Minority students share the tactless and subtly racist remarks they’re often subjected to [15 pics]

December 10, 2013 | By Abraham | 61 comments

19-year-old Korean-American Kiyun worked with friends at college to create a series of photos titled “Racial Microaggressions.” For the portraits, each person posed with a sign sharing some seemingly small thing that they’ve been told before that has made them feel stereotyped or marginalized for their race.

Here is a selection…
















(via Bored Panda)

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        1. Tom1969ca says:

          Without seeing a picture of her mother this is just a guess, but I’m assuming her mother is dark-skinned and her father is light-skinned, and she got the light-skinned genes …

    1. ginger123 says:

      She is a ginger.12% of people in the United States are Black. Only 2% have red hair. Minorities are not just race. It comes down to being treated because of how you look. Gingers are often treated as such. Comments like you have no soul, you are too white, etc…

    1. Margaret says:

      My husband and I are Caucasian. When our son was a baby, a waitress asked us where he got his “chinky little eyes”

  1. Jon says:

    These are stupid.
    And I mean really stupid. Are we that picky nowadays, that “microagression” is really a thing ? Racial differences DO exist. Acknowledging them isn’t racism, it’s just normal human interaction.
    These photos are so “american-dumb” it hurts my brain. Why is “pretty for a black girl” an agression ? Yea, white/black/latino/etc girls have different body and facial features that go well beyong the color of the skin, and we’re hotwired to notice that. You can pretty easily tell two people apart if they’re the same race as you, but two people from a different race will seem more similar than they actually are.
    The only legit ones here are the “smells like rice” and the “what do you speak in japan, asian ?”. First one yea, is racist. Second one is just stupidity. All the others are people from different races who are ashamed of what they really are and can’t accept their differences.

    Stop whining already.

    1. misty says:

      I agree with you about noticing differences in others’ races being more difficult, but only realized it recently. I grew up on military bases, with lots of races and mixes of all races around everywhere so I notice subtle differences easily. My best friend, however, grew up in an affluent, pretty white bread area. When he says certain people look like each other, sometimes it makes me laugh because to me the people look SO very different.

    2. David Quinn says:

      Jon, you don’t get it do you? These comments are demeaning, even if a little bit. Granted, if some of these would have been worded slight different then they just might not have been microaggressive. But, I would probably be right if I suggested that the persons saying these things chose those words for a specific reason, to put emphasis on their “differences” instead of their “sameness”.

    3. Brendt Wayne Waters says:

      While I think that Jon over-generalizes, to use “aggression” in the title of this project is a massive violation of the most important corollary of Occam’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.”

      Considering this stuff to be aggression puts the power squarely in the hands of the speaker — i.e. the photographer and her subjects are enabling stupid people. One must have some degree of power to be aggressive, whereas all that’s needed to be stupid is a big piehole.

      I won’t even go into the fact that a perusal of the tumblr account from whence this came shows her engaging in “microaggresive” stereotypes of white people. That might imply hypocrisy or the idea that a college student hasn’t yet figured it all out.

      (Thank God that spellcheck flagged “microaggresive”.)

    4. sianatas says:

      Why is “pretty for a black girl” an aggression? Because it implies that black girls are not usually pretty.

      1. liz says:

        I think the problem is you cant tell what inflection is being used
        “you’re pretty… for a black girl” for example would suggest either she would be beautiful if she was white
        “You pretty for a black girl” can suggest they meant they dont consider black people to be attractive but are trying to give a shallow compliment

      2. Vieve says:

        I know a lot of people who think certain races are more attractive in general because of the different facial features. I’m white and generally think white men are more attractive. I usually like men of other races if they have more white features like a narrow nose, light eyes and such. I have a white friend who prefers black men. Granted, it wasn’t said in a tactful manner, but I can understand it.

        1. keepItReal says:

          Also, If I were to say I like a specific sports car but I only like it in the following colors: blue, red, green, and black. And If I were to say I don’t like the sports car in white. Nobody would think twice about it.

          People sometimes visually like/dislike things based on the color of it.

          Why is it offensive if you dont find a specific color visually appealing? It is not.

          However certain things can be taken the wrong way and you need to be careful with how you word it.

      3. Kim says:

        The sign says pretty for a dark skinned girl. This is different that pretty for a black girl. I am a Black female, but in reality we aren’t black, just shades of brown. I’m considered to be a middle tone(#teambrownskin). There are those considered lighter browns, also sometimes called yellow(#teamlightskin) – my son falls into this category. This is usually where mixed-raced children land, but it’s not a exact science. Genetics can do whatever it pleases. And then there are girls like the girl in the picture that are darker(#teamdarkskin) – my brother is in that category.

        I’ve added the hashtags to show you how different we see ourselves. I have three brothers. One only was ever attracted to dark skinned girls, the second only light skinned girls, and the third has eyes for any shade of brown that will have him.

        Typically dark skinned girls aren’t viewed as desirable as others because they are so dark. So to hear that she’s pretty for a dark skinned girl, doesn’t mean that “black” girls aren’t pretty, it’s that “dark skinned” girls aren’t pretty. It might not seem like much, but this comment singles her out more.

    5. JFC says:

      While “microaggression” is a silly word, the phenomena is a real thing. It’s simply a word for describing those small, everyday incidents of racism PoC have to deal with, but which the White Majority of whatever Western Nation insists aren’t real or worth getting upset about or offended by.

      Because it’s only “real” racism when crosses are burning on lawns and people are being lynched… right?

      1. Salli Ward says:

        To answer why is it offensive if you don’t find a specific colour visually appealing?

        a) To say someone is pretty ‘for a black girl’ makes out the prettiness is the exception to the rule. Whilst for you black isn’t usually pretty the comment makes it sound like a universal truth. More truthful would be, ‘I don’t usually find black girls are attractive to me but you are’
        b) Though my suggestion in a) would be more accurate it is still racist because it fails to acknowledge that our attractiveness preferences are influenced (very much) by social and cultural norms, fashion, inequality and bias. If your experience of life has so far been so narrow as to be able to see beauty in only some races or colours then you should be dealing with the problem not dealing out half-baked compliments
        c) It’s rude. If you watch to tell someone they are pretty, do so – don’t qualify it.
        d) I can’t think of a d) without writing a thesis. Get over it – you’re racist.

    6. Mike says:

      I agree that while thinking about this objectively, some of these might not actually really be that offensive. But a person’s feelings and emotions are anything but objective. When a person hears these statement during everyday life, the brain doesn’t really take the time to analyze it and look at it objectively. It will hurt, and that pain will never go away. It also highlights that stereotypes are extremely ingrained in our society. For example, what exactly is a “normal black person.” Just because he’s black doesn’t mean he should act a certain way, and if he doesn’t he’s not abnormal. It also shows how some people are blind to the larger world past their own little bubble. For example, the person that asked “Why is your daughter so white?” probably doesn’t know any interracial families. Therefore, they just assume that all families are always one race.

      So while I agree that a lot of these are just a person being stupid or arrogant, it doesn’t change the fact that it can hurt. And with things like these pictures out there for people to see allows them to realize that these remarks can be hurtful and that they should be a little conscience of what they say.

    7. Blind Red Hat says:

      I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are a white guy who lives in a practically 100% white area. Am I close?

      Here’s my hint I got: all the other races are the ones with the “differences”.

  2. Brendt Wayne Waters says:

    This series lost all credibility when it portrayed thinking it weird that someone listens to Carrie Underwood as a racial issue.

    1. JFC says:

      Because the implication is that, as a black woman, it’s “weird” that she’d be listening to “white music.”

      1. Brendt Wayne Waters says:

        You mistake my statement for a question. My implication was that it’s weird for a person of any race.

  3. Erin says:

    I get all of these except asking the girl who said someone pulled her hat off so they could see her hair. That’s certainly rude, yeah, but why is it racist?

    1. Brendt Wayne Waters says:

      Simple. If someone does something stupid/rude and we label it as such, then the reaction will simply be, “Oh well, what are you going to do?” But if we label it as “racist”, well then, we can gin up outrage at the violator and paint our demographic as uniquely put upon.

      :sarcasm off.

    2. JFC says:

      Go on Google and look up the terms “Racism, black, african, hair,” and check out a few links. It’s a fairly common thing for White People(and plenty of people of other races) to fixate on Black Peoples’ hair, asking to touch it, or even just walking up and grabbing a handful to investigate it. It’s a somewhat lesser-known facet of race relations in the US(and probably elsewhere).

        1. JFC says:

          Could there be a more pedantic reply to my comment?

          Would you question someone searching the term “fire” when researching noteworthy incidents of arson throughout history? How about searching using the term “homicide” to gather information on US murder rates?

          1. Brendt Wayne Waters says:

            You changed the subject. Now you’re talking about “researching” and “gathering information”. Before you were advising Erin on how to *prove* that an action was racist by stacking the deck. Just because an action is more commonly committed by people of one race upon people of another race does not mean that every instance of that action (or even most instances) is racially motivated. To say so is logically fallacious.

            Let me point out another example of this project that displays how badly miscategorized some of these things are. One of the signs is held by a young man of Hispanic descent and says, “When I gave a speech about racism, the emcee introduced me as ‘Jaime Garcia.’ My name is Jaime Rodriguez; not all Latinos have the last name GARCIA”. The implication that the M.C. gave the wrong name because he thinks that “all Latinos have the last name GARCIA” is nothing short of asinine. It is nearly infinitely more likely that he simply made a mistake (and not even a stupid one).

            Or perhaps the speech before Rodriguez’s was very boring and the M.C. slipped in his earbuds and listened to some Grateful Dead for a bit.

            In high school, I was given an award by a WOMAN representing the DAUGHTERS of the American Revolution. Because of the different spelling of my first name, she read it as “Brenda”. Not for one second did I think it was because she was sexist (despite all that overwhelming “evidence”). To think that it was because she’s sexist is the exact same logic as Rodriguez’s, and fairly close to the logic that a rude action like disrobing someone without their permission is automatically a racist act.

          2. JFC says:

            (Replying to my own comment, since Brendt’s comment below doesn’t have the link to do so.)

            “You changed the subject. Now you’re talking about “researching” and “gathering information”. Before you were advising Erin on how to *prove* that an action was racist by stacking the deck.”

            I did no such thing. Erin asked why such an action could be construed as racist. I provided search terms that would allow them to read thoughts by others on the subject. It may have been an episode of light racism, or it may not have been. The point was to explain why some individuals might classify the incident as the former.

      1. Joey E says:

        It works both ways. 3 years ago we moved to a county that is 80% black (the schools are composed of > 90% black). I helped launch an after school program. Took me forever to figure out why all the kids (boys & girls alike) liked rubbing the hair on my head.

        Finally one boy said, “Why is your hair so soft?”

        Hmmm…. But I don’t go around holding up a sign at the things kids say. Actually, I have just as much fun with it. It’s easy to stand out when you are the only white coach on a football team full of black coaches & black athletes.

      2. SebastianDuffy says:

        I’m as white as it gets, but my hair is closer to that of “Black People’s hair” and random people come up and touch it and fixate on it all the time. It can be annoying, but I don’t see how it’s racist.

  4. Cara says:

    Granted most of the comments shown by the students are more based on ignorance than aggression or racism. But those kinds of comments are, in my personal experience, based on certain preconceived racial stereotypes. And hearing them on a daily basis is frustrating. They are not meant to be racist, but once you hear them, there is an impression of us-people-you-people positioning, a feeling of not being fully accepted as member of society/community because your skin color is different. It is racist, in that the person making the comment is unable to see beyond skin color and makes presumptions based on racial stereotypes. To most these comments may seem harmless, but having been on the receiving end, I know they can also be hurtful.

  5. Matt says:

    A legitimate question that I would like to get peoples feelings on: Does “racism” imply aggression or superiority? As in, can you make an ignorant comment or question, concerning race, but have it purely be ignorant and not “racist”? (Also, i’m not stating that these particular instances are ignorant based, just the discussion made the question jump to my mind) I would love to hear your thoughts.

    I know merriam-webster is not an “authoritative” source, and that language is very contextual and evolutionary, but two definitions of “racism” from them to add to the discussion:

    1) The belief that some races of people are better than others.
    2) A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

  6. Frank says:

    I’m a white male. A black, female professor once told me that men were lazy. This was as I turned in my assignment… 3 days early!

  7. Suzanne says:

    It works both ways. As a white woman living in Japan, I could count off the top of my head numerous instances of Japanese (mostly women) coming up to me to stroke my hair (without permission), to poke my breasts (certainly without permission), or to ask why my pubic hair was so fair/curly (public baths/swimming pool), or when I sat next to someone on the train and they moved because they didnt want to sit next to a white person (and sometimes they said that aloud because they automatically assumed I couldn’t understand Japanese).

    Also when I lived in America I got ‘You are really skinny for a European’, “You can’t be Scottish, you don’t have red hair’ and (my personal favourite, although not to do with race per se, just a stereotype of the country in general) ‘Do they have internet in Scotland? I mean, do YOU PEOPLE know what its for?’

    So… I cant say for sure about these comments implying superiority or aggression, but they do prove that every colour in the world does stupid.

    1. Vieve says:

      I went to the Philippines several years ago and had people touch my face because of my freckles and ask me if they were real. It was very strange.

        1. Chelsea says:

          Yeh, that was my thought. I don’t really believe that part of her comment is true because it doesn’t make sense.

  8. silvina says:

    I am from Argentina. I have been asked if we had toilet paper over there. And everyone assumes I know how to make Mexican food. We might speak the same language, but Mexican food is a world apart from Argentina s food. I mean, look at a map. We are really far away, you know.

    1. JFC says:

      Yeah, they’re trying to create some kind of new buzzword to describe this sort of phenomena, but in the end of it’s just… weird. And as we see from peoples’ reactions on this page, it just doesn’t work well. Wanting a quicker word to explain this sort of thing than “Ignorant/Racist things PoC have to hear on a daily basis” is good, but “microaggressions?” Really?

  9. Jasmine says:

    I love this photo series! I wouldn’t expect everyone to understand what these students have been through, but as a Samoan/Korean/Japanese American I can totally relate! I have medium brown skin and long hair, people just assume I’m “black” and I have weave. Then I open my mouth and speak and they tell me I sound like a “white girl”. I’ve even had people go so far as to call me “WHITE WASHED”. I am not a damn fence……. Open your mind people!

  10. Sarah says:

    When i had my first baby she was very jaundice and born with very dark hair, and as i was waiting with her at the entrance to the hospital for my husband to come around with the car an African American man asked me if she was a mixed baby and if my husband was black. i was a little taken aback by his bluntness, but not offended, just surprised. I explained that she was jaundice and dark hair runs in the family. It just goes to show you that anyone of any race can ask borderline inappropriate questions regarding race and ethnicity, but i generally think its important to give people the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t trying to be racist but just being genuinely curious. I guessed that the man who question me maybe had a biracial family and felt like he could connect with me on that level if my daughter was indeed biracial. Granted, i think all people quoted in the above photos could really take a lesson in tact more than anything else and in personal space, regarding the girl who thinks its ok to take off someones hat….).

  11. Alyssa says:

    I realize that I’m not supposed to have an opinion on the internet, but I’m going to state it anyways.

    I’d like to start by quoting the dictionary definition of racism.

    1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
    2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
    3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

    There are two that I don’t find racist (though very poorly worded). “Where are you REALLY from?” and “So, like, what are you?” It’s human nature to be curious. I can’t tell someone from Japan apart from someone from China any more then I can tell apart a Russian and an American. I have a friend who is Korean that (until I got to know her and considered her a friend) I was too afraid to ask where her family is from because I was afraid of being seen as racist or dumb.

    I work for a bank and once asked a customer if it was alright if I asked where he was from. He has a very thick accent that I couldn’t place, and I wanted to know. I absolutely LOVE meeting people from other places and only wish I had the guts to ask them what their life is like. I find it fascinating to find out how people in other countries live. Even how someone two cities over lives. A mile can make all the difference in your experiences growing up.

    Even if I were to tactlessly say “I want to know what makes someone different from me” doesn’t make my question/comment inherently racist. When I use those differences to justify saying that I’m better then someone else, there lies the issue.

    Please don’t confusion my frustration with me saying that racism isn’t as big of a deal now, or that it isn’t a big deal at all, etc. Far from it. There truly are racist people who do racist things that not only offend but hurt people. But please don’t confuse my curiosity for racism. My curiosity is just that.

    1. saraki says:

      I think the reasons those individuals feel uncomfortable with those questions are different from what you’ve cited.

      In the first one, “Where are you REALLY from?” it’s probably because they are American. I had an Asian American friend in college who spent her entire life having people tell her, “Your English is so GOOD!” only to have her come back every time and say, “Thanks, I’m from New Jersey. We try.” The point is that non-white Americans tend to deal with the assumption that they are foreign/”other” much more frequently than white Americans. Asking because of an accent is one thing; asking because you’ve internalized our cultural subtext that Asians aren’t “real Americans” like white and black people are is another.

      In the second one, “What are you?” is one of those poor choices of words. To your typical unoppressed majority person, that sounds pretty innocent and we know it means “what mix of national/ethnic bloodlines are you?” It’s a uniquely American question, in my experience, and it confuses/fascinates my friends elsewhere in the world. As a nation we cultivate a small obsession with our immigrant heritages and hilariously try to pretend it explains our personality traits.

      BUT. To a person dealing with a pervasive and inescapable sense that they are seen as “other” everywhere they go, “What are you” sounds so much worse. The “What” becomes heavy, just one more way their humanity is questioned by accident or habit or even intent. It goes from “oh you know what I mean” to one of a million microaggressions in their lives.

      So yes, curiosity is not racism. But I think these people are expressing a problem with something other than curiosity.

      1. Shevrolet says:

        I’m a biracial girl living in Canada. My best friend is white and blonde. We were both born and raised in Southern Ontario. I can tell you that of all the occasions when either of us was asked “Where are you from?” it is only with me that saying I’m from here is not good enough. When people ask her the question it’s because we live in a university town; When she says that she’s from here they say cool and move the conversation along. When people ask me where I’m from it’s a different thing.

        “Where are you from?”
        <I'm from here
        "No, but where are you really from"
        <I was born in *town an hour away* and grew up here
        "Okay, but where are your parents from?"
        <They are also from here.
        "Come on, you know what I mean. What nationality are you though?"

        I cannot count how many times I've had that exact conversation in my life. People claim to be curious about our differences, but I think that's a cop out. People don't want to admit to themselves that they harbor some unintentional racist biases. Why doesn't anyone want to know my friend's ethnic makeup when they first meet her? Why, when I truthfully say that I grew up celebrating my Ukrainian heritage, do these people look so cheated? Why am I not allowed to be just Canadian?

  12. S.Stern says:

    I am blonde/blue eyed. When I worked in retail after college i would get snarky comments from customers that they could wish ME a ‘merry christmas’ because i was OBVIOUSLY christian white girl. I am an atheist.

    I also taught a small art class and had to put up with all the asian kids telling dumb blonde jokes.

    White people aren’t alone in stereotyping people. Everyone does it in their own way.

  13. Sarah says:

    And don’t get me started on how Irish people like me are stereotyped……drunk, corrupt, sexually immature. …..oh wait. …

  14. Cromwell says:

    This lost ALL credibility because there isn’t ONE white person represented. The meaning being that white’s are probably the one’s asking these questions…you know, because they’re all racist. Yawn. So much for diversity.

    1. JFC says:

      Because in the United States, White People don’t have to hear little comments like this every day. Nobody assumes they’re a foreigner based solely on how they look. Nobody has preconceived notions about them based on the color of their skin. That’s one of the luxuries of being part of a Majority. You’re cranky because they didn’t include white people in this? It’s because it doesn’t happen to them.

      Nobody claimed “all whites are racist.” People like you merely jump directly to that conclusion anytime racism is brought up.

      1. Alexa says:

        Actually.. from your first statement alone… I’m a white girl and yeah I actually DO hear “little comments like this everyday.” Little comments, whether they’re defined as racist or ignorant or aggressive or whatever, are definitely experienced by many (if not all) cultures, “white” people included. So don’t say it doesn’t happen to “us” because it does. And I’m actually a part of an anti-racism movement at my school.

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