“Asians & Indians are the only ones with work ethic” & other inappropriate conversations

I’m sometimes surprised by what some people believe is okay to say out loud.

For example, yesterday I overheard a middle aged white man say…

“Asians and Indians are the only ones with a work ethic;”

“I got an non Indian cardiologist- boy am I lucky;” and,

“Indians tend to be arrogant.”

This conversation took place in a library in a room full of minorities. *Blank stare*

What really surprised me was my own stunned silence. I could’ve totally used that time as a teachable moment for both men in the conversation. I could’ve expressed how stereotypes and generalizations are offensive. It’s distasteful for the members of the group that are target of the stereotype and others as well. I could’ve addressed that as an African American woman, I, as well as the many other faces of color in the library, were a living contradiction to his statement that only Asians and Indians (presumably out of all the minority groups) were the  “only ones” with work ethic. The last statement was just offensive on its face; humans regardless of race or ethnicity can be arrogant, they can also be agreeable, malicious, brilliant or any other descriptive term. Race [http://www.diffen.com/difference/Ethnicity_vs_Race] is a social construct based on appearance; which as I know that many of the W.R.S.M.’s readers already know, does not directly impact a persons actions. But if we cautiously assume that these generalized perceptions based on race typically do not hold, why do statements like the ones made yesterday continue?

On one hand I really shouldn’t be that surprised. A recent Reuters article by Lindsay Dunsmuir states, “about 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race, according to an ongoing Reuters/ Ipsos poll.” http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/08/us-usa-poll-race-idUSBRE97704320130808

From this study, I might infer that the man that made these comments might be in the 40% of white Americans with limited non-white friends. This phenomenon in our society is likely due to the fact that races are typically kept segregated. Probably the result of de facto residential segregation, where people typically live in similar ethnic communities, [see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/02/how-segregated-is-your-community_n_817332.html and http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer] it’s easy to have limited contact with other races and allow stereotypes to fill that void of contact. I’m not saying it’s right but I acknowledge how some members of our society have come to certain conclusions.

Your home environment usually determines the school your children will attend (otherwise you have the means to send them to private school).  Typically the higher the property values, the better quality the school district, and the whiter the student population typically becomes; conversely, the lower the property values, the lower quality the school district and the browner the population becomes. Of course there are exceptions and there is no bright line rule but Americans have limited opportunities to interact with other races and socioeconomic groups until they reach college (IF they reach college). At universities many different ethnicities, races, and classes live and attend school together. But often, by then, certain learned preferences and prejudices are already absorbed and are hard to deflect and even at the college level diversity is not where it should be .

Which brings me back to my real life 2013 example of “that’s racist 101,” and my stunned shock from the man’s comments. I actually felt uncomfortable. I could’ve done so much but as one of the minorities in the room I stayed silent.  Woulda, coulda, shoulda… If you were in the room would you have spoken up? What would be your professional response to his comments?

by Yasmine-Imani McMorrin



  1. Delores McMorrin · · Reply

    That’s the $50 question – I shouldof whouldof couldof – I believe we all pick our battles – I find some people who make the most ignorant comments have no filters – and then the times we live in have created a culture that has removed the stigma associated with civility – we live in an interesting time of color blindness – where some folks feel that African-Americans no longer prtrerequried

  2. I know I would have stayed silent and with the blank stare. Some comments I find just too ignorant and uneducated to even attempt to reason with, this is one of them. I would be very happy to hear it just because I do feel a need to be enlightened on how some people think. But truly comment such as these I would think they could not possibly understand the truth in the short time I had in the library. This takes in-depth reasoning and re-education.

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