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Author Topic: A Question of Racism and What Defines It  (Read 1784 times)

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Offline SilverfyreTopic starter

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A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« on: May 20, 2013, 01:32:39 PM »
Okay, so, I am going to be helping administer finals this week and for one of the high school classes I am going to be covering, I glanced over the test (it's a psychology class and the question deals with ethics/morality) and one of the questions caught my attention:

"What is racism and can the people who are considered the "social norm" or those in "power" be the target of racism?"

I'm curious as to what people think of this.  In U.S. society (or your own should you be from outside of the States), what do you think the definition of "racism" is and can those in power or the "privileged" be the target of racism?

Offline Kythia

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2013, 02:00:21 PM »
Interesting...

I guess if you were to take a dictionary definition - OED has "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races" - then any privileged group could quite easily be a target of racism.  I (white) could say "White people have characteristics, etc, distinguishing us as superior to another race".  And that's being a target of racism as I read the definition.  There doesn't seem to be any requirement within the definition for it to be negative.

But dictionaries are only half a story.  I think common usage has it as entirely negative, that being a "target of racism" is a bad thing.  So that brings us really to "positive discrimination".  Going back to the definition, that doesn't actually seem to be racism - there's no suggestion that the black student has got in to college because of "characteristics, abilities or qualities specific to [their] race".

I'm waffling a little, and I know that.  On the whole I think "yes".  Anyone can hold racist views and believe that any other race is inferior for some reason.  The difference lies in how influential those views are likely to be in society.  Racism =/= racial discrimination and I think a full answer depends on distinguishing between those two.

While the in power group are more able to make changes in society based on their racist views, I don't believe they're the only ones capable of holding them.

Offline Iniquitous

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2013, 02:01:40 PM »
Alright, I’ll offer up my opinion on this one.

My answer. Racism is discrimination/prejudice against people of a different race than yourself. With my view of racism being that way, no. Targeting the people in power would not be racism because the people in power are not all of the same race.

Offline SilverfyreTopic starter

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2013, 02:20:04 PM »
Targeting the people in power would not be racism because the people in power are not all of the same race.

Perhaps this is true but the vast majority of people in "power" here in the United States sure are.  Most of them are white males.  "Power" is, of course, a very subjective term so let's look at it how I am defining it.

Wealth gives and buys a lot of influence and power.  Let's look at Forbes' top 400 richest people.  Notice anything about just the top ten?

http://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/gallery

Yup, white.  And mostly male. 

How about political power?  Let's look at the racial demographic of the United States Congress:

http://thisnation.com/congress-facts.html

There are no African-Americans in the Senate.  None.  There are 2 Hispanics and 2 Asians versus the 96 Caucasians seated in Congress.  The House is not much different.

So, for America, I am running under the idea for this particular discussion that the vast majority of people in "power" are of one race.  There are always exceptions to the rule but I do not think it is going to make much of a dent (sadly) in the discussion due to the fact that white people really do hold the majority of political and economic power in America.


Offline Maiz

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2013, 02:33:49 PM »
Racism is systemic/institutionalized prejudice and discrimination based on race.

So no, the privileged (by race aka white people) cannot be the targets of racism****.

****
This in no way claims that white people never face institutionalized oppression ever (like sexism or homophobia or classism or whatever). They just don't face the kind of discrimination that people of color do based on their skin color.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2013, 02:45:51 PM by Avis habilis »

Offline SilverfyreTopic starter

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2013, 02:38:06 PM »
Excellent links, thank you for that!

Offline Iniquitous

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2013, 02:49:57 PM »
Okay, going off that - with 96% of those in power being white, I would still have to say no.

My reason for the answer.  Racism is defined as :
The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as...
Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.


Going with that definition, the answer would have to be no because those in power, even with the large number of one race in power, are not all the same -Race-. Racism targets those of a particular race. Not a particular group - which those in power would fall under the label ‘Group’. In order for it to be classified racism, the definition of the word would need to be changed to reflect prejudice or discrimination against someone of a different group.

Offline Kythia

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2013, 02:57:19 PM »
Okay, going off that - with 96% of those in power being white, I would still have to say no.

My reason for the answer.  Racism is defined as :
The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as...
Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.


Going with that definition, the answer would have to be no because those in power, even with the large number of one race in power, are not all the same -Race-. Racism targets those of a particular race. Not a particular group - which those in power would fall under the label ‘Group’. In order for it to be classified racism, the definition of the word would need to be changed to reflect prejudice or discrimination against someone of a different group.

But that only applies if we're talking about those in power as a group.  Sure, your argument holds if we do.  But they can also be looked at as a number of individuals. 

Offline Iniquitous

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2013, 03:25:59 PM »
My argument holds no matter what because you cannot call politicians a -race-. Which is what is needed in order for it to be labeled ‘racism’. Targeting a ‘number of individuals’ who are of different races (even if the majority is one race) still doesn’t meet the criteria to be classified racism.

Offline Shjade

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2013, 03:27:19 PM »
It's almost a trick question.

Obviously the people in power, at least while they are in their positions of power, can't really be vulnerable to racism in the same kind of institutionalized, sweeping manner as can those who are out of power.

But taken as individuals? One of those guys walks into the wrong bar after hours? Yeah, he could find himself taking some serious racial shit...but in that situation he's not one of the people in power anymore, is he? The gang at the bar giving him shit for what he is outside that bar are the ones in charge at that moment.

So...yes and no. The "social norm" race can be subjected to racism, but it's usually in circumstances where their usual norm is not currently represented as such.

This is assuming the defining term "racism" has to involve action or power over the discriminated party. If we're just talking about racism in the sense of slurs, stereotypes and other expressions of "belief that all members of each race possess characteristics etc.etc." then anyone can be the subject of racism.

This isn't even getting into the possibilities of self-directed racism: if a member of the "social norm" loathes his own race, well, that gets complicated, doesn't it?

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2013, 03:36:08 PM »
Racism is systemic/institutionalized prejudice and discrimination based on race.

So no, the privileged (by race aka white people) cannot be the targets of racism****.

****
This in no way claims that white people never face institutionalized oppression ever (like sexism or homophobia or classism or whatever). They just don't face the kind of discrimination that people of color do based on their skin color.

You are kidding right? You can't be a victim of racism because you're white? Gee.. I guess being white and male wasn't as big problem as it was when I was in service.

I was the 'bad guy' in at least FIVE sex related issues and NINE race related ones while I was in service. I got held back in rate several times because the command in question had minorities with axes to grind.

Racism can and DOES happen to white folks.

Just not that often. I also had the ability to defuse, and deflect a lot of them. Most victims of racism don't have the ability. Don't assume because you're in the majority gender/ethnicity/religion of an area that you can't be a victim of bias.

I have had it happen to me occasionally. .and I have seen it happen to others.

There was a running gag of the 'Filipino mafia' in the Navy when I got in. When you are the only person in a division or shop who ISN'T a Filipino it can get annoying. I had several shipmates who were last to be relieved, let off work, got the working parties because they didn't speak tagalong. I know at least three times where their work got credited to others, who got awards for it. (I know because I helped them do it)

I know that I had several run ins with the 'mafia' when I was based in the west coast. Do you know how annoying it is to go in for a pay issue and be the only person in the cube farm discussing YOUR pay issue in english? I had one pay issue that my supervisor literally had to walk me up all the way to the Officer-in-charge to fix because the clerks were covering each others mistakes? One rating board for Chief Petty Officer had only Three non-Filipino on it when I first go on. I heard LOTS of stories about it making for hard to advance.

Racism IS an instituted practice..that definition is correct.. but you're wrong in saying that a normally majority member of a society CAN'T suffer from it.  It's simply harder to suffer it.. but I have had it happen.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2013, 03:39:06 PM by Callie Del Noire »

Offline Shjade

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2013, 03:45:40 PM »
Racism IS an instituted practice..that definition is correct.. but you're wrong in saying that a normally majority member of a society CAN'T suffer from it.  It's simply harder to suffer it.. but I have had it happen.

But in your example, you were the minority, not the majority, which is what made you vulnerable to their racist institution. Right?

Maybe outside their domain you were the majority, but then, outside their domain, they wouldn't have been able to enact that kind of racism on you, either.

Offline Kythia

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2013, 03:50:13 PM »
My argument holds no matter what because you cannot call politicians a -race-. Which is what is needed in order for it to be labeled ‘racism’. Targeting a ‘number of individuals’ who are of different races (even if the majority is one race) still doesn’t meet the criteria to be classified racism.

(emphasis mine)

Politicians  Plural.  Number of individuals.  What I'm saying is that your argument only holds for people in power in the plural, not in the singular.

Offline Maiz

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2013, 03:53:38 PM »
That sounds like a very frustrating experience and I can see why you would respond so negatively to what I said, with that context. I hope that you can see past your experience and realize that it is the extreme exception to the rule, and in reality it's people of color who overwhelmingly experience that kind of stuff. Like I said, I'm not claiming that people of color can't be discriminatory or prejudiced against white people (and you were totally a victim of discrimination and prejudice), but what happened to you is not institutionalized. I'm sure you can recognize that this situation doesn't happen that often. I mean, unless you want to make the case that people of color are over represented in leadership positions, and thus have the power to do this kind of thing to white people as a whole.

But that is just not true.

Offline Iniquitous

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2013, 04:17:47 PM »
(emphasis mine)

Politicians  Plural.  Number of individuals.  What I'm saying is that your argument only holds for people in power in the plural, not in the singular.

Alright. Going to see if I can explain my thoughts here so they make sense.

Racism = prejudice/discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that all members of each race posses characteristics or abilities specific to that race.
Race = Each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics.

We are agreed upon the definitions yes?

With those definitions discriminating against ONE person who is a politician is not racism. Discriminating against the whole group of politicians is not racism. Discriminating against blacks is racism. Discriminating against whites is racism. (And so on).

Discriminating against those in power would be “classism“. Not racism.

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #15 on: May 20, 2013, 04:48:30 PM »
But in your example, you were the minority, not the majority, which is what made you vulnerable to their racist institution. Right?

Maybe outside their domain you were the majority, but then, outside their domain, they wouldn't have been able to enact that kind of racism on you, either.

Depends on what you look as an institution. Is the shop, command or base the instution. I was pointing out that the poster I quoted said I (as a WASP) was that there was no where in the US that I could suffer from racism. That's not true.

Offline mrsjaz

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2013, 04:59:38 PM »
.... Like I said, I'm not claiming that people of color can't be discriminatory or prejudiced against white people (and you were totally a victim of discrimination and prejudice), but what happened to you is not institutionalized. I'm sure you can recognize that this situation doesn't happen that often. I mean, unless you want to make the case that people of color are over represented in leadership positions, and thus have the power to do this kind of thing to white people as a whole.

But that is just not true.

This is my understanding too, and another definition of racism I've come across (outside of the "there's no such thing as race" argument) is racism = power, prejudice + ideology. I think this dates back to the Pan-Africanism of the early 70's.

Offline consortium11

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #17 on: May 20, 2013, 05:26:33 PM »
Alright, I’ll offer up my opinion on this one.

My answer. Racism is discrimination/prejudice against people of a different race than yourself. With my view of racism being that way, no. Targeting the people in power would not be racism because the people in power are not all of the same race.

I think you're misunderstanding the question.

The question isn't whether politicians/lawyers/*insert high powered position here* suffer from racism (despite being predominantly white), it's in essence a different form of the "can white people suffer racism" argument. It's self-evident that someone who hates US politicians isn't racist (or at least, racist because of that) simply because the majority of them are white.

The question instead focuses on this point; in much of the Western world white people (or more specifically often WASPs) are the "social norm" and generally hold the positions of power. To use the terminology they are the "privileged" race. As such in most cases a white person who is an otherwise identical situation to someone from another race will be better off. The question is whether a person from the privileged race (normally Caucasian but depending on where in the world people are it may be different) can be the victim of racism?

The answer is yes by the way.

There's been a movement to seemingly try to change the definition of racism to only apply to institutional/systematic circumstances, be it blatant cases ("No blacks, no Irish, no dogs) to the more subtle (the police not really investigating or caring about a crime against a member of a certain race, especially if likely committed by a member of the privileged race). That's simply not the case. If someone hates another race then they're a racist. If they then allow that belief to dictate their actions then those become racist actions. If a group of Chinese people decide to attack a white person in the US because they're white then it is a racist attack despite the white person being part of the privileged race.

Someone from the privileged race may not ever be in a position to suffer from institutionalised racism but they can suffer from racism none the less.

Offline Kythia

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #18 on: May 20, 2013, 05:38:17 PM »
I think you're misunderstanding the question.

The question isn't whether politicians/lawyers/*insert high powered position here* suffer from racism (despite being predominantly white), it's in essence a different form of the "can white people suffer racism" argument. It's self-evident that someone who hates US politicians isn't racist (or at least, racist because of that) simply because the majority of them are white.

The question instead focuses on this point; in much of the Western world white people (or more specifically often WASPs) are the "social norm" and generally hold the positions of power. To use the terminology they are the "privileged" race. As such in most cases a white person who is an otherwise identical situation to someone from another race will be better off. The question is whether a person from the privileged race (normally Caucasian but depending on where in the world people are it may be different) can be the victim of racism?

The answer is yes by the way.

There's been a movement to seemingly try to change the definition of racism to only apply to institutional/systematic circumstances, be it blatant cases ("No blacks, no Irish, no dogs) to the more subtle (the police not really investigating or caring about a crime against a member of a certain race, especially if likely committed by a member of the privileged race). That's simply not the case. If someone hates another race then they're a racist. If they then allow that belief to dictate their actions then those become racist actions. If a group of Chinese people decide to attack a white person in the US because they're white then it is a racist attack despite the white person being part of the privileged race.

Someone from the privileged race may not ever be in a position to suffer from institutionalised racism but they can suffer from racism none the less.

As consortium says.  If I believe that a given person is inferior to me because of his race, he is the target of racism.  I might not do anything about it but as I say above, racism =/= racial discrimination.  Discrimination is an action, racism an opinion.

To return to Inquitous, if I believe one of the six (or whatever it was)non-caucasion congressmen is inferior due to their race then they are a target of racism.  The fact they are also a member of a group called "politicians" is irrelevant.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #19 on: May 20, 2013, 05:50:35 PM »
(emphasis mine)

Politicians  Plural.  Number of individuals.  What I'm saying is that your argument only holds for people in power in the plural, not in the singular.

Just wondering, is this a reference to the murmured bias against Obama from some people back in 2008/9, as being a black U.S. president (and so far the only one)?

Offline Kythia

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #20 on: May 20, 2013, 05:52:57 PM »
Errr, it wasn't actually it was meant in the general case, but that example works really well so thank you.

I could (hypothetically) go up to Obama and spew a host of racial slurs and comments.  He would clearly be a target of racism, to me at least. 

Offline mrsjaz

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #21 on: May 20, 2013, 06:10:22 PM »
There's been a movement to seemingly try to change the definition of racism to only apply to institutional/systematic circumstances...

You are right and that has happened because:
1) The victims of racism fought for the right to determine for themselves what was affecting them.
2) The systematic nature of racial prejudice within institutions was found (like sexism ) to be endemic; the individual had invented an ideology based around ‘myth’ i.e some races were superior to others, thus finding its way into its culture.

Quote
... be it blatant cases ("No blacks, no Irish, no dogs) to the more subtle (the police not really investigating or caring about a crime against a member of a certain race, especially if likely committed by a member of the privileged race). That's simply not the case.

I don't know, I think history will prove that wrong -- even though heavily criticised this Report is still very influential.



Edited: Spelling
« Last Edit: June 01, 2013, 05:08:32 PM by mrsjaz »

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #22 on: May 20, 2013, 06:51:43 PM »
Errr, it wasn't actually it was meant in the general case, but that example works really well so thank you.

I could (hypothetically) go up to Obama and spew a host of racial slurs and comments.  He would clearly be a target of racism, to me at least.

Okay, but suppose someone who is coloured, though he might not be a member of an ethnicity that has undeniably been the target of steady, deep-set oppression in the country he lives in, he's just coloured, non-white in a western country, such a person is driving a political agenda that might or might not be directly about race - and when his arguments are questioned by a few white fellow writers and perhaps mid-level politicians, he dismisses them by saying (the gist of it) "Ah but I'm not really going to discuss this with you guys!! You're all members of the whitey class, the ruling old boys club, those who have oppressed us for hundreds of years! All dead white men! You don't get to even be a part of the kind of conversation I'm having with my folks - you're incapable of understanding what we're going through, any one of us and all of us!" - in short, he's pulling the victim card all out on the count of every coloured person who's ever felt oppressed, against "the whites", implying that he and everyone he knows has been a part of that condition, and flaunting it as a pride thing: we're not gonna discuss this with you guys. Wouldn't that be racism?

I know that's contested, because some hold that it can only be racism when the kicks come from "the top", never when it's somebody lower down using a similar strategy. To me it can be racism though, especially if someone who is definitely not powerless or lacking in acclaim is pulling the race victimhood card, stating that there's a pervasive and silent oppression going on, and then dismissing any kind of debate with people he sees as "white scum" just because of their being whites.

I'm sure some of us have seen that kind of discussion. The example I'm thinking of happened just two months ago in my native Sweden, and the lightning-rod article even made it into the NY Times - an edited version here. It's a potent text about racism, xenophobia and day-to-day oppression, and very skillfully written, but the trouble I and others have with it is, it founds its case only on a sweeping claim that says, essentially: my kind of identity, my race always, always gets oppressed like this, and it's totally not talked about by the others. Now, the guy is one of the most critically acclaimed young writers in the country, he comes from a rather privileged background, he's spent years studying literature and international economics (without any term fees as such) and had a trainee job at the UN in New York during his studies, plus his mother is as ethnically Swedish and white as IKEA. He's had plays performed at the finest stages of Stockholm and one of his brothers is an actor at the national stage house, something you definitely don't stumble into without training or good reviews. It's not a family background where washing up in a dingy bar into the night, sweating in a factory or selling crack on the street was ever going to be the options of life. I'm not sure he can claim he's just like any impoverished ghetto kid or imply that he climbed out of the gutter under constant potshots from a hating whitey society, but that's effectively what he does to create this picture of a united coloured nation.

 And I don't think it works to read it as saying "this is fully what it's like for everybody, well, everybody else who is coloured or an immigrant from beyond northern Europe or the U.S. in this country - I had a little more luck along the way, but essentially we were all in the same boat". That just doesn't hold water either.'

The article caused a lot of stir, and it was generally heaped with praise from many journalists and commentators. About a week later. the undersecretary of the cabinet department for immigration issues (the man reporting directly to the minister, the operative boss; said department was one of the direct targets of the text of course) replied in a personal article of his own, addressing Khemiri personally, in a manner kinda similar to how K. had addressed the top politicians - some of those turns were edited out of the shortened English version since they were topical to a Swedish context and wouldn't have made sense in the US -, though politely, and saying that conditions for people with an immigrant background here couldn't be painted in such a black-and-white way. Now, that guy is a refugee himself, he arrived in his twenties from the ashes of what had been Yugoslavia. Khemiri derisively excused himself from any debate with him, saying: this guy is one of the power gang and we can have no meaningful convo. He didn't say "you're a house n***a, man" but the word definitely hung in the air. Like, I can pull the victim card and invoke things that happened some other place to anyone who is only vaguely of my kind, my "identity" but I won't take discussing it with anyone who is white or has definite power. To me, that's really a destructive way to handle debate, and ultimately democracy.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2013, 09:04:02 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline Iniquitous

Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #23 on: May 20, 2013, 08:30:43 PM »
"What is racism and can the people who are considered the "social norm" or those in "power" be the target of racism?"

I'm curious as to what people think of this.  In U.S. society (or your own should you be from outside of the States), what do you think the definition of "racism" is and can those in power or the "privileged" be the target of racism?

I quoted the question again.

Going by that question, and looking at those that have ‘power’ within the US - politicians (or corporations if you wanted to get technical) - then my answer still stands. A group of people with different races cannot suffer from racism.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: A Question of Racism and What Defines It
« Reply #24 on: May 20, 2013, 08:51:42 PM »
I quoted the question again.

Going by that question, and looking at those that have ‘power’ within the US - politicians (or corporations if you wanted to get technical) - then my answer still stands. A group of people with different races cannot suffer from racism.


Sometimes, the totality of all politicians, bureaucrats and corporate bigwigs in a country - the "whole crowd" who are deemed to be in power - are rolled into one with a more narrow, leading group, a "leading race" within that upper class. in the description of some of those who assail them. They are all described as "the whiteys in power", "the old white men" or the like, or "the whites and their cronies" and ascribed all kinds of motives as a locked group. At that point, it can get very close to racism, or perhaps oikism. Oikos is house, home in Greek - the ruling caste is described as self-appointed and deaf masters of the house they have taken hold of, and oppressing everybody else. That's basically the kind of argument sketched out in the article from Sweden I was picking up on. Khemiri is not quite strictly saying that the cronies he is talking of are whites every single one of them, but that they are all identifying with a mainstream, and implicitly white, idea of their society, and refusing to listen to anybody else (this is not true, either) and allowing everyone of their own 'people' to indulge in racism and denigration of immigrants.

You can see the same kind of conflation in lots of talk about "the danger of muslims". People from the Middle East and northern Africa are seen as all belonging to a muslim quasi-biological brotherhood, it's taken for granted that they must all believe in islam and all do it as relentlessly and drawing the same consequences as bin Laden. It's "muslim peoples" or "islamic peoples", as though everyone from countries like Morocco, Syria, Sudan or Iran had to be a fervently believing muslim.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2013, 10:45:40 PM by gaggedLouise »