Racism in America in Its Subtlest Forms

by Katarina Mijatovic

Part one, Reading: Read the Dear Abby Letters and responses, “Racism in America in Its Subtlest Forms,” and highlight new vocabulary and phrases that you think are idiomatic.

DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter from "Disillusioned American," who interceded when he saw a man in his 60s chastise a young couple for speaking a foreign language outside a Kmart. You called it an example of xenophobia.

I do not share either the opinion of "Disillusioned" or you regarding people who refuse to learn English or at least speak it in public. There are two Spanish-language TV networks in this country. Tell me another country that allows foreign language channels to operate, contributing to the fragmentation of that country. LAWRENCE IN AVON PARK, FLA.

DEAR LAWRENCE: Cable Network News (CNN) is an English-language network that is broadcast in more than 210 countries and territories in English. (In fact, someone recently told me she had seen me on "Larry King Live" while she was in Beijing -- obviously not a nation that uses English as its primary language.)

DEAR ABBY: I am proud of being not only American, but a Chinese American. I was raised bilingually and biculturally. Other than my Asian features, most people would be hard-pressed to find anything "un-American" about me.


However, occasional racist remarks are still thrown at me for no other reason than my appearance. Fortunately, that type of bigotry is fading, but comments and actions like that man experienced at Kmart are common and should be stopped. White Americans should be sensitive about any treatment of nonwhite Americans as different.

For example, I am frequently asked where I am from. When I answer "Pittsburgh" (where I was born and raised), the response I often get is, "No, where are you REALLY from?" as if I couldn't be from America. I know people are curious about my heritage, but Caucasians (even ones with accents) are not treated thus, so why are those of us with Asian features, but nonaccented English, treated this way? -- PROUD CHINESE AMERICAN

DEAR PROUD CHINESE AMERICAN: Don't be so quick to assume that Caucasians with accents are not also asked where they are from. In this country, anyone with an accent is considered "exotic" -- and as such, inspires curiosity. When people are curious, they ask questions. I know I'm right, because I have been guilty of it.
DEAR ABBY: I came to this country 20 years ago and attended college in the Midwest. I have also been accosted by such "patriots" on campus, in restaurants, and wherever I happened to be having a conversation in my language. My appearance does not give people any clue that I am not a "red-blooded American." I speak perfect, unaccented English, in addition to other languages, and I know there are many people like me.

Because I choose to speak another language does not mean I don't know English. I find it fascinating that Americans, when in other countries, expect people to accommodate their language needs, but do not afford the same courtesy to people who come to this country. -- THERESA B., HOUSTON

DEAR THERESA: Interesting point. And it's a good reason why American students should learn at least one foreign language. Our world is shrinking, and it doesn't revolve around us.

Dear Abby is written by Jeanne Phillips. Write to Dear Abby, Universal Press Syndicate P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Part two, Vocabulary: Underline each of the following words in the “Dear Abby” reading. Discuss them with the members of your group and write a brief definition for each. Label verbs transitive or intransitive. Don’t use a dictionary unless you really have to! Then paraphrase the sentence where you found each word.

  1. subtle, subtlest

  2. disillusioned

  3. intercede

  4. chastise

  5. xenophobia

  6. fragmentation

  7. biculturally

  8. hard-pressed

  9. bigotry

  10. racist (adj.)

  11. heritage

  12. Caucasian

  13. exotic

  14. accost

  15. accommodate

    Vocabulary Exercise

    Fill each blank with one of the following words from the reading. Four are not used.


    1. A child who is raised ___________________ has the benefit of two languages, two traditions and two ways of thinking.

    2. The computer lab can ___________________ only 30 students. If you are the thirty-first, you’ll just have to wait.

    3. Although it seems like a compliment to say that one ethnic group is good at math, it’s still a ___________________ statement.

    4. You should ___________________ your friends if you hear them making prejudiced comments about other people.

    5. Insisting on “English only” is a ____________________ way of telling people that their native culture isn’t as valuable as American culture.

    6. There are many restaurants in San Francisco where you can try strange and ____________________ dishes from all over the world.

    7. ____________________ occurs in a society when there is no political or cultural unity; it’s the opposite of unification.

    8. If we are willing to ignore the dangers of racial and cultural ___________________, we are helping the spread of intolerance in our society.

    9. A lot of immigrants become ___________________ when they discover that it really isn’t as easy to become wealthy in America as they had hoped it would be.

    10. Many kinds of fear, especially __________________, have increased in the United States since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001

    11. Immigrants who forget their native language lose an important part of their cultural ____________________.

    12. When two friends are having an argument, do you usually ____________________, or do you let them settle it by themselves?

    Part three, Understanding the Issues:
    Answer the following questions and be prepared to discuss them in class:

    1. What is racism?

    2. What aspects of racism are discussed in the 3 situations in the letters to Dear Abby?

    3. What point is Abby trying to make by mentioning CNN?

    4. Describe the instances of racism found in the letters as they relate to:

      1. The man in his 60s -

      2. Lawrence -

      3. Proud Chinese American -

      4. Midwest “patriots” –

    Part four, Class Discussion: Reread the letters and make notes on the following discussion topics:

      1. Why are the words “exotic” and “patriots” in quotation marks? What are some other terms that could be used to replace them?

      2. In her letter to “Proud Chinese American,” Abby points out a remark made by the writer which might be considered racist. What was that remark? Do you think it was racist?

      3. Why do many Americans dislike hearing foreign languages spoken in public? How do you feel when you hear a conversation in a language you don’t understand?

      4. What is a “red-blooded” American? Why doesn’t Theresa B. consider herself to be one?

      5. What do you think “Disillusioned” wrote in his letter to Abby?

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