Social Question

Carly's avatar

Do being racist and being culturally insensitive go hand in hand, or are they very separate mindsets?

Asked by Carly (4555points) March 15th, 2012
31 responses
“Great Question” (2points)

When describing my parents to someone I said that they were racist, but then my sister said, no they’re “culturally insensitive.” I’m not really sure who was right, but I’m pretty sure my parents are both to a degree, but I’m not very clear on how close the two are related.

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Aethelflaed's avatar

They’re not the exact same thing, but they are often closely related. And you don’t have to pick one or the other – many, many people are culturally insensitive in ways that are racist, or are racist because they are culturally insensitive.

That’s kinda the best I can give you without more info.

fundevogel's avatar

I’m not sure how cultural insensitivity is defined. Would it be something like eurocentrism or heteronormativity where other lifestyles and people are overlooked, but not necessarily maligned?

marinelife's avatar

They can be related, but don’t necessarily have to be.

PurpleClouds's avatar

They are not the same thing at all.

augustlan's avatar

Both sound racist to me, but perhaps with different intentions. Culturally insensitive implies that they aren’t malicious about it, just kind of clueless. Racist seems more like an active dislike or intent to discriminate.

tedd's avatar

@augustlan I’m with you on this one. Racism to me seems more malevolent, whereas being culturally insensitive is more of a “benevolent” or just plain stupidity thing. For example, pending the company I’m with, I have no problem cracking off a stereotypical joke if it’s particularly funny… But I have no real prejudices or hatred for any of the races/sexes/etc that I’m affronting (in fact usually it’s to a member of said group in jest). But that would almost definitely fall into the culturally insensitive category.

tom_g's avatar

@augustlan brings up an interesting point (intent). Does the term “culturally insensitive” imply ignorance? In other words, is it really just a state of being ignorant, and therefore unaware of how racist you’re being, as opposed to someone who is aware of how racist they are? I have to admit that I haven’t heard the term very much, but awareness certainly seems to play a role here.

Blackberry's avatar

They’re not the same, cultural insensitivity means not being aware or not caring, to me.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Culturally insensitive is more like ignorance, racism is more like hatred.

Shippy's avatar

I guess it depends on the context it is placed. Because where I live, people are very culturally aware. Because of this a person may choose not to associate or marry a person from that culture.;Simply because they cannot for e.g wear a pasha and pray three to four times a day, and take part in certain rituals simply because they do not believe in them. So because marriage or whatever is hard, they would avoid that to create more difficulties. But that would be in the marriage context. So ironically the more educated we become on others cultures, the more we tend to make those decisions.

JLeslie's avatar

I would say it is not the same, but can go hand in hand. I think the extreme of racists would be people believing just based on color of skin, or even some other identifier, a person is born to be a certain way, and the racist person makes all sorts of hateful assumptions based simply on color of skin, or ethnic background, etc. But, the are many many people whose major objection is the culture of the group, or perceived culture. When I say culture I am including, attitudes, language, how they dress, how they behave, and more. Even I have said on Q’s that people need to conform to some extent if they want to be accepted within the culture they are pursuing. That is a statement of social class more than anything. However, black people around me speak of black culture, I honestly am not sure how they define black culture, what it means? Many of them do talk about acting “white.” Of course on the flip side there are white people who generalize about how blacks act. Those white people run the risk of being seen as racist in a conversation, it could be argued they are being xenophobic or culturally insensitive. But, many times they are only speaking about a specific subgroup of the group they are criticizing. I hope that makes sense. I am very tired this morning.

saint's avatar

Race refers to skin color or other physical characteristics that are not born of human choice.
Culture, when all is said and done, is a reflection of human consciousness, all of which has origins in the cerebral cortex, all of which is ultimately based on volition.
Two different things altogether.
Racism is a negative moral judgement not based on choice, which is contradictory and thus irrational.
Cultural insensitivety, since it is a judgement of human choice, can indeed be rationale. Nobody is obligated to be sensitive if the circumstances to not justify it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Not much to add, except, maybe, an example. My husband’s father is 87 years old. He has never shown a speck of racism in the 10 years that I’ve known him. However, a couple of years ago we were watching American Idol with him, and a black girl got up to sing. Dad said, “Wow. She’s really good. But her race is against her.”
That girl was Jordan Sparks.
I don’t think Dad is racist, but, due to the generation and the world he grew up in, he, apparently IS culturally ignorant (unless he said it just to punch a button in us, which is entirely possible too! He’s a scallywag sometimes!)

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III Maybe that was just a statement about you FIL believing America still has racist people?

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III Father-in-law.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I just think it was an innocent reflection of the prevailing views of his time. Gosh, he was born in 1924 (or somewhere around there.) I think our views get pretty solidified in the first 30 years, so that would put him at about 1954 when he settled in with the prevailing societal views of the time. I’ll have to think to ask him what he thought of the civil rights movement. I’m betting he’ll say he was all for it, good for them, and he’ll mean it. But, just like President Lincoln, he’ll never lose a feeling of certain superiority over all other races.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III Makes sense. Is he a southerner? I only ask because I think race was not much of an issue in some parts of the country, even during segregation.

Dutchess_III's avatar

No…Well. Kansas born and raised.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III I think of Kansas as being so white, I would think race was almost a non-issue for them back then? But, maybe they still felt superior in some way. I have no idea. It would be interesting to know his thoughts.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Kansas and Nebraska were pivotal states in the slavery issue. At one point the decision was to let the South keep their slaves, but they tried an experiment to maybe allow the question to be decided on a state-by state basis..if the state wanted slaves, they could have slaves (see The Kansas-Nebraska Act.) Kansas said, no, we won’t allow slavery in our state, but to make it easy, we just won’t allow black people IN our state! F’Rill! So that’s one of the reasons Kansas is still so “white.” It didn’t mean people changed their views on color, they just didn’t want to have to even think about it.

There was a famous civil rights sit in in Wichita in 1958.

So, yeah. The older generation still has a feeling of superiority over other colors, as do many of the less educated, ignorant red-necks that abound in Kansas. It’s not as overt as it is in other states with a higher percentage of blacks, but it’s there.

Aethelflaed's avatar

One thing that really strikes me is the different ways in which people use the term ‘racism’. Those who don’t study critical race theory (like white people who say they are colorblind) see it only as individual acts of active and conscious malice, while anti-racist activists and race theorists use it to mean a structural system that advantages certain races over others, including subconscious attitudes, institutional and structural characteristics, and active and conscious malice. The first group tends to hear ‘racist’ as being called a Bad Person, while the second group doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a Bad Person (though they would agree you should cut that crap out).

So, I guess it depends on the difference between your and your sister’s respective definitions of racism.

cazzie's avatar

This actually happened to me at my father’s funeral. All of us kids were sitting around the table with the preist and something came up, and my sister blurted out, ‘Oh, yeah, he was racist.’ No, he wasn’t, I corrected her. I really felt I had to defend him. He might not use the right PC words and he might describe a nurse as being ‘coloured’, but he would NEVER refuse care from her. I also had a boy friend (not really a romantic one, he was a friend, but he lived far away and I never got to see him, so the relationship never went anywhere, but it was a crush, for sure.) but he was black and after the first few seconds of meeting him, you could see him blink for a second, but my Dad just said he was a good-looking kid and smiled at me. (he was gorgeous….) Of course, my sister only ever heard Dad tell bad jokes… and they were even about his own background, for heavens sake, with Polish jokes (His grandmother was 100% Polish hahaha). She never heard him tell stories about his time in the Merchant Navy where he worked side by side with buddies from all walks of life and passed the bottle around in a circle of characters when he was in port and visited with a friend’s family from Harlem.

I have seen a white woman refuse care from a black nurse because she was black. Same thing happened to a black doctor I know. THAT is racist. I believe there is malice, ignorance and fear behind racism. Ignorance leads only to being culturally insensitive, and it can usually be quickly fixed by a sincere apology.

whitenoise's avatar

They are quite different, in the way I perceive them.

People are in general culturally insensitive, by ignoring or undervaluing cultural differences between themselves and people from other cultures. They do not take this differences into account, at least not enough and act in a way that is inappropriate from the other people’s perspective.

People are racist, because they perceive (non) existing differences between themselves and people from other cultures that they see themselves superior in. They act on these (mis) perceived differences in a way that we would see as harmful, bad, despicable, etc..

fundevogel's avatar

@Aethelflaed Who knew “racism” was so hard to agree on?

I’ve long thought racism was at its most basic level race-based prejudice. So I don’t think malice is the deciding factor in separating racism and cultural insensitivity. For instance, thinking that Asian kids are smarter would be an example of racism though it probably isn’t a malicious prejudice and is probably less harmful to the stereotyped group than a lot of other racist stereotypes.

I’m not sure how cultural insensitivity is defined (hence my first comment), but I would guess it was either a subset of racism (the less malignant sort) or a failure to acknowledge or consider the presence and significance of other races and cultures. It would be analogous to heteronormity where the world and its people are by default considered in heterosexual terms, not out of hostility toward the LGBT community, but because heterosexual has been accepted as the “normal” state of things.

Where’s a cultural studies prof when you need them?

Aethelflaed's avatar

@fundevogel Yeah, I think a lot of the less conscious, active malice type of stuff is really displayed well in Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls. Stuff that isn’t really that bad, compared to lynching (but keeping in mind that stuff doesn’t have to be the Worst Thing Ever to be a problem), but yes, you are still continuing to Other someone and perpetuate harmful stereotypes by treating their hair as freaky-deeky public property, or assuming that if a friend messed up your computer, it’s the black friend.

The comparison to the LGBT community and heteronormativity is dead on. Like when people are all for gay marriage, but still assume that my partner is of the opposite sex (or for that matter, assume that if my partner is of the opposite sex, that we are monogamous and want to get married someday). Or like sexism and misogyny, when men are just a lot quicker to dismiss a woman’s concerns as “crazy” or “hysterical” than they would a man saying the exact same things in the exact same tone of voice, without even realizing that’s why they’re doing it. You might be interested in this pyramid of oppression I found over the weekend.

fundevogel's avatar

The video cracked me up but I’m getting an error on the second link. I haven’t used Google Docs much so I’m not really sure why.

I knew I mispelled heteronormativity. argh.

Paradox25's avatar

Man I’ve lived around both KKK members, skinheads and closet racists/bigots and I can definitely tell you that racism (true racism, not showboating) and being culturally insensitive usually go hand in hand. I also feel that the latter usually leads to the former in some form. I suppose there are many Archie Bunker types out there as well who are culturally insensitive without veering into full blown racism and hatred.

PurpleClouds's avatar

If race isn’t the issue, then the activity or mindset is not racist. It may possibly be bigoted. There can be many cultures within one race. The French culture, the German culture, the English culture——these are very different cultures among the white race.

dabbler's avatar

I’d say cultural insensitivity is a broader term for one thing.
It could encompass an insensitivity to ones race-related cultural characteristics.
But it can include many other, many more, aspects of the ‘other’.

Cultural insensitivity also does not imply a disdain, contempt or hatred; but it does indicate not “getting it” as far as another person(s) go. And perhaps a certain amount of indifference, or not enough caring to figure out if one’s observations are correct. If that’s willful/intentional then that is a kind of passive aggressive behavior.

Insensitivity to the ‘other’ is fertile ground for misunderstanding building to resentment building to hatred.
Racism is an example of that.

mattbrowne's avatar

Racism depends on meanness and stupidity, while cultural insensitivity depends on ignorance and laziness.

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