Not All Problems Are Caused By Being Asian. November 4, 2015 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Can we stop bringing issues of non-Westernness into Ask Metafilter answers where they aren't warranted?

From time to time, people answering Ask Metafilter questions will bring in issues of the asker being from a non-Western or non-American culture, often absent any indication in the question that these cultural differences are relevant to the matter at hand, or even specifying at all what the ethnic background of the asker is. It happens most often regarding Asian or Indian cultures, but I think the same logic would apply to any race, religion, or nationality.

Usually this happens in a way that comes off as judgmental towards all members of that culture, and often in a way that is actually not relevant at all if one knows anything about the culture in question. Digging through a poster's history to racially profile them is especially egregious.

As an example -- but totally not to call this person out or suggest that they're the only one doing it -- here's an answer in a recent question about prenups that was the straw that broke the camel's back, for me.
posted by Sara C. to Etiquette/Policy at 6:52 PM (256 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

I agree, and this question was a good example of the type - I know I deleted at least one other answer that made some assumptions after apparent history-digging and framed the whole thing as more "maybe either you or she is just inexplicably foreign?" than taking the asker at their word and trying to answer the question asked.

There are, of course, cultural differences in relationships that are important and relevant, but a) if the asker doesn't bring them up, it's eyebrow-raising at best to go digging for them, and b) if you're not actually of the culture in question, there's much less chance that your culturally-specific advice is accurate or helpful. This is something that people have brought up to the mods on any number of occasions, and I want to reiterate it here. Not everyone is the right person to answer every question.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:55 PM on November 4, 2015 [18 favorites]


It is, however, helpful for white Americans to realize that we have a tendency to pathologize family relationships that are perfectly normal in non-white cultures, and to make sure we're not overgeneralizing from our own experiences and norms and calling other people wrong when they're just different.
posted by jaguar at 7:04 PM on November 4, 2015 [77 favorites]


I asked for that comment restless_nomad is referring to (the one that was deleted) to be looked at and was glad it was deleted. It was basically like "OP, can I ask, are you from a specific culture and is this an arranged marriage? I ask because it's so quick. Anyway your wife will probably be shamed for divorce or separation and shunned from society" etc.

How is all this not a dogwhistle? Also I assure that poster they don't know much about the diaspora and 30 somethings and marriage.

This isn't isolated. There was also a thread about an American born desi marrying an Indian born desi that was FULL of assumptions and lamenting about that terrible, terrible Indian culture compared to the wonderfully accepting American one.

I've said this before but Ask is unusable for people of Indian/South Asian origin for anything family or relationship related. There is open appalling bigotry in display. Even if you don't specify your background, people will find that horrible, detestable fact that you are South Asian and explain your own culture to you, or at least as they understand it from CNN and their white friend who totally went to India once and some Indian kids who lived down the street whose parents were mean.
posted by sweetkid at 7:10 PM on November 4, 2015 [74 favorites]


jaguar, it's also perfectly fine to just learn that on your own and not work through it in crappy answers to Ask Metafilter questions. Especially where the answer it leads you to reduces to "your culture -- of which I know almost nothing -- is bad and you are thus not deserving of our help."
posted by Sara C. at 7:16 PM on November 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


I've said this before but Ask is unusable for people of Indian/South Asian origin for anything family or relationship related.

There are a number of things that AskMe does very poorly, and a lot of the cross-cultural stuff seems to be part of that.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:31 PM on November 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


yeah also I think people could have just answered that question without going into the OPs past and finding AH INDIAN this is the key to the whole issue.

The fact that people don't see how gross and racist this is is really why I find Ask unusable for Asians and especially South Asian origin people for any family/relationship questions.

This is what I see in the answers to any questions where it is stated, or even *guessed at* based on random cultural assumptions, that the OP might be Asian:

-- If you are a man, you are a chauvinist
-- If you are a man, you probably don't understand that your culture is extremely oppressive to women.
- If you are a woman, same
-- If you are of Indian/South Asian origin but were born in America, your culture is Indian culture, which is all exactly the same, no regional variance, no variance in 1 billion people + diaspora. You're not American, you're Indian. BTW, your culture is extremely oppressive to women.
- - You or your siblings were probably sexually abused as children by your father. Not maybe.
-- Your parents will definitely throw you out of the house if you date or talk about dating a white person. They may also beat you. Not maybe.
posted by sweetkid at 7:33 PM on November 4, 2015 [26 favorites]


btw I have a friend who just got married who was 100% forever alone single on Memorial Day and this person and their new spouse are white, like SPF 55 born in America white.
posted by sweetkid at 7:44 PM on November 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


btw I have a friend who just got married who was 100% forever alone single on Memorial Day and this person and their new spouse are white, like SPF 55 born in America white.

Sorry, maybe I'm being dense, but I don't quite follow you here.
posted by teponaztli at 7:53 PM on November 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


I just meant that digging into that OPs past questions to find their cultural background, find out it's not white American, and then assume that's the only reason people would get married/engaged quickly, isn't like a necessary thing. I just meant that my white friends got married fast and no one was like "it was your WASP background that forced you to this!"
posted by sweetkid at 7:57 PM on November 4, 2015 [16 favorites]


It would be great if it could be assumed that UNLESS the asker pointed this out as an issue in the question, they weren't considering it a significant feature in their question.

Like another recent ask about coparenting where it was gently pointed out that the asker had been careful not to specify the gender of the other parent, and everyone answering had up to that point just assumed the other annoying parent was an ex-husband and there had been some sort of dad/men references. It was a good nudge back on assumed biases.

But that was definitely - unless the OP brings up an ethnic/cultural difference, what the hell?
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:58 PM on November 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


Even without the cultural assumptions, digging into people's identity (beyond what's in their profile) is a bit stalkerish and creepy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:27 PM on November 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


sweetkid: "btw I have a friend who just got married who was 100% forever alone single on Memorial Day and this person and their new spouse are white, like SPF 55 born in America white."

teponaztli: "Sorry, maybe I'm being dense, but I don't quite follow you here."

Yeah, I was like, "???huh???", but then I figured it out: "I have a friend who just got married who was single as of Memorial Day of this year."
posted by Bugbread at 9:29 PM on November 4, 2015


Yes Memorial Day of this year. So these people were completely single on Memorial Day 2015 and started a relationship, got engaged and are married as of last week, Halloween 2015. So less than five months from starting a relationship to married.

Is it now clear?
posted by sweetkid at 9:31 PM on November 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Further to all this Married By Halloween stuff, I think one thing worth remembering is that white people make crazy choices, too, and it's not "because of" what white American culture is like.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


yes

that was my point

Also Married By Halloween: A LifeTime Original
posted by sweetkid at 9:42 PM on November 4, 2015 [68 favorites]


This made me go revisit a question I asked many moons ago in relation to my (formerly) overprotective parents. Wow, some of the answers are terribly racist and just extreme and there were many assumptions made about my background that were straight out false. I am glad I didn't take their advice because, like, ten years on, I have a wonderful relationship with my dad and I don't think the same would have happened if I'd disowned them at the age of 18 and labeled them child abusers as was encouraged in the thread.
posted by liquorice at 9:46 PM on November 4, 2015 [17 favorites]


I'm glad this is being called out. I will say, to provide some slight contrast, that I anonymously asked a question that did have to do directly with arranged marriage stuff as an American-born Indian. I got some helpful advice that largely came from Indian-Americans here. So I do think this place is not necessarily horrible for such things.
posted by naju at 9:59 PM on November 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


This makes me think of this thread, a mere eight years ago. (It's not the same issue -- in that one, the culture was specifically addressed by the Asker. But the take-away was fairly similar.)

I think the problem is a MeFi Answer Syndrome problem - an issue of people who don't know all that much about a culture trying to address cultural issues. On the one hand, what Sara C is saying makes total sense. On the other hand, "don't bring in non-Westernness / non-Americaness where it's not warranted" usually just ends up meaning "assume everyone is American and all cultures are basically the same as America".

I'd say the general rule of thumb to use in topics like this, as in many topics, is "let people speak for themselves". Unless you're an expert in a culture with almost no representation in MeFi, like Mongolia or Lesotho, then someone else who is actually from or has close ties to the culture in question can address the issue; your input isn't needed. And if nobody with ties to that culture is addressing the issue, it's probably because it's not relevant.

I mean, that's why you can have "some of the answers are terribly racist and just extreme and there were many assumptions made about my background that were straight out false" and "I got some helpful advice that largely came from Indian-Americans here" in the same thread. The big difference isn't so much "I didn't specifically bring up culture in my question" versus "I specifically brought up culture in my question" as it is "a bunch of people talked about a culture other than their own" versus "a bunch of people talked about their own culture".

(switch "culture" with "cultural background" if it's problematic, I've been rewriting this comment so much I can't think straight anymore)
posted by Bugbread at 10:53 PM on November 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well I do tend to assume things from my American perspective. But my American perspective does include some cues from being Indian American. There are different ways of being American.
posted by sweetkid at 11:09 PM on November 4, 2015 [30 favorites]


The specific problem here, which I have seen in other questions, is that people see some situation that in their mind tracks to "Indian culture" based on what I don't know (overprotective parents! Focus on marriage! Short engagement' close family!) and then seriously so often it's like "are
You Indian because" and then they explain that the culture is really terrible and. Like there's no reason to play some guessing game. Answer the question and trust the questioner enough to put answers through their personal filters, like anyone would and like licorice did.

It really feels sometimes like some white people of metafilter are trying to do some cultural intervention or something. It's racist.
posted by sweetkid at 11:15 PM on November 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


sweetkid: "Well I do tend to assume things from my American perspective. But my American perspective does include some cues from being Indian American. There are different ways of being American."

I guess I should have gone with "ends up meaning 'assume everyone is the same as you and all cultures are either the same as the American culture or cultures that you have experienced personally or are otherwise highly familiar with'". But, yeah, end conclusion is the same: people terribly explaining cultures they aren't familiar with and making people who are familiar with them facepalm or annoyed.
posted by Bugbread at 11:31 PM on November 4, 2015


The fundamental principle is always to answer the question as asked, not give advice based on your assumptions about what the OP 'really needs'.
posted by Segundus at 1:55 AM on November 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


I reckon these two excellent thoughts:

1. if you're not actually of the culture in question, there's much less chance that your culturally-specific advice is accurate or helpful

and 2. people [are terrible at] explaining cultures they aren't familiar with and [they] making people who are familiar with them facepalm or annoyed.

Capture both problem and solution very pithily. They also highlight how "assumptions about other cultures" and "assumptions that everyone is a white american in america" are both bad, and that there's plenty of territory in between that often is awesomely covered by a variety of answerers.

Good call out, I'm happy to see it. This shit is nasty - and really has little to do with the super... well, super white, I guess, assumptions that people sometimes make as answers to questions.

In fact, both reflect the same thing: a fundamental ignorance about other cultures. I think reducing stridency and certainty in answers can help address some of this. People do sometimes jump to inane conclusions in ask.me.
posted by smoke at 2:38 AM on November 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


- - You or your siblings were probably sexually abused as children by your father. Not maybe.

Is this really something you've seen on MetaFilter? Jesus. I had no idea it was even a stereotype of South Asian families. That's awful.
posted by OmieWise at 6:14 AM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Am I looking at the correct comment? The link in the post here goes to a comment that was marked "best answer" by the AskMe poster. (if the original comment that Sara C. is talking of has been removed, then it would be useful for the discussion here to know that.)
posted by nat at 6:22 AM on November 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


You are looking at the correct comment (the anchor ID in Sara C.'s link is the same as the ID of the comment).
posted by dfan at 6:35 AM on November 5, 2015


The link in the post here goes to a comment that was marked "best answer" by the AskMe poster.

IIRC, the asker marked several best answers that boiled down to "you are right to want to protect your inheritance, your fiancee should understand this", and that was one of them, regardless of content about the asker's background.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:53 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


yeah, it maybe wasn't a great move to pick a "best answer" for this thread's main evidence, but this treatment of asians is "a thing" here on mefi - even i have noticed it. here's another example that struck me at the time.
posted by andrewcooke at 6:57 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Am I missing some other stuff, or is part of the grossness of that answer that the OP never mentions that he's Indian, and in fact you have to do an individual reading of all of his AskMes to find the one time he mentioned it in February of 2014?
posted by Etrigan at 7:00 AM on November 5, 2015 [20 favorites]


MeFi doesn't do cross-cultural well. This less-than-six-months-ago thread still makes me cringe.
posted by Lucinda at 7:33 AM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


- - You or your siblings were probably sexually abused as children by your father. Not maybe.

Is this really something you've seen on MetaFilter? Jesus. I had no idea it was even a stereotype of South Asian families. That's awful.


I didn't know it was a stereotype either but someone had written that in anonymous Ask I wrote once. That's the last time I'd ever intentionally mention my background in an anonymous AskMe.
posted by sweetkid at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it's OK to look at question history for "previouslies." But yeah, pulling in the ethnicity factor with lots of assumptions doesn't help at all.

Before the recent Metas on racism, I hadn't attributed my total discomfort discussing my culture-crossing background on mefi to... anything, really. But now that it's been pointed out, "mefi is very, very white" must be a giant factor. There is a clash of knee-jerk, poor faith "racism is bad and you are bad" and "I'm a cosmopolitan ally so I totally understand." It doesn't work out well for me.
posted by zennie at 7:43 AM on November 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


The fundamental principle is always to answer the question as asked, not give advice based on your assumptions about what the OP 'really needs'.

This would solve so many problems with ask responses.
posted by drezdn at 7:47 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also if MetaFilter could figure out its bias issues and/or stop pretending to be far more progressive than it actually is, that would also help a great deal.
posted by kalessin at 7:52 AM on November 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


The question as asked is fundamentally a cultural question though-- it's "am I right, or is my fiancee right?" As several answerers pointed out, this isn't a matter of right and wrong- it's a matter of context and viewpoint and those are cultural in nature. I don't think we *can* answer this question without knowing some background- except to say that it depends. There is no universally relevant answer to this question.

I do think it's pretty creepy that people went into the Ask history (fairly deeply evidently) to find out that background, and I sort of wish people wouldn't do that. And of course just knowing "Indian" doesn't really tell us the background that is relevant; to really answer we'd have to know the OP and their fiancee personally.

Since we can't do that, either nobody can answer, or we can all give "this is the answer that works in my context". But what disclaimer should I give to tell posters what my context is?

Quite a lot of relationship AskMes are cultural in nature. They're about human relations after all. The "ask vs guess" trope is one way of highlighting how a person's culture may influence the "right" way to act.

I agree that I'm not the right person to answer many questions on Ask- so I mostly don't -- but in a human relations question, who *is* the right person? Other than the OP, really?
posted by nat at 8:10 AM on November 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


Am I missing some other stuff, or is part of the grossness of that answer that the OP never mentions that he's Indian, and in fact you have to do an individual reading of all of his AskMes to find the one time he mentioned it in February of 2014?

To be fair, I'm half black and half Indian, and I end up just having a mental list of other POC on Mefi, especially other black people and Indian people. In fact, I have a vague sense the poster of the comment we're talking about is a person of colour, though I'm not sure. Maybe they just remembered some things about the asker. Doesn't necessarily make it OK to talk about a specific culture they're perhaps not familiar with, or to bring in factors the OP may not have wanted considered. I don't know.

I agree that as a community, we need to deal with minority cultures (on this site) with much more sensitivity and humility. I've given up on talking about race on the Blue, because so much time has to be spent emphasising basic ideas and making sure white people don't get any crazy ideas that there's no space for discussing the nuances of those ideas. I can't just waltz in to Race 101 talking about how I think cultural appropriation is actually a problematic concept. But on AskMe? POC have to be able to ask questions without having to feel all othered and despised. That is just such a basic standard that I don't know what else there is to say about it.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:12 AM on November 5, 2015 [29 favorites]


I think listening is usually best.

One tension I do see sometimes is the one between family/other-orientation/relational selves vs. individualist and self-sufficient selves, which does sometimes have something to do with culture. MetaFilter generally leans toward individualism. E.g. when primary family relationships are quite painful for people, the advice is sometimes to cut a person out of your life (you're not responsible for your parents and no one should be, kind of thing) - and there are, often, very good reasons for that! And sometimes not wanting to do that, if you're looking at things from an individualist framework, might be seen as a kind of immaturity, or a failure to individuate, self-actualize, self-protect. Whereas things look a bit different through the filter of "this might be a cultural difference" (which it can be) or a tension that emerges because of having to negotiate more than one culture.

(I do sometimes go into Ask history to make sense of or contextualize questions that confuse me on the face of it. Wrong?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:30 AM on November 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


(I say that as someone who comes from a "family first" sort of background & deals with those tensions.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:32 AM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had a professor who said that all romantic relationships are cross-cultural relationships, in that we all bring our family's and community's cultural assumptions with us in our relationships, even before factoring in more generally recognized cultural differences like race or national origin or socioeconomic status. So I think it's a mistake to think that culture never plays a part in relationship questions, because I think it always plays a part in relationship questions. The problems seem to come in when answerers don't recognize their own cultural assumptions as the assumptions they are (e.g., the assumption that listening to your parents about your relationship is immature, as cotton dress sock pointed out) and instead see them as universal truths, and then the flipside of that, when answerers see anyone with any recognized cultural difference at all as some sort of Mysterious Other who must be playing by Mysterious Other Rules. Both extremes -- "Everyone who doesn't think like me is wrong!" / "People who don't look like me must not think anything like me!" -- are othering and obnoxious, and both were in play in that thread.
posted by jaguar at 8:49 AM on November 5, 2015 [41 favorites]


I disagree that going into the asker's previous askmes is a blanket no-no. While I agree that pulling cultural cues from there into the current answer when the current question has not raised those cultural issues is unhelpful and othering, I think there have been many circumstances where the current askmes, seen in the context of the previous askmes indicates something going on larger and in those cases reminding the asker of previous advice given (thus informing advice being given now for asker's different but related issue) is relevant and helpful.

Sorry for not being more specific on this, as I don't want to single out anybody or discourage them from using askme.
posted by Karaage at 9:12 AM on November 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


jaguar: "Both extremes -- "Everyone who doesn't think like me is wrong!" / "People who don't look like me must not think anything like me!" -- are othering and obnoxious, and both were in play in that thread."

I was trying to put my thoughts together about this issue, but jaguar said it as well as I ever could.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:17 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


blanket no-no

I don't think that anyone in this thread is saying that previous AskMe's should be completely off-limits to people answering questions.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:21 AM on November 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think the issue here is going into a person's Ask history and using that and the colonialist impulse to be an authority on all things foreign to make unwarranted assumptions about a person's upbringing and experiences based on what cultural context you can glean from that history.
posted by kalessin at 9:27 AM on November 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I think saying something like "you've asked a version of this exact question three times before, what of those solutions seemed not to work for you?" is different than what we're talking about here.

This is more like "your previous question says you're Indian. Can you perhaps stop being Indian?"
posted by sweetkid at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


I think there also is sometimes an element of "I have been traumatized by X, therefore I advise that everyone nuke X from orbit in every circumstance."
posted by bleep at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't think that anyone in this thread is saying that previous AskMe's should be completely off-limits to people answering questions.

I was largely responding to the contention that digging into previous askmes is "stalkerish" and "creepy" but it could be that I've missed the context, in which case forgive me.
posted by Karaage at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2015


Bugbread: "I think the problem is a MeFi Answer Syndrome problem "

Fundamentally these sorts of questions don't have objectively correct answers so many/most of any possible answers are "correct". Often it is plain from what gets marked best answer that the asker is only interested in validation. Therefor practically all answers are somewhat valid.
posted by Mitheral at 9:48 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is more like "your previous question says you're Indian. Can you perhaps stop being Indian?"

That's obviously a terrible sentiment.

What's less obvious is what the commenter actually said, which is closer to
"your previous question says you're Indian. This is a cultural question. Therefore perhaps your culture matters."

That's still a little problematic, because it assumes that the poster's culture is encapsulated by the word "Indian".

The same response could have been given without any reference to the poster's particular history, by saying just
"This is a cultural question. Therefore perhaps your culture matters."

Would this last one have been acceptable to people here?
posted by nat at 9:51 AM on November 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


How about the case where an asker from a non-Western culture asks a human relations question, gets answers with othering bias, and it is those answers with the othering bias that gets favourited?

Would this cause the asker to think twice before posting on AskMeFi?
posted by Tsukushi at 9:52 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


nat: "The same response could have been given without any reference to the poster's particular history, by saying just
"This is a cultural question. Therefore perhaps your culture matters."

Would this last one have been acceptable to people here?
"

Well, it's not a very useful answer by itself, as it applicable to almost every question on Ask Me, for some value of "culture" or another.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:55 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do think it's pretty creepy that people went into the Ask history (fairly deeply evidently) to find out that background, and I sort of wish people wouldn't do that.

digging into people's identity (beyond what's in their profile) is a bit stalkerish and creepy.

Clearly this is something that bothers some people. Perhaps MeFi should add a "hide history" option? Or limit the viewing of history to people that user has linked to / is linked from?
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:02 AM on November 5, 2015


That's not something that would fly here. People's history is their identity within the community. There's a reason we don't want people to just ask every question anonymously, or to continually account-hop, or to operate multiple accounts as if they were multiple separate people.

If someone has a specific privacy concern about some item of info in their old question, we can talk to them about removing that on a one-by-one basis, and/or they in most cases can switch to a new account. We have etiquette expectations that people won't be jerks about using other people's history as some kind of gotcha -- if you think someone's doing this, let us know. But overall people should expect that the posts and comments they make on this site are public, and need to manage their own privacy needs around that fact.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:11 AM on November 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


I feel like it's a derail to talk about going into a person's history at ALL.

Many AskMe answers wrt Asian cultural backgrounds or even the "guess" of such a background are ill informed, racist, and othering, whether or not the person writes specifically in the question about their cultural background or someone goes digging for same.
posted by sweetkid at 10:17 AM on November 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well, it's not a very useful answer by itself, as it applicable to almost every question on Ask Me, for some value of "culture" or another.

But it's the only real answer to a question like this that has no objectively correct answer.

Sometimes the answer to a question is "it depends". In this case, it does depend somewhat on the cultures of the people involved because that's going to affect their views with regard to marriage and inheritance.

The question asked is a very bad fit for AskMe, I think because it's inherently unanswerable. The asker asks which view is right, but there is no right view.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:20 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think jaguar's comment here is on point. There is a middle ground the length of several football fields between "let's assume that any Asian asker's question is about Asian-specific problems that have to be solved in an Asian way" and "let's assume that our own values are universal when answering AskMe questions, because not doing so is othering". Be respectful and kind in your answers, understand that there is a possibility that your answer isn't always right for everyone even if it works every time for you, and also answer the actual questions people ask rather than trying to infer information that they did not volunteer themselves.
posted by capricorn at 10:25 AM on November 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


On preview: The question asked is a very bad fit for AskMe, I think because it's inherently unanswerable. The asker asks which view is right, but there is no right view.

And that's kind of the crux of human relations questions--that there is no inherent right or wrong--and if we try to answer a human relations question like we have the One Right Answer, it WILL go poorly. But I think there's room for some nuance, and I disagree that they are bad for AskMe just because what's right and wrong will be ultimately determined by the asker themselves rather than by popular vote.
posted by capricorn at 10:28 AM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I didn't mean all human relations questions, I meant this particular question as framed is bad because it specifically asks who is right ("Who's right? At what point do you know and how do you conclude that these are significant issues that can't be overcome?").

If we follow the maxim of "answer the question that's asked and only that", this question can't be answered, at least the "who's right" portion.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:32 AM on November 5, 2015


I completely agree that people should not be insensitive assholes on Metafilter. But keep in mind that knowing a cultural background can be helpful in answering a question, especially when answerers are familiar with that culture. This answer, for example, did a good job in putting a sexist dude in his place. As in real life, we should not let our fear of being un-PC get in the way of speaking up for justice.

On non-preview: capricorn says it well, yes there is tons of middle ground. Let's not fall into all-or-nothing thinking here.
posted by Melismata at 10:43 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


where is the all or nothing thinking happening?
posted by sweetkid at 11:01 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had a professor who said that all romantic relationships are cross-cultural relationships, in that we all bring our family's and community's cultural assumptions with us in our relationships, even before factoring in more generally recognized cultural differences like race or national origin or socioeconomic status.

This is so true. My husband is Indian, and of course that informs his identity, but his specific familial culture shaped him so much more (just like mine did). Familial culture, in turn, is informed by the larger culture it exists in, but that doesn't mean if you think you know something about the larger culture that you can draw hard and fast conclusions about the members of that larger culture.

(I guess I'm just kind of repeating what others have already said)

I think AskMe answers are helpful where the people giving answers draw on their on own experiences to give some insight or different perspective, but not to draw on their perceptions of the Asker to come to conclusions based on broad stereotypes.
posted by JenMarie at 11:05 AM on November 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


Part of the problem is when early answers to a question respond with "your behavior is terrible, you should stop it" based on the question itself, but then subsequent answerers mention the asker's cultural background, and suddenly the same people calling the behavior terrible/abusive/unacceptable say "oh, I didn't realize you were [of x background]. Your behavior is normal then."

Firstly, there needs to be more nuance in early cries of "this behavior is universally terrible in all contexts". Secondly, the quick "whoops-I-thought-you-were-white" aboutface that implies "this behavior is terrible for white westerners but is totally normal and a-ok for [people of x background]" is terribly gross.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:17 AM on November 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


Thank you for bringing up this topic. I've noticed this too, most recently in this question from a few months ago from an OP whose husband was mad because his mother was not welcomed as a last minute, uninvited guest to the OP's coworker's BBQ. In the case of that question, at least a couple of answers assumed that the husband being Chinese meant that he had an entirely different cultural worldview and understanding of basic social dynamics, despite the fact the guy was born and raised in North America where the party was taking place.

There seems to be an assumption in some answers that if someone is a member of a minority group, that person must fit every extreme stereotype of that culture. I get the sense that some people answer these types of questions thinking they are being culturally sensitive, when in reality they are being condescending and ignorant.
posted by The Gooch at 11:46 AM on November 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


It is, however, helpful for white Americans to realize that we have a tendency to pathologize family relationships that are perfectly normal in non-white cultures

The flip side of this is that the family dynamics in my Mexican family are a) completely traditional, and b) gave me a really, really hard time growing up as a girl with non-traditionally feminine interests. The right answer to having certain family dynamics is not always to placate the people who have expectations that are unreasonable for the life you want to lead. But that means in particular that it's not "bad because foreign", it's just "bad if it's making you unhappy". I think it's tricky with AskMe because I don't think it's the worst assumption that if someone shows up to AskMe to figure out how to deal with their overbearing parents, say, "just go along with everything your parents want for you" is an option they've already considered and rejected. But it shouldn't get substantially different treatment between, say, "my parents are overbearing white Christian evangelicals" and "my parents are overbearing immigrants". I got one of each, and from personal experience, they couldn't stand each other after the divorce but they weren't particularly different.
posted by Sequence at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


What's less obvious is what the commenter actually said, which is closer to
"your previous question says you're Indian. This is a cultural question. Therefore perhaps your culture matters."


Here's the problem with this. The asker presumably already knows their own background.

If they are Indian born and raised and recently moved to the US, you better believe they know that their culture is not the dominant culture in the US. If they are Indian-American/second-generation, you better believe they know that there are clashes between their parents' cultural assumptions and the dominant culture they've been marinating in their whole life. For someone who is third or fourth generation, their ethnic origin might not have much of an impact on human relations type questions at all. (My boyfriend is third generation Chinese-American and his Chineseness has literally never come up at all beyond the fact that he knows all the best stuff to get at dim sum. It would be an insult if I posted an Ask about our relationship and someone piped up, "Wait, isn't your boyfriend Chinese? You should give him cash in a red envelope" or whatever.)

I trust people to be somewhat self-aware about whether race, religion, ethnicity, whatever is going to have an impact on the question they're asking. I think if someone asks, "I'm Indian and about to enter into an arranged marriage. What are some important issues I should keep in mind going into something like this?", yes, absolutely, race, religion, culture, etc. should factor into the answers. On the other hand, ignorant white Americans should refrain from trying to answer a question like that in the first place.

If the asker doesn't mention race/culture, it's really not OK to assume that the real problem here is that they are a stinking foreigner. It's even worse to go digging in a poster's previous activity to figure out what race they are.
posted by Sara C. at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


It is, however, helpful for white Americans to realize that we have a tendency to pathologize family relationships that are perfectly normal in non-white cultures

It's a good point to be aware of, but I would argue, from experience, that pathologizing the 'other' is a universal tendency that isn't limited at all to white Americans.
posted by kanewai at 12:08 PM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


The thing about "This is a cultural question. Maybe your culture matters." is that no one ever says this to white people. White people don't have a "culture" as "culture" is defined in this statement, because what "culture" means in this statement is "assortment of stereotypes and fictions I have heard about you people". A white person's culture is properly understood to be such a unique blend of their history and experiences that it's ludicrous, indeed even offensive, to suggest that of course your Italian parents are worried about their child's finances and of course people who aren't Polish wouldn't understand wanting to care for one's parents in their infirmity. What does being Indian have to do with any of that shit? We're not talking about dandiya dances or the obvious superiority of Imran Khan.

Honestly, at this point I want everyone who thinks they have a hot take on Indians re: marriage or re: parents to shut the hell up, and that includes other Indians. Y'all, we have got to stop talking about Indian weddings and Indian families, it's making the white people crazy. "You're so lucky to have such a tight-knit family! There's no such thing in America. Too bad they're horrible child abusers because they wanted you to get good grades. Does your fiancee know she's going to have to wash the wrinkly feet of those monsters? Because she's a callow Westerner who probably doesn't get how devoted you all are to each other. You should definitely get a pre-nup. How dare you get a pre-nup! ERROR ERROR BHANGRA OVERFLOW NO NAAN DETECTED REBOOTING so does she have to wear that dot, like, all the time?"
posted by Errant at 12:12 PM on November 5, 2015 [61 favorites]


Offers this up to Errant with gusto and appreciation....after all, its festival season bhalle bhalle
posted by infini at 12:26 PM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


The thing about "This is a cultural question. Maybe your culture matters." is that no one ever says this to white people.

I am totally fine with bringing this aspect up when answering questions from white people.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:32 PM on November 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


The thing about "This is a cultural question. Maybe your culture matters." is that no one ever says this to white people.

Honestly, I think it should be said to white people, because I think it's basically the correct answer to virtually all human relations askmes. (Also people do say it, but they're usually more subtle-- do you come from "Ask" culture or "Guess" culture? valid question for anyone, and it's relevant to a whole pile of askmes).
posted by nat at 12:34 PM on November 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah I dunno, the assumption of homogenous "white" culture as a default against which white people are automatically to be seen as default American individuals with [plug in] default North American values isn't quite right, either, imo, because there are local ethnic cultures that differ from the mainstream, and that do cause issues for people here and there. (I personally wouldn't be offended if someone brought it up. I'd rather they asked the question, actually, than assume I've got some sort of codependence going on.)

That said, I agree with the idea that if background or dissonance or whatever is going to be an issue for someone, they will probably bring it up. But I think it's ok to ask - or it'd be ok to ask me, specifically.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Ask vs Guess is a way to go for sure. Or "what are your values about". Or something. OTOH you sort of have to assume a basic commonality of values in order to provide any kind of answer at all, in the absence of a values-specifier somewhere in the question.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:45 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, speaking of Indian weddings, my wife and I were invited to one while we were living in Singapore. We arrived at the temple, took our shoes off, walked through the temple out to the back, through the parking lot and to the reception hall where everyone else was still wearing their shoes. Then when we signed in there was a little girl with a box of red powder who beckoned me over. "NO NO JUST FOR THE GIRLS!" her mother yelled, too late. So I ended up attending this wedding with no shoes on and a red splotch on my forehead, feeling like just the dumbest American fool that ever existed.

As a result I presume to know nothing about other cultures since it was pretty much empirically proven.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:48 PM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


At my cousin's Indian wedding (not arranged or forced or anything, they are both second generation North American desi), there were a bunch of different traditions specific to east coast Indian culture. My mom didn't even know about them. I think of talking about Indian culture much the way people talk about "European culture" or "European food" - It gives me this picture, kinda, but it's not as specific as people think.
posted by sweetkid at 12:56 PM on November 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


Being the OP in question that started the thread that Sara C. links to, here is what I have to say on this topic:

The reason I didn't mention or bring up my ethnicity when I laid the problem out, was because it doesn't matter. I was asking for an opinion given my circumstances.

As someone who's spent most of his adult life in the US (50%), who views, acts and thinks like a westerner - there was a reason I asked this question on AskMe and not on Quora (which apparently is over run by Indians). It was because I felt and thought that the responses would be based on taking the question at face value - not on assuming what my family traditions are, or whether the problem was cultural.

The problem at hand is situational and circumstantial.

Why does where I was brought up, or what cultural traditions me and my family are steeped in have anything to do with the question that was asked?

Also, just for the record - yes I'm Indian by birth and to an extent by my values.
No, this isn't an arranged marriage i.e. our parents didn't set us up.
posted by rippersid at 1:02 PM on November 5, 2015 [20 favorites]


The thing about "This is a cultural question. Maybe your culture matters." is that no one ever says this to white people.

I feel like this is the source of my discomfort with human relations/family questions, because there are always so many assumptions on display, and there are a lot of times I'm reminded "oh wow, yeah, I am definitely not part of the majority culture in this way." So, y'know, I refrain from answering those questions so I'm not dropping into the thread like Grandma Huang all "white people are the cruelest race."

Seriously, do the thought experiment where you answer a human relations family-related question from your standard WASPy American as a POC from a different culture, complete with wild generalizations and offensive stereotypes about white Americans, and you'll get a sense of how ridiculous some answers to culture-specific questions get. Either trust the asker to tell you the relevant background, or ask for non-judgey clarification of the ask vs. guess culture kind.
posted by yasaman at 1:04 PM on November 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


The fundamental principle is always to answer the question as asked, not give advice based on your assumptions about what the OP 'really needs'.

I agree with that as phrased, but a tremendous number of questions are written such that they make assumptions of inevitability based on lack of knowledge. "How do I make this piece of hardware do X?" might be answerable but it may also be that he most helpful answer to the asker would be "this other thing does that job way better, is inexpensive, and won't give you earlobe cancer. Do you know it exists?"

Presuming a question is uninformed or garbage is clearly the wrong thing. But the usefulness of Ask over a search engine is getting a human response that uses the entirety of the description - including what seems to be missing from the question - to provide an answer. There's a polite way to do that and some of the most useful answers I have seen - both to me and to others - expanded my understanding of the problem set.
posted by phearlez at 1:04 PM on November 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


We arrived at the temple, took our shoes off, walked through the temple out to the back, through the parking lot and to the reception hall where everyone else was still wearing their shoes.

This reminds me a bit of when I was in Istanbul and assumed -- partially because I've visited mosques in other Muslim countries before, and partially because of Western assumptions and othering -- that I would need to have my head covered at all times. When, of course, nobody at the big touristic mosques cared at all whether women had our heads covered.

Sometimes you can empirically know a "fact" about a given cultural experience but still make faulty assumptions about how it will play out in real life. Which is yet another reason white people need to shut our traps about this stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 1:06 PM on November 5, 2015


jaguar: It is, however, helpful for white Americans to realize that we have a tendency to pathologize family relationships that are perfectly normal in non-white cultures, and to make sure we're not overgeneralizing from our own experiences and norms and calling other people wrong when they're just different.

I agree with this, and I'd broaden this to note "it is helpful for everyone to remember that we have a tendency to view the world through the lens of our personal experiences and norms, and we should make sure that we're not overgeneralizing from our own experiences and norms and calling other people wrong when they're just different."

Outside of questioning country-specific cultures, there's questions on regional differences, religious and social upbringings, etc. I know this topic is on people bringing up country-specific cultural norms that aren't relevant for discussion, but there are more related tangents we could discuss at this point.

In short: remember, no one else has traveled the same path you have, so their views of the world will be different than yours.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:44 PM on November 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


Hi, I'm the commenter who got "Called In" on this Meta. If there is a racism issue with my comment that is still bugging the folks who flagged it, the mods should feel free to delete it, and/or the OP should feel free to un-favorite it, please.

> "To be fair, I'm half black and half Indian, and I end up just having a mental list of other POC on Mefi, especially other black people and Indian people. In fact, I have a vague sense the poster of the comment we're talking about is a person of colour, though I'm not sure. Maybe they just remembered some things about the asker. Doesn't necessarily make it OK to talk about a specific culture they're perhaps not familiar with, or to bring in factors the OP may not have wanted considered."

Yep. I'm a biracial woman of color and, yes, one of my cultures is shared with the OP in the above-referenced Ask. Anyway, thank you all for this feedback. I will ponder it as I continue to figure out my proper place around here as a woman of color.
posted by hush at 2:04 PM on November 5, 2015 [34 favorites]


But the usefulness of Ask over a search engine is getting a human response that uses the entirety of the description - including what seems to be missing from the question - to provide an answer.

Personally, people answering what they think is the "real" question or making assumptions about what is missing from a question is my biggest pet peeve about ask.
posted by drezdn at 2:15 PM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hush, I want to apologize for seeming to call you out. For one thing, I think that obviously it's absolutely necessary for members of the culture in question to give their perspective.

I *don't* keep a mental inventory of everyone on Metafilter's racial background, and so unless an answerer mentions why they're bringing it up, I have no real way of knowing. And I feel shitty that the example that finally inspired me to write a Meta Talk post happened to be an answer from someone with relevant cultural expertise.

But this is a pervasive issue here on Metafilter, and usually when things like this are brought up, it's necessary to have some kind of example to provide. I'm sorry my example was your answer and not a better-researched one from a different thread.
posted by Sara C. at 2:16 PM on November 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


> I agree with this, and I'd broaden this to note "it is helpful for everyone to remember that we have a tendency to view the world through the lens of our personal experiences and norms, and we should make sure that we're not overgeneralizing from our own experiences and norms and calling other people wrong when they're just different."

Sure, but minority groups are way more likely to understand majority-group norms than vice versa, and to be aware of where their own personal experience differs. Not having to be aware of minority-group norms, or that norms are culture-bound at all, is part of privilege.

> It is, however, helpful for white Americans to realize that we have a tendency to pathologize family relationships that are perfectly normal in non-white cultures

>> It's a good point to be aware of, but I would argue, from experience, that pathologizing the 'other' is a universal tendency that isn't limited at all to white Americans.


Absolutely, and I'm sorry for implying otherwise. The dominant culture on MeFi being white and American, I was speaking to the dynamic in which the majority-group doesn't even realize their cultural assumptions are cultural assumptions (and I'm a therapist who has a low-level ongoing argument about this with a psychiatrist I work with, so that's the jargon that came to mind). I probably could have phrased it better.
posted by jaguar at 2:16 PM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


The flip side of this is that the family dynamics in my Mexican family are a) completely traditional, and b) gave me a really, really hard time growing up as a girl with non-traditionally feminine interests. The right answer to having certain family dynamics is not always to placate the people who have expectations that are unreasonable for the life you want to lead. But that means in particular that it's not "bad because foreign", it's just "bad if it's making you unhappy". I think it's tricky with AskMe because I don't think it's the worst assumption that if someone shows up to AskMe to figure out how to deal with their overbearing parents, say, "just go along with everything your parents want for you" is an option they've already considered and rejected. But it shouldn't get substantially different treatment between, say, "my parents are overbearing white Christian evangelicals" and "my parents are overbearing immigrants".

I agree. Where I see it being more of a problem is with "My parents are slightly overbearing and I want to approach it in a loving way, because it's not a huge deal but I'm slightly unhappy about the status quo" being answered with "Your parents are overbearing and horrible and cut them off now!" Like, when there's no realization that families and people can be happy (like, genuinely happy) in dynamics that are "enmeshed" by some other cultural standards.
posted by jaguar at 2:20 PM on November 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


The thing about "This is a cultural question. Maybe your culture matters." is that no one ever says this to white people.

Errant, you nailed it! I didn't want to come into this thread being all "and now we should talk about me, a white person" (and if this is a derail, please tell me so), but yeah, my (white) family are from two cultures that are not the dominant ethnic cultures here in the US and yeah, sure, that fact is relevant to my life and the context in which I grew up. And I have in fact submitted an anonymous AskMe about family stuff, and I did not mention my culture(s) because I did not want people either specifically bringing or specifically not bringing my culture(s) into it*.

And actually, I did get some answers that I felt were way too harsh and presumed untrue things about my family dynamics, and perhaps that was the case for cultural reasons--who knows? But I just skipped them and read the answers that worked for me. I didn't need anyone to come in and make sure the rest of MetaFilter knew that oh, I'm [ethnicity] so actually it's totally different and only other [ethnicity] people could possibly weigh in on this [ethnicity] person issue.

*Actually, looking back, someone essentially said "this kind of sounds like an Asian family, but I assume you are not Asian because you didn't mention it".
posted by capricorn at 2:22 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


But this is a pervasive issue here on Metafilter, and usually when things like this are brought up, it's necessary to have some kind of example to provide.

Man, there are so, so many examples. Some from threads linked above, one that I mentioned previously that said "are you from a specific culture" (specific = "other"). So many.

Also, being a POC doesn't mean that pulling through someone's history and making your answer all about some minor detail is okay.

Also again, Indian Americans/Indians/POC opinions vary. Melismata linked above to someone "from the culture" (Indian) calling out a "sexist dude" but i had a comment in the same thread that was basically "All Indian people do not think x or do y."
posted by sweetkid at 2:23 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Er, and I guess it sort of sounds like I was saying that actually, I am white and someone did say "maybe your culture matters", but they didn't, and even anonymously I was able to control that discourse because I have white privilege. They said if I were Asian it would, but I'm (somehow obviously, even when anonymous) not, so it doesn't.
posted by capricorn at 2:25 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


making your answer all about some minor detail

Well, to be fair to hush, her answer wasn't all about some minor detail, it was just one aspect of a larger answer.
posted by Sara C. at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2015


true.
posted by sweetkid at 2:31 PM on November 5, 2015


Personally, people answering what they think is the "real" question or making assumptions about what is missing from a question is my biggest pet peeve about ask.

Mine too. Things seem to have improved somewhat, but there's still a strong tendency to try to shoehorn relationship answers into unrelated questions, and for commenters to start speculating and making unwarranted assumptions about someone's attitudes or motivations or personal background, and that can turn really gross really fast.

Every now and again, there's something so glaring and/or troubling about a question that it can merit pointing out, but most of the time, it's just insulting to the Asker when internet strangers assume that they can accurately discern the 'real issue' behind their question, whether it's cultural or psychological or what.

Racism is one of the most troubling manifestations of those types of casual assumptions and stereotypes, but there are a lot of situations where people should probably step back, reexamine their perceptions, and think twice before posting.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:54 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Errant: "The thing about "This is a cultural question. Maybe your culture matters." is that no one ever says this to white people."

yasaman: "I feel like this is the source of my discomfort with human relations/family questions, because there are always so many assumptions on display, and there are a lot of times I'm reminded "oh wow, yeah, I am definitely not part of the majority culture in this way.""

Huh. I'm just realizing something (kinda off-topic and all-about-me-personally, sorry, but I'm having a kind of "whoa" moment). I'm a white American guy, and I spend a lot of time on the English net, but I've lived in a non-Western country for about half my life. I've always firmly pictured myself as "white American guy". After 20 years, I still mentally compare things to America all the damn time. "Man, X here is so much better than America" "Man, Y here sucks so much, unlike America", etc. Even after 20 years.

So when I read advice-type AskMe questions and answers, and it didn't click, I'd always just assumed it's because I wasn't interested in advice-type AskMe questions and answers. But looking back on it now, I realize it's also largely because people are generally talking about things that are so divorced from the culture I am familiar with. People advising folks to talk to a lawyer, or talking about what bridesmaids should or should not do, or anything to do with childrearing. While I may know a bunch about general American culture and life, I'm just realizing that I know doodly-squat about adult American culture, and that may be a big factor in why those questions and answers never clicked for me.

</derail>
posted by Bugbread at 3:11 PM on November 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


shoehorn relationship answers into unrelated questions

I guess… But when people offer a lot of background information in a question around any of the big issues couples deal with - money, property, childrearing - and that information leads one to believe there is a semaphore convention happening at their house, it's hard to stay inside the lines. E.g. come on, with stuff like this - "Couple in our mid-40s - we've just bought our first house. It's a fixer-upper - the foundation is cracked, and it looks like it may need to be rewired top to bottom, but we got an amazing deal on it and I really can't see living anywhere else. I will be doing most of the work myself, unfortunately, as my partner just accepted a five-year-contract position in Denmark. Luckily, he'll be saving on accommodation by staying with his ex-girlfriend, who found herself with extra space in her flat after her divorce. (Not to worry, though, he assures me it's on the level.) She just wants the company, so we won't have to dip into our nest egg at all in this transition period. And, he'll be able to help for two weeks in November. Anyhoo, my question is, I work nights, about an hour's drive from the property. How can I manage the reno during the day? I should mention that I can't do much actual heavy lifting myself for another year, as I've just had back surgery."

(Obviously not a real question & way exaggerated for effect, but stuff kind of like that sometimes gets asked.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:29 PM on November 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


The thing about "This is a cultural question. Maybe your culture matters." is that no one ever says this to white people.

People say this to me. I live in Asia.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:58 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Culture always matters. The difficult trick is figuring out just how much it matters in a given situation.

Like with everything in human relationships, it's the sensitivity you bring to the table that makes all the difference.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:46 PM on November 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I guess… But when people offer a lot of background information in a question around any of the big issues couples deal with - money, property, childrearing - and that information leads one to believe there is a semaphore convention happening at their house, it's hard to stay inside the lines.

Yeah, that definitely happens, which I specifically mentioned. Sometimes, there is something deeply troubling about a question that merits answering something unasked.

I'm talking about the ones where someone provides a little background to flesh out some context for their question, and early commenters latch onto some little nugget, turn the focus onto some brief and largely unrelated personal detail or even something gleaned from the poster's history, and the question gets turned into some elaborate speculative fiction about someone's private life, all based on some brief, limited, one-sided account of a disagreement or something. And it's worse sometimes with anonymous questions, where the asker can't freely clarify and defend themselves before things get out of hand.

I'm not saying that nobody should ever veer from the explicit question. I'm saying that before someone decides to do that, they should consider that, in doing so, they're assuming the asker is so oblivious that complete strangers know better than they do what's best for them. That's the kind of assumption that shouldn't be made casually.

To take the example at hand, people generally know if some familial conflict involves different cultural expectations. Maybe a middle class white 2nd + generation American in America will need to be reminded from time to time that not everyone shares their cultural values and expectations, but everyone else is acutely aware of that and is probably a pretty good judge of whether or not that's a factor in any given situation.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:35 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's the thing.

Culture matters.

But if the asker doesn't bring it up, you can probably trust that they don't consider it relevant to their question for good reasons.

If you're not a member of the culture in question, you should probably stay out of it unless you have reasonable standing to know A LOT about how their issue specifically interacts with their specific background to a really granular degree.
posted by Sara C. at 9:35 PM on November 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Often, what's not mentioned explicitly in a question is relevant to a helpful answer.
posted by zarq at 12:06 AM on November 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


If you're not a member of the culture in question, you should probably stay out of it unless you have reasonable standing to know A LOT about how their issue specifically interacts with their specific background to a really granular degree.

A LOT, you say? Well, sure, I guess. A lot is certainly good.

But I'm wary of anyone who's certain enough about things to tell others that they should do this or possibly that. There's a lot of this and that here in Metatalk these days. Don't care much for it, me.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:57 AM on November 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


If lots of should-ing is the alternative to threads like that awful 2007 MeTa, I'll take it.
posted by chaiminda at 2:30 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


If the question resonates for you, how about simply answering from your perspective and leaving it to the OP to decide if it works for them. The filter is on their side, not on the side of the person responding to the question. It's always bothered me when answerer's have dug into the asker's history to bring more context to their responses.

I'll paraphrase Sara C.'s last addition: If you can't speak in the first person about the question, you should probably stay out of it unless you have reasonable standing to know A LOT about how their issue specifically interacts with their specific background to a really granular degree.
posted by michswiss at 3:01 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


that awful 2007 MeTa

2007? 8 years gone? I've deliberately avoided reading most of this thread so I dunno what you're referring to, but sure, let's push hard against whatever that awfulness was, internet-eons ago! I am strongly with you in that mission.

Still not keen on the shoulderation.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:06 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Anyway, shrug. I'm not trying to start or restart fights with my wry and ironic messing around. Carry on with the righteousness, friends, shoulding the way of notional excellence into a potential perfecter future.

I do love and respect dedication to Making Stuff Right and I'm onboard with the program, as usual, if not the details of execution, as usual. For me, ends don't justify means, but I'm at this point just standing a pace or three back, watching and gently and (I hope) constructively snarking. With love.

Just a bit. Like my mom taught me I should.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:24 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is this all a pub crawl to you?
posted by michswiss at 3:31 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


whut
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:55 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


So I get that you're so over it, stavros, but usually when I'm over a thing, I leave. So why keep talking about how over it you are?
posted by kalessin at 4:48 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sure thing, friend! I'm hurrying off to go and fuck myself right this very moment, and will find other places to speak words.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:52 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think thats unfair Kalessin. It feels like badgering and it makes me feel uncomfortable.
posted by clavdivs at 4:56 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


On the topic of reading the room, maybe flip and eye-rolly-sarcastic and admitting one hasn't read the thread aren't good ways to go in this particular room.
posted by Etrigan at 5:19 AM on November 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


I am deliberately super flip and rolly, brother and/or sister!

But also 100% serious and sincere.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:35 AM on November 6, 2015


No one here is required to participate. No one here is required to refrain from participating. But if you're going to, maybe say what you mean? I can't help but feel the wink-wink-nudge-nudging is a greater cause of friction here than the substance of the discussion. Because: no one is being told to go off and fuck themselves quite yet. I believe we might just keep it that way if we aim for a slightly more literal mode of communication, is all.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 5:55 AM on November 6, 2015 [17 favorites]


I've updated the thread with a few clarifications, and I've unmarked all the best answers, for reasons that I've explained in the thread.

I'd like to say that as a POC, my sincere hope is that we can make AskMe a better place for all people, regardless of the color of their skins, their traditions, their place of birth or their sexual preferences, to be able to ask questions about human relations, without being stereotyped and pigeonholed into what we think is our understanding of their culture or situation.

Thanks!
posted by rippersid at 6:36 AM on November 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


But I'm wary of anyone who's certain enough about things to tell others that they should do this or possibly that. There's a lot of this and that here in Metatalk these days. Don't care much for it, me.

I don't much care for anyone who suggests or implies that we shouldn't try to have standards for how we behave on metafilter. "Don't tell people what they should do!" is functionally the same advice as "Anything you do is okay! Never examine your own behavior!" for some people at Metafilter.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:19 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I apologize to stavros and in general for making it seem like I was telling stavros to go fuck himself. I was just saying that he seemed to go on at length about how these issues were not a problem for him, and seemed to imply that they shouldn't be for anyone else either.
posted by kalessin at 7:36 AM on November 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


But I'm wary of anyone who's certain enough about things to tell others that they should do this or possibly that. There's a lot of this and that here in Metatalk these days. Don't care much for it, me.

It can be hard to look inward and examine our own privilege. Many of us, including myself, aren't used to doing so. A natural reaction is to become defensive -- especially if the person doing the demanding doesn't ask nicely. Being wary is okay.

But when we examine the request being made, if the only coherent argument against it is that we don't like being told what to do, then perhaps addressing it on its merits rather than how it's being phrased would be best. Because this is an actual problem in AskMe that isn't restricted to foreign cultures: people speaking on topics they don't know enough about to be helpful or knowledgeable. Hey, it's great that they want to be helpful, but sometimes the best way to do that is to not participate if they don't know what they're talking about.
posted by zarq at 7:45 AM on November 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


In fact, that's one of the biggest reasons I don't participate over there all that much. When I don't think I can offer helpful advice, I don't bother commenting.
posted by zarq at 7:48 AM on November 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I apologize to stavros and in general for making it seem like I was telling stavros to go fuck himself.

That was not at all my read of your statement and I thought it a very fair and even-handed questioning of hir contribution here.
posted by phearlez at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


kalessin: I apologize to stavros and in general for making it seem like I was telling stavros to go fuck himself.

For whatever it's worth, I totally didn't think you had implied that, either.
posted by zarq at 8:06 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


some people on this web site are too sensitive, in my opinion, [someone politely disagrees] well I'll just go fuck myself then
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:55 AM on November 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


I fuck myself all the time - it's great! I don't know what you people are complaining about, you should try it sometime. With your OWN self, I mean. My self is busy. Just call or email yourself, and see if yourself has any time in its busy schedule - if you can't get a slot immediately, there's usually a waiting list you can get on.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:32 AM on November 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


"vote #1 quidnunc kid" = x-rated euphemism?
posted by zarq at 9:39 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure whether to resent or be flattered by the implication that I'm queueing up to fuck myself.
posted by kalessin at 9:42 AM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Just implement a priority pass system for yourself - makes a tidy profit, and you don't have to wait in line.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:51 AM on November 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


The fundamental principle is always to answer the question as asked, not give advice based on your assumptions about what the OP 'really needs'.

Well, no. Most of the time that's great, but there are plenty of examples where people are asking entirely the wrong question and the MeFi response is, correctly, "Holy shit, you are asking the wrong question. The issue is not how you can change your behavior so that your bf doesn't get violent, your issue is how quickly you can pack your bags and get out of there". We've all seen those questions.

This happens everywhere, not just in AskMeFi. I see this when people ask programming questions on reddit. More often than you would imagine the correct answer is "You can do what you are asking, but you don't want to do that. Here is what you actually want to do".

Of course, sometimes you are wrong and that's annoying to everyone involved. Once you get into the mindset of "perhaps the question they are asking is the wrong question" then you start to see it everywhere.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:01 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I agree with folks who are saying sometimes the person is really burying the lede. But I think that if the lede is race, religion, or ethnicity, and you don't belong to same, maybe your sense of what the lede is could be skewed by ignorance or unexamined biases.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on November 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm kind of disappointed that this is turning into a "you can't know everything about a person to answer the question"/ "what do we ever know about anyone really" general conversation because the topic of Asian/diaspora culture being treated terribly in Ask is a pretty huge one for me.

Like I agree with this:

Because this is an actual problem in AskMe that isn't restricted to foreign cultures


But I just wish this conversation weren't #notjustforeigncultures is all.

I'd like to say that as a POC, my sincere hope is that we can make AskMe a better place for all people, regardless of the color of their skins, their traditions, their place of birth or their sexual preferences, to be able to ask questions about human relations, without being stereotyped and pigeonholed into what we think is our understanding of their culture or situation.


Thanks for this.
posted by sweetkid at 10:15 AM on November 6, 2015 [17 favorites]


Well, no. Most of the time that's great, but there are plenty of examples where people are asking entirely the wrong question and the MeFi response is, correctly, "Holy shit, you are asking the wrong question. The issue is not how you can change your behavior so that your bf doesn't get violent, your issue is how quickly you can pack your bags and get out of there". We've all seen those questions.

Yes, but the problem is that in this particular case, where we're talking about people bringing their own baggage/biases/stereotypes to a thread instead of helpful knowledge, it's quite easy to make an assumption that an OP is not disclosing relevant information or asking the wrong question when that may very well not be the case.
posted by zarq at 10:25 AM on November 6, 2015


(Should have previewed)

But I just wish this conversation weren't #notjustforeigncultures is all.

I think it really is part of a larger problem on Ask, but sincerely, I did not intend to derail this thread.
posted by zarq at 10:27 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry for the derail, sweetkid, totally right to steer us back on course.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:29 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Zarq, in this particular case, the person called out for needlessly dragging Asian culture into an answer to a question (posed by an Asian) on Ask, was, in fact, Asian.
posted by likeso at 10:31 AM on November 6, 2015


That was just one example. And it was still inappropriate. And it's a shitty gotcha to be like "they were X though! What say you NOW?"

Signed,

An Asian

(I guess, but actually many many other things).
posted by sweetkid at 10:33 AM on November 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think the problem of people on MeFi treating stereotypes about Asian people as facts, and the problem of AskMe skewing toward an extremely individualistic ideal when it comes to relationships, are two *separate* problems.

Actually, I think that conflating those problems is as good of an example of "MeFi treating stereotypes about Asian people as facts" as any. But maybe that's going too far.
posted by rue72 at 10:34 AM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Whoops! Sorry, sweetkid, thought zarq might have read over hush's post here. Thanks, though!

Signed,

Shitty Gotcha
posted by likeso at 10:38 AM on November 6, 2015


I think the problem of people on MeFi treating stereotypes about Asian people as facts, and the problem of AskMe skewing toward an extremely individualistic ideal when it comes to relationships, are two *separate* problems.

Agreed - culture as a possibly important variable is one thing; specifically addressing stereotypes about Asian people is another. (I think I'm responsible for bringing that individualism thing up this time, sorry for that too :/ I wasn't specifically thinking about "Indianness" fwiw, just what might be considered more sociocentric cultures or subcultures than dominant American culture, in general.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:39 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Frankly (and not to call anyone out because this is a VERY COMMON stereotype), I think the "Asian cultures are more collective-oriented" thing in itself is probably not a useful point of advice for individual people with specific interpersonal issues in AskMe, unless the person brings this up as a concern in their question.

Like, at bare minimum, this is something that any Asian living in a diaspora situation is going to already have heard about. Not to mention that it doesn't necessarily apply, and assuming it applies when the asker has already determined that it wasn't worth bringing up is presumptuous.
posted by Sara C. at 11:02 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


At the risk of derailing (again), valuing family and close relationships - sometimes over personal accomplishment - and seeing oneself as significantly defined by relationships, obligations, and context, isn't unique to people of immediate Asian heritage or belonging (sometimes) to local diasporic cultures, and imo it does come up in some family-related questions. (Also, sociocentricism is a construct that ought to be questioned when it comes up unthinkingly in stereotypic ways, in relation to people nominally connected with a specific culture, but it's one that cross-cultural researchers in anthro and psych at least consider worth investigating. Does it apply in every question asked by someone with parents from India, no, obviously not. Does it apply sometimes, maybe, depends on the question.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:25 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


(Examples: the issue of cutting family members off, mentioned above. Or: a 20 y/o who works should in all cases move out of their parents' home - yes or no? Should grandma go to a home or not, and how should that be negotiated? etc etc. Ok that's it from me on this, sorry.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:36 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm actually not sure that it's a relevant aspect of anthropological research on Asian cultures anymore. The idea is very rooted in orientalism and faceless hordes of inscrutable Others. It's a cousin of the idea that "Asians all look alike."

Not to say that one issue of growing up a third-culture kid or in an immigrant family isn't different values about family (should adult children continue to live with their family of birth, how important is it to defer to your parents' wishes, etc), but to reduce that to "Asian cultures don't value the individual" or even to stress this as a specifically Asian thing at all (it's an issue in *a lot* of diasporas), actually might not be relevant in any way except for as a holdover from a time when academic ideas about nonwhite people were very, very different from what is considered acceptable now.
posted by Sara C. at 11:51 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also I'm white and have a lot of family drama and if someone suggested just cutting them off my immediate reaction would be "what? no"

You don't have to be Asian to have a complicated family, and to want to actually find a way to deal with them rather than just decide that you don't have a family anymore.

"Just ditch your family forever" is probably bad advice in general.
posted by Sara C. at 11:55 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


At the risk of derailing (again), valuing family and close relationships - sometimes over personal accomplishment - and seeing oneself as significantly defined by relationships, obligations, and context, isn't unique to people of immediate Asian heritage or belonging (sometimes) to local diasporic cultures, and imo it does come up in some family-related questions.

Yes, it comes up constantly. But (as you said) collective-oriented =/= Asian. Many people who are collective-oriented aren't Asian (*raises hand*) and many Asian people aren't collective-oriented.

The point is, nobody needs to muse about race in order to take more collectivist viewpoints into account. And taking collectivist viewpoints into account isn't anti-racist in and of itself.
posted by rue72 at 11:57 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, my brother is my family drama because Reasons and my parents really suck at acknowledging that, but even when I tell very close friends anything at all about it, they're like "well, your parents must consider your brother The Golden Child because he is male, so there's probably nothing you can even do."

It's like impossible to express how isolating it feels to have this intensely personal, massive issue and have people reduce it to a racist stereotype about sexist Indian culture. And then when you bring that up, you're like accused of denying that any Indian people can be sexist ever, and suddenly you're talking about abandoned girls and schooling for women in India and I'm like my brother is actually a garden variety angry man with issues but you should totally contribute money to schools for girls in Rajasthan if that's important to you.
posted by sweetkid at 12:06 PM on November 6, 2015 [38 favorites]


"Just ditch your family forever" is probably bad advice in general.

DTMFA is so very satisfying to write though. Vicarious bannination is par for the course in the thicket of relationship questions.

Ask is really good at identifying issues and getting sanity checks, but solution-finding is usually no better than missing the point. DTMFA is a very common response, but that doesn't mean it's frequently a useful one.
posted by bonehead at 12:30 PM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


DTMFA is a very common response, but that doesn't mean it's frequently a useful one.

Except when it is.
posted by Melismata at 12:32 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm actually not sure that it's a relevant aspect of anthropological research on Asian cultures anymore. The idea is very rooted in orientalism and faceless hordes of inscrutable Others. It's a cousin of the idea that "Asians all look alike."

I'm not sure this is true, but I also think it's a rabbit hole we definitely don't need to go down. Whether or not something has any anthropological validity, it may still be irrelevant and insulting to apply to individual people and situations in AskMe.

To me, the way to proceed in AskMe at least seems clear-cut: don't bring in musing about the OP's culture unless the OP mentioned it as part of the situation in their post. If you think it might be relevant and they really forgot, you can ask politely if there's a cultural angle missing without launching into broad speculation first. Am I missing something about why this wouldn't work? (genuine question, not being sarcastic or anything)
posted by thetortoise at 12:57 PM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm going through this a lot with my multigenerational and extremely diverse friends list on Facebook these days.

I think you (as a group, a movement, a community fighting oppressison) have to choose your preferred outcomes and strategize for achieving those.

I don't think that DTMFA is what works best in large communities unless you want your community to shard over these issues.

I'm 47 and a member of too many minority groups to count, but in most of them I enjoy a certain amount of privilege along the spectrum, as long as I don't get too outspoken. And by outspoken, I mean about anything, both in-group and out-group. If I dissent to the particular formulation or execution of a tried and true activist strategy or if I object to an instance or policy or systemic racism, that privilege can be gone in a flash.

And I think that's part of the problem. We are, as I have said before on MetaTalk, really seeming like we are bent on volatile, final, retributive, vengeful interpretations and executions of whatever the ultimate decision is (not the mods, but us, we users, and groups within us). It certainly feels better to us to DTMFA, because we're DONE and we don't have to deal with that person ever again. And I get it. But in political process, especially with members of your in-group who dissent, that kind of final, bridge-burning action doesn't really get you long term change.

I realize here that I'm arguing tactics in a way that sounds a lot like tone policing. So let me stop here and say that I feel that anger and lashing out are completely understandable reactions to centuries of injustice and oppression. And there are definitely places for both inwardly directed and outwardly directed folks in any community who are simply angry rules enforcers. Internal are enforcers who work with in-group members and their allies and external are footsoldiers in the continuing wars with systemic oppression, institutionalized bias, and other big fights. And we need those kinds of people for certain kinds of strategies and tactics in the wider world. So I'm not saying that if we are inclined to be forceful that we must excuse ourselves. Maybe excuse ourselves from a particular fight, but not from the movement or community as a whole.

But I am saying that picking our targets and being careful and intentional about our end goal is pretty important, both locally and globally and at all points in between. I think that as uncomfortable as it is (because it's so adjacent to tone policing) to acknowledge it, it's hard for oppressors to take our rage well. It's difficult for them to learn anything except to distrust us. I think that when we disengage from our oppressors, if we can, we should do it graciously. I think that not all fights are ones where we must give no quarter and show no mercy.

And I'm a great admirer of that strength and fire. As a youth, that was the only frequency my activism ran on. But as I get older, I can see the wisdom in exploring other options, including, as difficult as it would have been for my younger self to consider it, working and doing more than my fair share of work with odious (totally or partially) people, in order to achieve some movement, some coalition, some alliance.

And let me make it clear. I'm not saying that I have one solution for all people. But I am saying that to the extent possible, for us as groups and for us as individuals, keeping a leash on that blind rage and only deploying it when strictly necessary will go a long way toward building meaningful coalitions and making lasting change.
posted by kalessin at 12:59 PM on November 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


I realize here that I'm arguing tactics in a way that sounds a lot like tone policing.

Calling a comment "tone policing" is considered a devastating knock-out here, and with some reason, given it's history, but it's an entirely valid concern in other contexts.

Metafilter has a large population on the activist end of the spectrum, where attracting and holding attention is highly valued, and tone policing is seen as a technique used by opponents to shut down the message.

On the other hand, if you have to navigate a social or political context from a position of precarious privilege, tone policing, of oneself, one's similarly precarious allies, is essential. A social worker can't be angry at their clients. A researcher has to treat their subjects with respect. A son does have to worry about talking to their parents. It's a different set of concerns, very related to tone, than a more explicitly political role. I find it useful to contrast quiet gradualism with the more boisterous activist language. Neither is "better", but some situations are more suited to one type of conversation than an another.
posted by bonehead at 1:20 PM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Metafilter has a large population on the activist end of the spectrum

Is this true though? I mean on this site I think I can seem like an out- there liberal anti racist anti sexist LET'S EDUCATE person but IRL I am basically yuppie scum, at least compared to someone like kalessin.
posted by sweetkid at 1:25 PM on November 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Not calling out bonehead here (with that user name, it's hard to write anything that doesn't sound like I'm being super sarcastic), but you don't have to be an activist to pick up on racially insensitive behavior - categorizing that as activism has the effect of making it sound like it's somehow not mainstream, when the reality is that lots of people have said this affects them personally. I mean, otherwise, the only way to avoid being seen as a left-leaning activist would be to stay quiet, and that would be unfair to the people who have a stake in this.
posted by teponaztli at 1:55 PM on November 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


And I'm basically technocrat yuppie scum, at least compared to almost every other activist I know (besides Tim Wise).
posted by kalessin at 2:23 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


you don't have to be an activist to pick up on racially insensitive behavior

Of course not, but this site does tend more to the consciousness raising/awareness development mode than the gradualism solution seeking mode. In the first, a tone argument is a trollish technique to shut someone down who is trying to find the courage to speak. In the second, however, tone arguments are essential to communication. There the goal is to find common ground with someone who doesn't want to listen.
posted by bonehead at 2:25 PM on November 6, 2015


The vast majority of us on this site are not "activists" stumping for our positions, we are just trying to get by and participate online like anyone else.
posted by naju at 2:25 PM on November 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


There is still a place for tone argument discussions on Mefi, as well as variations in conversational tone. For one thing, not all of us are on the same page regarding whether and under what circumstances tone matters. For another, the mods encourage civility and frown on free-for-alls. So the subject isn't dead by any means.

I mentioned in another metatalk thread today that coming to a consensus about what should and shouldn't be allowed on Mefi is an organic process. A great deal of how this place works is "gradualism solution seeking mode" not activism. Change happens slowly, and not overnight. Far more slowly, in fact, than I think some folks are comfortable with.
posted by zarq at 2:57 PM on November 6, 2015


DTMFA is so very satisfying to write though.

DTMFA is useful because, in so many questions where it's the consensus answer, it's a youngish couple who've been casually dating for a few months, and the asker is way too invested in a situation where the answer is that it's OK to break up.

Conversely the situation in your family of birth usually has to be really, really bad before "burn it down" is good advice. Your family isn't like a casual dating relationship or a toxic work environment. And I say this as someone who is as close to WASP as it's possible to be without actually being a WASP.
posted by Sara C. at 3:02 PM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, many of these topics address our personal identities. Wrapped up in that are ways we think about ourselves and others as well as ways others think about and treat us. They touch upon our senses of self-worth, justice and fairness. How valued we are by our societies, culture and social circles. All essential questions of identity: our place in the world, in our own minds, and in the lives of others.

Striving for recognition and fairness for oneself and one's peers shouldn't automatically be considered activism. Instinct, perhaps. But not activism.
posted by zarq at 3:06 PM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm scum! Worthless, stupid, disgusting scum! Scum!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:11 PM on November 6, 2015


Dump The Mother Fucking Kid!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:27 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Vote "NO!" on #1 quidnunc kid!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:34 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah no, pointing out racism is not "activism" (well...it is, in the sense that the personal is political, but in that light, my choice of contraception is also activism, and while I sometimes believe that, I don't think that's what you meant). It's just "being a person of color on the internet." Or possibly "in the world." Or sometimes, "being a decent ally."
posted by Ragini at 8:37 PM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


hush is a more than decent ally, and I'm sorry to see that her account is disabled.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:56 PM on November 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Aw, crap. hush, also sorry to see you go :(
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:15 PM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]



hush is a more than decent ally,


I've been an Indian American member of Metafilter for almost ten years, and if someone feels so badly about bringing race into an unrelated Ask that they close their account, because they feel it is so very important that someone can't ask a question on a website without being reminded that they mentioned almost two years ago that ythey moved from India 15 years ago that this great ally must leave the site, you are maybe not such a great ally.
posted by sweetkid at 10:18 PM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't know why hush's account is closed, but I think it's unfortunate that an ally was lit at the stake in service to a larger discussion that needs to happen here.
posted by Little Dawn at 10:35 PM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh No.

People should clue into the fact that when they say something like:

As an example -- but totally not to call this person out or suggest that they're the only one doing it -- here's an answer in a recent question about prenups that was the straw that broke the camel's back, for me

You ARE calling/singling a specific person out. Surely this meta could have been accomplished without naming a specific person to get your point across. I feel for hush for being an unwitting subject of this post.
posted by futz at 10:37 PM on November 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


No one was burned at any stake, there are hundreds of examples of people being shitty about Indian culture on this site. I complained about one and it got deleted, if it hadn't I might have used that as an example and started a similar Meta.
MeTa is where we are supposed to talk about these things and people usually bring some examples when they start a MeTa.
Sorry, even POC can stumble on these topics, it doesn't mean there have never should have been a conversation because someone closed their account.
posted by sweetkid at 10:50 PM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think that was a pretty shitty thing to say sweetkid. Perhaps there is some subtext that I am missing here but it still reads uncharitable to me.
posted by futz at 10:51 PM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


they mentioned almost two years ago

I just checked; the OP has just one page of questions. It's not like hush dug through like 5 pages to find it. She probably had a quick scroll through to get a sense of context (I have done the same for different kinds of questions, I admit it) - because the question evidently was about cultural differences between the couple (wealth; expectations around how to approach the agreement), found a bit of info she thought could be relevant - because of her personal experience - and tried to give a helpful answer. I obviously could be super wrong about this but it doesn't seem like this is a shining example of someone being a dick to be a dick.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:53 PM on November 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


It was inappropriate to bring race into that discussion. It doesn't matter how many pages of questions the op had, there was no reason to be like "let me guess your lady is not Indian, you're Indian blah blah."

This is the point, people are so upset someone closed their account over being inappropriate that it's somehow me that's inappropriate now.

People close their accounts for all kinds of reasons. It's still valid to say that people shouldn't bring in race as some gotcha, whether their ask history is one page or ten pages...
posted by sweetkid at 11:00 PM on November 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also sorry what's the shitty thing I said?
posted by sweetkid at 11:02 PM on November 6, 2015


This is the point, people are so upset someone closed their account over being inappropriate that it's somehow me that's inappropriate now.


No - this is just complicated (beyond me, certainly). I don't like callouts on the grey, ever (it having happened to me). I can see why the stereotyping you see all the time is hurtful and pisses you off. I also think hush didn't mean harm and that it sucks that she left.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:07 PM on November 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


Thanks cotton dress sock, I agree with you.
posted by sweetkid at 11:12 PM on November 6, 2015


np. don't want anyone feeling bad. or i wish that.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:15 PM on November 6, 2015


I don't think hush's comment was meant as a gotcha. At all. As I said above, there may be some subtext that I am missing. And if there isn't I feel empathy for hush.
posted by futz at 11:18 PM on November 6, 2015


I just think, having been around here a long while, that there's a knee jerk upset when people close their account after getting called out or arguing in a thread or etc. But if someone's so upset by being asked to change behavior on a social site that they close, maybe that's better than having everyone else ensure under bad behavior.
Calling out bad behavior against Asians is just now getting traction on the site. So people will chafe at the change.
posted by sweetkid at 11:21 PM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


The subtext futz is that it's inappropriate to pull out a racial background and make the answer all about that or lEad w that. But more than anything, maybe there could have been some other example but there has been years of anti Indian racism on this site and I mentioned some experiences I have had. I think it's understandable
To feel bad of someone closes but it doesn't mean the comment shouldn't have been called out. If one feels so strongly that being Indian is a key part of any identity that it's essential to a relationship question they should stay and assert that.
posted by sweetkid at 11:26 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


You ARE calling/singling a specific person out.

Not only did I mention that this person was by no means the only one on Metafilter who has done this, but then when hush clarified, I apologized to her personally.

Pretty much every time anyone has ever made a MetaTalk post calling out a particular type of behavior on the site, folks have clamored for examples. I'm sorry I chose that particular example, but anyone I mentioned would have felt equally singled out.

Not to mention that I myself have legit been called out on MetaTalk before, and it didn't kill me.
posted by Sara C. at 11:46 PM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


This discussion is valuable to all of us (people directly invested in it, and those of us learning) - definitely not saying otherwise (or judging anyone for wanting to have it). I can see how illustrations can be useful, just wish they weren't necessary & that they didn't come at a cost.

(Sara C., you're a tough cookie :) I didn't button, but I didn't feel great.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:16 AM on November 7, 2015


I'll ask that this not turn into a comments-court on hush, or hush closing her account. Let's stick to discussing site standards rather than an individual member, please, especially since she's not here to represent herself. I personally hope that hush may choose to return at some point in the future, but either way, devolving into debate on how she should or shouldn't feel about this are not helpful in working out the larger issues.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:25 AM on November 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


Did Aesop once write a Fable about the Mefite who cried DTMFA?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:32 AM on November 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am half Asian, half European. As such, I absolutely am aware of and take Askme's white American liberal bias into account when asking a question. In fact, I ask childrearing or other human relations questions here specifically to get thatperspective.
So I agree with whoever said that the filter belongs to the asker and they will figure out which answers apply to them. Because they are extremely aware of how much and in what ways cultural differences between asker and answerers on Askme may apply.

To illustrate what was said before, that "it's a cultural thing" should apply to all cultures, these are examples how prevalent white American culture skews answers on Askme:
- you owe your parents nothing for having raised you. After all, it wasn't your idea to get born.
- once you are a young adult, your parents owe you nothing financially except to make sure to stock their own retirement fund (if they fail to do so, it is not your duty to support them in old age). It's up to you as a young adult to find an income source, a home etc.
- Move far away from your parents stat and survive on ramen for a year! It's the only way to grow up.

These are very much not universally agreed upon principles in most of the world. They're cultural.

I suppose I could frame my answers to certain issues as "this seems to be a cultural problem. From what I understand, young Americans are expected to be a great deal more self reliant than you, which would explain why etc. etc." and essentially explain your own culture to you, which would be...kind of dickish. And probably superficial and not very useful.

If I feel I need to highlight the difference between us, I'll point out my own culture instead and let the asker draw their own conclusions.

I'd really appreciate if more people did that.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:10 PM on November 7, 2015 [20 favorites]


If you can't speak in the first person about the question, you should probably stay out of it unless you have reasonable standing to know A LOT about how their issue specifically interacts with their specific background to a really granular degree.

This is why I am very particular about which AskMes I respond to. I genuinely wonder about those folks who have several thousand answers on the Green.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:04 PM on November 7, 2015 [26 favorites]


I'll save you an AskMe post; they're know-it-all jibber-jabberers.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:14 PM on November 7, 2015


I thought there was a metafilter page that allowed you to query who the top answerers are among a bunch of other queries. Sort of a front end for the info dump. Am I a) imagining that and b) if not where is it?
posted by Mitheral at 4:48 PM on November 7, 2015


The Infodumpster!
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:03 PM on November 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think I missed something - didn't hush identify herself as biracial and Asian? So why are we calling her an ally instead of an Asian person? I think the dynamic is pretty different when people bring up their own race than when allies bring it up. I mean, not that it can't still be totally problematic, just that it is not the same thing. I could be misunderstanding though.
posted by gingerest at 5:42 PM on November 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


I wasn't sure about the ally thing either.
posted by sweetkid at 5:45 PM on November 7, 2015


LobsterMitten: "The Infodumpster!"

That's it. Weird I thought it was an official Metafilter site.

Alvy Ampersand: "they're know-it-all jibber-jabberers."

Ameliorated maybe by being here a long time. I've got 4654 comments in Askme but that's less than one per day since I joined up in 2002. Which admittedly is still pretty heavy use. Afterall there aren't many people above me on the all time list.
posted by Mitheral at 5:51 PM on November 7, 2015


I think I missed something - didn't hush identify herself as biracial and Asian? So why are we calling her an ally instead of an Asian person? I think the dynamic is pretty different when people bring up their own race than when allies bring it up. I mean, not that it can't still be totally problematic, just that it is not the same thing. I could be misunderstanding though.

I think you're right that the dynamic is different, but I don't think that needs to be a sticking point.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:19 PM on November 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


One comment deleted. We can discuss site issues, but again -- let's not turn this into a thing where people argue over hush's personal stake or situation here or whether it was ok for her to close her account.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:06 PM on November 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ameliorated maybe by being here a long time.

I should make a thingy that appends "Everyone who's been here longer than me is an exception, of course." to my MeFiGripes.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:08 PM on November 7, 2015


I'm a bit weirded out by the exchange ending with Lobster Mitten sharing the Infodumpster link.
Are we now ferreting out who the know-it-all jibber-jabberers are?
And isn't that a dick move?
posted by Omnomnom at 4:54 AM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


LobsterMitten was responding to a question from someone who asked about it.

That's not a dick move. That's just answering the question. If she'd said (not that she would, because I've never seen her behave other than courteously) 'here, look ye upon the jibber-jabberers and despair' well that would be a dick move.
posted by winna at 5:17 AM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jibber-jabberers like Jessamyn?

Striking how many of the top AskMe contributors are women.
posted by Wolof at 5:51 AM on November 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the Infodump and by extension the dumpster are things that exist and it's okay for folks to play around with. We've been super duper clear that we want people to not be dicks with those tools, which is where the rubber actually meets the road; we're not going to decline to acknowledge that the tools exist or anything like that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:40 AM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, for many years Jessamyn was a professional AskMe jibber-jabberer, which skews the results.

Anyway, data is data. It's only a "callout" if one's analysis assumes top answerers are jibber-jabberers. But since we don't yet have a clear definition of jibber-jabbery, we're probably wise not to assume too much from the infodumpster.
posted by notyou at 7:43 AM on November 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was assuming the jibber-jabber stuff was a jokey Mr. T reference? But in any case, yes, please nobody be a jerk. I assume folks can tell what that involves, if they look into their hearts. We've often seen a thing where somebody wants to send a message to or complain about Person X or Phenomenon X, but what ends up happening is a bunch of other unrelated (nice, self-conscious) people see those remarks and take them as directed at THEM or as just making clear how mean people can be etc - and then the unrelated people will button or just feel crappy.

So, here's my WWII propaganda poster slogan:

Being a jerk: it will ruin the day of people you didn't intend.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:43 AM on November 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


I only asked because I've been on the jibber-jabber list for years and was wondering if I still was.
posted by Mitheral at 7:51 AM on November 8, 2015


There's also the question of jibber-jabronis, but that's pretty much untirely in The Iron Sheik's purview.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:58 AM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Jabronocene -- did that come before or after the Dictaceous ?
posted by y2karl at 8:28 AM on November 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


For the ask section there's this awkward phrase "Who has the most best answers ?" Shouldn't it be "Who as the largest number of best answers?"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:05 AM on November 8, 2015


On the off chance that I ever feel overly called out, I'm def going the Brand New Day route and using the name "Jibber Jabber" (or one of the above variations if it's taken).
posted by Sara C. at 10:55 AM on November 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'll save you an AskMe post; they're know-it-all jibber-jabberers.

It's one of the thing that makes AskMe so much fun, if not always particularly useful: it's a way to goof off on the Internet as a hobby. You kind of have to take AskMe with a grain of salt. Like, why would you ever rely on Internet strangers to help answer a legal, medical or relationship question?
posted by Nevin at 11:11 AM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


"...it's a way to goof off on the Internet as a hobby."

If that's the level of responsibility you feel -- especially about answering heartfelt human relations questions concerning people's intimate lives -- more's the pity.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:33 AM on November 8, 2015 [23 favorites]



"...it's a way to goof off on the Internet as a hobby."

I'll just post this thing I wrote above:

Yeah, my brother is my family drama because Reasons and my parents really suck at acknowledging that, but even when I tell very close friends anything at all about it, they're like "well, your parents must consider your brother The Golden Child because he is male, so there's probably nothing you can even do."

It's like impossible to express how isolating it feels to have this intensely personal, massive issue and have people reduce it to a racist stereotype about sexist Indian culture. And then when you bring that up, you're like accused of denying that any Indian people can be sexist ever, and suddenly you're talking about abandoned girls and schooling for women in India and I'm like my brother is actually a garden variety angry man with issues but you should totally contribute money to schools for girls in Rajasthan if that's important to you.


I feel like the fact that people dont know me and can't see my face on this site helps a *little* in keeping people from bringing shitty stereotypes into things I say, even then I made an anonymous post once about my brother and people brought my race into it because I had mentioned it in the post. That my father had probably sexually abused my brother and that was why he was angry.

Like, I come here because there's nowhere else to go to talk about certain things without OH YOU'RE INDIAN YOU KNOW HOW YOU PEOPLE ARE (including from my therapist). So I try to come here and sometimes even ask anonymously so people won't bring that in, which is partially why I really hated this situation where someone was like "I know! you're Indian I have the answer." Also, the person who said my father was an abuser was also claiming to be Indian.

But no, your race will be dragged into everything, and even so Ask is a joke goof off hobby for some people. So there's no helpful place. Great.
posted by sweetkid at 12:38 PM on November 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


I thought about this a long time and whether I should even post anything, but there are a couple things that bother me about this as a callout.

First, I know that the norm is that metatalk is a place with the perceived "talk things out" as some sort of resolution. I really believe it comes from some place or belief of discussions/therapy/and who knows what but lets be honest - these consistently turn into attacks on people, people keeping score, and people buttoning and even if a behavior is pointed out, the person engages in the same behavior over and over again, so what is the point other than having a messy grar fest/train wreck? If I had a magic wand, I would eliminate these type metatalk posts from the face of the earth (not the request to not point out race, but the fact that it points at a particular person - what is with that?)

I'm also bothered that a poster was called out for what appears to be an answer from their own shared experience (culture), and that poster might not have the same negative associations (ie, in their response, they talked about how one difference is to take care of parents - that is valuable, no? something more than the culture around us might offer?). To me, the poster that was called out has consistently given thoughtful, unique points of view. It is perfectly normal that if you have a similar experience, to share it and hope that it gives insight (if not, it can be ignored).

I don't think it is uncommon to look at previous questions, either. I've done so because maybe I don't want to answer a person's 50th question on the same job/same SO/whatever (and everyone has their criteria). Or sometimes if you know where the poster is located, you can give them info to help them. But it is not necessarily a gotcha. If we are really honest, was the question and answer pointed out a gotcha? Really?

On the other hand, I understand why someone might not want parts of their background brought into a question, which is what led me to even post in this thread. By demographic definitions, I am a particular minority, more than one race, and can be categorized as a person of color or whatever term someone wants to slap onto it. I have never volunteered it until now for any comments, etc., because in my world, I don't relate to half the things people post in comments or metafilter, etc (the same applies to gender, for that matter). I can't even count the number of times someone will post a metafilter post and someone will respond how pple who are POC (or some other bucket term for over 50% of humanity) are poor, will be poor, disadvantaged, and it is just not consistent with my experience, so why share it? Or be identified as such? But that is the really cool thing about metafilter -- you don't NEED to volunteer those things if you don't want it to be part of how you interact with people and the world. You can ask an anony question or a sock puppet question, and don't mention race if you don't want the world to apply a filter to you.

I also view this metatalk thread as being proscriptive in how we should relate to race. For other people, it might be neutral or positive, and hence would not be a problem with providing their similar insights in a related thread. For another, it might be negative (or not at all relevant), so don't volunteer it yourself.

I feel bad for the experience that one of the initiators of this entire metatalk post has had a negative experience associated with race and this website. Over the years I have appreciated their comments along the lines of - hey - this is not consistent with my experience and all people of group X are not like this. I also hope that over time, they find people that don't interact this way and throw beliefs onto them about race.

In an odd way, I feel bad for the person called out and think it was not appropriate, but I also feel bad for some of the people who started this metatalk - they should never have made to feel this way.

If I disappear, it is because I am also likely to need to BND myself soon, because I have volunteered way too information about myself over the years on this site. So if I disappear, it was not personal, just reappearing in a new way/new day.
posted by Wolfster at 1:54 PM on November 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


"...it's a way to goof off on the Internet as a hobby."

in defense of Nevin, I read this comment as why one might read certain AskMes (ie: trainwrecks) as opposed to offering offhand, uninformed answers.
posted by philip-random at 1:59 PM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


it's a way to goof off on the Internet as a hobby. ... Like, why would you ever rely on Internet strangers to help answer a legal, medical or relationship question?

Funny, because I read it as expressing contempt for people in our community who turn to AskMe for those kinds of questions.
posted by dialetheia at 2:05 PM on November 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


as why one might read certain AskMes (ie: trainwrecks) as opposed to offering offhand, uninformed answers.
I've heard the latter before and this one sounded in line with that, which is a pretty corrosive viewpoint as far as community-building goes. I mean, holding your fellow community-members in direct contempt like that, to where they're just Internet strangers with such little trust that you don't think they can be trusted to answer questions?

I would hate to think that earnest questions and earnest answers are being seen as just "a way to goof off on the Internet.
posted by CrystalDave at 2:18 PM on November 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


legal, medical

US (no health insurance, bad labor laws, litigious, crazy law enforcement), no money, no resources, as a starting point, sanity check, free.

or relationship question?

young, no one to talk to, sanity check, free.
posted by twist my arm at 2:28 PM on November 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


I was assuming the jibber-jabber stuff was a jokey Mr. T reference?

I pity the fool who'd think I'd do something like that!

Actually, I didn't know jibber-jabber was a Mr. T thing, I was just belly-aching. The fact that jessamyn is at the top of the pops when it comes to the Green is a rock-solid refutation of my gripin'.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:53 PM on November 8, 2015


these consistently turn into attacks on people, people keeping score, and people buttoning

I remarked on the same dynamic recently. I suppose there must be many people who leave, silently, after being around for a month or so; but people who stalk out angrily have often participated for years before something flips a switch and GRARRRR! Similarly, it's often the case that people who go on the attack have never done this before. I think we need to work harder at recognising when people are frustrated, and intervene somehow.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:06 PM on November 8, 2015


Isn't jessamyn also at the top because she was top mod there for so long? Probably searching on parameters since she's left would change the results.
posted by sweetkid at 4:06 PM on November 8, 2015



something flips a switch and GRARRRR!

In this particular case though the person didn't really grar much, someone had noticed they closed their account. They didn't call attention to it themselves.
posted by sweetkid at 4:08 PM on November 8, 2015


True. I suppose I meant that after participating in a thread for a while they get upset enough to leave, not that they necessarily display overt anger before leaving.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:38 PM on November 8, 2015


Jessamyn is #14 since retirement.
posted by Mitheral at 4:55 PM on November 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


But always #1 in our hearts.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:02 PM on November 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


still so prolific!
posted by sweetkid at 5:13 PM on November 8, 2015


Funny, because I read it as expressing contempt for people in our community who turn to AskMe for those kinds of questions.

Read some of the questions. "Do I have to pay a parking ticket if I didn't see the sign prohibiting my parking?" is a question you will find.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:18 PM on November 8, 2015


People are allowed to not know the answers to questions that may seem obvious to you.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:23 PM on November 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


In general, if anyone feels contempt for an AskMe questioner, that's a sign you should stop, do not answer that question, go do something else with your time.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:25 PM on November 8, 2015 [25 favorites]


I just looked at the infodump for AskMe, and it's one of those cognitive disconnects in my mind that don't match reality any more. If I were to guess how many times I've made a comment on AskMe in the last year, I would guess like 30 or 40. It ends up that it's a bit more than that. I usually have a good sense of relative numbers in my life, but things are becoming increasingly more blurred in internet land. Maybe it's because I'm getting older. The years are starting to seem shorter now, too.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:59 PM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm Indian-American and I asked a question regarding my upcoming marriage to an Indian man. Andrewcooke linked to my question above. (I was the one with FIL problems.) A LOT of answers assumed that I wasn't an American, or that somehow I should be re-acquainted with American -- MY OWN -- culture somehow. It was kind of painful, actually, and I made a mental note not to ask questions regarding my own racial experience here again.
posted by orangutan at 8:31 PM on November 8, 2015 [19 favorites]


Yeah orangutan, I winced through that question and the answers. One comment was like "I'm sorry for you in this situation because you were raised American!" The implication that Indian culture is a garbage culture and there's no such thing as Indian American culture was so strong.
posted by sweetkid at 9:12 PM on November 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


In general, if anyone feels contempt for an AskMe questioner,

I don't click on on a dubious AskMe because I feel contempt for a question I find problematic. I click on it because it baffles me, and I learned a long time ago to take my confusion seriously. That's how you grow.
posted by philip-random at 9:35 PM on November 8, 2015


You can ask an anony question or a sock puppet question, and don't mention race if you don't want the world to apply a filter to you.

Yes, but I don't think the onus should be on the Asker to jump through hoops to not have race be mentioned in answers left on AskMe. If a non-anonymous, non-sock-puppet question doesn't mention race, how does MetaFilter become a worse place by using "Hey, please don't mention race in an answer if the question doesn't mention race" as a rule of thumb?
posted by 23skidoo at 5:07 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, I'm suggesting we shift the conversation away from the tangents related to people who comment a lot on AskMe back to the original topic of discussion.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:21 AM on November 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Jabronocene -- did that come before or after the Dictaceous ?

Either way, both came after the Jabronomicon ex Jerki. Seriously don't read from that if you don't want your favorite bar overwhelmed with fratbois.
posted by phearlez at 7:55 AM on November 9, 2015


I fully, culturally, do not understand this callout at all.

I'm not being facetious, I'm trying to get my head around why a 'best answer' comment by a part-indian commenter, that takes shared cultural background into account, has been called out.

I think we might be hitting entirely culturally different expected responses to racism, because to me, I'm grappling for what it is trying to say. That we shouldn't take context into account?

What is the expected best outcome?
Is this one of those things where the ideal is that we all become 'color-blind' by treating everyone like a white American?
Because I kind of feel like that is the opposite of anti-racist.

Not to mention, there are more shades of culture than just race. Yes, Ask.Mefi is kind of wasp-y in assumptions at times, but I don't understand what this callout is asking for - to assume that yes everyone IS waspy?

I see the problems is the initial assuming we should respond to issues from a Wasp-y paradigm, not the belated realisations in particular threads that that is not the only angle to approach things from.
When ask.mefi is at it's best, it is when people answer from a range of perspectives and paradigms. At it's worst, it is when only one narrow viewpoint answers, or people are answering outside their experience or context.

Ok, I'm probably feeling a little worked up about this, and I'm sure people's intentions were good. But I'm sad when I don't explain myself very well, and I'm sad when other people don't either, and this really doesn't feel well explained, or well targeted, even if well intentioned.

*[And I'm not kidding when I say I know that that IS actually a desired outcome for some definitions of anti-racism, assimilation versus integration, but it's one that makes me feel really uncomfortable (and full of hell no).]
posted by Elysum at 12:09 PM on November 9, 2015


Elysum have you read this thread?
posted by sweetkid at 12:11 PM on November 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


So okay, Elysum, this is I think what's going on here.

When I posted my Ask, I found that people assumed that I had no idea what the default culture was. What I should expect. As though I didn't have a number of (diverse, not merely, or even mostly White) American friends, wasn't born and brought up an American, and was just some person culturally clueless about her own damn culture.

Listen, I get that as a hyphen-American, I'm going to feel like an outsider everywhere. I am not asking people assume that I'm some sort of WASP, and frankly, I think it's strange that WASPness is held up as the ideal and generic in this example. The point is, if someone wants to address my culture, they'd better know something about my culture. The frameworks that White Americans have regarding other cultures are very inaccurate. When you think you're taking my culture into account, you may not even know what that culture is. Your assumptions may be wrong. In fact, they usually are.

The fact that you think this is about assimilation vs integration is very sad. I am just as American as a WASP and just as part of the social fabric in this country as any other American, hyphenated or not.

The callout is NOT to assume that people are WASPY. It's to assume that people are, in fact, individuals. Someone posting an Ask is giving you the information they think you need to solve the problem. If you feel that you need more, or you feel that you lack context, follow up.
posted by orangutan at 1:43 PM on November 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


(Also, special shout-out to Zutalors! who said just about the same thing as I did in that Ask, a zillion times better, and reinforced it constantly as people needed to hear it. They are my hero.)
posted by orangutan at 1:45 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


this really doesn't feel well explained

I strongly disagree, it's explained really well. This is about 3 types of comments with regards to inter-personal AskMe questions: 1) mentioning race in an answer when the asker did not mention race in the question, 2) assuming that race and culture, when mentioned in an AskMe, are so important that they will eclipse all the other information in an AskMe, and 3) answering about other people's cultures that you don't know enough about.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:54 PM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was thinking about this, and I think one of the reasons there's friction between people who identify as Indian Americans/Indians is that there's this sense of the way you talk "amongst us" and the way you talk with people "outside." Like if I were in a big group of Indian/Indian Americans and they were making jokes about "how Indian people are" it's kind of one thing, and I might engage in it.

If people are saying it in front of people who aren't in the in-group, I feel like it's a different story, as happened in this case. I worked with an Indian (from India) guy who would tell white American coworkers about riding camels to school, etc, because he thought it was funny that they believed all of it. But I hated that because it reinforced shitty stereotypes, and reminded me of racist experiences my parents told me happened to them when they came to the US and made my heart break for them (see the part in the Parents episode of Master of None where Dev's parents eat alone instead of being invited to the traditional doctor's steakhouse dinner for examples of things that make second generation kids die of guilt).

Just because he's Indian doesn't make it okay for him to talk like that, and people "outside the culture" definitely do take anything they experience from like one or two Indian Americans/Indians and extrapolate all over the place, and it makes life harder, not easier.

I think it's a very "good white liberal" way to approach this discussion if you can't possibly see that it doesn't necessarily make everything better if someone identifies from a culture or not. There are different ways for the in group to discuss how they share their experience and we have all different levels of self identification with it. It kind of erases that conversation if you just want to say that someone who made a bad assumption should be allowed to make it just because they feel like they share a culture.

Someone in orangutan's marriage thread was like "I can't believe you are Indian American and don't expect your family to come live with you for months!!" and that person identified as Indian American - it still assumes a shared experience in something I do think is hyperspecific - #notallindians and that.

Personally I didn't have that experience growing up - most of my grandparents died when I was very young, and my father had a terrible relationship with his mother. I think he moved to America partially for "opportunity" partially to get away from her. Also she never wanted to come to America.

My younger female cousins wanted to come but weren't given visas because Racism. So no family members came and lived with me for months.

Does that mess with people's narratives?
posted by sweetkid at 2:08 PM on November 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's interesting that we're talking about that question of orangutan's, because that's a question that I was just about to answer from my own perspective of a white American who used to have an Indian-American roommate whose family did this sort of thing a lot, but then I realized, yeahhhhhh, I really have no standing at all to speak to orangutan's issue, so maybe I should stay out of it. And a command-F search says that I did not, in fact, weigh in. Despite the fact that I'm a total jibber-jabberer.

So I definitely think it's something all of us know-it-all nosey parker jibber-jabber types are capable of doing, as needed.
posted by Sara C. at 9:07 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's to assume that people are, in fact, individuals.

People are individuals, but human relations questions, by definition, involve asking others to help make sense of something the OP is confused about. The "sense" driving the answers necessarily comes from particular norms and values. And it's definitely true, as Omnomom and many others have noted, that the default norms and values here are waspy (individualistic, with self-actualization responsibility etc; and, totally unmarked by ethnicity - colourblind/white unless otherwise indicated). I don't think anyone has talked about that as a conscious ideal here in this thread, though, unless I'm reading things wrong.

someone who made a bad assumption should be allowed to make it just because they feel like they share a culture.

It's a mistake for anyone to imagine their own experience is generalizable, a common mistake - especially on Ask, where answerers (drawing from the norms that inform them) are often expected to have some confidence in their answers.

(I wonder if generalizing in that way might even be tempting, though, sometimes, to those who've been marginalized by ascribed identity, in part because that experience is so foundational. Or more so when people's experience of a minority identity is grounded in a strong minority community - I can see that inspiring more confidence in a point of view… E.g. if someone grew up in a city with a populous minority, with an established infrastructure, etc., it might feel easier to say, "of course that's how things are!" because they've been informed by positive assertions of substantive norms, modelled by lots and lots of people - an actual subculture. Whereas if you're a minority of 1 or 10 in 300,000, the thing that's mainly "normal" to you is negation - difference - which I think might encourage a more equivocal position and point of view, maybe a greater awareness of particularity. (Or that was my experience, anyway. Not everyone's. Obviously. or not))
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:59 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Clueless white assumptions are one thing, and they are right to be called out and attempt to reduce their numbers. Looking over past MeTas about Ask alone will show that it is prone to responders projecting their experience onto the Askee, trying too hard to answer the question behind the question, possessing no real knowledge or experience but answering with certainty anyway, etc. All of those come through when it comes to differing cultural backgrounds from the generic white US that's considered the default for much of the userbase, and people being aware of the assumptions they make for those sorts of questions, or whether they even should try to answer something when it's so far out of their experience.

Where it becomes a problem, for me and it seems a few others in the thread, is when a user does the due diligence of checking other questions from the Askee on this (completely public) website and uses their own experience as a cultural minority to try and relate to the cultural status of the Askee, but they get called out for it and that comment is declared racist even after it's revealed that they are speaking from their lived, shared experience.

Or, to use sweetkid's example,
I worked with an Indian (from India) guy who would tell white American coworkers about riding camels to school, etc, because he thought it was funny that they believed all of it. But I hated that because it reinforced shitty stereotypes, and reminded me of racist experiences my parents told me happened to them when they came to the US

because it's like asking that guy to stop his method of dealing with being a cultural minority through humour, because it's bad for all Indians to even make those jokes. Which, whether you agree with it or not, is reductive to that guy and requiring him to stand in for all Indians and Indian-hyphenates when dealing with white people.

Which relates here because, as words on a screen, someone (as in this instance) could be talking from an in-group position, but unless they've clearly labeled themselves as such they will be regarded as being racist, both before and (even more troubling) after their position in the in-group is established. And because the next step after that is something briefly mooted in the other recent MeTa racism thread but the flaws of which are pretty damned clear, which is users having to state their racial bona fides before they comment if they want to be considered 'allowed' by others to comment without being called out for it.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:51 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


For the most part, I think anyone speaking for any group and casting that group in a bad or ridiculous light similar to the camel story will be called on it by other members of the group. "Men don't care about anything but sports and sex"; "whatever they say, women want a partner who will dominate them"; "people in [geographic location] are all fascists," etc., even when uttered by a person who is a part of the specified demographic will all be called out in strong terms, and when the group in question is already a minority that suffers from damaging stereotypes, the stakes are higher.

Just pointing out possible cultural considerations or differences is more nuanced and "in-group" people may still have to step carefully in order not to seem to be speaking for all, but I think the situation we are discussing here is more a question of looking at past question or answer history in order to establish a minority cultural context when it's not introduced by the OP.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:58 AM on November 10, 2015 [7 favorites]



Where it becomes a problem, for me and it seems a few others in the thread, is when a user does the due diligence of checking other questions from the Askee on this (completely public) website and uses their own experience as a cultural minority to try and relate to the cultural status of the Askee, but they get called out for it and that comment is declared racist even after it's revealed that they are speaking from their lived, shared experience.


Honestly, this seems like a problem mostly white people are having. It's getting really frustrating since lots of Indian/Indian Americans have been coming in to say that comments that bring in blanket statements about a culture are inappropriate.

And yeah, I'm going to call out comments that make offensive stereotypes like riding camels to work. That's part of the nature of the experience of the diaspora, that we are going to disagree, and like for the millionth time, I'm not saying anyone's not "allowed" to do anything.
posted by sweetkid at 6:54 AM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


camel anecdote definitely not an example where a white person should feel comfortable jumping in the middle there and mediating who's right or wrong. it's a complicated enough intra-PoC discussion. how this stuff works on askme i'm just listening in, but a PoC playing with a slur is another thing entirely. that's more like a woman telling sexist jokes to men and a man telling other women how to react to it.
posted by twist my arm at 9:23 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm Indian-American and I've said that that comment was problematic. sweetkid is Indian-American and she's said that that comment was problematic. orangutan is Indian-American, the poster of the question in question, and he's said that that comment was problematic. If you think that, at the very least, the three of us are saying so because we want everyone to be treated like white Americans, you have got some serious fucking problems.

Look. White people. I know it's uncomfortable for you when the brown people disagree. How are you supposed to know what single story to believe about us when we can't even get it straight among ourselves? It's just so unfair to you. Can I tell you something that's really going to blow your mind? I didn't assume hush was white. I was pretty sure hush was Indian and that they were speaking from their own experience in that comment. They didn't have to prove their "racial bona fides" to me, I already knew! And I still didn't like that part of their comment! That's why I addressed part of my comment to other Indians! But how could this be?

I'm going to explain it again, even though I really don't feel like I should bother, because y'all ain't listening anyway, but whatever. When you say "you are Indian, I am also Indian, when this happened to me it was because of this Indian stuff", you are speaking from your lived experience. When you say "you are Indian, so here are all these Indian things that are unequivocally happening because of your Indian-ness", you're not speaking from your lived experience anymore, you're assuming things about someone else's. That is a problem. It is a problem even if you are Indian when you do it.

This single comment, which I agree has been dragged too much through the mud outsized to its content, is also a problem when laid against a backdrop of people thinking that they know who you are because they went to a Bollywood club night. Without the background radiation of that shit, where you constantly put people's lives into a box labeled "curry" because it makes it easier for you to not have to listen to what any of them have to say as individuals, like you're doing right fucking now, it is probably less problematic of a comment. But that background radiation exists, and so here we are, having to explain again the very, very simple principle that assuming things about people's lives because of their race is probably a bad idea, even if you are also of that race.

But no, we just want everyone to be treated as white, and everyone needs to present their racial identification chip before proceeding, and it's so, so troubling. It's so troubling. Y'all act like you're actually going to go to any trouble, instead of just throwing out this same tired, offensive shit. You're fucking exhausting. "Racial bona fides", get the fuck out of here. If you expended a tenth of the energy you use coming up with pithy little digs at people of color on actually listening to us when we talk, maybe we'd actually get somewhere.
posted by Errant at 10:51 AM on November 10, 2015 [49 favorites]


That was great.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:32 AM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


That was probably satisfying to write, and I admit I enjoyed reading it. Reminded me of a Sorkin monologue (I mean that as a compliment).

I'm sad that kalessin's comment on tone policing, and bonehead's seconding thereof, received so few favorites. It's an important point that Metafilter doesn't even "do poorly". It's a point Metafilter pointedly un-does.

I realize that people want to vent sometimes. I realize that people straightforwardly make mistakes sometimes. I'm not saying Errant should feel like a bad person for clicking post on that comment. I've literally kicked a puppy; I'm not going to cast the first stone here.

I do think, though, that this taboo against tone policing has grown to a celebration of speaking carelessly, and it's ultimately bad for PoC. Like it or not, statements by self-identified minorities will be read by an out-group audience as representative, regardless of how personal the phrasing is or how much we beg to be treated as individuals.

It doesn't do us any good to be represented by sarcastic, belittling, profanity-laced rants. We don't have the luxury (the privilege?) of being forgiven such outbursts.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:47 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


^ Um, whut. I can't even. *hangs up cape, walks away*
posted by orangutan at 1:50 PM on November 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


I don't think Errant was ranting. It was obvious no one was paying attention to a lot of the comments by other Indian Americans in this thread.
posted by sweetkid at 1:53 PM on November 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm not saying Errant should feel like a bad person for clicking post on that comment.

Don't worry, I don't! Also, that's my third draft. In the second one, I took out the term "shit-magnet", as I have no concrete evidence that fecal matter generates a significantly strong polar field, and I wouldn't want to be careless.

It doesn't do us any good to be represented by sarcastic, belittling, profanity-laced rants. We don't have the luxury (the privilege?) of being forgiven such outbursts.

Yeah, fuck this noise right here. I'm not going to step and fetch for the privileged people on the off chance that maybe they'll keep treating you like one of the good ones. Sorry, sahib, you're going to have to find yourself another respectability-wallah.
posted by Errant at 2:31 PM on November 10, 2015 [22 favorites]


I've been wanting to use the term "Uncle Taj" since I heard it on Masters of None
posted by sweetkid at 2:32 PM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


kalessin's comment on tone policing

Please note that my comment was explicitly NOT about tone policing, but about different folks with different possible roles within social justice movements, and on using strategy and tactics to assign more diplomatic folks to first contact, 101-type scenarios versus more firey folks to do shock troop exercises.

In fact, in the comment you linked, I explicitly devoted a full paragraph on why I was talking sort of adjacent to tone policing, but not actually talking about it. I felt that my comment might easily be misconstrued to be supporting tone policing in some way, which is why I did devote a full paragraph to how what I was talking about differed from tone policing.
posted by kalessin at 5:00 PM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


I actually like Errant's comment, for the most part.

This single comment, which I agree has been dragged too much through the mud outsized to its content, is also a problem when laid against a backdrop of people thinking that they know who you are because they went to a Bollywood club night.

I think this is particularly apt. Now, I know my comment wasn't made in terms of trying to craft zingers to poke POC, but then I would think that. I pretty much only commented because sweetkid's comment crystallised what my concern was with some of what was being said, as well as concerns about which voices are removed from these conversations due to how they go.

Because a point of treating all people of a certain racial background as individuals is that we can be listening to all the different voices, with their differing opinions on the same point, and not weigh the number of voices on each side (three against, two for, for example). Because it takes it from 'you should listen to minorities when they talk about these things' to 'but if you listen to these minorities who disagree with me, you're wrong and a bad person'.

Though it's a good point, that you reminded me that even if you're part of a marginalised group you have to police your language here, because terms you might be fine with won't be received well by people who don't know you as anything other than a bunch of words and opinions. I've already run afoul of at least one user lecturing me about how I can refer to myself in regards to disability, I should know this already, and I do apologise for adding to any microaggressions or even aggressions in that mode.
posted by gadge emeritus at 5:05 PM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


It doesn't do us any good to be represented by sarcastic, belittling, profanity-laced rants.

Actually, as I was writing about in my original comment, I think it does do us good to have folks in our movements that can, are willing to and are sarcastic, belittling, angry and profanely insulting. I think there are great roles (especially in protests, in some kinds of writing, and in various other forms of intentionally intimidating self expression). Again, as I said in my comment, there are absolutely understandable reasons for folks to speak out violently, in this way. In fact, d. z. wang, if I didn't care about mod repercussions, I might be one of those people, especially seeing as how you've coopted my words and used them to reinforce your own intentions, despite my careful wording to the contrary.

The only thing I said that might possibly support your thesis, is that I think folks should consider specializing - that firey folks should perhaps not do 101-style outreach. But I didn't say anything about education. In simple point of fact, shocking performances and displays of pure, unfiltered anger can get a lot done with respect to convincing some kinds of folks to respect us.
posted by kalessin at 5:12 PM on November 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


I just want to thank all the Desi people who wrote me, it's kind of making my week. I thought anildash and Errant were the famous Metafilter Desis, I didn't know I was one too!

PS I didn't know about Metafilter until anildash wrote about it somewhere ca. 2006 so I figured it was a Desi site.

//no I didn't really.
posted by sweetkid at 6:37 PM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Damn, that was good.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:29 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it does do us good to have folks in our movements that can, are willing to and are sarcastic, belittling, angry and profanely insulting.

Often, righteous anger is the only thing that works. The only way those in the majority will listen and pay attention.

When they do, you're 'outspoken.'
When they dismiss you, you're 'uppity.'

Malcolm X: "Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change."

Also:
"Textbooks present the modern Civil Rights Movement in the same way as other U.S. social movements -- a spontaneous, emotional eruption of saintly activists led by two or three inspired orators in response to momentary aberrations in the exercise of democracy. In particular, textbooks imply that, until World War II, African Americans had been relatively content with social, economic, and political conditions in the U.S. Then, suddenly, African Americans were angered that they could not fight on battlefields, play baseball, attend schools, or sit on buses with whites. Further, African Americans were the only people to observe and protest these conditions. Finally, to act on their discontent, African Americans required instructions from a benevolent federal government, or a single charismatic or sympathetic leader. A more accurate telling of the story of the modern Civil Rights Movement indicates that the “river of purposeful anger” has been long, wide and well populated."


posted by zarq at 6:39 AM on November 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


It looks like this thread has mostly run its course and I'm not derailing significant remaining discussion by continuing here. Mods (or other Mefites) should feel free to correct me on this point.

kalessin, I'm sorry I cited your comments for a claim you don't agree with. Let me try to make my case without the citation.

I think it's a bad thing that Metafilter has tabooed tone policing to the point where I can automatically shut down a wide range of criticism of the presentation of my argument just by labelling that criticism tone policing.

I'm going to avoid the term "tone policing" from here onward in case we're just disagreeing about what that term means.

What is bad and should be tabooed is criticism of presentation when it is used adversarially to evade substantive engagement with content.

It's valuable to discuss presentation, because it is valuable to adopt various presentations depending on the goals of the statement. It's sometimes useful to be rude. It can convince people of the depth of your feeling. It can shift the Overton window. But it's also sometimes useful to be polite.

Because presentation matters, it's valuable to be able to talk about presentation, and it's bad that we've extended a useful taboo against adversarial, evasive criticism of presentation to a broader and sometimes harmful taboo against all criticism of presentation.

In this case, I might be wrong in thinking that Errant could have expressed anger without cursing, without sarcasm, without personal attacks. Maybe I'm not in-group enough to make that kind of criticism. Maybe I don't understand what that statement was meant to accomplish. Maybe cursing isn't as impolite around here as it is where I was raised. I'm not going to double down on my claim, and if anyone wants to tell me over MeMail why I was wrong, I promise I'll read what you write.

But I don't think it's categorically wrong to disagree with presentation, exclusive of content. (I don't know if this makes it better or worse, but I actually have no objection to the content of Errant's post.)
posted by d. z. wang at 9:57 AM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think MetaFilter has rightly started to shut down white folks tone policing people of color from being able to express anger AND a point. It's taken a lot of work with the mods and the rest of the community but I think we are finally coming around to being able to have minorities be able to express ourselves AND express an appropriate amount of anger while dissenting to something an individual or the majority is doing.

We've been able to demonstrate that it's the tone policing that's toxic. That when folks within a majority use "civility" and other rhetorical tactics to shut down dissent, that sucks for the dissenter. And we've been able to show that dissent itself helps the community grow and be able to discuss more complex things in more interesting ways. And I think tone policing covers a lot of ways that the mandate to remain civil even in the face of vendetta-style, ubiquitous disrespect and bias and prejudice and insult enforces what's widely understood as an unreasonable expectation that only works to serve the biased status quo. So in that regard, I think that community and mod pressure to stop tone policing is the right call.

I think that anger WITHOUT a point is almost always rightly shut down from a mod policy standpoint and a community standpoint, so in that regard, tone policing is alive and well and used in a communal feedback way. One of the rules of discourse around here is that if you are going to be angry, also make a point, but don't just come here posting anger and ad hominems.

So I guess here, d. z. wang, I'm dissenting to your characterization that tone policing is taboo. I think that tone policing is getting to be alive and well and used to enforce what I see as a reasonable community line: That if you are angry but you can work through or with that anger to make a fair point, that your words remain respected.
posted by kalessin at 10:22 AM on November 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Why the fuck should Errant -- or anyone expressing dissatisfaction and anger at being stereotyped and silenced -- have to be polite, refraining from cursing or invective? White people (and people who are not white but buy into white hegemony) certainly don't give us that courtesy. As soon as my dry cleaner stops asking me whether the makeup stain on my shirt is "curry," I'll be polite. Until then, I'll swear as much as I goddamn want.
posted by Ragini at 10:49 AM on November 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


The following two postulates are false. There is no way for them to be true.

"Maybe I don't understand what that statement was meant to accomplish." "I actually have no objection to the content of Errant's post."

If the first is true, then the second must be false because you can't declare that you object or don't object to what you don't understand. But the first is false because you do understand the statement and what it was meant to accomplish--we know this because you objected to the statement--and it's not possible to say that you object only to the tone. The tone of the statement is dictated by the content. If you object to the tone, you object to the content. Watch this:

"You are exhausting. 'Racial bona fides,' [forsooth! Your willingness to say tone-deaf things like this means that you should please leave the conversation because you do not know enough about this to speak without hurting other people]. If you expended some of the energy you use talking to people of color on listening to us, maybe we would get somewhere."

There! I fixed the tone! I removed swears and contractions. Is it any easier for white people to hear now that it's all humorless and bloodless and overwritten? Let me try... Why, no! It isn't any fun, now, but it still makes me regret all the times I've been a giant ham-faced loudmouthed harmful POS tool in conversations like this. It makes me worry about the future, when I might butt in and shoot my mouth off when I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about and hurt innocent people for no reason at all except that I feel like butting in and shooting my mouth off to share my valuable insights and advice! You know what I think? I think maybe this whole "tone" thing is a red herring and it's the fuckin content that's the fuckin problem aaaafter all!

Sorry, but what you're objecting to is in fact the content of Errant's post. There is no nice way to say "Shhhhhh, you're embarrassing yourself."
posted by Don Pepino at 12:49 PM on November 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


When I was growing up, my family didn't talk about anything. We didn't talk about my mom's alcoholism, or my father's. We didn't talk about my progressing depression and mental illness. It was impolite, and it was family business. At my mother's funeral, my aunts and uncles and cousins came up to me and said, I had no idea she was so sick, I wish I'd known. But they did know. They just didn't talk about it, because it was impolite.

I don't want to commit the faux pas of overgeneralizing that I have criticized, but in talking to other Indian-Americans I have heard similar stories. We don't rock the boat. We keep our heads down and do our work. Above all, we don't present a bad image to outsiders.

I don't think I realized it at the time, but one of my heroes growing up was Kabir Ahktar, who ran a famous semi-official fan site for the band Tool. I don't think I can describe the shock that went through me when I realized that I wasn't the only one, that here was this Desi guy, just a little bit older than me, with a blue mohawk and a bass and a litany of expletives; when I discovered that my family's version of respectability and silence didn't have to be a noose around my neck.

I'm telling you all this because you're questioning my decision to use profanity and invective in the things I write, specifically the things I write about race and being a person of color. First, it's important that you know that it is a decision. I don't do it by accident. Second, I do it because 11-year-old me didn't know Indians could do that, that they were allowed to speak bluntly and honestly, that they were even allowed to speak at all. Third, I do it because sometimes politeness kills. Politeness helped kill my mother. Politeness almost killed me.

It may be that I'm embarrassing myself. It may be that I'm embarrassing you. It may well be that people see me and think now of Indian-Americans as boorish and crass. But I made a deal with myself a long time ago that I was going to be my flawed, messy, vulgar, unfinished self in public, because I would like to have known that that was ok, that it's ok to swear if you want, that it's ok to be angry, that you don't have to be quiet. Maybe someone else would like to know it too. No matter what I'm writing or who I'm writing to, that's always who I'm writing for. And I don't fucking care if you like it.
posted by Errant at 1:53 PM on November 11, 2015 [22 favorites]


Because it takes it from 'you should listen to minorities when they talk about these things' to 'but if you listen to these minorities who disagree with me, you're wrong and a bad person'.

I think what was actually happening WRT hush/lots of other Desi people is that we were actually talking to each other.
posted by sweetkid at 2:03 PM on November 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've noticed that white people tend to assume all conversations are aimed at us. It's a hard habit to break, but it's worth it.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:21 AM on November 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


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