Addressing an Individual of Another Race

This past weekend I went to see the movie Red Tails in theaters which is the story of the a group of African American fighter pilots during World War II. They are faced with a great deal of racism as they are viewed to be not as capable to fight against the Germans in comparison to the other White pilots. Towards the end of the movie the African American pilots start to conquer many missions against the Germans, gaining the respect of the white pilots. One day they are at a bar together and and one of the African American pilots says to a White pilot, “White people turn red when they become angry, green when they are sick, and they are called yellow when they are cowards but you call us colored!” This leads the White pilot to then ask him what their race prefers to be called. The African American pilot informs him that they prefer to be referred to as “negro.”

This part of the movie caught my attention because it caused me to think why often times it is uncomfortable for people to address issues of race. Tatum talks about this issue in Breaking the Silence when she mentions how White students are often afraid of their own ignorance in the sense they may ask or say something deemed naive or offensive. I think that this can be applied to many times not knowing the proper way to address someone of another race. What is the right way to refer to an individual of another race without offending them? Would it be even worse to ask them? Speaking from personal experience this is a very uncomfortable situation I have found myself to be in and the doubt has caused me to not want to talk about the issue at hand at all. Over time, African Americans have been called many different names and their preference for these names has also changed as time progresses. For example, in the movie Red Tails the black pilot says he prefers to be called a negro, but in today’s society this would most likely not be the case for many people. What is the right way to address someone of another race when you don’t actually know the answer to this question? I think if we can learn to get past this awkwardness stemming from lack of knowledge, talking about issues of race will be able to be addressed more often and not swept under the rug for fear of offending someone.

1 thought on “Addressing an Individual of Another Race

  1. This can be an uncomfortable situation all around. I think for a lot of people it can be summed up as personal preferences. I think it’s safe to say that most people do not want to be referred to as racial slurs, but when it comes to things like calling someone a person of color or a minority, Black or African American, etc. how do you know which is appropriate? I personally feel like it’s better to ask, but ask in a way that is respectful. I feel that there is no “right” way to address this question, but I think that some ways are definitely wrong or less right. My least favorite question to answer is “What are you?” Although most people don’t mean it that way, it comes off as dehumanizing and creates a sense of othering. It might be more productive to have a conversation using the tools we’ve discussed in class.

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