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Don't call a black woman exotic ... ever

Dr. Ralina Joseph and Sade Britt
KUOW photo/Gil Aegerter
Dr. Ralina Joseph and Sade Britt

Is it OK to call someone of color ethnic? What does half-white mean? 

Dr. Ralina Joseph, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity and UW grad Sade Britt, sit down with KUOW Race and Equity reporter Patricia Murphy, to parse out those questionable terms.

KUOW: I will throw out a couple of words: exotic, half white, quarter Native American. Are these terms annoying, racist or just condescending?

Sade Britt: I think that these are words that people use when they don't know what to say. I feel like they can be lazy at best and racist at worse.

Ralina Joseph: If the intent was not to offend, then there is the possibility to go in there and to have a conversation, as Sade was saying. If the intent was simply to be lazy or to not care or perhaps just fall back on these old racist terms, then there is no room for dialogue.

What I'm really looking for is the opportunity to go in there and to actually have a conversation about language, how it affects us, how we feel demeaned by language, and how it's the way that all of us can actually change our behaviors.

KUOW: Seattle likes to think of itself as a progressive and racially aware city. As women of color how often do you hear these terms get used?

Joseph: All the time. Part of living in this world is you see race and you see racist intent coming out of people's mouths, especially in the workplace.

Britt: Don't say anything about chocolate in my presence. It literally reduces black women to a stereotype based on your preconceived notions. It's just weird. It's odd. And the word exotic as well. Throw it out. I feel like unless you're a Woodland Park Zoo exhibit, just don't even say exotic.

It's like, "Oh wow, she has brown skin, and my skin is white," like oh, mysterious. What's the mystery?

I'm not your chocolate Princess Godiva Ferrero Rocher queen. I'm just a black woman and that's it.

I actually got called chocolate last Friday. I didn’t know what to do. It was unbelievable. Then this man got so angry that I didn't turn around. He threw something at me.

This written excerpt was edited for clarity and length.