Today, I heard a friend mention an exciting conversation he had with somebody of a different race. He mentioned this woman's race several times in order to paint a more detailed picture of what his experience with this woman was like. He basically tapped a racial/cultural stereotype to run the following pseudo-script in my head:

#!/usr/bin/env python

from stereotype import appearance, mannerisms, speech

And honestly, it had its intended effect on me. I have known a few people from this particular race who fit the stereotype he was describing, along with the other (non-stereotypical) descriptions he gave of the situation, and the fact that he mentioned her race actually enriched my understanding of what he experienced.

I've been trying to make myself more sensitive to issues of race and identity. Stereotypes of all kinds have done a lot of damage in the past. Racism is still a huge problem in most (all?) places in the world. Because of this, his reference to this woman's race made me a little uncomfortable, even though there was nothing negative about what he said about her.

Was it necessary to mention the woman's race? No.

Was it helpful to mention the woman's race? Yes.

It made me wonder when it is okay to do that in more professional settings, which for me is academia. One of my friends says it's never appropriate to mention somebody's race for any reason, but that seems overly restrictive.

In academic/professional settings, when is it constructive/beneficial/okay/acceptable to reference somebody's race/gender/cultural background in an anecdote (e.g. between colleagues)?


  • I recognize that this is a very sensitive issue. I am trying to be the best colleague/supporter/ally I can be for everyone. I've been burned badly by participating in sensitive conversations in the past, but I'm only trying to learn to be better. I ask that you be respectful to all (me, my friend, other readers, etc.) in your comments and/or answers to this question.
  • This question is somewhat subjective, but I'm not sure how to make it less so. Please edit it if you can make it better-suited for this site.
  • I'm including the tag because this question applies just as well to gender, even though my situation was about race.
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a boat programming question. Mar 29, 2017 at 18:51
  • @FedericoPoloni: Good point. How could this question be revised to not be a "boat programming" question? I think it's still relevant and important for us as academics.
    – jvriesem
    Mar 29, 2017 at 18:53
  • I don't think it can. :) But that's just my personal opinion. Mar 29, 2017 at 18:55
  • @FedericoPoloni: What do you think about the other questions with the gender tag, such as academia.stackexchange.com/questions/86352/…, which has 77 upvotes? It is a general question (I'm considering moving it to the English SX site, since it has a PC tag), but there are similar questions on this site.
    – jvriesem
    Mar 29, 2017 at 18:59
  • 1
    If they didn't want it here, you could now consider taking this to interpersonal.stackexchange.com Short answer: a lot depends on the setting and modality of the audience; maybe because you didn't specify your question to one, it was considered to be too broad. Aug 2, 2017 at 11:13