From Codeswitch: The Questions People Get Asked About Their Race


Yesterday’s note: “Ok, But Where Are You Really From?” highlighted an assumption that can reinforce notions of people of color as being the “other”.  I’m appreciative of the dialogue it sparked with some of my social work friends from the United Kingdom via twitter about how stereotypes can put people in “boxes” that don’t really fit.

Adding to that conversation, National Public Radio has a new (to me) segment called Codeswitch which covers issues of race, ethnicity and culture.  Thanks to a tweet by friend to (N.A.H.) Karen Zgoda, I stumbled upon this blog post entitled “The Questions People Get Asked About Their Race“.

The Codeswitch team went to twitter to ask folks about some of the questions they have been asked about their race using the #theyasked hashtag.

I think the results of the exercise can be used as material for activities to start real dialogue about exploring and dispelling racial stereotypes and assumptions.

Some questions are asked with malicious intent in mind, while others can come from a well-intentioned place, but have unintended negative impacts. What are your reactions to these? Have you ever asked, or been asked similar questions? What do you think is required to create spaces to dispel these myths in meaningful ways?


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW



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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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3 Responses

  1. These racial perceptions are everywhere.

    I’ll never forget six years ago when I was taking two young boys to a laser tag center. It was a promise I had made the boy a few months back, and I was happy to take his friend along too. I have a tradition where every time I get a raise or a new job, I have to take someone out somewhere they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to go. This young man was a good friend I met through my wife’s friend, a social worker. When his dad died and uncle got locked away, she asked if I would hang out with him some to give a positive male influence. In any event, we were in the car and he was talking about the time he had cut himself at our house when he fell and put his hand through a glass frame. He said, “I bet you’ve never seen blood as dark as mine.”

    I answered, “I’ve played soccer for 20 years and numerous other sports. I’ve seen plenty of blood.”

    Him: “Yeah but not as dark as mine.”
    Me: “Why do you say that? We all bleed the same color blood.”
    Him: “You didn’t pay attention. We darker people have darker blood. The darker you are the darker your blood is.”
    Me: “I’ve seen a lot of my blood over the years, and I’ve seen a lot of my daughter’s. It’s been the same color. What’s more, she’s even darker than you.”
    Him: “Really? ”
    Me: “True story. If you want when we get home, I will take my injection and you can see a drop of my blood. We can also change A’s bandages. Blood is blood I’ve promised you both laser tag this afternoon, but if either of you can tell me the real color of blood when it’s in your body I’ll buy you both lunch.”

    His friend thought about it, and remembered the correct answer from class, saying blue.

    Over the years since then, I’ve thought that afternoon was one of the best $40 I’ve ever spent. It’s funny how all of the money and time I’ve spent on food with others has given me some of my favorite memories.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. It reminds me of how we can internalize some of the stereotypes about our groups that exist. It also reminds me of how important it is to have experiences that can contradict stereotypes that we might believe to be true, so that we can have opportunities to grow.

      I can still remember working at a rec center during my early college years. There was a situation where a person forgot the combination to their lock and needed their lock to be cut. I was on staff at the time and had to find a lock cutter to break their lock for them. It was my first time using the lock cutter, and I was having some difficulty.

      One of my coworkers, who was a person who was White looked at me and said, “You’re Black and you don’t know how to break a lock? What kind of Black person are you?” He meant this as a joke, and when he saw that I was highly offended and not laughing as he had thought I would, his whole demeanor changed. Our friendship was never quite the same after that, but before I left the job for another position he apologized again and told me how ashamed he was of what he said, saying he had tried that joke on other people who were Black that agreed with him. He told me that my reaction would helped him think differently about using racial “jokes”, and how they impact the groups they’re about.

      Sometimes we need a push in the opposite direction to disrupt what we might have thought to be true previously. Your story reminded me of that. Thanks again.

  1. June 8, 2013

    […] They Asked What? Relando Thompkins over at Aspiring Humanitarian has an excellent post on the questions people ask about race.  You can find it here. […]

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