Tuesday, June 30, 2009

wonder whether describing a condom as a "sombrero" is racist

Wear Your Sombrero Condom Pal™ Assortment


Yesterday I was talking to a young woman -- I’ll call her Terry -- about her current part-time job. She’s part of a team that visits local high schools, in pairs or individually, to do presentations on sexual health and awareness. She had a complaint about her boss to ask me about, since she knows I write this blog.

“I definitely try to be careful about anything even potentially racial when I’m presenting,” Terry said, “but then our boss said something that seemed to me like just, too much.”

“Yeah?” I said. “About what?”

“Well, when we’re explaining how to use a condom, we’re supposed to describe the shape it should have when you first put it on. So, we always say it should look like a sombrero, instead of a beanie.”

“Okay. I get it. It gets that shape because there’s supposed to be more air left at the end, right?”

“Right. So my boss says, ‘We really need to stop saying sombrero, and we need to come up with some other description.’”

“Why?”

“Because she says sombrero is racist!”

“Maybe it is. But you disagree.”

“Yes. I mean, I get that a sombrero is a Mexican thing, and a beanie isn’t racial or ethnic. But a sombrero IS a Mexican hat, isn’t it? And most people know what it looks like, right?”

“Most people, I guess. But I’m not a kid anymore, like the ones you’re presenting to. Do they know what a sombrero is?”

“Sure, I think so. But I don’t get how comparing a condom that looks the way it should to a sombrero is racist. A sombrero isn’t a person, it’s a thing. And it’s an ACTUAL thing.”

“Hmm. That’s true. So, you’re asking me if I think that’s racist too?”

“Right. Because I don’t think it is racist.”

I know Terry well, so I know that she cares and thinks about these things in a deeper way than most white Americans do. That is, she’s not one to throw around charges of “political correctness” when people claim that something is racist. In fact, I’ve never heard Terry describe anything as “politically correct.” So I knew she wasn’t just saying that her boss was being “pc,” and over sensitive, and brushing off her claim about the word “sombrero.” Terry really wanted to figure out HOW using “sombrero” in a presentation on sexual awareness is racist.

“Okay,” I said, “Let’s see.”

I was stalling. I wasn’t sure myself that “sombrero” in this situation is racist, and if it is, just why that’s so.

Terry was waiting.

“So you said most or all of the kids will easily know what a sombrero looks like.”

“Right.”

“Well, how do they know that? Wouldn’t they get those ideas from movies, and TV shows? Maybe from their textbooks too.”

“Right. It’s just common knowledge, you know? A sombrero is just a hat. That happens to be a Mexican hat.”

“Well, that’s true, but I bet these kids have common stereotypes in their heads about Mexicans.”

“Maybe. Probably.”

“And what would those be?”

“Um, lazy. Illegal immigrant.”

“Yes, I think so. So, does the image of a sombrero bring those associations to mind for your audience? I mean, when I was a kid, we had this kind of cartoon image of a Mexican person taking a siesta under a huge, cartoonish sombrero. The word ‘sombrero’ brings that image to mind, and the stereotype of Mexicans as lazy. Do you think it does that for your audience too?”

“Hmm. It doesn’t for me. I mean, I’m seventeen, so I’m not much older than these kids.”

“Okay, well, maybe it’s not racist to say ‘sombrero’ then.”

“Right. So far, I don’t see anything wrong with saying ‘sombrero’ when I’m talking about condoms. It’s a useful image because just about everyone knows what they look like.”

“Okay, let’s see. I’m not trying to find a way to defend your boss’s claim. And you know I’m not reflexively ‘pc’ either.”

“Right.”

“I’m just trying to see how it could be racist. So far, for me, I wouldn’t use it because even if the same stereotypes don’t come to mind for you that do for me, they might come to mind for someone in your audience. Maybe just for the older people in the room, like the teacher whose class your visiting.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Also, a sombrero is considered a Mexican thing, right? So, let’s say that you have someone in the class who’s from Mexico, or even somewhere else, in Latin America? Or what if they’re just, Latin American, period?”

“Yes, that happens. I do have students like that when I’m presenting.”

“So, I think it’s possible that you’re singling those students out with that word. I mean, the idea of a sombrero might bring that student to mind for the other students. They might even turn around and look at that student, or like, smile or smirk while they’re thinking about a sombrero, and also thinking about that student.”

“Hmm. I can see that. I mean, I can imagine that. But I’ve never noticed any students acting like that when I did say sombrero.”

“Well, yeah, but who knows what they’re thinking. Anyway, that might be a reason not to use that word.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Terry said. “I don’t want to single anyone out.”

“Right. It seems like that might happen, even though you’re not directly talking about this or that student when you use that word.”

“Actually, come to think of it, it’s true that sombreros get used for humor a lot. I mean, I see them on like, ‘Family Guy,’ and ‘King of the Hill.’ And they’re supposed to make the white person wearing them look ridiculous.”

“True," I said, "and that happens in other situations too. It’s like, there’s supposed to be something funny about sombreros. And yet, like you said, they ARE a real Mexican thing.”



“True,” Terry said. “Like those stupid racist ‘taco-and-tequila’ parties.”




“Yeah,” I said, “dressing up like that is supposed to be fun, and funny. A white person in a sombrero, again. It’s making fun of a real thing from Mexico. But then, you’re not making fun of sombreros in your presentations.”

“Right! So I still don't get what’s wrong with comparing a condom to a sombrero in that situation.”

“Well, it’s true,” I said, “that a sombrero is just a hat that happens to be from Mexico. But suddenly throwing the idea of a sombrero into unrelated situations brings certain associations or ideas to mind for people. Things that ridicule or trivialize Mexico and Mexican people. And Latinos more generally, I think. And also, you know, maybe those are things that distract from your presentation, too.”

We fell silent for a moment. I don’t know how fully convinced either one of us was.

“Well,” I said. “If you come up with any more solid ideas about it, I hope you’ll let me know.”

“Sure thing, you too. Thanks for the input.”

“You’re welcome. I think there’s more to say about the topic. Tell you what -- I’ll do a blog post and ask my readers about it.”

“Great idea. I’ll be sure to read it.”

“And by the way, did your boss suggest some other word? Something else besides sombrero, to describe how the condom is supposed to look?”

“No! That’s the other thing -- she doesn’t think we should use it, but then she didn’t come up with some other suggestion.”

“Dang. Thanks a lot, eh?”

“Yeah. That’s what I almost said.”


So, dear readers, what do you think -- should those who explain to a high-school audience the proper shape for an about-to-be-deployed condom avoid saying that it should look like a sombrero? And if so, can you suggest a viable substitute?


And finally, on a lighter, somewhat related note, since I do want to promote safe sex, here's one of the best condom ads I’ve ever seen.

Unless, that is, it’s racist . . .

66 comments:

  1. If it's supposed to look like a sombrero and most people know what sombreros look like, why suggest something different? If the educator said "it's supposed to look like a sombrero with documentation", then maybe it's a problem.

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  2. One issue we have in working towards a racist-less society is determining what is and isn't racist.

    I don't think this is racist. I think to even consider it racist is to exacerbate a problem. The thoughts one may have when you say sombrero, that's not your problem, that's there's. Telling the kids a condom put on the right way looks like a sombrero is making use of a relatively common object. How they were exposed to it isn't Terry's issue. Now if Terry were personifying sombrero and using it to represent the stereotypical lazy, sleeping Mexican, then that's racist. Using it so the kids know how to put on a condom correctly is not.

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  3. A sombrero is a hat, in this context I don't think there's anything inherently racist in the description.

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  4. It's not race-neutral, but I don't think it's necessarily racist. But I'm a white lady who is not really in a position to judge such things. I'd like to hear from a Hispanic reader on this....


    Maybe a ten-gallon hat or a cowboy hat would work better for an American audience?

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  5. I think that's exactly right: the use of "sombrero" isn't remotely racist (as long as we're using that word here for prejudice against Mexicans or Latinos), because there's no connection between its use here and any stereotypes or negative history.

    (1) A sombrero is, indeed, a real thing, and more importantly, exists quite independently of any negative uses of the word or image.

    (2) The user isn't using the word in a negative way. The reference is apparently to the shape and fit of a popular article of clothing, without any other connotation.

    (3) The word doesn't have any automatic negative connotation in any context, such as a racial slur might, and it isn't being used in a particular context which invokes a negative connotation. (This might be different, for instance, if "sombrero" were a well-known slur in a sexual context, in which case, using it here might be a bad idea.)

    If some listeners can't hear "sombrero" in any context without thinking of negative stereotypes, once the possibilities above are ruled out, I think it's safe to say that's their issue.

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  6. I don't think it's inherently racist, but I also don't think it's helpful. What's so unclear about saying "squeeze the tip to leave space for the semen to go"? I don't mean to derail or get off the actual topic, but if there is a question about it being insensitive and it is also potentially unclear (you really don't want to leave air in the tip, you want to leave space in the tip), they should probably find another way to say it.

    I think the most worrying part of this discussion is the automatic, unconscious connection between not white and US American and bad and offensive. Perhaps your boss's friend has some baggage that warrants another look.

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  7. I think "another..." is right; aside from concerns about racism, they may need to look for a more accurate description (although I understand the need to simplify when talking to an audience of young people). I also agree that it is not Terry's concern with how the children were exposed to the word "sombrero;" in fact, if she can use it in a way that is totally neutral and refers to it ONLY as an object, it introduces to the children a use of the word that is not as loaded with racial implications. As such, we can almost say we're re-claiming the word (if we need to go that far).

    It's not that we have to claim words as taboo once they've been appropriated by racist connotations; it's that we have to be willing to reclaim those words and be an example of how they can function without those connotations.

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  8. My criteria for questions like this is, "if I say this, will it sound similar to something an asshole might say?" Because nobody has a window into my intent. And as a speaker, I believe it is my responsibility to do what I can to deny racism a foothold in my speech -- and that means to, when possible, avoid speech that might provide a place for my audience to hang their unconscious racism, too. By that ruler, the use of "sombrero" as a metaphor for *anything* can be charged language. There's plenty of room in between "say whatever, without thinking" and "say nothing for fear of being misunderstood" for me to find that balance, and in this case, I'd err on the side of caution.

    If somebody has been dealing all week with the same old "(race-or-culture-specific item) + (unrelated context) = (childish snicker)", it's totally unreasonable for me to say "but I'm special, this is different!" It's not different *enough*. You have to squint too hard to see the differences between me and a racist asshole, in that case. Getting to explain what I think I "really mean" is a privilege that I shouldn't assume I'll always get to rely on.

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  9. an excellent post!

    cheryl makes a very good point about whether our use of a term is different *enough* from an asshole's use of the term. and i agree that erring on the side of caution is often the best strategy. but at the same time, i worry it's a fool's errand to try and account for a word's every possible association, especially when it's used in a race-neutral way. context (obviously) plays a very big role in the distinction between a race-neutral word and the race-neutral *use* of a word. there are a lot of things in the world that aren't race neutral; how do we figure out which of these have destructive effects, and when?

    in this context i'm not sure i see a problem. this is a sex-ed class in high school right? chances are, nobody's thinking about the racial connotations of sombreros, they're probably snickering to each other. hell, the boys in the class are probably too busy hiding their boners under their notebooks (unless that was just me, but let's leave my TOTALLY VALID MEDICAL CONDITION out of it).

    not that "it can be swept under the rug" is a good excuse, of course. but the best argument i've seen against the term's use is that rather than the use being racist in itself, the use of the term at all can potentially dredge up racially insensitive or insulting connotations in the audience. boner jokes aside, if the context potentially precludes that, does the argument go away? in this case, my gut says it does. but (to quote "high fidelity") sometimes my guts have shit for brains.

    language is such a tricky thing, it's hard to predict how everyone will respond to it. it's very interesting to think about how age coupled with environment affects your racial awareness. and i guess a lot of our day-to-day (and one of the things that makes this blog so excellent) comes down to risk management. all of the factors here, not the least of which is the hyper-sexualized context of the class itself, point to the use of 'sombrero' being a very low risk, compared to the descriptive reward.

    but maybe that's me.

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  10. “Yes. I mean, I get that a sombrero is a Mexican thing, and a beanie isn’t racial or ethnic. But a sombrero IS a Mexican hat, isn’t it? And most people know what it looks like, right?”

    I think I found the problem.

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  11. !&#, that's great! But, could you describe the problem that you found?

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  12. Beanies do have an ethnicity. Although they are very modern, they were originally worn by school boys. In Appalachia and the Southern U.S., they are also called a toboggan.

    The "racist" aspect of this analysis originates in the focus on sombrero as the object of your critical inquiry. Whiteness normalizes white supremacy, society and culture as not ethnic, not racial.

    Beanies and sombreros are things people wear and their shapes reflect the kinds of work people who wear them do, so of course they have cultural, ethnic and perhaps racial origins. Sombreros are used as metonyms for Mexicans in racist visual culture, but the mere existence of sombreros or their use in a public health analogy is not racist.

    Suit coats and neckties too are usually normalized as "not ethnic" costume, but they are.

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  13. Interesting points, !#$(%*#+@. (Sorry -- your moniker is really tough to type.)

    So maybe what I should have said in that conversation was that beanies "a beanie isn’t SEEN AS [CONSIDERED] racial or ethnic."

    But then, I didn't know that "school boy" is an ethnicity; in fact, I rather doubt it is. I also don't know that my failure to say precisely that is "THE problem" here.

    Skimming over the history of beanies at Wikipedia (which, I gather, will soon have an entry on EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE), I see a claim that beanies are a "larger variant of the skullcap such as the Jewish kippah or yarmulke," and a "working hat." Maybe what's erased is its class origins, as much or more than its ethnicity (since its not actually a skullcap)?

    At any rate, they seem to be more of an adaptation, depending on and variably shaped by circumstances. That doesn't sound "ethnic" to me in the traditional sense of that word, and certainly not in the much fuller sense that sombrero is tied, however completely or accurately, to Mexico in the minds of most Americans.

    So while I certainly agree that whiteness normalizes in egregious and invisible (especially to whites) ways, I don't agree with your statement that "The 'racist' aspect of this analysis originates in the focus on sombrero as the object of [my] critical inquiry." The beanie may have erased ethnic origins, but the extant ethnic associations of the sombrero are the focus of my critical inquiry because those associations are just that -- extant. Analysis of the whitened/erased ethnic origins of everyday American life would be another and worthwhile post. And by the way, if you're especially interested in writing one, I'm certainly interested in hosting it as a "guest post."

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  14. I agree with James. This usage isn't racist, but Terry's boss' actions suggest that she is overcompensating as a means of hiding her own closet racism. Those sorts of statements get made a lot by people in liberal areas who consider themselves to be progressive and use misapplications of political correctness out of fear that their personal deep-down racism will be discovered. I grew up in Seattle and heard stuff like this all the time. After the 2000 election my social studies teacher freaked out at the class when students started calling Bush a chimp or making "curious George" jokes, because comparing someone's appearance/mannerisms to that of a monkey is racist against black people, regardless of the context of the comments or the race of the person they were being directed at. The teacher was a 50ish white dude.

    Sorry about the tangent.

    Some points about Condoms and Sombreros:
    -Condoms are often discussed as hats, the sombrero fits with that schema which strengthens the analogy.
    -Sombrero's are an extremely common image. They are not just depicted on the heads of mexicans or at Mexican resturants, but are also featured in lots of costume and party supply shops, displays of general kitsch, and even clip art. Besides, its not like the kids getting the condom lecture are wee bitty. They're probably teenagers. There isn't any specific reason to assume that teenagers are totally unfamiliar with the concept of "sombrero style hat", and are likely to know the hat more readily then they associate it with the specific stereotypes of Mexican's that Maacon mentioned.
    -Instructions about how to put on a condom are kind of confusing. If it looks like a sombrero then it means that you're going to be unrolling it in the right direction is one of the most beautiful analogies/instructions that I've heard.
    -There isn't another hat-analogy that would work and be so universally recognizable. The bowler is really the only other thing that comes close. RMJ: a 10 Gallon hat doesn't really make sense when you think about it and a condom. Like an unrolled condom a sombrero has a round domey thing in the middle, and a rolled brim (hence why the bowler would also work... and which is a type of hat that people my age and younger tend to be totally unfamiliar with).

    Comments about other comments:
    -Mexican isn't a race. Sombreros are from Mexico, and are not a universal that all hispanics use. Sombreros are not commonly worn in Mexico.
    -Beanies and beanie style hats have a much longer history then the guy with Amp in his name alludes to. Knitting dates back to way ancient egypt and beanie style hats exist pretty much everywhere that knitting does, from central asia to scandanavia to the andes. Beanies are not the sole invention of Appalachia, or the sole property of the Scots or their scotch-irish descendents (early white settlers in Appalachia).
    -Beanies do not look like condoms.
    -Beanies are often associated with either white skaters/stoners or black gangs (from the way they get banned at schools).

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  15. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of this discussion. I find myself wondering how many of the commenters are "white" or "passing as members of the dominant culture" and how many are "people of color" ... and especially how many are "Mexican" or "other Latino-American".

    Me, I'm a white woman in her 60s.

    My very first thought on reading the headline of the original post was a visual of someone putting a condom on a Mexican human being. My second thought was that comparing a condom to a sombrero was probably a reflection of calling "all" Mexicans "dickheads."

    So at least for this one older white American (I'm at least 10 years too young to say "elderly," thanks) ... sombrero might have problems.

    On the other hand, maybe the problem is that the headline is so short and direct. "If it looks like a sombrero then you're probably unrolling it the right way," in the middle of a talk about bananas and cucumbers, may pass the anti-racism test just fine.

    Lots to think about.

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  16. The presence of beanies in North America is a white settler phenomenon. Beanies did not arrive in North America via the Andes or ancient Egypt. Beanies are not all knit, and every knit hat is not a beanie. It is just not plausible to believe that school boys and fraternity boys wore beanies because the descendants of African slaves or Andean farmers wore them in the 1920s. They wore them because beanies were a traditional white ethnic costume.

    The discussion you've used to illustrate a point about the whites began with a wrong and unturned notion: that beanies are non-racial and non-ethnic but sombreros are, so let's look at sombreros. Everyone knows about sombreros because they're used in racial visual culture: Speedy Gonzalez cartoons and beer advertisements for example.

    On the other hand, beanies are supposed to be a universal non-racial analogy, but I would propose that the word beanie may actually not be something all people (especially children) recognize. They may only infer that it is the opposite of a sombrero, but having never read Archie comics, shopped at the Gap in the mid 1990s, or had their "woolie" called a "beanie," the intelligibility of the word "beanie" as a hat shape is taken for granted by a white racist culture than cannot recognize its own ethnic products.

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  17. The presence of beanies in North America is a white settler phenomenon.

    You sound very confident, !&#. Do you believe Wikipedia is wrong to attribute beanies, originally, to Jewish culture, and more broadly to a host of peoples? There's no hint in there that beanies were worn by arriving European settlers.

    They wore them because beanies were a traditional white ethnic costume.

    That's not what Wikipedia says at all. As has already been pointed out, they seem to have been a working-class hat which was adopted ironically by colleges.

    Certainly colleges did not require their use--as an insult--because they were a traditional costume of the freshmen.

    Everyone knows about sombreros because they're used in racial visual culture

    I'm not sure what "race" you're referring to. It's already been pointed out that we're talking about Mexicans here, not any broader group, like the peoples of Latin America.

    You're certainly right to point out that the beanie isn't necessarily free of racial or ethnic connotations. But I do think you're stretching when you insist that it is a "white" phenomenon, despite evidence to the contrary.

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  18. The discussion here is frustrated by the attempts to naturalize ethnicity and race as static categories that exist outside nationality. This line of argument reduces to "Mexicans aren't a race but a nationality therefore it's not racist," which is just sophistry.

    I've not seen any evidence to contradict that the "beanie" in North America originates with European settlers (or their descendants). There are assertions that wollen knit caps exist everywhere, but I am talking about the "beanie" as a name that is intelligible in a culture.

    Wide-brimmed hats with a high crown also exist outside Mexico (and sombrero is also the name for a Spanish hat traditional to Andalusia). 13th century Mongolians also wore "sombreros." Yet Mongolians did not introduce the sombrero to Mexico, and we continue to recognize the sombrero as a uniquely Mexican hat.

    We're not only talking about the things. We're talking about the names for things and how they're used in analogies.

    Jews do not call their hats beanies nor do all kippas resemble beanies. The ritual observance is to cover the head, and Jews have fulfilled this obligation with a variety of head coverings in different cultures and periods of history.

    Beanies are called beanies because "bean" is a slang word for head that probably originates in U.S. baseball in the very early 20th century.

    In a world where condoms can be "sombreros" or "beanies," sombreros are not more racial, ethnic or national than beanies. The analogy is not "stetsons" and "beanies," but that analogy also applies. The invisibility of the beanie's race and ethnicity is a result of its whiteness, its familiarity to white people and the name coming from white settler culture in North America.

    I feel my point has been made: Beanies have a white ethnic origin. That's all I need to say.

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  19. sombreros are not more racial, ethnic or national than beanies.

    I could take issue with a lot of what you've said, but I'm going to stick with this.

    Sombreros most certainly are more ethnic or national than beanies.

    The sombrero, both as a name and as a very specific type of hat, is almost universally seen as a symbol of Mexican culture. In the U.S., for instance, the sombrero is often seen but always closely associated with Mexico.

    The beanie, on the other hand, is a basic type of hat with many variations. It did not originate with this country's white settlers, but as you've noted, appears to have been introduced by later Jewish immigrants. As for their association now, the sheer number of different contexts in which beanies have been used, here and around the world, helps to indicate why they are not closely associated with any particular nation, ethnicity, or race.

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  20. I did not say that Jews introduced the beanie to America.

    I apologize for reading too much into your comment.

    Jews did introduce the beanie to the U.S. If you didn't mean to say so, I'm sorry.

    Your response is an example of this invisibility of white culture ....

    No, it isn't. I'm a firm believer in how often "white" culture is rendered invisible, or "normal," in our society.

    I'm simply pointing out that not every aspect of culture is closely tied to one race, ethnicity or nationality.

    For instance, you mentioned suits and ties before. These originated in the West, of course, and are still seen as primarily western symbols today. They have been widely adopted around the world, and are no longer simply "white" or European clothing. On the other hand, they still have strong connotations of Western culture.

    The beanie simply isn't this closely associated with any one culture.

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  21. James, I withdrew the comment you replied to because I have to end my participation in this discussion. It's the beginning of my work day. I still stand by the comment, but I won't be back to engage for now.

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  22. in my day condoms might have been called a "jimmy hat". a sombrero is a hat you can't lie about that. i don't think the jimmy in questions refers to a person but more so, referring to the male member. so it may be insensitive to call it a jimmy hat in front of a person named jimmy, it could cause confusion. the sombrero imagery is meant to describe the air-filled bit of negative space at the tip. since there aren't too many hats with this design and headroom, it is fitting. (pun intended) the enlarged brim of the hat is probably a factor as well for presentation and educational purposes. if the teacher had called it a yamaka while in front of one crowd of students while calling it a coolie hat at another and i don't think this is the case.

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  23. That commerical was hilarious.

    And, I think sombrero is cool, but I would defer to somebody of Latin descent.

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  24. "Sombrero" isn't racist, anymore than "rasta hat" is racist, but both evoke stereotypes; the stereotypes are offensive and irrelevant, so it's better not to summon them at all.

    More importantly for the issue at hand: the sombrero versus beanie illustration isn't clear. I don't think of sombreros as necessarily having extra space at the crown, and since a beanie doesn't have any brim the analogy is confusing. It seems to be about the brim rather than that space. The example needs to represent that space-which-is-not-a-bubble, right? Wouldn't something like a flopped-over Santa hat be more apt?

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  25. Ok I had sex ed and not once was that analogy used. However, in all of the short films that they made us watch in junior high, I could never figure out why they used jimmy hat for condom slang. I just asked my coworker and he said because men call their penises jimmys. I literally never heard of that, Johnson yes, Jimmy no.

    Tell her to break out a banana and/or a cucumber. That's what we did. Is that not allowed?

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  26. Why doesn't she just say, "the tip needs to be pointing outward/up because that's where the semen will be collected."? She doesn't need to reference any hats.

    This is why I invented the word racish--this is a good example of that. Calling this racist is going overboard imo, but her assertion that beanies are "not ethnic" shows she doesn't really get it. It's clear that what she is saying is offending some people (like her boss,) so what is the big deal with finding something else to say?

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  27. I also think that it is interesting that a few people have said something like, "Lets get a Latino person's opinion," like that means anything.

    If one Latino person says, "It's fine." and another one says, "I'm offended!" then what do we do? I guess we're back where we started because --newsflash!--
    All Latino people do not think the same way.

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  28. myblackfriendsays wrote,

    It's clear that what she is saying is offending some people (like her boss,) so what is the big deal with finding something else to say?

    I'll see if I can get "Terry" to jump in here to speak for herself, but from what I understood in our conversation, she's not all that averse to changing her terminology. I think it's more that if it is racist (or racish; nice term!), then she would like to understand just why that is. I actually admire that in her -- she doesn't seem to do things just because people say she should, and she's also trying to sharpen her understanding of such matters.

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  29. Maybe because she is taking something that is a symbol of cultural pride and identity for some members of a marginalized group (a symbol that is often denigrated or played for laughs by members of the dominant group,) and equating it with a thin piece of plastic that men put on their penises before they have sex.

    If instead of saying "beanie" she said "yarmulke," would that make the reasons for concern more obvious?

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  30. I'm a little surprised !&# is getting so much resistance. Is a sombrero inherently racial to someone who is of Mexican descent? I have to assume generally no.

    So this tangent is not really about the appropriateness of using the image of a sombrero: it's about how many white folks have a default attitude of white people stuff is normal; other people stuff is weird or in this case: white people stuff is normal; other people stuff is noticeably not white.

    Ask someone in Mexico what the first thing they think of is when you show them a sombrero. I'll bet you not a single person says "my ethnicity," "my country," "my identity."

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  31. oh for the record though, i don't see why sombrero is a helpful phrase to describe a condom.

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  32. Oh! I think you nailed it here:
    "myblackfriendsays said...

    Maybe because she is taking something that is a symbol of cultural pride and identity for some members of a marginalized group (a symbol that is often denigrated or played for laughs by members of the dominant group,) and equating it with a thin piece of plastic that men put on their penises before they have sex. "

    I've been mulling this over all day. . . funny what catches your attention, isn't it? Like Northlighthero, I'm a not-so-young white woman, so I don't think I get to declare that something is or isn't "racist", although maybe I can weigh in on "racish" ;). And after all that, I've decided that Cheryl's "asshole test" is right on the money.

    Here are my thoughts:
    Could using the sombrero analogy make someone in you audience feel singled out and uncomfortable? Given that the Sombrero *is* associated with a minority culture, and that minorities are often the targets of sexual jokes, I don't think it's much of a stretch to think that it could. ESPECIALLY when talking to a bunch of teenagers about a topic that tends to make people uncomfortable anyway. Perhaps if the audience were a predominantly latino group, and at least some of the presenters were latino as well, it would be a more comfortable fit.

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  33. Do we know why the boss decided it was racist? I wonder if her boss decided the term was racist and needed to be changed because someone at one of the presentations came to them or called them up to complain about being offended. If this is the case then you know that it has been seen as racist by the intended audience and therefore isn't as effective as it should be.

    Is talking about condoms and their use not an appropriate time to actually show and use condoms (on bananas and such)? Or are teenagers considered to be so stupid/innocent that they can't understand the simple use of something unless it dumbed down? Different issue I know, but still. Why not talk about condoms as condoms instead of hats of any kind?

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  34. giles, for the record, sombreros and beanies are sometimes used by these presenters because they represent different shapes a condom can have just prior to wearing it; a sombrero represents the more proper shape because there's more space in the conical center. (And who knows, maybe that's what the makers of the "Sombrero Condom Pal™ Assortment" were going for as well with their branding strategy.)

    Eman, from what I remember in the rest of the conversation with Terry, that actually wasn't why the boss declared it racist. She did so because another group of peer educators had made a video that contained the term. After Terry's group watched the video, the boss/leader of her group said that actually, the term shouldn't be used to describe a condom because it's racist.

    Raphne, myblackfriendsays, cheryl and Kaethe, I think I've come around to pretty much the consensus you seem to have reached. Interesting how many other commenters here see little or no problem with comparing a condom to a sombrero.

    Glad you liked the commercial, Big Man! I found it hilarious, and a very effective way to promote condoms.

    Moviegirl, I don't know if bananas, cucumbers and other Sir Mix-a-Lot fruits and veggies are okay -- I'll ask Terry about that.

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  35. Yes, that condom ad is racist. It plays up the whole "black guys all have huge penises" trope. Which comes from the black men are libidinous sex fiends trope. Which comes from the slavery era perceived threat of white women succumbing to black slaves.

    So yeah, pretty racist.

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  36. Anonymous, perhaps the setting and context matter? Some poking around suggests that this commercial for Trust condoms is set in Nairobi, Kenya. (The slogan at the end -- “Maisha iko sawa na Trust” -– means "Life is fine with trust.")

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  37. I thought that the "sombrero" thing was kinda funny. I mean we used to call condoms "jimmy hats" or just plain "hats". So what is the difference? Sometimes I think that all the humor in the world has turned into PC bullsit which I think is ridicoulous.

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  38. So, I understand that my previous comment was a little too long (and had a typo in it that made it sound like I thought that sombreros are Not used in Mexico, which was the opposite of my actual intention). At least two posts after mine mentioned the lack of Latino/Mexican commenters thus far, and again, I would like to wave my hand around and say "Hi, I am Hispanic, I commented, I wasn't offended by the Sombrero".

    I am offended that this post and its subsequent comments seem unable to grasp that while Mexicans are Hispanic, not all Hispanics are Mexican. Seriously, there are (rough guess, not gonna grab a pen and math it out) 16 other countries in Latin America, and all of them are represented within the Hispanic community within the US.

    !&#, you are vastly overestimating the importance of the term beanie in this discussion of culturally whatever condom analogies. While it would be interesting to look at the popularization of the term (if it does indeed have the origins you so vigorously claim it does, without presenting citations), that is totally not the issue at stake.

    Also, the context of the "Mexican isn't a race" comments is not sophistry. To reiterate what I said above, Mexican's are generally considered to be Hispanic or Latino, but not all people who are Hispanic/Latino are Mexican. There is a rather large body of scholarship that supports the idea that Latino is not a single racial category, and the very definition of the term Hispanic would preclude it from being one. The idea that all Latinos should be viewed through the lens of your (or Macons) worst fears about what negative beliefs a random person might have about Mexicans is pretty naive and fucked up.
    (and all the south americans I know are tired of being told that we don't sound mexican, mexico is on a different effing continent).

    The Sombrero, it turns out is actually the byproduct of colonialism. The word sombrero originally described hats worn by Spaniards, and is still used elsewhere in Latin America to describe wide brimmed hats. The hat is extremely practical for vaqueros (cattle farmers) and the super fancy ones seen at restaurants in the US is a caricature of that piece of work clothing worn by mariachis.

    So maybe the sombrero analogy should be tossed because it is an instrument of racism and oppression, harkening back to the bloody legacy of the encomienda system? [/snark]

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  39. Off topic: Hey Macon, I'm watching the tennis right now and im noticing that whenever they talk about the williams sisters they use words like ferocious, brutal, vicious, intimidatory,savage etc. I think the inference is that they are all brute strength and no intelligence or skill. It also seems to be describing them in animalistic terms.

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  40. Hey Mikey, yeah, off topic, but interesting. I'm amazed, but actually not too surprised, that they'd do that, after all those studies that demonstrate how sports broadcasters describe white and black players of various sports differently like that. . .

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  41. I don't doubt that there are plenty of sportscasters like that, but in this case, I think it's at least worth noting that the Williams sisters do have a much more physical style of play than most other top-level female tennis players. Their physically dominating style of play is really their distinguishing characteristic.

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  42. Thank you Jules, and yes, I think that long comments, like long blog posts, do get read less often than shorter ones. If you mentioned in your first comment that you're Hispanic, I missed it too (in fact, in rereading it, I've missed it again). That said, here's another long comment!

    You wrote,

    I am offended that this post and its subsequent comments seem unable to grasp that while Mexicans are Hispanic, not all Hispanics are Mexican. Seriously, there are (rough guess, not gonna grab a pen and math it out) 16 other countries in Latin America, and all of them are represented within the Hispanic community within the US.

    I appreciate the corrective that "Latin American/Hispanic" does not equal "from Mexico." Still, this post is about the word sombrero, and as you said in your first comment, while "sombreros are not commonly worn in Mexico," they "are from Mexico." More to the point, whatever their precise origins, they're associated with Mexico in the collective American imagination, along with a lot of stereotypes about "Mexicans." What I do think the post could have made more clear is that those stereotypes are often extended as well to Hispanics/Latin Americans in general, along with the common assumption that all such people are from Mexico (this reminds me of the surprise sometimes expressed upon learning that this or that person is not from Mexico -- this seems like a potential topic for a post -- "assume Latin Americans are from Mexico"?).

    Actually, that those stereotypes are extended to all Latin Americans is what I was sort of getting at in this part of the conversation with Terry:

    “Also, a sombrero is considered a Mexican thing, right? So, let’s say that you have someone in the class who’s from Mexico, or even somewhere else, in Latin America? Or what if they’re just, Latin American, period?” [With that last sentence, I was thinking also about people who have roots in the U.S. stretching back to before there even was a "United States"]

    “Yes, that happens. I do have students like that when I’m presenting.”

    “So, I think it’s possible that you’re singling those students out with that word. I mean, the idea of a sombrero might bring that student to mind for the other students. They might even turn around and look at that student, or like, smile or smirk while they’re thinking about a sombrero, and also thinking about that student.”


    I think this could happen (and it could feel bad) whether or not the Latin American student has Mexican origins. But then, that's just a guess on my part.

    Finally, your insights into the colonialist origins of sombreros (however snarky) are interesting. You wrote,

    The word sombrero originally described hats worn by Spaniards, and is still used elsewhere in Latin America to describe wide brimmed hats.

    Does that mean that prior to the intrusions of the Spanish, Mexicans didn't have sombreros? That sombreros are actually not an authentic Mexican thing? (And btw, is this just general knowledge you have? If not, what's your source for this?)

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  43. macon: Interesting how many other commenters here see little or no problem with comparing a condom to a sombrero.

    this is a bit of a simplification of my position (unless i'm misunderstanding). sure, outside the context of a sex ed class, and without the purpose of describing a very specific shape, an unsolicited comparison like that might rub me the wrong way. but we're talking about a very specific set of circumstances, in which the reason for using the term is explicitly stated. cheryl says it well that getting to explain "what i really mean" isn't a privilege one should assume they'll have. but aren't the presenters granted exactly that privilege when they walk onto the stage? the trick is to use it such that you pass the asshole test with flying colors.

    an example of failing this test would be to follow raphne's suggestion: i think the use of the term with a predominantly hispanic audience would actually be MORE of a problem, since it would suggest you're tailoring your presentation to suit your own racial preconceptions (especially if the hispanics in the audience aren't all mexican). and it would beg the question of whether you would use the same term with an audience of different ethnic makeup. the fact that it's a mixed audience only serves to strengthen the argument that the use of "sombrero" is race-neutral.

    similarly, myblackfriendsays makes an interesting point with regards to using "yarmulke" instead of "beanie," but this example is misleading because they signify a very different set of things. the yarmulke likely elicits as many ethnic connotations as a sombrero, but also bears the added weight of religious significance, which is undermined by using it in this context. now THAT'S a thorny issue, especially when one can use an equally effective but less charged descriptor. but i've yet to hear an alternative to "sombrero" that wasn't a long-winded clinical description that in all likelihood is already employed by the presenter, and simply reinforced by the sombrero comparison.

    i dunno, the further we get into the comments here, and the further we get into our own heads, the more it seems like the comparison being racist is a foregone conclusion and we're simply trying to justify why. but for all the thoughtful, interesting points being made, which apply very well to other situations, i've yet to see one that really applies here.

    sorry for another long comment. i'm long-winded :)

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  44. I believe that the word, "sombrero" isn't racist, but, given the way some White folks think, and, some Black folks, actually, the word may lead to negative associations.

    Honestly, call it what it is: a CONDOM.

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  45. Cheryl, like your "do i sound like an asshole" test.

    Myblackfriendsays, also love "racish."

    And IMHO you make a strong point about "...taking something that is a symbol of cultural pride ...and equating it with...penises" but OTOH: to me it also feels like a win when we can make talking about race/culture/ethnicity feel natural & comfortable, when we can establish a context within which mention of things racial is assumed to come from a place of respect rather than otherwise (Ie, we acknowledge that ignorant ppl might be able to make this into something bad, but we leave that attitude, that thinking behind us.

    I wouldn't want to underestimate the importance of learning to recognize and resist or change racism embedded in our language, but I also think that this positive approach has a place in the overall effort, and for this reason I *do* talk about race & culture, primarily with white people. I feel like every time we can mention (race-or-culture-specific item) in a respectful and “honoring” way, we’re that much further along to a time when it won’t occur to anyone to add the (childish snicker).

    Almost as if it’s beneath us to dignify that kind of thing by even acknowledging it; similar to how the Sex Ed teacher doesn’t avoid saying “penis” just because the kids are going to snicker, we can use matter-of-factness (about things that are merely race-related rather than racist) to work toward a new paradigm.

    I’m a white guy. For a few yrs I had a Mexican girlfriend and spent a lot of time immersed to a certain extent in “hispano” (ie, Mexican-American and Mexican) culture. The relevant point is that I heard the word “Mexican” used constantly; I loved the fact that it was virtually always spoken with an attitude of affection or pride, as opposed to the way white america often uses it (ie, faintly – or not-so-faintly – pejoratively.)

    As to the “sombrero” question itself, I’m reminded of an episode of The Office where something like the following (paraphrased) conversation took place between Michael (clueless white boss) and Oscar (Mexican-American employee):

    Michael: Do you prefer to be called something other than “Mexican”?

    Oscar: Why?

    Michael: Because “Mexican” has, well, you know… connotations.

    Oscar: Really? What connotations would that be?

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  46. If it is racist, then the commercial you showed at the end is just as racist. While it appears harmless, there is always the possibility that someone will see the black man with a really large common and think of the large penis stereotype. That seems to me to be the equivalent of calling the condom a sombrero and having some people think about Mexican/Latino stereotypes.

    It is inherently non-racist, the fact that people ascribe racist meanings to it does not make it racist, it makes them racist. Your focus (and I know it is) should be on changing racist perceptions of non-racist subjects, not the non-racist subjects.

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  47. (this is the same anonymous as the last comment)

    In my previous comment I didn't really think about it, but it actually seems pretty ridiculous to compare a sombrero to a condom anyway.

    But saying it denigrates a Mexican symbol of pride, again, that is a meaning that people are ascribing to an object. The problem still does not lie in the object, it lies in the people that assume it is being used in a belittling way. Couldn't you just as easily view a condom as the key piece in a beautiful act, and therefore it would be an honor to be compared to a condom? Maybe you do not think so, but as I know you know, people have different viewpoints of the same thing. So again, the solution would not be getting rid of the sombrero as a reference, it would be changing people's views of condoms as just a "thin piece of plastic men put on their penises before sex" to something more positive.

    I don't think sombrero should be used because it is just a bad comparison. But if you think it is a good comparison, not using it would be taking the easy way out. If you replace it with a more white culture friendly image, where is the line? Does every object that may or may not conjure up "racish" thoughts but is itself just an object get replaced by something that does not conjure up these thoughts? In other words, something that fits in with the "normalcy of whiteness?" Isn't that just validating whiteness as having control over everyone's thoughts?

    I would like to hear your thoughts on why not using the sombrero reference (if considered a valid reference) does not empower "whiteness as normal."

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  48. It can't just be that the boss finds it racist so it has to change. That is intellectually lazy, it gives too much power to someone who may not have assessed the situation as completely as (s)he could have. Maybe figure out why the boss thinks it is racist, and judge the merit of her/his argument. Otherwise there is no debate, and the conclusion reached, though it may be the correct one in the long run, was not fully thought out which decreases the chances that the correct decision is made.

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  49. What hat would take the sombrero's place? What would qualify as a racially neutral hat?

    What is your immediate gut reaction to that question?

    That is where it gets interesting.

    For me, it is anything that is not considered a minority -- but what does that say about racism and it's relativism? What does it say about what we are discussing here, and the grounds and boundaries which we are debating on and within?

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  50. Holy condoms, Batman! (Bad pun, sorry.) I did not think that this post would generate so many comments--this seems like one of those making a mountain out of a molehill problems.

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  51. @ James the other girls are
    also muscular and play a physical game nowadays, they have caught up, Dementieva was hitting the ball as hard as Serena in their match. Its not that power isn't part of the Williams game it is, but they also play with a lot of skill, guts, and
    intelligence.

    But that is rarely mentioned by commentators and on tennis forums they just want to talk about the pwer and exaggerate it.

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  52. I agree, Mike, that the Williams sisters bring far more to their tennis than merely power, and that other top players have been forced to focus more on physical power.

    My point was merely that this power has been what makes the Williams sisters most distinctive in competitive tennis. If commentators refer to it more often with them, and less often with their competitors, than they should, it is because sportscasters tend to be simplistic in their analysis and to harp on the same themes, over and over.

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  53. Teaching kids about safe sex is so trivial compared to the great burning issue of our lifetime: to sombrero it or not to sombrero it...lol

    Well, just to be on the safe side, let's add "sombrero" to the list of words that white people must never utter again.

    @Raphne:

    "I'm a not-so-young white woman, so I don't think I get to declare that something is or isn't 'racist'" ...

    Did somebody pass a law to that effect? Even with a 24-hour news cycle I still hadn't heard about that.


    And finally, this one from "anonymous":

    "Yes, that condom ad is racist. It plays up the whole "black guys all have huge penises" trope. Which comes from the black men are libidinous sex fiends trope. Which comes from the slavery era perceived threat of white women succumbing to black slaves.

    So yeah, pretty racist."

    Really? I'm SUCH a white person! I didn't realize that "sombrero" was an issue for black males in America.

    Let's just go with a "cowboy hat" theme and call it a day!

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  54. Giles:
    what it means to be Mexican, and what things symbolize this trait, varies in and outside Mexico. Saying something wouldn't be considered defining (or racist) in Mexico (where Mexicans are dominant) doesn't mean it isn't so for Mexicans or descendants of Mexicans living outside the country. Obvious example: in Mexico we devote more effort to celebrate September 16, Independence Day; Mexicans in the US make a bigger deal about May 5, the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. They're both national holidays, but one is significant when you're in Mexico , the other when you are (or grew up) away from it.

    myblackfriendsays: "racish" is indeed awesome and has endless potential for use.

    Jules and macon d: "sombrero", literally "shadower", means "brimmed hat" in Spanish, a language that predates the conquest of the Americas. Before the Spaniards came here, Mexicans did not, as such, exist. Modern Mexicans are a racial and cultural mixture of European whites and American Indians, with a dash of African slaves thrown in for good measure, that has been going on for nearly 500 years. Which is the main reason "Mexican" is not a race. If you got technical about our race, most of us would be "mixed".

    The American Indians that precede us don't seem to have worn hats, though they did have feathered headdresses that the Spaniards found pretty impressive. I can't think of a codex or mural that mentions or illustrates hats, though I don't know if they used anything to cover their heads from the sun while working in the field.

    In any case, what is a product of European cultural conquest is the idea that it is improper to be seen in public with your head uncovered. Which is why Mexican men, like their English or American counterparts, wore hats all the time well into the 1950s or 60s: tricorne, top or fedora.
    (In Spanish, all of those would be called types of "sombrero").
    What most Americans call "sombrero", made of straw and with a cone-shaped crown, has little to do with the hats of mariachis (the musicians) or charros (the working cattle wranglers in need of a shade-giving garment). Though they do have a wide brim, Charro hats have a small round crown, are made of fur felt and are often embroidered with gold or silver thread. They're expensive, and thus associated with the wealthy cattle owners of North-central and Northern Mexico.
    The cone-crowned straw hat, the one that condoms are supposed to resemble, can be seen in the murals of Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and in photographs of supporters of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata. This hat is typical of the poor peasants and fieldworkers of south-central Mexico.
    These people are precisely those who first migrated to the United States, and did so in larger numbers. This is why Mexicans in the US might feel the sombrero is a symbol of identity, and might not want it associated with condoms in a room full of immature teenagers.

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  55. Great info Beatrix, thank you. You seem to agree with Macon's concerns as expressed in the remembered/transcribed convo. That this association is one best left avoided.

    I do too. No hurt feelings possible taht way, among people for whom feelings can hurt very much.

    (And hey, I sure did learn a lot about hats here! LOL)

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  56. @ Moira

    Funny comment, smart too.

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  57. I know this has already been commented on ages ago, but I couldn't resist. A sombrero is a wide-brimmed hat used to keep the sun off your face. I wear one to the beach all the time. For me, as a Spanish speaker, that is what it is, a wide-brimmed hat. It is not only a Mexican word, but perhaps this is the most familiar Spanish speaking group for Americans, and which I personally find, quite honestly, a little closed-minded and slightly annoying. But, if using the word 'sombrero' incites racist stereotypes in people's minds, then by all means, just say wide-brimmed, pointy hat. Who could be offended by that? My two cents.

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  58. Analogy time

    sombrero:mexican person
    condom:penis

    if we make condom=penis, by extension it looks like we are saying

    mexican person=penis

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  59. "Hat with a brim?"
    (Funny thing--most often what I hear called "condom caps" by people wearing hats they think look stupid on them are knit beanie-form hats!)

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  60. As a privileged person w/ no Spanish-influenced background...

    ...the only thought of yours that really struck a chord w/ me was the idea that it might single people out.

    Otherwise, I don't think of the stereotypes...I just think of the shape, since that's the context...so I'd be pretty much w/ your 4th commenter, "RMJ."

    But see above about who I am.
    (Though I strongly disagree w/ cowboy hat, since they're not symmetrical all around and could cause a lot of harmful confusion if that disconnect causes people to fail to remember easily how to use a condom. Say "w/ a brim" or something and let people at least not end up w/ wrong-shaped brims in their heads.)

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  61. @beatriz, you obviously misread my comment. Because while we ultimately come to different conclusions about whether or not the condom-sombrero reference is ok, you and I are making the same point about the origins of the word.

    My post (which probably falls into "too long didn't read" land) states explicitly that Mexican isn't a race, that a sombrero is a hat, that the word predates the colonization of the americas and is used throughout to describe a variety of different hat styles. As someone who considers herself to be mestizo, and who comes from a mestizo family from South America, I really didn't need your lesson about race and colonialism in modern Latin America. I've spent years giving that schpiel to people who want to know why I have a spanish surname but am not more "indian looking".

    And I don't really buy your argument that since straw hats like those worn by Zapata and painted by Rivera were also worn by the first wave of Mexican immigrants to the US (which discounts the Mexicans living in the US when big chunks of it were still part of mexico?) saying that a condom looks like a sombrero would someone make their descendents feel oppressed.

    I maintain that sombrero sounds good, and within the context of the united states is widely understood to mean a hat with a rim and a rounded top, and thus a good analogy for a condom.

    but if people are really so upset then maybe "old lady gardening hat" would be preferable, since the hats worn by old ladies when they garden also have brims and rounded tops. and the old ladies who wear them come from everywhere.

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  62. As a Mexican who loves her sombrero... some people just need to get their Politically Correct Panties out of a knot.

    The only thing that could have possibly offended me is that "Terry" admitted that the word "Mexican" also brings to mind the word "lazy".

    I'll call that ignorant.

    I'm what I like to refer to as a "Gringa Mexicana." As much as I'd like to be Chicana (one of those Spanglish-speaking Mexican Americans running around all over the southern states), I never will be. So I can say that the true Mexicans - you know, all those illegal ones everyone wants to kick out of the country - work harder than I probably ever have, or ever will.

    So by all means, "que se duerman abajo del cactus, hermanos! Lo merecen!"

    And remember, if you want to kick them out of the US, you'd better learn to fix your own roof, immaculately manicure your own lawn, and break your back in 100-degree heat building that Starbucks you want to order your frappuccino in.
    (A bit of a distracted tangent, but I just thought I'd throw that out there.)

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  63. It was described in terms of a hat with no racial connotation. And i find it to be quite ironic that a blog named "stuff white people do" even brings up such a topic. maybe you're the racist and you are pulling at strings to find any kind of connection to whites and racism and to your fanatical beliefs, which you have to validate to yourself every once in a while even with such absurdities.

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  64. Was it intended to be racist? No. It is not racist. Problem solved.

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  65. nothing to see here, folksMarch 6, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    ok, so for some people it might actually be racist, especially for mexicans or as it said a mexican or latin american kid in a american school, americans might look at him/her or have another perspective of them. I'm mexican,and i leave in mexico; and let me tell you, i don't find this racist or anything, i mean we mexicans don't even use those sombreros, i find them ridiculous by the way, its just a traditional thing no one uses (just in some really weird occasions).

    so.. i don't think it is racist or anything.

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  66. I had this discussion earlier this week but I thought I might belatedly contribute anyway:

    With all due respect to the poster above, who actually is Mexican, I feel it is offensive because of the context, including U.S. cultural context, in which the sombrero analogy is being used. It takes sombreros, something Mexican men wear on their heads (even if only for "really weird occasions," as 'nothing to see here...' put it), and analogizes it to something to cover a penis. Most Americans don't know that sombreros are only worn on rare, special occasions but even if they did, it's still a cultural symbol uniquely identified with Mexico. And that's why it matters.

    Given that I belong to a group that is subjected to hypersexualized stereotypes and their attendant ramifications (on interpersonal as well as institutionalized levels), I'm more attuned to the offense of reducing an entire people, or men of color, to associations with genitalia. It's not just about avoiding offending Mexican-descent kids (b/c I'd be offended too) - it's about the inherent disrespect of a taking highly-identifiable cultural item, from a non-white culture, and sexualizing it in a (white) culture that already subjects Mexican culture and people to ridicule, and that uses sexualized stereotypes to justify promoting cultural/racial inferiority (e.g., blacks are more sexual => less self-restraint => less civilized => more animalistic, therefore ok to treat as inferior (and all that that entails)). It would feel like more of the same: See? Their hats can be used to demonstrate what a properly-applied condom looks like! (Not to mention the comments that would ensue if the target of the ridicule was wearing one - or any time pictures of Mexican-descent males wearing the hat were shown, e.g., Mexicans wearing sombreros look like dickheads!, etc.)

    It creates yet another opportunity for disrespect. It trivializes a non-white cultural symbol and diminishes the pride Mexican-descent kids might feel in such a culturally-recognizable item by applying it in an inappropriate context.* They don't need any more fuel added to the fire. Why not analogize it to a Stetson?
    _______
    *And, as has been pointed out before on this blog, the action is inherently objectionable, not just because of the offense it might cause the Mexican-descent kids. We all lose out.

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