12 Racial Etiquettes and Customs

Racial Etiquette
Avoid stereotyping, slurs, cultural appropriation, and claiming to not see color. Instead, listen, learn, speak up against racism and microaggressions, respect cultural differences, and educate yourself on intersectionality.

1. Don’t Assume Homogeneity Within a Race

Don’t assume a person has the same beliefs and experiences as all the other people in their race. Not all Arabs are Muslim, and not all Indians are Hindu. People don’t have to follow the prevailing religion or values.

There are also many ethnicities within a racial group. For example, there are over 5,000 indigenous ethnic groups with different traditions and cultures. And even within ethnic groups, individuals are unique. Respect this uniqueness.

2. Don’t Stereotype

Asians don’t have superior intelligence, Black people are not criminals, and Arabs are not terrorists. These stereotypes are constructed from the belief that all people from a race are the same. This dehumanizes people. Racial stereotypes also don’t have any evidence to support them.

Even “positive stereotypes” can have a negative impact. If an Asian person is bad at school, they will have bad self-esteem, and if they get good grades, they won’t be recognized because they’re simply another smart Asian.

Think about the people of color you know and what attributes you think they have. Which are real and based on facts, and which are just stereotypes? Do this exercise and challenge your personal biases.

3. What Is Implicit Bias?

Implicit bias is the prejudice you didn’t think you had. Like many people cross the street when they see a black man without even realizing it.

This is because everything you learned from your family and society taught your brain that African Americans are dangerous. Even if you don’t actually believe it consciously, your brain is conditioned to it.

That isn’t an excuse to be racist and blame it on implicit bias. It’s motive to seek resources to learn about implicit bias.

4. Watch how you speak

Don’t use slurs. Not even if it is not directed towards someone or there isn’t a person of that race around. Not even if a POC “allows” you to use it.

You shouldn’t use slurs not because you are not allowed to do so but because you recognize their derogatory meaning and history.

5. Listen and Learn

When someone calls you out and says you’re being racist, don’t get defensive. Listen to what they have to say and apologize. Not because you “may have offended them,” but because you did. They told you so. This a learning opportunity.

You can also learn by talking to people of different races. But don’t turn the conversation into an interview and center the conversation on race. The person may not even want to talk about that. Because they are so much more than that.

Have the same curiosity you would have for their lives beyond their races as you would for someone from your own race.

6. Educate Yourself

racism is not opinion
Racism is not opinion

One person can’t speak for all the other people from their race. So don’t look for a person of color with the same opinion as you to say you’re right. Don’t use them as your token and reject all other opinions from POC.

You can research social movements to educate yourself on what demands people of color have. This way, you can think critically and form opinions based on diverse perspectives.

7. Cross-Cultural Interactions

Be aware of cultural differences in different race relations. American people find that making slurping sounds is rude, but Japanese people find it normal. So be respectful when someone from a different culture has different customs.

Be willing to adapt to those differences and learn from them.

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8. Appropriation and Appreciation

Don’t appropriate things that are not your culture; understand the difference between cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation. You don’t know the history and meaning they carry for a person from that culture.

Another problem with cultural appropriation is that cultural practices only become cool and are accepted when white people do them.

For example, white people love to wear indigenous headdresses at festivals. This is cultural appropriation because an indigenous person is not a costume, and headdresses are sacred to them. But if you buy clothing or accessories from artists of that culture, only inspired by it, then it’s cultural appreciation.

9. “I don’t see color”

You do see color. Don’t pretend you don’t. When you pretend, you ignore the issues people of color face and the privileges you have. If you pretend you don’t see the traffic light color changing, it doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk of crashing your car. What I mean is that these problems will only get worse.

Seeing color helps identify those problems and take a strategic approach against them. You can also get to know other cultures and celebrate diversity.

10. Speak Up Against Racism

If you see a racist situation, speak up against the aggressor. Don’t let it escalate. You can use your privilege to advocate for marginalized individuals and challenge discriminatory behavior.

Don’t be afraid to do it because no one else is doing it. Most white people didn’t speak up against racism when the Jim Crow segregation laws were in place before the Civil Rights Movement.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

11. How Intersectionality Works

Black women face different issues from black men. That’s because they’re black and women. It’s not just an addition of oppression but an intersection.

That means these two oppressions intersect and make black women’s experiences different from black men’s and white women’s. There are a variety of identities that may intersect and make each individual’s experiences different. Recognize and respect this complexity.

12. Microaggressions are not small

Educate yourself on microaggressions to avoid this behavior. Microaggressions can be verbal or non-verbal. Like asking an American person of color where they are from or following a person of color in a store.

Race experts say microaggressions have a huge mental health impact on those who experience them. It’s like “water dropping day by day wears the hardest rock away.”

How do you politely tell someone that you are uncomfortable with their racist remark?

Stay calm and tell them they are making you uncomfortable with the reason. Don’t feel pressured to talk too much about it.

You can simply ask them to educate themselves on the matter. If they aren’t being respectful after you tell them they’re being racist, ask for someone’s help or leave.

Ana C.

Ana C. is an artistic writer who loves shaping language around her message. For her, etiquette is about respecting everyone and spreading kindness. She loves hanging out with goats, analyzing TV shows, and eating feijoada with farofa.

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