Privilege in Small Talk

by Courtney C Horne @FireezDragon

How many times have you heard (or been part of an exchange like this)?

“White” person: So where are you from?

Not-”white” looking person: (name of american city)

“White” person: Where are your parents from?

Not-”white” looking person: (name of american city)

“White” person: No – like before.

A friend who doesn’t look “white” was talking about how when she goes through this she feels like they are basically saying “why are you brown??” For her, this is particularly frustrating because the bit of genetics that makes her look less white is not something she has any connection with culturally.

Listening to her talk about it made me realize that most of the time this demand to explain one’s ethnic background isn’t one we make of people we think of as “white.” (I say most of the time because when people assume my dyed red hair is real they demand an explanation of my families country of origin.)

This sort of small thing is part of how privilege informs even small talk. People don’t feel the need to investigate your background if you are perceived as white.

In interest of full disclosure, I do ask people about their ethnic background sometimes in small talk at times. After noticing this privilege issue, I am trying to ask people I think of as “white” as well.