An AMA Preview: The Word “Ethnic” – A Slur, Or An Essential Adjective?

Hey there!

In just a couple of days, I’ll be shooting a video where I’ll be giving answers to questions I solicited in an AMA – Ask Me Anything session.

But one was too juicy to wait on.

I got a comment from Kendra about my use of the word “ethnic,” and she went on to ask about how I handle things when I make a mistake.

The first thing I do is to make sure it was an actual mistake. And if it is, here’s how I learn from my mistakes.

(Click/tap ↑↑↑↑↑↑ that red YouTube button to subscribe to my channel. You’ll get notified when I release new videos.)

Hope this helps!


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hey there it’s David H Lawrence the 17th
and in a couple of days I’m going to be
doing my 100th episode crazy that this
has worked out as well as it has this is
episode number 98 and in the hundredth
episode I’m going to be doing an AMA
kind of I mean it’s gonna be gathering a
whole bunch of questions that people
have asked me I said look you can ask me
anything and I’ll answer them and right
now it looks like it may extend into
another episode or two but and by the
way if you still want to ask me
questions you can still send them to me
send them to david lawrence at
and just put in the subject line
ama question and that way I’ll know
that’s what you are trying to do so
questions are coming in from all kinds
of things radio and podcasting and
voiceover and on-camera stuff and
equipment and you know how am i doing
with my medical stuff and all that sort
of thing so it’s gonna be great but one
of them that came in was just a little
too juicy to wait on because it was
something that caught my attention just
like that I got a comment from a fellow
voice-over artist named Kendra who
wanted to know about the use of my word
of the my use of the word ethnic and
here’s what she said she said in
listening to number eighty-eight video
number eighty-eight you mentioned AM
radio and ethnic music yeah number
eighty-eight was about not worrying
about you know pristine audio file
quality but actual content and an
example was we don’t complain about the
poor quality of AM radio because we’re
listening for the words were listening
for the content we’re listening for the
news or the traffic or the sports or the
ethnic music or the ethnic programming
and she says that word was a little
jarring because I know how careful and
respectful you have always been to the
wide range of people in the world it’s
one of the reasons I enjoy listening
wondering if you later wished you’d said
multicultural and I I want to preface my
answer with
I am in no way shape or form looking to
offend anybody and Kendra I hope that
you listen to this with an open mind no
I didn’t think that I regretted it or
that I had I wish that I had said
multicultural because that’s not what I
and before I put this answer together I
actually went to the dictionary to look
it up to make sure that it still meant
what it used to mean when I grew up in
Cleveland Heights next to Little Italy
and just south of Koreatown and by
little Armenia all ethnic enclaves and
it is the same and here’s the thing
ethnic formats is the actual industry
term for single culture single language
radio stations that usually are on the
am band sometimes they’re on the FM band
sometimes they’re pirate radio stations
but the word ethnic doesn’t mean a slur
it doesn’t mean as an adjective it
doesn’t mean a slur it doesn’t mean
something negative it means and this is
a quote from the dictionary relating to
a population subgroup within a larger or
dominant national or cultural group with
a common national or cultural tradition
and I don’t see anything offensive in
that but I do know that some activists
have decided on their own and declared
and written articles about the fact the
word ethnic is some sort of dog whistle
that means black and Hispanic and I
would argue that ethnic has nothing to
do with black or Hispanic I would think
the word urban would be a dog whistle
for that
and that too by the way is what radio
formats are called when they’re black or
Hispanic they’re called urban and by the
way it wouldn’t have been multicultural
because all of these radio stations that
I’m familiar with Korean radio stations
and you know Jewish radio stations and
Armenian radio stations and Spanish
radio stations they’re not multicultural
their single cultural so it just doesn’t
quite work for me so now there’s an
exception here and if you call somebody
hey what are you an ethnic I get that
that’s an insult it’s like you’re not
like us you’re something less than us
you’re just an ethnic that’s different
from saying ethnic subdivision or ethnic
radio station even the phrase ethnic
cleansing is important to remember that
that means a subset of the culture it
doesn’t mean black cleansing it doesn’t
mean Hispanic cleansing even though he’s
always Saldana would like us to think
that calling somebody an ethnic is
something that I would never do its
first of all it’s lazy it’s not very
specific if I wanted to insult somebody
I’d be a little bit more a little bit
more on the point on it yeah but it’s a
noun not the adjective that I used in
the thing and the follow-up question
that Kendra had when she had that
comment was what is your favorite way to
shake it off when you feel that you’ve
made a mistake particularly a mistake in
a live session or on set whoa I worked
in radio for 35 years I made my share of
live on the air big market mistakes and
I learned very early on that there is
you know you have to apologize you you
have to because it’s right and it’s
appropriate and it has to be a real
apology too
it can’t be you know if I’ve offended
anybody I’m really sorry
that’s not an apology that’s an if then
that’s a testing statement an apology is
I’m really sorry for what I said period
that’s it not if I offended anybody or
if anybody you know took it the wrong
way or that’s not a not a true apology I
did a live talk show in Washington DC
for a while and in the middle of a call
cancer somebody used the word
metastasizing and i heard in my
headphones metabolizing now the two
words are very different when it comes
to cancer and i unfortunately in terms
of metabolizing i thought what he said
was the cancer metabolized it went away
and i said wow that’s great and then i
moved on
and the calls were deafening and I
apologized and I didn’t say if I
offended anybody III
I get it and I consider myself to be
very aware of cultural offenses I’m the
first person to let people know if they
don’t know it already
not to say wow I feel so gypped when you
are mistreated by somebody because
jipped is a true slur that most people
don’t know they don’t know that it’s
short for gypsy which is the n-word –
Romanians and two other Eastern
Europeans and so that’s what I do
but first what I do is I really examine
and determine if I think I actually made
a mistake or not just because somebody
says you made a mistake doesn’t mean you
actually did and yes if somebody chooses
to be offended by something there’s not
much I can do about that if I made a
mistake and that caused that then I’m
right there I don’t find myself wanting
to jump a certain height when some
individual decides that a word is no
longer something that they find you know
acceptable if a group finds a word
unacceptable then I find fine but I it’s
hard for me to keep a notebook of all
the different offenses that people could
take on something and that whole idea of
did I make a mistake or not is important
because again in this series of videos I
talked about the fact that the word in
one of them one of the recent ones I
said the word bimonthly meet can mean
two different things it can mean either
once every two months or twice a month
and I was told in a comment in no
uncertain terms that I was mistaken so
again I had to return to the dictionary
and make sure that I was not mistaken
and I wasn’t the commenter insisted that
what I meant was semi-monthly and
bimonthly meant to every two months only
but the truth is it is a word and I also
checked with my friend grammar girl
manual and fogarty on this so I always
check to make sure so that I can add it
to my collection of things never to do
again if I’ve actually made a mistake
and in this case when it comes to the
word ethnic I am afraid I choose
I didn’t make a mistake so again I’m not
meaning to question your judgment I’m
sure that you made the comment based on
things that you’ve read about people
wanting that word to be excised from
people’s language because they find it
offensive but because it’s being used to
describe things like ethnic cleansing
like ethnic formats like ethnic radio
stations like ethnicities that aren’t
insulting I guess that’s why I used it
so I hope that answers your question and
again I hope I haven’t offended you by
the way I answered your question
I really do one of the things that I’ve
noticed about these videos is that in a
sea of divisive crap in terms of
politics in terms of religion in terms
of socio-economic groups in terms of
parts of the country somehow this set of
videos has become like an island of
respect and open-mindedness and I love
you guys for that I love that you’ve
decided that that’s what you’re gonna do
instead of screaming at me or or
expecting me to scream back or whatever
I just I really treasure that about this
and I hope that that’s how days video
was taken because that’s the way I
intended it if you’d like to ask me a
question for the AMA thing we still have
a couple days left so go ahead and pop
them in there as quickly as you can
I probably won’t do the the Q&A for
episode 100 until the exact moment that
I’m about to release it just so that I
can gather everything and again send it
to david lawrence at and put
in the subject line a.m. a question
that’ll be great if you’d like to sign
up for my youtube channel to see when
these videos are going to be released go
ahead and click on my head there if
there’s no head there’s a subscribe
button somewhere below this video if you
want to see the latest episode go ahead
and click on that frame there and
YouTube will play it for you I’m David H
Lawrence the 17th I’m an ethnic myself I
will talk to you tomorrow.



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  1. Cleveland Heights! Our street there, in the late ’60s, had more ethnicities than I can remember. Funny thing is, I didn’t realize it until I was an adult and could understand the concept of heritage. As far as I knew, we were just neighbors, and some of us had really interesting names. I doubt any of the Gherkins, Shahanians, Thompsons, or Nakamuras (or others whose names escape me) would remember the little kid that charged a nickel to deliver the local free paper from the drugstore to their doorstep, but I remember that street well.

    Thanks for the reminder, David.

  2. Hi David, the tone you set, your heart for sharing & learning, I believe, are some of the major reasons that this has become what you call “an island of respect”. 🙂

  3. In the spirit of open discussion, I have to point out that though a word has a specific dictionary definition, its connotation changes over time – so it is with the word “ethnic.” It’s one of many words that causes a blip in time for many PoC, myself included. You stop for a split sec, then keep going because there are many other battles to be fought but even so, I can’t ignore that when I hear about ethnic music, see the ethnic aisles in a market, it feels like me and mine are being labeled as ‘other’.

    I dont feel that way when people are speaking of global events but if its anything to do with the US, that word elicits a reaction. Not as strongly as the word “thug” but its definitely on the same level as “exotic” because the implication is that the culture being described belongs somewhere other than here.

    Can any one person catalog all the verbiage that causes a demographic to clench? Am I suggesting that you should go back and change the word? No, but we all can attempt to be aware, and like you say, respectful. And I do mean ALL of us. As a Black American woman, I cant fully comprehend the breadth generational struggles of a Native American man but what I can do is see where there are points of empathy, and try to remain open to hearing where we both could do better.

    My words arent intended to chide but to continue a discussion. I appreciate you, David!

  4. Dear Kila,

    EVERYONE has ethnicity. Russians, Swedes, Chinese, Mexicans, Blacks, Whites, etc.

    David is correct in pointing out that “multicultural” means including many cultures, and “multiculturalism” means a philosophy that all cultures are good. “Ethnic” means pertaining to one culture, whatever that may be. Black music is ethnic music, so is Irish music, so is Greek zither music, and any other music usually associated with one nationality or sub group. Kung pau chicken is ethnic food, so are burritos, so is sushi, and corn grits, and, I think, so are fish and chips and pizza. That does not mean or imply that they are bad music or food, or lesser music or food then “our” music or food, what ever that may be. They may even be better. Same for dress, and dance, and architectural style, etc.

    Also,I have never thought of “exotic” as insulting, and I certainly do not understand your equating “ethnic” with “thug”! What?

    As an Italian-American Catholic, I am merely annoyed if I’m called a wop or a fish eater. But I am really upset by slams against women, as that can actually hurt not just my feelings but my life. I think I can understand that Blacks are, and should be, more sensitive to “sticks and stones” of racial slurs. But if we all go looking for insults there will soon be no words left in the English language. For example. I read somewhere on the internet, that in other countries, not the US, people are objecting to being called “native”. Think of the old movies in which the “natives” are restless.

    Any ethnic group SHOULD certainly object to slurs and insulting names and stereotypes. However “ethnic” is not one of them.

  5. Patricia –

    As I pointed out in my earlier response, connotation and context are important. I was advocating for understanding but that seems to have been missed.

    This exchange looks like it’ll go far afield from David’s post so I’ll end with this:
    No one needs to “go looking” for insults when they’ve been a part of your experience and the experience of the generations that came before. I explained my experience with those words. Yours is different, well and good, but discounting mine is condescendingly presumptuous.

  6. I heard “ethnic” as well, and turned it into “world” music – for myself.
    Did I look into it more? No. But you did and do. And I thank you for that, as that is more evidence of why I appreciate you. I learn.
    My family used the term “gypped” – and I don’t even know how to spell it – and I didn’t know it was/is a slur. So, one more thing I will never use in future.
    So, thank you for the lesson, for creating and holding the space for respectful, open and engaging communication.