave it where it is. Apologies for stepping into it.
posted by Michele in California at 3:02 PM on April 22, 2014


Shouraku: that's what I got from the piece too, that she's expressing many different ways a particular issue (eyes and the gaze) is explored within her community and those related.

Phew! I'm glad that I wasn't misunderstanding that, as it's been the basis of my opinion in this thread. As in, the articles were written for a targeted community, not a global group of different races/cultures/perspectives. So, if you don't instantly "get it," it may partially be because it wasn't written for you, or intended to include you.*

*And also because there's global prejudice involved. I don't mean to suggest that prejudice isn't a major factor.
posted by Shouraku at 3:21 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


There must be some other way to interact with cultures that are not our own, especially cultures that we are privileged above, that doesn't involve insistently lecturing them that their comments and criticisms are going to be ignored because we do not like the way they phrased them, and that this is their fault.

You might even try it when interacting with cultures that are more or less your own, then expand outward.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:27 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Were some of y'all just not required to read fiction or literary non-fiction written by authors of different genders, nationalities, ethnicities, races, or time periods than yourselves? Other people have experiences, and they write about them! Sometimes directed at wider audiences, often specifically for audiences that resemble the author! Feeling as if you are not the primary intended audience for a piece does not mean the piece doesn't in any way pertain to your life, nor does it mean you're not supposed to comment on it. It does mean you may have to put in an extra level of effort to understand the context and judge the piece within that context.

(Which, I might add, is what many of us have to do with the 80% of literature written by and targeted to white American men.)
posted by jaguar at 6:28 PM on April 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


Feeling as if you are not the primary intended audience for a piece does not mean the piece doesn't in any way pertain to your life, nor does it mean you're not supposed to comment on it.

I don't think that the OP was trying to imply that people can't or won't read or comment on literature that doesn’t come from a similar voice as their own, but was asking that it be done with more respect. And also asking why more people are frequenting threads that relate to their community as opposed to threads that relate to communities that are not their own.

It does mean you may have to put in an extra level of effort to understand the context and judge the piece within that context.

This has kind of been my point. I generally believe that even if you were somehow magically able to erase prejudiced and biased, people are still going to be more drawn to things that are easier for them to understand and relate to. Not that people never put in the effort to dive into literature that was written for a different audience, just that when you come home from a long day at the office and plop down at your computer, you may not have the energy to devote to writing that takes effort or further research. Sort of why people enjoy big dumb action movies. It's not because they're incapable of watching a movie about serious social commentary, but because they're looking to consume something easy. This is part of why I think that American focused threads tend to get so many readers on a site that has a large amount of Americans. The Americans can dive right into the topic, since it's recognizable and easy for them to relate to.

Westerners* put out a very large volume of media, so I guess that you could say that we're privileged in our ability to have access to voices from our own regional community (though not even close to having equality among the voices). Therefore, making it easy to access easy media.

Now, if the issues is: "why is so much of our media coming form the same types of voices over and over again?" Or, "why isn't there more diversity among FPP?" Those are different questions than "why are people drawn to easy stuff that they relate to without much effort?"

*And by westerners, I'm trying to refer to people who live in the western part of the world, not just white people who also happen to live in the west.
posted by Shouraku at 7:36 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you want {group} to change their ways, making them feel personally attacked, especially where the criticism is true, is not a good way to do it.

I've said this before, but every time a minority/nonWestern/nonmale/noncis/etc person has something to say or puts out a perspective through various types of media, the point is not always to convince the in group of something.

What has been most meaningful to me is just hearing people voicing similar concerns to me, to feel like I'm alone and not crazy. When I see groups that I am not part of (trans* for example) doing something similar, I don't feel like they're trying to convince me of something.
posted by sweetkid at 7:43 PM on April 22, 2014 [8 favorites]


zarq, I am trying to speak to how MeFi can deal with non-American-centric topics better.

You seem to be seeing things wrong with my post that I feel are not in evidence, so as a result I feel entitled to counter what you're saying with my perspective on the thread.

I understand what your intent was. If you think I framed the post poorly, that's fine. We agree about that. But no, it didn't derail. And yes, giving an explanation of what the linked essay was about in comment number *ten* was "early" in the thread even if it was made 12 hours after the thread was initially posted.
posted by zarq at 8:00 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Americans can dive right into the topic, since it's recognizable and easy for them to relate to.

Westerners* put out a very large volume of media, so I guess that you could say that we're privileged in our ability to have access to voices from our own regional community (though not even close to having equality among the voices). Therefore, making it easy to access easy media.


The thing about this is that the American experience is very diverse, yet when it's explained like this it always seems to me to be about a certain type of experience.

When I commented earlier about people seeming to want to engage more when there's a Western/white savior orientation to the topic, one of the things I was thinking about was this CNN iReport that got reposted on my Facebook and Twitter about a million times. It was right after the bus rape in India and was basically a white girl talking about Things You Should Know About India.

Basically, the gist of the piece was that India isn't the magical, spiritual land that you imagine it is before you go there. This woman was like, let me tell you, it's not so magic and loving and happy people in poverty, because men harass you and that is bad.

This piece infuriated me, not because it's not true that there is a huge sexual violence problem, but the whole perspective of the piece was aimed toward fellow white people who think they should go to India because it is magical spiritual yoga land, and here is this girl to tell you no, it's not.

I wrote this whole ranty email to a fellow Indian American friend because I felt like if I wrote it publicly people would get all over me for trying to deny sexual violence in India, which I wasn't. I was just really irritated by this piece by a person who clearly had no clue or care that people with experience with that culture might be reading the piece. I don't have violent or even dominating Indian men in my extended family, but having real flesh and blood Indian people that I am related to, the idea that I should be disabused of my notion that it's a spiritual fairy land was ridiculous and offensive.

It just seems like people care more about a "foreign" issue or find it more palatable somehow when it's delivered from an outside David Attenborough "look at these people" type perspective.

When I posted the sketch comedy video by Indian people for Indian people about this same topic, it got some good response actually, but also people who wanted to bring it back to America or assume the troupe was trying to convince Westerners of...something.

I really don't think anyone should comment on anything they don't want to, but that's the disconnect for me.
posted by sweetkid at 8:07 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


>>Feeling as if you are not the primary intended audience for a piece does not mean the piece doesn't in any way pertain to your life, nor does it mean you're not supposed to comment on it.

>I don't think that the OP was trying to imply that people can't or won't read or comment on literature that doesn’t come from a similar voice as their own, but was asking that it be done with more respect.


Sorry if I didn't make my point clear. I totally agree with divabat. And I've been calling for more comments that address dissimilar voices with intelligence and engagement and respect; what I was trying to point out in my last comment was that this process should be familiar to anyone who's ever read decent literature, which is why I'm a bit dismissive of comments acting as if it's some enormous impossible bar to clear to engage with unfamiliar contexts. It's asked of high school students every day.
posted by jaguar at 8:23 PM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


You might even try it when interacting with cultures that are more or less your own, then expand outward.

What a puzzling comment. I imagine you think it was a zinger, but if you have something you actually want to say to me personally, perhaps MeMail is a better option.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:32 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I may be misreading it as a dig against me, though, and if I am misreading, I apologize.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:35 PM on April 22, 2014


Sorry if I didn't make my point clear. I totally agree with divabat.

Oops, I read that part of your comment wrong, I see how you meant it now, sorry.

...which is why I'm a bit dismissive of comments acting as if it's some enormous impossible bar to clear to engage with unfamiliar contexts. It's asked of high school students every day.

I don't think that it's a high bar necessarily, just that it's a bar, and some times that's all you need for people to avoid something. Not all high school kids enjoy reading the required fiction, even if they're technically capable of it and it's good for them to be exposed to experiences outside of their own sphere. I'm pretty sure that MeFis as a whole are capable of tackling writing from voices other than those of their own community/race/gender/country/experience, but whether they're going to do it on the regular, especially when there are many easier choices surrounding the bar elevated ones, is what I question.

I really don't think anyone should comment on anything they don't want to, but that's the disconnect for me.

This is the disconnect for me as well. It's very tempting in general to say "you should try this new thing, it will be a little harder, but it will likely be good for you and you may love it," but I don't feel that it's my place to push people towards a specific thread, or push people away from interacting with an article in the way that they want to, because they didn't follow the intended path.

Someone up-thread said "okay, so what's the solution?" And to me, this is the crux of this issue. I don't see how all this can be solved outside of possibly putting more effort into promoting FPPs that have something other than an Americancentric voice, but then again, whose place would it be to do this, and how?
posted by Shouraku at 9:08 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thing about this is that the American experience is very diverse, yet when it's explained like this it always seems to me to be about a certain type of experience.

I don't really know how to frame my point in a way that will strip it of any and all references to any specific voice or experience, other than to say:

People from Hypothetical Region A are probably going to be more inclined to partake in media that discusses a topic that will directly affect them, or was written with them as the intended audience. More so than media from Hypothetical Region B, which was written for people from Region B, and that may discuss topics that people from Region A aren't directly affected by, particularly curious about, or able to appreciate. Not that People from Region A will never expose themselves to media from Region B, just that it probably won't be as frequently viewed as media that was written with them as the intended audience.
posted by Shouraku at 5:18 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Threads like this make me less likely to participate in threads about things that are outside of my own experience, not more. Apparently, the bar is really high and it's better to stay out. It's sort of safe to nod respectfully and mumble 'Oh, that sounds rough', but anything else is not advisable and even that can turn ugly.

Well, good to know. :-/
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:17 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm really frustrated that the takeaway for some people is "i shouldn't try to comment at all" when over and over we're trying to encourage people to comment more.

Commenting with respect, humility, and curiousity is not a high bar, really.
posted by divabat at 8:56 AM on April 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


Commenting with respect, humility, and curiousity is not a high bar, really.

No, but I think the concern is that people think they are commenting with those things in mind and then people will jump on them to say they are not bringing that to the table after all. This is just a guess.
posted by josher71 at 9:12 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


So can we talk about this thread?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:23 AM on April 23, 2014


Yeah that thread has comments that are stunningly perfect in demonstrating the problem. It even reaches the point in which we indistinct foreigners should either shut up or get lost.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:43 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Please, someone point out to me where any "indistinct foreigners" are being told to shut up or get lost in that thread. I get the "Hey, you don't really understand our culture" defense, but the only comments about who is or isn't qualified to comment are being aimed squarely and explicitly at Americans/Canadians.
posted by Etrigan at 9:51 AM on April 23, 2014


Here you go. Granted, perhaps "indistinct" was not the best choice of words, but then again, I'm not sure the blanket "nationalist assumptions" is much better...
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:59 AM on April 23, 2014


Little help connecting the dots here? "Nordic style nationalist assumptions" seemed like the apt description of the comment he was referring to and it just seems like you resent it being called out for that.
posted by deathmaven at 10:04 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Perhaps reading this very thread will be helpful?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:08 AM on April 23, 2014


> I'm really frustrated that the takeaway for some people is "i shouldn't try to comment at all" when over and over we're trying to encourage people to comment more.

Sorry to disappoint, but honestly I'm not really feeling encouraged. So something, somewhere, is not working as intended.

I did not like the Koe article because of the writing style. It came across as disjointed and hard to read. I had trouble seeing the forest for the trees. I almost posted to say so... apparently, that would have been Very Wrong and possibly Western-culturecentric.

Well then. I'm sure y'all would have been fine not knowing my opinion on that article. Not having any experience with the subject matter (as far as I could make it out), what else could I possibly have said about it? Nothing that would be useful, as far as I can see.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:18 AM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Here you go. Granted, perhaps "indistinct" was not the best choice of words, but then again, I'm not sure the blanket "nationalist assumptions" is much better...

Blasdelb wasn't calling out people based on their nationality; he was calling out people based on what they were saying, and he was specifically tying it to a single poster's assertion (which is a huge smelly shit on the carpet that no one from the "this isn't so bad" side has bothered to address).

dabitch is the only person in that thread telling people whether they're qualified to talk about the subject based on their nationality.
posted by Etrigan at 10:29 AM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


There is a lot of US-centrism to that conversation. It's a cute enough video and 256 probably should not have started the thread with the crypto-racism observation. That said, three blind mice should not then have said something crypto-racist in response.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:31 AM on April 23, 2014


dabitch is the only person in that thread telling people whether they're qualified to talk about the subject based on their nationality.

That is mostly because dabitch is arguing against comments that take the US perspective as the general, international, and therefore non-cultural culture that can pass judgments on others based on its own norms. Kind of what this very thread is about.

But yeah, three blind mice's comment was terrible. That's the one clearly nationalist comment in the thread. (Note: thinking that there are cultural nuances which Americans aren't getting and the repetition of a country's name are not signs of nationalism.)
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


dabitch is the only person in that thread telling people whether they're qualified to talk about the subject based on their nationality.

That is mostly because dabitch is arguing against comments that take the US perspective as the general, international, and therefore non-cultural culture that can pass judgments on others based on its own norms.


Arguing against comments is one thing (and it's what blasdelb was doing). Telling people that they cannot engage in the argument because they're not Danes is a different thing -- the thing that you and dabitch are complaining about despite her being the only one doing it.
posted by Etrigan at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2014


You seem to be seeing things wrong with my post that I feel are not in evidence, so as a result I feel entitled to counter what you're saying with my perspective on the thread.

No, I wasn't saying that at all. I was saying that the response which occurred is probably to be expected, given the audience and the content of the piece, and if a different response was desired, it would have to have been explicitly sought out by either the OP (which happens to be you, though you aren't required to have an agenda to promote diversity) or someone posting quite early in the discussion. And even if it had been explicitly sought out by someone very knowledgeable about both MeFi culture and how to redirect the discussion, the odds are still high it would have gone about like it did. It's simply a hard thing to do, even under the best circumstances. Some things are just hard to do and highly likely to fail, even when you shoot for it and are good at it.

And I tried to describe why that is true about this particular piece in case anyone here wishes to start promoting diversity on the blue. Anyone can do that. Any member. It does not have to be done by the moderating team. Every single member influences the culture every time they post or comment and if you are aware of some things, you can choose to move the bar on certain things, over time.

But it won't likely be me who sets out to promote diversity on the blue. I have btdt, got the t-shirt several times. The personal cost to me has been extraordinarily high and the pay-off extremely low (or non-existent - I have enormous difficulty seeing any good in some of the experiences I have had and some of it feels like all downside, no upside at all). Plus, when I do that as a one woman show, after I get fed up and leave, the forum kind of dies (or at least seems to never again have the level of traffic it had when I was active). I happen to value Metafilter. I don't desire to accidentally kill it. So for that reason as well, it won't likely be me.

You know the saying: I can resist anything but temptation. Promoting diversity in online forums is a topic near and dear to my heart. There are few opportunities to have a good discussion of it. So I failed to resist temptation regarding this MeTa, in spite of knowing this is probably a bad idea for me as a member and probably not going to really help anyone else here either.

And I am continuing to fail to resist temptation. At this point, I am going to take this thread out of my "recent activity" queue. I plan to actually bow out, like I said I would.
posted by Michele in California at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2014


By my reckoning, the people posting comments concerned about that ad are from (at least) Canada, the UK, and the Netherlands, in addition to the US. It's weird that this is getting presented as taking the US perspective as general, when there's plenty of diversity among the people who think the ad has some not so pleasant racial undertones.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:54 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there something a while back where people were arguing that, no, that dude dressed up as an elf in blackface for Christmas isn't racist because it's not American? Or something similarly stupid?

I don't have to be Danish to recognize racism when I see it but this doesn't strike me as particularly racist to be honest.
posted by Justinian at 10:55 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Can we please not do the Zwarte Piet discussion in here? It's hard enough for us inside the Netherlands.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Etrigan, where am I telling you that you can not engage in the topic? I feel like you are misreading me in the extreme, and this isn't the first time you are putting words in my mouth, which I really don't appreciate - for the record. Misunderstandings happen, but at this point it feels like you're reading an awful lot into my comments that I'm simply not putting in them.
posted by dabitch at 11:02 AM on April 23, 2014


Yeah I may have been too quick to jump on the US thing. I guess it was the "let's explain to the others about their own culture" vibe I was getting from some of the comments there that irked me a little bit.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:05 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


please dont edit your comments for content, Pyrogenesis.
posted by Justinian at 11:11 AM on April 23, 2014


In general I'm not sure that metafilter being insufficiently Danish to have a universally nuanced appreciation for Danish humor, or even how that humor connected to the icky ethnic nationalism that was part of the conversation in that add exactly, without local help is a major problem for the site. On the other hand, three blind mice taking every opportunity possible to troll us does seem like a significant problem to me that maybe should be address more sternly.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:13 AM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


This comment made me feel like the perspective from Scandinavians was not wanted in the thread. Which is a bit of a shame in an international site, where one might learn from each other instead of dismissing what they say.
posted by dabitch at 11:17 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Justinian. I'm aware of the rule, but I also became aware that I was about to say something stupid, and the latter won.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:21 AM on April 23, 2014


On the other hand, three blind mice taking every opportunity possible to troll us does seem like a significant problem to me that maybe should be address more sternly.

Is there some reason to think that three blind mice's comment doesn't reflect his sincere opinion? I'm not sure labeling folks we disagree with as trolls is so great.
posted by lalex at 11:24 AM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't think that thread has much in common with the two linked in the OP.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:25 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Etrigan, where am I telling you that you can not engage in the topic?

"Etrigan, your US-centric line doesn't apply in Denmark, where racism looks different. I'm speaking from I have lived there for more than ten years experience. "

"As a Danish speaker, with a firm understanding of the humor in that country, I wish I could babelfish to you how you're misreading the gag, but I'm afraid that I score yet another "They're just looking to be offended" point in that if I try, which is not my intention."

If you don't read those as my being unqualified to engage, then I don't know how I can convince you. It's certainly how I took them.

(And I meant "cannot" above as in "are unqualified to," not "are not allowed to"; my apologies for being unclear.)

This comment made me feel like the perspective from Scandinavians was not wanted in the thread.

My intent was to show that you were the one who needed to listen to people from other cultures, not that you couldn't engage. I don't know how you got that from my comment unless you also think that Thing's comment -- which you favorited -- was telling me that I couldn't engage either.
posted by Etrigan at 11:26 AM on April 23, 2014


You came at me with the "people are just looking to be offended" line, which is what I'm explaining doesn't apply in this context. This != that your opinion is not welcome in the thread.

When I'm saying that people who not Danish are reading into it, and also explaining it's an ad strategy and trying to define the target market and history of the company, I'm trying to point out things that are being missed when people who don't have these cultural references are seeing it. Especially since the FPP presents this as if it's a government mandate to breed-more-kids™ rather than an advert shilling weekend-trips to middle-class Danes.

It's not a "people are just looking to be offended" as said by United States conservatives who read the Drudgereport all day, and I was frankly offended that you would take my comment in such bad faith. Pointing out that the main actors are white Danish people in an advert made in Denmark targeted at Danes is really kind of odd. Should they have Pakestani-Dane in it to appease people on an international site who might see the ad, but are not the target market?
posted by dabitch at 11:41 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


but I also became aware that I was about to say something stupid, and the latter won.

That never stopped me! I'd have to quit posting entirely.
posted by Justinian at 11:47 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I came at you with that line because of your comment, "I really think people who are not Danish are trying way to hard to read their own prejudices into it, to be honest." That comment -- which I am reproducing in its entirety -- is not explaining the references or defining the market. That comment is dismissing people, and it's not dismissing them because they don't get it, but because they are "trying way to hard" to not get it. It is cut from the same cloth as the "people are just looking to get offended" line -- it posits that I and others in that conversation were actively attempting to read the ad in bad faith and therefore can be ignored, and it does so on the basis of whether we are Danish.
posted by Etrigan at 12:02 PM on April 23, 2014


What that thread does have in common with one of the ones linked here (specifically Storypick) is the framingwas a bit off: an ad campaign is being framed as official Government policy.
posted by divabat at 12:18 PM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


That comment means exactly what it says. Conspicuousness really is in the eye of the beholder, as mentioned earlier in the thread. If you live in a more mixed population, it may seem jarring to you, when it isn't where the target is. To ignore that this ad is targeted to someone who is not you, and then get offended by what you see based on your frame of reference is reading your own prejudices into it. "Omg the main actors are white!" Yes, yes they are. They're Danish.

My intent was to show that you were the one who needed to listen to people from other cultures, not that you couldn't engage.

For the record, That my intent as well. I felt that you brushed aside all the information I put forth in the thread from the get-go. When I say that I wish I could babelfish the joke for you, I genuinely wish I could babelfish the joke for you. I think you're and others missing a lot of the nuance due to the fact that you're simply not Danish/living in Denmark, you're not the intended target, and you don't know the history of Spies. Putting cryptoracism in that gag is a stretch at best, and a real threadshit at worst. The fact that a gag is taken as a serious governmental effort to make more babies is the problem. It's a tongue-in-cheek joke trying to sell weekend trips. It knows that it's absurd, and taking it seriously is wrong.
posted by dabitch at 12:22 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


The framing was a little ambiguous, but it was also not by an American.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:23 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Omg the main actors are white!" Yes, yes they are. They're Danish.

The idea that Danish = white is exactly the cryptoracism.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:50 PM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]




The Wikipedia page where that's from defines "Danish descent" as "having at least one parent who was born in Denmark and has Danish citizenship" - doesn't really say anything about the ethnicity of said parent.

Joshua Project's page on Denmark.

Humanity in Action's article about ethnic minorities in Denmark.

Ethnic groups in Denmark.

Migration Policy Institute's article on Denmark's homogenousity.
posted by divabat at 1:03 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I realize that Divabat, and I also know that what people in North American see as "all white" is a lot more fractured and very different in the eyes of a northern European. Am I to understand that the Spies ad needs to add someone who is not white, as per the North American definition, to make things easier for non-Danish viewers to get the joke, that isn't even aimed to that audience? The complaint here seems to be "they took a cross section of Danes that looked like the target market".
posted by dabitch at 1:10 PM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


"The cryptoracist makeup of Denmark"

Yeah, that's the blithe crypto-racism of assuming everyone born in Denmark = white.

You must have been laying out some of that dry Danish humor.
posted by klangklangston at 1:10 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Interesting. From the Humanity in Action article:

Secondly, they [minority community leaders in Denmark] agree, though each to a different extent, that ethnic Danes need to be tolerant of private cultural practices, and understand the culture before criticizing it. All of the leaders we interviewed were wary of the tone of the debate so far, even going so far as to call it “veiled racism.” Many of the leaders we interviewed viewed the media as largely responsible for the sensationalism that has surrounded the one-sided integration debate. That this point was so widely agreed upon, suggests that the Danish citizens need to critically evaluate the way the media covers ethnic minority issues and let their criticism be known.
posted by jaguar at 1:11 PM on April 23, 2014


I'm really confused about what we're talking about now.
posted by Justinian at 1:12 PM on April 23, 2014


"I realize that Divabat, and I also know that what people in North American see as "all white" is a lot more fractured and very different in the eyes of a northern European. Am I to understand that the Spies ad needs to add someone who is not white, as per the North American definition, to make things easier for non-Danish viewers to get the joke, that isn't even aimed to that audience?"

Nah, but if you're gonna stan on Denmark for Danes, then conflating nationality with ethnicity is gonna get called out.
posted by klangklangston at 1:13 PM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm really confused about what we're talking about now.

That assuming your entire audience is white is a problem, mainly, I think.
posted by jaguar at 1:14 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone did that. I do think that the makers of the ad assume that almost all of their intended audience is white/caucasian, though. They are catering to the majority, as ad makers tend to do.

And if that (their audience being almost completely white/caucasian) is actually true, is it still racist and problematic to assume that?
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:20 PM on April 23, 2014


klangklangston, seriously? "gonna stan on Denmark for Danes" - why are people putting words in my mouth like this? I said no such thing and I'm angry that you are saying that I did.

Ok you guys, have fun. I'm out.
posted by dabitch at 1:20 PM on April 23, 2014


shakespeherian: " The idea that Danish = white is exactly the cryptoracism."

I'm not sure that's what dabitch is doing here, though? If non-Whites only make up about 5-6% of the Danish population, then Denmark is in actuality overwhelmingly White. The migrationpolicy link that Divabat kindly provided shows immigrants as 8.4% of the population, but some of those countries/racial groups (Germans, etc) are most likely Caucasian. So even fewer of those immigrants are from non-Caucasian racial groups.

I totally see why assuming that Denmark is only made up of White people would be a problem. But if Denmark is mostly White, then saying an ad which depicts that reality is racist would seem to be misunderstanding its audience, no?
posted by zarq at 1:23 PM on April 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yeah, if your country is 95% white it seems logical that an ad would be all or virtually all white.
posted by Justinian at 1:30 PM on April 23, 2014


As much as I love MartinWisse, I think that's an issue with the post framing. It did look like it was some sort of government campaign and not an ad. It's a travel ad, so it makes sense to me that they'd have a white couple in there.
posted by sweetkid at 1:31 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, if your country is 95% white it seems logical that an ad would be all or virtually all white.

And if your virtually all-white ad advocates a policy that echoes anti-immigration sentiments very much in play throughout your continent, then it might be problematic.

Which doesn't mean anyone consciously intended it that way, but that's what happens when you make assumptions like that.
posted by jaguar at 1:33 PM on April 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


jaguar: " And if your virtually all-white ad advocates a policy that echoes anti-immigration sentiments very much in play throughout your continent, then it might be problematic."

But "echoes" is not "stated outright" and does not need to equal "anti-immigration" or as 256 and three blind mice accused, anti-Arab. Concerns about the falling birthrate in Denmark and Western Europe have also been raised for years in a variety of contexts. Those concerns are perfectly valid and discussing 'em or encouraging people to have sex and make more babies doesn't make anyone automatically racist.
posted by zarq at 1:51 PM on April 23, 2014


It kind of does. The "problem" of falling birth rates can be remedied by increasing immigration numbers.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:55 PM on April 23, 2014


Why is falling birthrate a concern?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:58 PM on April 23, 2014


"klangklangston, seriously? "gonna stan on Denmark for Danes" - why are people putting words in my mouth like this? I said no such thing and I'm angry that you are saying that I did."

So, just to make it a little clearer, with fraught stuff like this, there's a significant difference between: '"Omg the main actors are white!" Yes, yes they are. They're Danish.'

and

'"Omg the main actors are white!" Yes, yes they are. Danes are mostly white.'

In the first, you conflate ethnicity with nationality. In the second, you'd be distinguishing them.

Then getting snarky about the "crypto-racist makeup of Denmark" that demonstrated that you didn't get the distinction meant that hey, you can dish it out, so you can take it, right?
posted by klangklangston at 1:58 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


But "echoes" is not "stated outright" and does not need to equal "anti-immigration" or as 256 and three blind mice accused, anti-Arab. Concerns about the falling birthrate in Denmark and Western Europe have also been raised for years in a variety of contexts. Those concerns are perfectly valid and discussing 'em or encouraging people to have sex and make more babies doesn't make anyone automatically racist.

256 and I and several others have used so many qualifiers and maybes and "a little"s that we are now officially taxonomized as Weasel northamericanii. The vast majority of the stating outright in that thread and this one has been by defenders of the ad, stating outright that it is absolutely not racist.
posted by Etrigan at 2:02 PM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


Good lord, I can't be the only one sick of three blind mice's daily deliveries of horseshit.
posted by planetesimal at 2:10 PM on April 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


shakespeherian: "Why is falling birthrate a concern?"

Shrinking workforce. Stagnant economy. Aging population. Inability to maintain key industries. A decline of innovation. A decline in ability to educate and train their young.

Some 80+ countries now have fertility rates that are below the replacement rate. Most but not all are Western, developed nations. There are a number of reasons for that, including people choosing to get married later in life and having fewer or no children, longer life spans, aging populations, etc. Interestingly enough, most (maybe all?) countries whose rates fall below replacement levels never see those levels go above them again. So they must either rely on immigration to maintain a stable population, or have fewer citizens with each passing year.

Most European governments view immigrants (of any racial makeup) with some measure of concern over potential social unrest and upheaval. Some of that is a strong sense of nationalism, and hence a worry that immigrants might not feel as strongly, devotedly nationalistic. Some of it is a concern about crime, or "immigrants taking jobs away from the natives" etc., etc. Denmark's minority party is anti-immigration and routinely pounds the 'immigrants will be the death of our economy' drum.

The concern over immigrants is actually even more prominent in South Korea and Japan, where a sort of premium is placed on ethnic and cultural homogeneity.
posted by zarq at 2:12 PM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm so sorry,

Metafilter: Now officially taxonomized as Weasel northamericanii
posted by Blasdelb at 2:12 PM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Etrigan: " 256 and I and several others have used so many qualifiers and maybes and "a little"s that we are now officially taxonomized as Weasel northamericanii. The vast majority of the stating outright in that thread and this one has been by defenders of the ad, stating outright that it is absolutely not racist."

I have no problem with your comments in the thread, Etrigan. I thought the accusations that the ad was 'anti-Arab' were derailing bullshit, though.
posted by zarq at 2:15 PM on April 23, 2014


256 wasn't that accusatory, either. The worst thing he said was "I can't look at this ad without seeing the 'we have to outbreed the Arabs before they outnumber us' angle." That's rather less than saying it's automatically racist; it's just saying that knowing that that angle exists -- and no one can argue that it really isn't a thing in Denmark -- makes that ad a little troubling. I don't see how bringing it up in a discussion of the ad is derailing at all, nor bullshit.
posted by Etrigan at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2014


Good lord, I can't be the only one sick of three blind mice's daily deliveries of horseshit.

I imagine all his comments as being typed by three literal blind mice, because

A) suddenly their nonsensicality and indifference to facts makes sense, and

B) it's adorable
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


Etrigan: "256 wasn't that accusatory, either. The worst thing he said was "I can't look at this ad without seeing the 'we have to outbreed the Arabs before they outnumber us' angle." That's rather less than saying it's automatically racist; it's just saying that knowing that that angle exists -- and no one can argue that it really isn't a thing in Denmark -- makes that ad a little troubling. I don't see how bringing it up in a discussion of the ad is derailing at all, nor bullshit."

The comment assumes that this "angle" is a deliberate intent of the ad's creators. When it's not mentioned. Not alluded to. Not implied. Not shown. So yeah, bringing up something that has nothing to do directly with the ad in question is derailing. Add to that tbm's comment, which I thought was frankly racist, and we have a derail.
posted by zarq at 2:33 PM on April 23, 2014


Good lord, I can't be the only one sick of three blind mice's daily deliveries of horseshit.

Sure, but I think it's more that his MO is to threadshit as soon as he can, often with baseless and/or fairly offensive assertions, and then bolt. I don't know if it's trolling as defined by the mods, but it's certainly a shitty tactic that demonstrates an unwillingness to engage or have a conversation.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:36 PM on April 23, 2014


And if that (their audience being almost completely white/caucasian) is actually true, is it still racist and problematic to assume that?

How I understand it, an ad's job is to make the audience aspire to be like the people in the ad, doing or having whatever the people in the ad do or have. If ads present only white people as the ones the audience could/should aspire to be like, I do think that's problematic (meaning, it's not necessarily racist, but something worth at least being conscious of) -- regardless of whether all the people in the actual/target audience are white or not.

In this particular ad, the "object" people are supposed to be aspiring to get is a Danish baby, and the casting of the ad seems to imply that an aspirational Danish baby is specifically a *white* baby. Personally, I think that is at least problematic, regardless that most Danish babies *are* white.
posted by rue72 at 2:37 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: "256 wasn't that accusatory, either. The worst thing he said was "I can't look at this ad without seeing the 'we have to outbreed the Arabs before they outnumber us' angle." That's rather less than saying it's automatically racist; it's just saying that knowing that that angle exists -- and no one can argue that it really isn't a thing in Denmark -- makes that ad a little troubling. I don't see how bringing it up in a discussion of the ad is derailing at all, nor bullshit."

The comment assumes that this "angle" is a deliberate intent of the ad's creators.


It doesn't assume that at all. Dogwhistles aren't always intentional -- sometimes they're just the result of a culture having it sort of baked in.

So yeah, bringing up something that has nothing to do directly with the ad in question is derailing. Add to that tbm's comment, which I thought was frankly racist, and we have a derail.

three blind mice's comment proved 256's point -- that there is at least a little bit of "We have to outbreed the Arabs before they outnumber us" in Scandinavian society, and that this ad, when seen in that context, is a little troubling.
posted by Etrigan at 2:45 PM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Rue 72: I'm not really seeing that implication. Yes, the actors are white/caucasian... but are they specifically white/caucasian or do they happen to be white/caucasian because they are Danish and statistically most likely to be white/caucasian?

In such a ethnically undiverse* society, is it really a statement of any kind if someone depicted is of the ethnical majority? Surely it would be more of a statement if s/he weren't?

* I'm sure there is a word for that and it'll come back to me as soon as I hit post.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:49 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: " three blind mice's comment proved 256's point -- that there is at least a little bit of "We have to outbreed the Arabs before they outnumber us" in Scandinavian society, and that this ad, when seen in that context, is a little troubling."

His comment proves nothing. He's a shit-stirrer who tends to make inflammatory and derailing comments in threads which predictably spark big backlash reactions. I wouldn't take anything he says as representative of anyone except himself.

"It doesn't assume that at all. Dogwhistles aren't always intentional -- sometimes they're just the result of a culture having it sort of baked in. "

You think anti-Arab sentiment is inherent and inseparable from mainstream / Caucasian Danish society? Do you have any proof of that?
posted by zarq at 2:52 PM on April 23, 2014


Homogenous.
posted by Etrigan at 2:52 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


By the way, if I'm misunderstanding you, then I'd truly appreciate a correction. I don't mean to put words in your mouth -- I just think that's a logical conclusion to draw from your comment.
posted by zarq at 2:55 PM on April 23, 2014


It's not either/or.

As I wrote earlier in the thread, I agree emphatically with dabitch's argument that the community is us-centric and that people ought to work to engage differently.

But frequently cultures have blind spots about themselves, particularly with regard to their vices. Europeans have little context to evaluate American racism, especially the more subtle varieties. But they are well equipped to see in the US a powerful strain of imperialism that — this is important — we Americans usually angrily deny.

There is no simple rule that applies in all situations. Oftentimes, we know ourselves better than anyone else does and it's very presumptuous when others behave otherwise. Sometimes, others know things about us that we can't or won't recognize, and we ought to listen to what they have to say.

The latter is much less frequent than the former — a fact we should all keep in mind. But occasionally, it's the other way around.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:55 PM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


" It doesn't assume that at all. Dogwhistles aren't always intentional -- sometimes they're just the result of a culture having it sort of baked in. "

You think anti-Arab sentiment is inherent and inseparable from mainstream / Caucasian Danish society? Do you have any proof of that?


That's not what I meant. I meant that the ad can reflect this fear of white Danes being outbred by immigrants -- which other people have pointed out is a very real thing in Danish politics and society, regardless of the level it's at -- without anyone involved intending it to be there.
posted by Etrigan at 2:57 PM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


(Oh, and "Homogenous" up there was a reply to Too-Ticky looking for a better word for "undiverse".)
posted by Etrigan at 2:58 PM on April 23, 2014


Ah. I see. Okay.
posted by zarq at 3:02 PM on April 23, 2014


Etrigan, yes, exactly what came up when I hit 'post'. :-)
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:06 PM on April 23, 2014


As much as I love MartinWisse, I think that's an issue with the post framing. It did look like it was some sort of government campaign and not an ad.

I agree with this. When it comes to advertising, it doesn't really surprise me that a region that's 93% homogenous hired actors from their homogenous population to sell a product to their homogenous audience. However, if the ad had, in fact, been a government PSA that effectively said "you guys need to start making some babies, preferably ones of this specific type," that's really a different situation.
posted by Shouraku at 4:09 PM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


zarq: You think anti-Arab sentiment is inherent and inseparable from mainstream / Caucasian Danish society? Do you have any proof of that?

Well, there's a xenophobic party that has been getting between 10-15 percent of the national vote in parliamentary elections since the turn of the century. That's not particularly unique in Europe, of course, but then, neither is xenophobia. I speak Danish badly (all Icelanders learn Danish in school) so I don't claim to be a great expert on Danish culture. I hadn't been to Denmark since 2001 when I went there in 2012. I was there quite a bit over a year period, and I was struck by how open and prevalent anti-Islamic discourse was in the media. It's really striking and I haven't seen it elsewhere. Not in Finland or Sweden, which are the other Nordic countries I've spent time in. Not in France or the UK either, for that matter. It's mainstream in a way I haven't come across elsewhere. This English-language article has a pretty good overview of the state of discourse. It's seven years old but it correlated pretty well with my subjective experience in 2012 and '13.
posted by Kattullus at 5:08 PM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Xenophobic party where I live only gets 45-55% of the vote. HAH.
posted by Justinian at 7:09 PM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I TOTALLY realize the irony of making a comparison to US politics in a thread where the primary complaint is about Americans / Westerners doing Exactly That, but... our Xenophobic Republican party actually elects people to office, holds the majority in many states, takes WAY more than 10-15% of the national vote and their mainstream politicians are isolationist, anti-immigrant, anti-poor, anti-minority, fearmongering, racist, anti-Muslim, godfearing Christian dominionists who think "Liberal" is an epithet, Black and Brown people are dangerous and women are devious liars who can't be trusted to think or act for themselves.

So... you know... it's all relative. :)

But in all seriousness Kattullus, thank you for your response and the links. Sincerely.
posted by zarq at 7:42 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think part of what was happening in the Denmark thread is coming from a tension I keep seeing between native Europeans patting themselves on the back for their lack of racism as opposed to the US and increasing minority voices from within Europe getting louder about the racism in European countries, which seems to be increasing as more immigrants seek access.

For me, at least, I get twitchy when white Europeans (or white Western expats in Europe) claim there's no racism in Europe, or that it's negligible. I think it's very much invisible to the majority of residents, but that doesn't mean it's not there. There seems to be a standard defense of "Oh, it's not really racist, because we're not American!" that completely erases a lot of minority voices from inside Europe saying, "Yes, this is racist."
posted by jaguar at 8:00 PM on April 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


I think part of what was happening in the Denmark thread is coming from a tension I keep seeing between native Europeans patting themselves on the back for their lack of racism as opposed to the US

Yeah, that's something that gets under my skin every Christmas when the inevitable Zwarte Piet arguments start, and somebody from the Netherlands says something along the lines of, "Americans only think it's racist because you have a history of slavery, and we don't." Uh, yeah, my ancestors kept slaves - they bought them from Dutch slave traders. It's a holiday tradition, just like Cousin Jeff's overcooked monkey bread.

I'm the first one in line to admit we're so mired in racism over here it affects just about every aspect of our lives. I just don't buy that white Europeans are as mush more enlightened as some of them like to claim.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:54 PM on April 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


(And if I'm having to prove my bonafides, I am a white American who lived in Italy and who heard the Italian police officers' comments as they approved my paperwork certifying I was in the city legally while a huge enormous line of black African immigrants snaked out the doorway for the same approval -- I somehow didn't have to stand in that line.)
posted by jaguar at 9:32 PM on April 23, 2014


Every European with the least bit of historical sense should be aware that several European countries played a big and ugly part in the history of slavery. However, that part is different from the part that the US played, and so the history of slavery in European countries is different too, resulting in racism having a very different nature in different countries.

Not a non-existent nature. But certainly a different one.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:30 AM on April 24, 2014


For what it's worth, Etrigan, I initially jumped (in my mind, mostly) to dabitch's side, but after following that thread and the end of this one, I now have a better understanding of the issues, points and arguments from different sides. I'm just a sample size of one, but I at least feel that once again, thanks to MeFi, I now have a more rounded understanding of yet another topic. So in the end it's all good, for this n=1 at least.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:50 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

three blind mice's comment proved 256's point -- that there is at least a little bit of "We have to outbreed the Arabs before they outnumber us" in Scandinavian society, and that this ad, when seen in that context, is a little troubling.
The problem for me is that tbm is an American expat living in Stockholm, and he does the annoying expat thing of being the Scandinavian Voice of Truth. While I get that you can hear a valuable outsider's perspective from expats, he's consistently missing nuances and backstory.

I've lived in Germany for five years now, and while I can make certain observations about German culture I would never try to generalize that experience to e.g. Austrians and I certainly wouldn't talk of them as "we".
posted by brokkr at 4:44 AM on April 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


Every European with the least bit of historical sense should be aware that several European countries played a big and ugly part in the history of slavery. However, that part is different from the part that the US played, and so the history of slavery in European countries is different too, resulting in racism having a very different nature in different countries.

I get somewhat frustrated, as an American, with this line of argumentation, because so often it ends right there, with the argument that European racism is different but without ever offering any description of how it's different or why that matters. It comes up all the time in the Zwarte Piet threads, the argument effectively being: Our history is different, so this isn't like American black face; it's okay. Of course, Zwarte Piet looks pretty much exactly like American black face and it seems to be offensive to black Dutch people in the same way, so the whole thing feels a lot less like a genuine argument and a lot more like aggressive head in sand burying. It's not just Zwarte Piet that this happens on, and somehow the people telling us how American notions of race aren't relevant basically never find their own practices racist; it always reads not like explaining cultural differences between America and Europe, but like White privilege with a different accent.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:34 AM on April 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


Well, there's a xenophobic party that has been getting between 10-15 percent of the national vote in parliamentary elections since the turn of the century.

While DF are vile bastards, and very much a xenophobic party, part of their electoral success is down to their having been effectively the only party actively courting the elderly vote - come any election, you can be sure DF will be banging on about pensions, and will make it their key issue in any coalition negotiations, something there hasn't been much of from any of the other parties in Danish politics. No doubt their fear-mongering over immigration plays comparatively well - or at least non-badly - with this electoral base as well. It's not their only source of support, but it is something that shouldn't be overlooked when discussing Dansk Folkeparti's support with regard to election results.


The problem for me is that tbm is an American expat living in Stockholm, and he does the annoying expat thing of being the Scandinavian Voice of Truth. While I get that you can hear a valuable outsider's perspective from expats, he's consistently missing nuances and backstory.

Beyond that, he's an expat in Stockholm. Stockholm is in Sweden. Now, while there are certainly cultural similarities within Scandinavia, Sweden is not Denmark (and neither one is Norway) and there are differences between them.
posted by Dysk at 5:40 AM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


> I get somewhat frustrated, as an American, with this line of argumentation, because so often it ends right there, with the argument that European racism is different but without ever offering any description of how it's different or why that matters.

I'd have to know a lot more about US racism, and in fact about racism in Europe, to go any further than that and make sense, so my contribution on that subject is going to end pretty much right there as well. I just don't feel that I know enough to make an informed statement. I hope you can respect that.
All I can tell you is that no African slaves ever lived in the Netherlands, so most Dutch people never developed specific ways to behave towards them, as they simply weren't around here. So any remainders from such behaviour are absent here. For example, our word for 'boy' really means nothing but 'young male person'.
But you probably realise that.

Furthermore, I'm not going to get into the Zwarte Piet discussion here and now. Please don't try to drag me into that.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:56 AM on April 24, 2014


Not trying to drag anyone into anything, but that's the conversation that hits these themes that I feel like we have the most often, so it's where I've seen the pattern most fully developed. I don't really want to talk about Zwarte Piet, but rather I think we should consider how the site talks about Zwarte Piet when we consider this issue, because I think it's a good test case for how Europeans and Americans talk about European race issues.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:14 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


> For me, at least, I get twitchy when white Europeans (or white Western expats in Europe) claim there's no racism in Europe, or that it's negligible. I think it's very much invisible to the majority of residents, but that doesn't mean it's not there. There seems to be a standard defense of "Oh, it's not really racist, because we're not American!" that completely erases a lot of minority voices from inside Europe saying, "Yes, this is racist."

Pointing out that the ad in the FPP is a tongue-in-cheek travel agency ad, rather part of an official make-more-babies campaign, is not the same as 'claiming there's no racism in Europe'.
posted by nangar at 6:21 AM on April 24, 2014


Pointing out that the ad in the FPP is a tongue-in-cheek travel agency ad, rather part of an official make-more-babies campaign, is not the same as claiming there's no racism in the ad, either, but that certainly seemed to be the major defensive tactic.
posted by Etrigan at 6:37 AM on April 24, 2014


Maybe we can move away from phrasing things as "defensive tactics," etc. Basically, we need to talk about how Metafilter discusses specific topics, rather than hectoring people for not agreeing in the way anyone would specifically prefer. This is getting pretty far out of bounds of the original point of the post.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:47 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Trying to pick fights with people over your assertion that the ad itself is racist isn't helping to promote a discussion of racism in northern Europe, when other people are taking the approach 'well, the ad itself isn't racist, but Denmark does have some issues with xenophobia' and trying to talk about that based on their own experiences with racial prejudice and immigration politics in Denmark. Maybe you could listen to what other people are saying a little bit, maybe especially to mumimor, who's a member of a minority group in Denmark and has had quite a bit to say about it.

You seem a lot more focused on trying to "win the thread", Etrigan, rather than trying talk about the issues you say you're trying to talk about.
posted by nangar at 7:24 AM on April 24, 2014


Etrigan: "Pointing out that the ad in the FPP is a tongue-in-cheek travel agency ad, rather part of an official make-more-babies campaign, is not the same as claiming there's no racism in the ad, either, but that certainly seemed to be the major defensive tactic."

You believe the ad is de facto racist. I don't. That doesn't make me defensive. It simply means that while I agree with you and others that there is historical precedent for Danish racism, I'm not seeing evidence of it in the ad. And I think drawing the conclusion that the ad is racist is a bit of a stretch.

People who disagree with you aren't necessarily being defensive here. I'm not Danish. Have no dog in this fight. Have absolutely no problem publicly calling out racism when I see it. Don't see what you're seeing and said so. For heaven's sake, just because someone doesn't see what you're seeing doesn't mean they're defending racism.
posted by zarq at 8:05 AM on April 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


You believe the ad is de facto racist.

No. No no no. I have been very careful to say things like "it's a little troubling." I have been arguing against the idea that it cannot be racist, whether because it's an ad or because it's Danish and I'm not. I believe that the ad is, at worst, a little bit insensitive about the fact that some very real bad actors actively use the idea that "real" Danes are being "outbred" to ill effect.

That doesn't make me defensive.

"Defensive" as in "used or intended to defend or protect," not as in "very anxious to challenge or avoid criticism." Also note that I said "the major defensive tactic" -- "major" as in "not the only one."

For heaven's sake, just because someone doesn't see what you're seeing doesn't mean they're defending racism.

I haven't argued against anyone who just said, "No, I don't think this is racist." I've argued against people who have said, explicitly, that it cannot be racist because it's only an advertisement and not a government program. The idea that humor or advertising can't be racist -- or rely on premises that have shadows of racism around the edges, to be even more weaselly about it -- is ridiculous on any continent.
posted by Etrigan at 8:42 AM on April 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


All I can tell you is that no African slaves ever lived in the Netherlands, so most Dutch people never developed specific ways to behave towards them, as they simply weren't around here.

True enough. But unfortunately there's more to the legacy of the Netherlands than the Netherlands itself. The Dutch Empire wasn't built on sugar and spice and everything nice; it was built on sugar and spice and an absolute fuckton of slavery.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:06 AM on April 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


I believe that the ad is, at worst, a little bit insensitive about the fact that some very real bad actors actively use the idea that "real" Danes are being "outbred" to ill effect.

But the ad doesn't say that "real Danes" are being outbred, it's saying that the birth rate is falling. The former is racist, and the latter is just a fact. I'm not saying that there are no Danes who worry that the implication of the falling birth rate is that they are being "outbred", but it's not stated in the ad. The ad seems to be a tongue-in-cheek way of using the fact of the falling birth rate to underpin a travel agency campaign - "Go on holiday! Fuck! Make babies!" - so it then takes another level of reading into it to say something like: and some Danes are worried about this because of racism so they want to encourage the breeding of "real" Danes, ergo this ad may have racist undertones. While that may well be a discourse in European politics, it's not necessarily being played out in this particular instance (which may have nothing more sinister behind it than someone in a marketing agency seeing a press release about the birth rates and thinking "Hey, I have an idea!"). I think that's all dabitch was trying to say. She wasn't saying "there is no racism in Denmark".
posted by billiebee at 9:20 AM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


"The birthrate is falling" plus white actors is where the racial undertones come in, given the complex history about birthrate concerns in Europe.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:24 AM on April 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Marketers wouldn't dare play on tacit biases, would they?
posted by planetesimal at 9:51 AM on April 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


> The Dutch Empire wasn't built on sugar and spice and everything nice; it was built on sugar and spice and an absolute fuckton of slavery.

True enough. But that does not mean that racism in the Netherlands is the same as racism in the US. And that was my point: different role in the history of slavery, different racism.

I never said or implied that the Netherlands, or other European countries, did not play a part in slavery. In fact I said quite the opposite*, so I'm not sure why you feel the need to restate that.

* right here
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:50 AM on April 24, 2014


Marketers wouldn't dare play on tacit biases, would they?

Of course they would. It's just, in this specific case, I think the bias was more about "Longterm couples don't have enough sex. You know when you have more sex? On holiday!"
posted by billiebee at 11:39 AM on April 24, 2014


Too-Ticky: And that was my point: different role in the history of slavery, different racism.

No, not different. It's racism. There are different sociological factors that come into play in different communities (and the same goes for different parts of the US) but each instance of racism isn't some kind of unique outgrowth of each society it is found in. Ideas travel quite easily and one of those ideas is racism. It may be expressed in specific ways and in different tongues, but in its basic form it is always the same. It's simply racism.
posted by Kattullus at 12:05 PM on April 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


Okay, maybe my shorthand for 'racism that manifests in different ways' was a little too short.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:26 PM on April 24, 2014


As much as I love MartinWisse, I think that's an issue with the post framing. It did look like it was some sort of government campaign and not an ad.

Yeah, I thought the joke would only work if I played it straight in the post and let the video speak for itself. I thought it was obvious enough in the end that this was an ad.

I did pick up on some of the underlying vibes of the ad as well when I first saw it, but didn't want to make a joke or editorialise about that, so kept the description as neutral as possible.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:58 PM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Dip Flash: ""The birthrate is falling" plus white actors is where the racial undertones come in, given the complex history about birthrate concerns in Europe."

If the commercial were ignoring a significant portion of its population, sure. But when an ad's demographic breakdown reflects the country's demographic breakdown, I disagree. To me, it would be like seeing a US ad about countering a falling birthrate, featuring whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, and saying "It's racist because there weren't any Aborigines".
posted by Bugbread at 4:47 PM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


FWIW, an awful lot of supposed 'racism' in Denmark is genuinely anti-immigrant sentiment. My adopted-from-east-asia siblings and friends get a lot less shit than most of the kids of immigrant families I know, whether they're from asia or eastern europe. No doubt the two are similar, and perhaps impossible to truly separate, and there are interesting discussions to be had about the borders of the terms 'race' and 'racism' but a lot of it certainly doesn't seem to have to do with ethnicity.
posted by Dysk at 8:36 PM on April 24, 2014


(Not that I think anti-immigrant sentiment is any more agreeable or morally defensible, really, but the reaction to reduce all xenophobia to a racism largely predicated on skin colour is perhaps one of the things premising this very thread?)
posted by Dysk at 8:41 PM on April 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


A white-skinned immigrant from France or New Zealand isn't going to get the same kind of reception from Danish society as a brown-skinned immigrant from Jordan or Mozambique. Yes, it's racism.
posted by Kattullus at 12:18 AM on April 25, 2014


So, the thread in a nutshell:

Q: Would it be possible for Metafilter to be less centred on the U.S. and accept links and commentary from outside the U.S. at face value rather than trying to fit them into a U.S.-centric model of the world?

A: B-but Denmark is racist!
posted by Grangousier at 12:27 AM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm going to have to go with a "no" on simply accepting commentary at face value. We should always apply our reasoning (such as it is) to links and commentary no matter whether it's about the U.S. or other places. Sometimes people from outside the US are right, sometimes they are wrong. Kind of like people from inside the US. Weird.
posted by Justinian at 12:34 AM on April 25, 2014


Kattullus: "A white-skinned immigrant from France or New Zealand isn't going to get the same kind of reception from Danish society as a brown-skinned immigrant from Jordan or Mozambique. Yes, it's racism."

You can't switch colors and countries and then make a decision about xenophobia vs. racism. There's no control there, you've just got double variables! You need to look at, say, "Brown-skinned from France vs. white-skinned from France vs. brown-skinned from Jordan vs. white-skinned from Jordan".
   W  B
F [ ][ ]
J [ ][ ]
Then if it breaks down like this:
   W  B
F [O][X]
J [O][X]
...it's purely racism. If it breaks down like this:
   W  B
F [O][O]
J [X][X]
...it's purely xenophobia. And if it breaks down like this:
   W  B
F [O][X]
J [X][X]
...it's both xenophobia and racism.
posted by Bugbread at 12:37 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


(Actually, wait, that's not right. If you, for example, are ok with two or three specific races but dislike two or three specific races, that's racism, but if you like two or three specific countries but dislike two or three specific countries, that's not xenophobia, because xenophobia is the dislike/fear of all foreign countries, not specific ones. So what's the word for disliking specific countries, but not all of them?)
posted by Bugbread at 1:30 AM on April 25, 2014


Kattullus: A white-skinned immigrant from France or New Zealand isn't going to get the same kind of reception from Danish society as a brown-skinned immigrant from Jordan or Mozambique. Yes, it's racism.

As I stated, my (white) eastern european (immigrant) friends get a lot more shit than my (non-white) adopted Danish friends in Denmark. No, it's not as simple as a white vs. brown racism - it's very much an anti-immigrant xenophobia. Are there racists in Denmark too? For sure. But the xenophobia is much more pervasive and insidious.
posted by Dysk at 2:26 AM on April 25, 2014


A xenophobia that is tied into a deep-seated national insecurity, in my opinion. As an emigrée myself, I get some shit too. Illustrative:

I was in Oslo with my then-housemate and friend, visiting her parents. On a night out about town, we got talking to various people at various times. They would ask what we did. We would say that we were at university in the UK (as indeed we were) and most everyone responded with something that can be boiled down to "oh wow, that's really exciting! must be great to get out and see the world, good on you for doing so!" whereas that same summer, when we were in Denmark, the same questions and answer got a very cold, sneering "oh. why would you do that?" response. Like, a 'what, our universities aren't good enough for you? assholes' sort of thing.

I went to Roskilde Festival for five years, while I was living here in the UK. Each year after the first I just told everyone I was English, because then it was oh cool, exotic tourist type, let's talk to them! rather than oh, fucking thinks-they're-better-than-us emigrée traitor over there. It made all my social interactions that much more positive.
posted by Dysk at 2:32 AM on April 25, 2014


I don't really see what you're describing as "anti-immigrant xenophobia" against Eastern Europeans as "not racism". I don't deny that the modern pseudo-scientific notion of race that is built primarily around skin color isn't also operative in European anti-immigrant xenophobia, particularly those nations with immigration from former colonies in Asia and Africa; but the nature, history, and institutional structures of racism all predate this more broad nineteenth century racism and the older ethnocentric, xenophobic bigotry still exists and what you're describing are prime examples of it. They're not different sorts of things, they are very similar things, often the very same thing.

More to the point, because they're deeply related, just different perspectives on exactly how one defines all those people who are "other", the cultural expressions of it and the institutionalizations of it are identical or nearly identical. It's the same sorts of people saying the same sorts of things in the same ways and with the same purposes.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:42 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

We would say that we were at university in the UK [...] and most everyone responded with something that can be boiled down to "oh wow, that's really exciting! must be great to get out and see the world, good on you for doing so!" whereas that same summer, when we were in Denmark, the same questions and answer got a very cold, sneering "oh. why would you do that?" response. Like, a 'what, our universities aren't good enough for you? assholes' sort of thing.
This isn't tied to ethnicity either (but may be exacerbated by it, I wouldn't know - I'm pink as pink can be). My wife and I get a fair amount of incredulous questions from other Danes who can't understand you would ever choose to live in Germany.

In a nutshell, I would say the Danish cultural character is shaped by a deep-seated belief in the superiority of Denmark over every other society out there, which, coupled with (in spite of what the right wing nutjobs would have you believe) a very ethnically homogenous population expresses itself as racism and xenophobia, much of it on an unconscious level. You see this all the time with Danes that would swear they aren't racist but have a lot of cultural baggage they're unaware of. I'm not free from this either, but being an expat puts a lot of stuff into perspective.
posted by brokkr at 2:58 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ivan Fyodorovich, I'm calling it anti-immigrant sentiment to differentiate it from a racism predicated largely on ethnicity, not to excuse it or to say it is in any way less abhorrent. It is just a subtly different thing.

brokkr, I would call it a defiant belief in the superiority of Denmark over all other societies out there, coupled with a deep-seated insecurity about the same. But the belief in Danish superiority is definitely one of the driving and defining features of mainstream Danish identity and politics.
posted by Dysk at 3:05 AM on April 25, 2014


"I'm calling it anti-immigrant sentiment to differentiate it from a racism predicated largely on ethnicity..."

Why do you think it's not predicated largely on ethnicity?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:14 AM on April 25, 2014


...because of all the people who are very visibly not ethnically Danish and yet do not fall foul of it? Because it's tied to a feeling of cultural superiority rooted in a political tradition, not a set of bloodlines?
posted by Dysk at 3:18 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


"...because of all the people who are very visibly not ethnically Danish and yet do not fall foul of it? Because it's tied to a feeling of cultural superiority rooted in a political tradition, not a set of bloodlines?"

Those are two very interesting sentences. I believe there are a number of hidden assumptions built into them that are mistaken and problematic (about culture, ethnicity, racism, xenophobia, chauvinism, and assimilation), but I don't really know how to engage you about them.

I think the only thing I will mention is that ethnicity is emphatically not "bloodlines" and that most of what troubles me about your argument is related to that confusion.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:40 AM on April 25, 2014


Ivan,

Generally, in discussions like this, I get where you're coming from, but in this thread I think you're off. What Dysk is saying, if I'm reading him correctly, is if you did a little sociology experiment where you took a black person, or an Asian, or a I-don't-know-what-words-to-use-when-I-talk-to-you-about-this because of the whole "race is a recent social construct" thing...anyway, you took a person like this and introduced him to a Dane, saying "This is Jacques, he's from France", the person would be treated in a totally different (better) way than if you said "This is Jacques, he's from Namibia". And if you took a white guy, introduced him to a Dane, saying "This is Robert, he's from France", he'd be treated like Jacques of France, and if you said "This is Robert, he's from Namibia", he'd be treated like Jacques of Namibia. Maybe you want to say that the white guy and the not-white guy are considered incorrectly to be of different races, or cultures, or ethnicity, or whathaveyou, based on fairly recent racial theory, etc., but what Dysk is saying is that the difference in treatment doesn't relate to that. It comes from the name of the country on the passport, not the photo inside.
posted by Bugbread at 5:08 AM on April 25, 2014


Ivan, maybe my language use is a little clumsy, and fine we can call it racism if you like, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a different form of racism to what is most common in for example the UK, where people of non-white backgrounds experience a great degree of racism, immigrant or not, undeniably British or not.
posted by Dysk at 5:21 AM on April 25, 2014


I think that's actually not really accurate, though. Even in America, rich and/or educated minorities are treated better than poor and uneducated ones. It's a fallacy to think Danes are the only people who differentiate between "good minorities" and "bad minorities." And it's still prejudiced.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:21 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


The previously linked article from Humanity in Action talked about how racism in Denmark tends to manifest in assimilationist pressures -- the idea that immigrants are bad because they are not giving up their own cultures and becoming Danish, and that good immigrants are those who try hardest to be Danish.

The racism tends to come in when it becomes obvious that no matter how hard certain ethnic/racial groups try, they'll never be accepted as fully Danish, which the article also gets into. That's basically where the US was in the 1950s and 1960s, when a lot of previously non-white ethnic groups got accepted as white because they gave up their cultures, languages, and traditions -- the "melting pot" idea. But it somehow never extended to African-Americans, who had been forced to do the same and often had been in the country for much longer than the new-ish Irish, Italians, and Eastern Europeans, and that reality showed how racist the ideal of assimilating really is.
posted by jaguar at 7:42 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]



So, the thread in a nutshell:

Q: Would it be possible for Metafilter to be less centred on the U.S. and accept links and commentary from outside the U.S. at face value rather than trying to fit them into a U.S.-centric model of the world?

A: B-but Denmark is racist!


No, the conversation changed over time, largely because people saw another non American post that they thought fit the discussion here (and I agree that it does).
posted by sweetkid at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]




yea no kidding divabat. Sometimes it seems like as much as people would like to think Metafilter is a place for oddballs and unique snowflakes and misfits, there's a strong Conformity Now! element to some discussions.
posted by sweetkid at 10:39 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


showbiz_liz: "Even in America, rich and/or educated minorities are treated better than poor and uneducated ones. It's a fallacy to think Danes are the only people who differentiate between "good minorities" and "bad minorities." And it's still prejudiced."

But the question isn't whether Danes are the only ones who treat rich minorities better then poor minorities, but whether they treat rich minorities the same as rich majorities, whether they treat poor minorities the same as poor majorities.

I don't know the answer to that, mind you. But saying "Danes treat rich minorities better than poor minorities" or "Danes treat majorities from certain countries differently than minorities from other countries" are both comparing apples to oranges. To determine whether or not there is racism, you need to be comparing two groups which are identical except for race, not two groups which differ in multiple ways, or two groups of the same race.
posted by Bugbread at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2014


But the question isn't whether Danes are the only ones who treat rich minorities better then poor minorities, but whether they treat rich minorities the same as rich majorities, whether they treat poor minorities the same as poor majorities.

Well, sure. That's kind of a thing.

But I bet if I moved to Denmark, I- as a white person- would not be treated identically to a brown-skinned Muslim of my same age and class.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:18 AM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Gah, I knew intersectionality would be brought up. Intersectionality means that when prejudices are present, they are inextricably tied, and cannot be looked at in isolation. It doesn't mean that all possible prejudices are always present, and must be considered together.

Intersectionality means, as it says at the start of the wikipedia article, that "the experience of being a black female cannot simply be understood in terms of being black, and of being female, considered independently, but must include the interactions, which frequently reinforce each other."

Intersectionality doesn't mean that you can say "In America white people with names six letters long are treated better than black people with names five letters long, therefore there is prejudice against people with five letter long names, and you can't try to compare white people with six letters against white people with five letters, because of intersectionality".

showbiz_liz: "But I bet if I moved to Denmark, I- as a white person- would not be treated identically to a brown-skinned Muslim of my same age and class."

Yes. Exactly. This is the key question. I've got no idea if your guess is correct. We have a couple of Danes saying that it is incorrect. But we also have the whole Zwarte Piet issue, which doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence in the ability of Danes to analyze their own race relations. So I don't know the answer, but your hypothetical ties into whether or not there is a lot of racism. Not the hypotheticals of other people saying, effectively, "I bet if I moved to Denmark, I- as a white person- would not be treated identically to a brown-skinned Muslim of my same age but a different class or nationality."
posted by Bugbread at 11:37 AM on April 25, 2014


Far be it for me to refer to actual facts and research again, but I'd point out (again) that divabat provided some very relevent links with information from people who actually study this sort of thing, so we don't actually need to just guess.

At the same time, both citizens and political actors have started to focus on (and often ideologically exaggerate) the financial burden newcomers place on the welfare system. A balanced estimate indicates that current net costs, including the costs of caring for asylum seekers, are in the range of 10 to 15 billion Danish kroners (US$1.5 to 2 billion), a figure generally considered high. By comparison, the annual fiscal budget is some 500 billion kroner (US$90 billion), out of which about one-third is spent on welfare programs.

Consequently, negative stereotypes of immigrants have become common: refugees are routinely branded as "welfare scroungers" or "refugees of convenience" who unfairly take advantage of a system that was never intended for their benefit. Immigrants from the non-Western world, Muslims in particular, have become singled out as objects of disparagement, whereas Danes are far more open and welcoming toward immigrants from the EU and other Western countries.


Bashy Quraishy describes Danish society as an intercultural society, with a 96% Danish majority and only a 4% ethnic minority population: “Danish society must accept that it is no longer a mono-cultural society...[and] must accept the fact that it has changed and has become intercultural.” Bashy Quraishy considers himself as a Dane with a non-European background. The fact that he lives in Denmark, he says, does not transform him into a Dane. “I’m a black Dane or a Dane with a Pakistani background, but the Danes simply refuse to accept that because they have a very clear idea of what a Dane is. A Dane is a white person with mousy hair, a very long Danish ancestry, whose name is Jensen and who is mainly a Christian. Of course ethnic minorities must learn the language, respect the laws, establish a good neighborhood and slowly assume certain Danish cultural norms which seems suitable to the individual. But the rest belongs to people’s private lives.”

Quraishy believes that a new form of racism is evolving: cultural racism. He argues that “Classical racism has been replaced by a new racism... Instead of saying you are black, and inferior, you start comparing cultures, making one culture superior/inferior to another. There is a law against racism in Denmark, but it is never used....”

... First, [minority community leaders in Denmark] all agreed that the main participants in the debate have not adequately acknowledged the need for a process of integration that demands accommodation both on the part of ethnic minorities and on the part of the host society. Secondly, they agree, though each to a different extent, that ethnic Danes need to be tolerant of private cultural practices, and understand the culture before criticizing it. All of the leaders we interviewed were wary of the tone of the debate so far, even going so far as to call it “veiled racism.” Many of the leaders we interviewed viewed the media as largely responsible for the sensationalism that has surrounded the one-sided integration debate. That this point was so widely agreed upon, suggests that the Danish citizens need to critically evaluate the way the media covers ethnic minority issues and let their criticism be known. Finally, they all called for the ethnic minorities themselves to become active in the community and make their voices heard.

posted by jaguar at 11:57 AM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


The migrationpolicy article doesn't directly apply. "Immigrants from the non-Western world, Muslims in particular, have become singled out as objects of disparagement, whereas Danes are far more open and welcoming toward immigrants from the EU and other Western countries" doesn't address race, it addresses nationality. Being French or German doesn't mean being white. Being Muslim doesn't mean being non-white.

Now, the humanityinaction article? That's an actual answer. "I’m a black Dane or a Dane with a Pakistani background, but the Danes simply refuse to accept that because they have a very clear idea of what a Dane is. A Dane is a white person with mousy hair, a very long Danish ancestry, whose name is Jensen and who is mainly a Christian." That's a pretty definite statement that in Denmark, it's not all about the nationality, but the skin color as well.

I've not been arguing that Danes are colorblind. Just that if one wants to talk about whether Danes are racist you need to actually discuss race, not nationality. It's just frustrating seeing so many comments which conflate nationality and race. Especially because it's coming from Americans (note: I'm American, I'm not saying this from the outside). It's annoying when, in my own life, I hear people say that someone "looks American" or "doesn't look American" (wtf?). The automatic assumption that all Europeans are white, and that all people who aren't from Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand are not white.

And, divabat, sorry for missing the humanityinaction link. That's exactly what I was clamoring for, yet I didn't see it when it was actually posted. Sorry.
posted by Bugbread at 12:15 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


But we also have the whole Zwarte Piet issue, which doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence in the ability of Danes to analyze their own race relations.

FYI, Zwarte Piet is from the Netherlands.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:28 PM on April 25, 2014


nooneyouknow: "FYI, Zwarte Piet is from the Netherlands."

Argh! Mea maxima culpa!!
posted by Bugbread at 12:35 PM on April 25, 2014


Denmark still has a blackface problem.

(For some reason the first result on my side of Google for "denmark blackface" is the Wikipedia article on Zwarte Piet, which doesn't even mention Denmark anywhere in there.)
posted by divabat at 12:41 PM on April 25, 2014


Just that if one wants to talk about whether Danes are racist you need to actually discuss race, not nationality. It's just frustrating seeing so many comments which conflate nationality and race. Especially because it's coming from Americans (note: I'm American, I'm not saying this from the outside). It's annoying when, in my own life, I hear people say that someone "looks American" or "doesn't look American" (wtf?). The automatic assumption that all Europeans are white, and that all people who aren't from Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand are not white.

Well, that's actually why it doesn't make much sense to argue semantics about whether immigrants are being judged on their race or their nationality, though; they get linked together so often that it's not usually very helpful to investigate them separately, and people supporting racist ideas or behaviors (consciously or not) often excuse them by claiming it's class-based rather than race-based bias. The end result is still that darker-skinned people tend to be treated worse than lighter-skinned people in most of the Western world and in a great part of the developing world.
posted by jaguar at 1:12 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


jaguar: "they get linked together so often that it's not usually very helpful to investigate them separately"

I don't really feel comfortable saying "You say they're not linked, but since they're usually linked, I'm not going to consider your position, I'm just going to assume without investigation that you're wrong". That's why I appreciate the humanityinaction article: it says "Hey, look, I'm a non-white Dane, and I can tell you from experience that they are linked".
posted by Bugbread at 1:27 PM on April 25, 2014


I'm not sure where you got the "without investigation" thing. Most people who know that they're usually linked know so because the claim that something other than racism must be in play when racist outcomes occur is a usual derailing tactic (conscious or not) and so has been investigated and rebutted again and again, in many different contexts, enough that it's reasonable to question the motives (again, conscious or not) and desired outcomes of someone who's harping on it.
posted by jaguar at 1:33 PM on April 25, 2014


I understand that, but I guess I can't agree with it. When the topic itself is "This is racist", someone saying "No, it isn't, because XYZ" isn't a derail, it's a discussion of the topic at hand.

I do agree that saying "It's not racism, it's classism" is a common defensive tactic, usually wrong, often rebutted. I guess I just think it's worth it to discuss if it's one of the rare cases where it's accurate, or one of the many cases where it isn't.

...

Ok, on further reflection, I don't think there's much point in me continuing to take part in this discussion. I think there's a fundamental disagreement about how much value there is in engaging with someone's arguments in cases where those arguments are usually wrong. I doubt I'm going to convince you, nor you me (and I don't mean that in a snide way, I think it's a fundamental disagreement).
posted by Bugbread at 1:57 PM on April 25, 2014


It's fine, I have no desire to push it further, either; it seems like an argument about semantics rather than about ... whatever the hell this thread has become about.
posted by jaguar at 2:07 PM on April 25, 2014


I think there's an issue here, that goes back to the original topic of this thread, of whether people's own experiences with racism and xenophobia in Denmark can be relevant or have any place in a thread where we're talking about Denmark.

We've heard for instance:
Lamentably, Dansk Folkeparti are as large as ever ... DF's xenophobia these days focuses more on the eeevil of the European Union and the free movement of workers within it. Because if a Polish worker can get child support, clearly the welfare state is doomed.
Is this OK because Polish people are white? Is this not a real thing because prejudice against East Europeans isn't currently an issue in the US?
posted by nangar at 3:44 PM on April 25, 2014


Is this OK because Polish people are white?

No?
posted by sweetkid at 4:07 PM on April 25, 2014


"Is this OK because Polish people are white?"

The argument made by some here seems to be that it's not racist. Which is really kind of amazing to me here in MetaFilter.

Racism is ethnocentric bigotry supported by a society's institutions. It's not defined by nor determined by skin color or bloodlines or whatever. Modern racism, the legacy of the nineteenth century revision of the idea, uses skin color as an organizing principle for a (false) biological rationale for a pre-existing set of ethnocentric bigotries supported by (European/North-American) institutions. Physical appearance is used as an easily-available marker for ethnicity and so the conflation of "ethnically Danish" with being light-haired and light-skinned is one that people naturally make; but the fact that Dysk's dark-skinned friends adopted into native Danish families are subjected to less hostility shows that the racist othering is heavily moderated by the entirety of the package of ethnic identity, which is why we have all the issues associated with "passing" and why assimilation as a value is dangerous — not just because those who can't erase the most visible things such as dark-skin are always in danger of being thrown back into the "other" category (or were never allowed in), but also because the assimilation is a replacement of one entire social identity with another, an eradication of the other, one that doesn't accept the retention of any particular aspect of the assimilated ethnic identity, not language, not religious practices, not hygiene or daily habits or dress, and the inevitable and natural conclusion to this process where there are such things as visible markers like skin-color is to slowly assimilate away the wrong skin color or hair color because those things inevitably have less status.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:47 PM on April 25, 2014


Ivan Fyodorovich: "Racism is ethnocentric bigotry supported by a society's institutions. It's not defined by nor determined by skin color or bloodlines or whatever."

I think the takeaway here is that different people have different definitions of "race". For example, I'm part Irish, part Italian. Some people in the past viewed these as different races. Some people now view them as different races. Some don't. Different cultures view race in different ways, because it's not a strictly, scientifically designed concept. So according to some definitions of race, bigotry against Polish people is racism, and according to others, it's nationalist bigotry. Unless you have information about what the correct definition of race is, it's hard to say other people are wrong or right.
posted by Bugbread at 5:08 PM on April 25, 2014


"So according to some definitions of race, bigotry against Polish people is racism, and according to others, it's nationalist bigotry."

Well, that's my point. Those who want to make the distinction are doing so on the basis that their definition of race is objective and universal and not on the social processes and structures involved, which seem to me to be most relevant. Those processes and structures look the same because they are the same; and they're necessarily the same because, as you say, people don't agree on what "race" actually is.

My sense is that a core part of the argument here is something that I think is a pernicious fact of contemporary pop-sociology on the topic of bigotry and intolerance — the (false) idea that lack of choice and inherence, and which usually ends up expressed as biology, is the key fact which differentiates unacceptable bigotry from acceptable intolerance. In that context, bigotry against someone on the basis of their skin color is a mortal sin but bigotry against someone on the basis of their native language or dress or other customs is much more excusable, even morally correct when it's understood that cultural homogeneity is to be valued in its own right. In that context, assimilation is understood to be an obvious good.

But this is a completely inverted view of the reality of institutionalized bigotry. The presumption of inherence is the rationale for a pre-existing bigotry, for those who oppose bigotry to use inherence as a principle is to drink from a poisoned well. Inherence is presumed by bigots whether it actually exists or not because it's an excuse. If it indeed exists in some way, all the better. But bigots are not deterred by a lack of inherence in fact and the institutions they establish and perpetuate do not rely upon the fact of inherence.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:46 PM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


'I read this, it was interesting and surprising to me'

That is covered by the favourite button, is it not? There used to be a lot more 'this is relevant to my interests' and 'This' cruft posted before the favourite button was introduced.

In general it appears that North Americans are quite thin skinned, hypersensitive to what they perceive as criticism and parochial in their interests. They may not be unique in this, but as they are the dominant proportion of users on this site these traits are more likely to be observed in North American users. There are of course plenty of users from North America who do not show these traits, I have never met one face to face who is like that. They all seem pretty self aware and open minded.

I had thought that TBM moved to Australia and changed his username to another three word one, LiB. But then it turned out they were different people, separated in both time and space.
posted by asok at 3:29 AM on April 29, 2014

"In general it appears that North Americans are quite thin skinned, hypersensitive to what they perceive as criticism and parochial in their interests."
It is strange though how in the many threads we have about North American phenomena no one ever gets weirdly defensive towards more international perspectives, its pretty much only mefites from western Europe who react this way.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:08 AM on April 29, 2014


In general it appears that North Americans are quite thin skinned, hypersensitive to what they perceive as criticism and parochial in their interests.

As opposed to whom?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:42 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


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