There are those alive in the world that seek to find personal insult in any utterance and a deep wounding in every gesture or glance.  Those brittle people only feel better in playing the system to punish those that they believe have punctured them.

The offhand compliment can quickly go from innocent remark and into a Racial hailstorm.

If a White male compliments a Black female friend on her straightened hair and then jokes that it “makes her look smart” based on past conversations about stereotypes and community values — beware that comment will be twisted into “not liking kinky hair” and that anyone wearing dreadlocks is “stupid” and there’s no way out of the falsity of the accusation because, on the page, the “inferred insult” can be interpreted as one wishes and text can never really convey meaning or levity or tone of voice or the long relationship of the friendship.  

When someone comments — “glasses make you look smart” — does one take offense that not wearing glasses makes you dimmer?  Or are glasses not as culturally identifiable as a transient hairstyle?

What is the proper response when people with corrective lenses are told — “you look Chinese” — because the plastic lenses create a visual effect that appears to change the shape and size of the eye?

Must we be insulted by everything for personal and political gain?

Or is there a bright line drawn where people can say what they wish and joke around without fear of later retribution later by the forcibly-self-offended seeking remedy in the community, system, or the courts?


  1. Hi David,
    Awesome image, made my day!
    I think unless you know someone really well, turning an “innocent comment” or a “faux pas” into something bitter is pretty common, though sad.
    I remember being asked mostly in the super market cash counters – “which country you are from? You look so beautiful!”
    My usual answer used to be – I am an Indian” till someone told me – “You’re an Indian? You don’t look like one!” Duh! What am I supposed to look like?
    I very much understood what he meant and replied “I from India” which satisfied him.
    I found it funny but I knew others mihgt find it offensive.

  2. I appreciate your wise insight, Katha. You’re right about the easy-to-insult route — especially in the USA. The question is what is a friendship and how deep is that connection? There are some people who are friendly only to gain something as a means to an end. You don’t find out their true intentions until they turn on you and betray your private trust.
    When you were asked if you were “Indian” was that in the USA? If so, and based on your location, I wonder if people thought you meant “Native American” instead “from India?”
    There is a grand confusion in the USA Midwest that “Indian” means “Native American” and when you’re dealing with people of that mindset, you find yourself being extremely clear, “No, she’s an ‘India Indian.'” It can start to get comical…

  3. Absolutely so David!
    I understood the super market cashier meant “Native American” by then. Even an American could have found it insulting/ invading and what not – in case he/ she overheard it. What was he supposed to look like? Someone from a cowboy movie? I also understand the Native Americans have very distinct features which I can and will be able to easily identify now.
    In India, the very common question for me is “Are you from south?” It’s mostly because of my name, my complexion and eyes.

  4. When you are asked, Katha, “Are you from south?” — is that insulting to you or are they just making idle chatter? What’s the point of their question? Why do they need to know?

  5. Hi David,
    I don’t take it personally because I know I look like South Indian. I am also absolutely clueless about their intention but I guess most of the time it is an idle chatter or confirming one’s own guess.

  6. You remind me of growing up in Nebraska, Katha where similar questions were asked about last names. People wanted to know “what it was” — like Czech or German or Polish or whatever — because they wanted to fit you into a niche and identify your culture. It was sort of creepy because you were being instantly judged just by your last name as assumptions were invented about you. If you had a generic name or a changed name, they couldn’t really pin you down… but if your name even *sounded* Jewish or Middle Eastern you were immediately put under suspicion as an outsider.

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