intervention: eastern, ethnic, urban

Are you a white person? Have you ever used the expression “eastern philosophy” or “eastern religions?” How about “urban music” or “urban culture?” Have you ever referred to another person as “ethnic” or “ethnic-looking?” If so, this post is for you.

Welcome. Have a seat. Can we get you a glass of water?

Look, we understand where you’re coming from. You’ve been trained to avoid saying anything too specific about races and cultures you don’t belong to. You are terrified someone will think you’re racist, which you’re not. You’re not. Of course you’re not. Please sit down.

We invited you here today because we are worried about the things you’re saying. We want to help you stop saying them. Will you hear us out? We’ll take them one at a time.

Let’s use “eastern religions” to clear this one up. While some religions in East Asia are related, many others have nothing to do with each other. Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto are not similar at all. Or at least they are far less similar than, say, Christianity and Islam. There are a lot of countries between California and Europe — and one of them is Australia — and when you talk about “eastern” things as a group, you are giving the impression that you think everyone in Asia thinks the same way and believes the same stuff. If you have something insightful to say about a particular religion or school of philosophy, go ahead and name the religion/school of philosophy! Everyone listening will thank you.

Just say “black” when you mean black. It’s okay. Black people exist.

Ooooh, boy. This is maybe the worst thing you say. When you say someone is or looks “ethnic,” you are saying they don’t look white to you. That is all you’re saying. You are not providing meaningful information about the person. Imagine if I told you my new neighbor or coworker or lawyer or whatever was a non-red-haired person. That’s silly, right? “Ethnic” is just like that. It suggests that “white” is the only racial category that matters to you. You don’t really feel that way, do you? No! I’m not saying I think you do! I’m saying other people will think you do if you keep talking like that.

Thank you for listening. These things are never easy.