Talk:you people

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you people[edit]

Sense #2. There are cases where this can be applied to all groups, not just African people...

I’ve heard you people many times in my life, in school, at work, in the military service, at parties, and at get-togethers, but never once in regard to Africans, or even African-Americans. —Stephen 18:49, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
I think it is possible that it is not used with respect to African-Americans because it is feared to be offensive.
I don't see that this is a "racial slur", even when used to refer to a racial group. It betrays racial stereotyping, probably, but is not, in and of itself, pejorative. It might be termed offensive. In the US, it has been one of the archetypical indicators of racial (especially) and ethnic stereotyping. It wouldn't surprise me if the "offensiveness" was changing. The offense might be taken by any individual stereotyped in this way. Is this issue applicable at all outside the US? DCDuring TALK 20:33, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
Then it must be regional. To me it has no racial overtones whatsoever and cannot be used offensively. If there were a protest or demonstration of some sort by whites, blacks, or Hispanics, which came to require crowd control by the police in Texas, the police would not hesitate to shout "you people, get back", and nobody would take offense at "you people". If anything, they might take offense at the command to "get back". —Stephen 20:46, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
I'm not as sure about regional as situational and generational. The scenario you describe would work the same way in New York and other states of my acquaintance. But sentences like "What do you people do when it gets hot?" or "You people have taken over all the dash events at the Olympics" indicate probable stereotyping on the part of the speaker, IMHO. I think the phrase has a non-SoP meaning that conveys this. DCDuring TALK 21:18, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
The purpose of an offensive tag is to warn speakers about how hearers might take something, not to indicate the true state of mind of the speaker. DCDuring TALK 21:20, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
I hear stereotyping in the assumption and the accusation, but in no case does "you people" sound the least bit offensive. If you change the subject in both of those examples to "you fellows" or "African-Americans" or "black people" or "nonwhites" or any other term, it comes out the same. It’s the accusation or the assumption that is offensive, not the "you people". —Stephen 21:47, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
You might be right. But it was not an accident that the original contributor and I find something special in this phrase. It is a question of how to put it, what context tags, usage notes, etc. And this is RfV, so cites would be nice. DCDuring TALK 23:32, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
Please take a look at the citations page. DCDuring TALK 23:57, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
I didn’t see anything at all in those citations to indicate that you people is in any way derogatory or offensive. The offense was in addressing and labeling an entire class of people. As I said before, you can replace "you people" with almost any term or phrase to address almost any large class, including: you guys, you Italians, you Canadians, you Southerners, you Yanks, you Brits, you Continentals, you Asians, you Koreans, you New Yorkers, you actors, you waiters, you gays, you blue-collar workers, you investment brokers, you lawyers, you politicians. Just about the only time you can get away with pidgeon-holing or labeling an entire class of people is when men do it to women, or women do it to men...and that’s because men and women are innately attracted to one another, and so the labeling is often seen as humorous and all in good fun. There is nothing wrong with the term you people, it’s only the act of labeling a class of people, and any other term will work the same way. —Stephen 01:13, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
You did notice that in some of the cases the people involved clearly said or implied that they found the phrase as an indicator of offensiveness. That is basically the point of having an offensive tag. It is not about whether folks should be offended, but whether they are offended. I'll put in the one about the riot. Perhaps that will help. DCDuring TALK 01:20, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
That’s because that was the easiest way for them to understand and express what was happening. People often complain of an aching left arm when actually they’re having a heart attack. When people involved said it was the phrase, what they meant was the act of demeaning an entire class with a broad stroke, and if the offenders had used any other term in to say the same thing (such as you nonwhites, you other-colored fellows, you eyeteyes, you Parisian types), the effect would have been just the same, and those offended would, as they did their best to analyze it, have said that the offence was in saying nonwhites, or other-colored, or eyeteyes, or Parisian types, or poor people, or whatever term was actually used. Everybody can see the offense, but not everybody can understand and express clearly exactly what the offense is. I don’t know which one is the one about the riots, but all of the citations are the same...the offense is not in the term you people but in the act of besmearching a broad class. —Stephen 01:34, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
There is clearly something special about the term. I don't think that you can find any of the other apparently neutral terms that have quite the same effect. It is precisely because the speaker doesn't find anything wrong that the use of the term demonstrates a problem. In four of the five cites someone indicated that the term was "impolite", caused the first black riot in US marine history, caused the speaker to say "oh, oh", or got a US presidential candidate into trouble. How much clearer could it be? If "offensive" isn't the right tag for the term, please suggest an alternative. DCDuring TALK 01:46, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
I would call it either a plural of you or simply SoP. The term did not cause any riots, it’s not impolite, it didn’t get a candidate into trouble. It’s the other end of the sentence that is the problem. I see nothing special about it at all, and the other apparently neutral terms, used in the same way, will have the same effect. "He said some cleaning compound was missing and he suspects you because your sort are always stealing things." "He said some cleaning compound was missing and he suspects you because the darker races are always stealing things." "He said some cleaning compound was missing and he suspects you because black people are always stealing things." "He said some cleaning compound was missing and he suspects you because Asians are always stealing things." "He said some cleaning compound was missing and he suspects you because these people are always stealing things." "He said some cleaning compound was missing and he suspects you because those people are always stealing things." "He said some cleaning compound was missing and he suspects you because minorities are always stealing things." If there is anything that sets "you people" off from the others, it’s that it is so nonspecific and inocuous, so it gets the job done while still sounding innocent. If you get more specific and say black people, Italians, or Asians, then your "argument" is more vulnerable to attack and your "point" could be lost. And just as "you people" can be used to refer to black people, it can also refer to Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, illegal aliens, hillbillies, Jews, or any other large group. All it is is a vocative form for any class of people. You might as well say that "you" is offensive. And since there are many nouns and pronouns that can substitute for "you" or "you all", then almost all nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs are offensive. It’s not offensive per se, it’s the rest of the sentence that is offensive. Well, I’ve explained it every way I can think of. If you still don’t see what I mean, I give up. —Stephen 04:07, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
Stephen, it could be a regional thing. But, the term "you people" is regarded as offensive by most of the African Americans that I know. In fact, this term was the subject of several memorable episodes of the 1970's sitcom All in the Family. It also got Ross Perot in a bit of trouble during a speech that he gave to the NAACP in 1992.[1] In fairness to your position, many white people are quite ignorant of the racially charged nature of this term, even in the US. -- A-cai 06:31, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
I think there are four things going on here. Firstly, there is the stereotyping — the treating of a group of people who share one feature (e.g. race) as if they must share other features (e.g. just about anything). Secondly, there is the frequent negativity of the stereotyping, which obviously makes things worse, but is not an essential component. Thirdly, there is the tying it to a specific person — e.g. the assumption that, if I'm talking to a black person, then I can use "you people" to mean "black people" because obviously the primary salient feature of a black person is that they're black. And fourthly, there is this expression specifically, which has come to be associated with the preceding in a way that other putatively synonymous expressions have not. "You fellows", "you all", "you lot", and so on don't have these associations; to me, devoid of context, "you people are always making trouble" sounds like a complaint about a race of man, while "you lot are always making trouble" sounds like a complaint about a group of between 3 and 100 or so putative trouble-makers. Why? No clue. But if something bears note, we include it, even if we can't explain why it's the case. —RuakhTALK 18:35, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
In the UK I am not aware that it has racial connotations at all - positive, negative or otherwise. However, many people do find it offensive in that it tarnishes an individual with the generally negative impressions of a whole group of people. As a real world example, a few years ago my mother cut her fingers very badly and had to go to the local doctor's surgery for some stitches. It is only a small practice, with only a part-time nurse. The doctor, in a fit of good bed-side manner, said "you people always manage to injure yourselves when the nurse isn't here.", which mum always comments as being offensive every time she relates the tale. Perhaps we should mark the entry as (offensive, racially offensive in US). Thryduulf 19:16, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

As someone who lives in the US, I can see both sides but ultimately think the issue here is that it can apply to any group, not just people of African ancestry. It's not an overtly racist phrase, indeed not even automatically derogatory (depends on how it's used), yet in the case of a white person speaking to a group for black people as with Perot, I understand how it can be taken wrong. It's not unlike the first reference on baby mama, a page created by the IP who listed this here. "Obama's Baby Mama" was an attempt at humor by someone who didn't understand the implications. Had it been "McCain's Baby Mama" people might say it was just a tabloid talk show trying to be funny and arguably failing - no one honestly thinks Michelle Obama or Cindy McCain fathered their children illegitimately - but the racial context amplified the mistake.

So basically, it can refer to any group of which the speaker is not a part, the inverse of the first definition, with the potential to be offensive, whether only in the US or not I'm not sure. Plausibly Deniable 20:16, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

It all seems about right to me. I got agreement among almost all I asked. One person, from UK, not much in contact with blacks, wasn't aware of the issue. One took a position that the problem wasn't really inherent in the words (as Stephen). Four others would use it with care, especially with respect to any member of an ethnic or religious group.
Part of the problem is even more general than the first mentioned by Ruakh, in line with Thryduulf's comment. It is a bit insulting in the cultures I know to treat an individual you are talking to as a member of a group of any kind, having typical or average characteristics of that group, whether you are saying good or bad things about the group. It could be even a group one has voluntarily joined and whose button is on one's clothing. "You Tories ...." "You Harvard guys ...." "You baby-boomers ...."
"You people" is a particular embodiment of the problem that is a well-documented set phrase. It is often used in questionaires used to identify possible racist attitudes as part of training programs designed to combat racism in the workplace or elsewhere. DCDuring TALK 20:30, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
In the UK it has no racial connotations. I use it regularly when talking to groups of friends, "So what are you people up to this evening?" I'd also use it if I wanted to be sarcastic about a group of people, "Why is it that you people are always asleep in morning lectures :p?", though the emphasis would be on always so I'm fairly sure this is just the same use as above. Conrad.Irwin 12:33, 15 June 2008 (UTC)

Here in the U.S., it's an obvious keep. Re: Conrad Irwin and others: We often keep entries which have blatantly sum-of-part meanings but ALSO have special meanings. Just because "you people" has an offensive meaning in certain contexts, doesn't mean you can't use it in the examples Conrad gave. Just like "bottom feeder" can be used to describe fish who literally feed off the lake floor, rather than the scum of society. Here's a link which goes to a forum and so probably wouldn't count as durably archived, but is relevant for the discussion anyway: [2] Language Lover 00:13, 21 June 2008 (UTC)

I disagree with "[h]ere in the U.S., it's an obvious keep". Here in the U.S., it means "(derogatory) Members of any group, or people that share any characteristic", not necessarily being African. Cites, if they're needed (though not necessarily all from the U.S.): [3] (immigrants), [4] (Jews), [5] (Russians), [6] (employees of a certain company), [7] (teachers), [8] (Brits), [9] (American Indians, referred to as such by, inter alia, African Americans).—msh210 19:41, 18 February 2009 (UTC)
Msh210 has a missing sense that fits my experience and understanding of US usage. The "outsider to a clique" sense doesn't fit with my sense of the term clique. The "black people" sense would certainly be included under Msh210's wording. It would be seriously wrong to exclude blacks from the citations, since they have been most prominent among those on the receiving end of this term (at least since they were no longer called boy or credit to your race). DCDuring TALK 20:23, 18 February 2009 (UTC)