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35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say: Surprising Things We Say That Widen The Diversity Gap

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EVEN WELL-INTENDED PEOPLE CAN CAUSE HARM Have you ever heard yourself or someone else ""Some of my best friends are... (Black, White, Asian, etc.)""? ""I don't think of you as... (Gay, Disabled, Jewish, etc.)""? ""I don't see color, I'm colorblind""? These statements and dozens like them can build a divide between us and the people we interact with. Though well-intended, they often widen the diversity gap sometimes causing irreparable harm personally and professionally. If you've ever wanted to be more effective in your communication with others, or have been afraid of saying the wrong thing, then this concise guide is essential to becoming more inclusive and diversity-smart. A POWERFUL DIVERSITY TRAINING TOOL FROM ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED DIVERSITY TRAINERS.

141 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2008

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Maura Cullen

2 books2 followers

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5 stars
110 (19%)
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191 (33%)
3 stars
191 (33%)
2 stars
56 (9%)
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21 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews
Profile Image for Leah.
1,154 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2012
I hate how she quotes herself all the time. I also don't agree with everything she says. Some of the comments and sayings she feels we shouldn't say I don't agree with. I also feel like she only represented certain groups in the dumb things being said. I feel that she didn't look at everything. Overall I feel her book was not complete. It did have some helpful points but needs to be expanded. I also don't like how everything is from a personal standpoint. In doing that I feel as if she was only able to project how people who are like her or that she knows feels like, instead of a wider scope of people.
Profile Image for bsolt.
100 reviews13 followers
July 28, 2014
For those looking into this book, this is not a book filled with theories or grounding frameworks regarding social justice and the work associated. There are no models on how ally development works or how folks deal with privilege and marginality. What this book does provide is a simple guide on how to engage in dialogue with those different from you.

This book is based on one of my favorite tenets of intergroup dialogue: intent versus impact. Most of us are well intentioned in our interactions (although I have seen folks use some of the 'sayings' in this book to purposefully harm) when we interact with other people. What we don't always perceive or understand is the impact we have on others. Although we say things with the best intention, we could and do end up hurting people. This book not only gives examples of some of the most common phrases uttered with good intent, but also urges folks committed to multicultural/diversity/social justice work to take responsibility for their impact and turn in into a place to act on.

This is huge! Half the battle of building a strong multicultural compentency foundation is language and knowledge. Since I do not share experiences with someone different than me, I do not know what they have been through and it's easier to dismiss or jump to show empathy rather than listen and validate. I recommend this book particularly for folks (from all identity groups) who want to engage but feel like they always run into barriers in communication. Particularly, I would find this useful when I work with college age students in intergroup dialogue or other developmental settings. Quick read, well worth it,
Profile Image for Justin.
122 reviews4 followers
August 2, 2020
Short, but packed with practical information about how those with good intentions can cause harm and how to avoid the most common pitfalls when communicating with people from different or disadvantaged groups.

I'd recommend this book to every human being.
Profile Image for Lesa.
130 reviews2 followers
June 29, 2022
This is a good book but nothing that I didn’t know from other books I’ve read. I particularly liked her opening section that frames the 35 dumb things.
Profile Image for Eric.
212 reviews2 followers
October 8, 2017
I just could never take this book seriously. The author states at the beginning that there is no scholarship or research involved, just her own opinion. There were a couple hints I agreed with, however just reading her book I felt targeted the whole time as the “problem.” I did not feel that as someone interested in justice this book was written to help me, just to demoralize me.

I recommend many, many other books including “White Out” by Alexander Jun or “The Myth if Equality” by Ken Wytsma.
Profile Image for Marisa Jones.
2 reviews
October 30, 2012
I read this book for a class. While I believe Dr. Cullen writes well, I personally did not like this book. Most of the things she says people shouldn't say I don't necesarily agree with. Also I believe she is biased towards certian groups of individuals, making large over-generalizations put her points across to her readers.
Profile Image for Julie.
307 reviews6 followers
May 7, 2015
had to read it for "diversity" training thus the experience was like trying to eat a terrible meal someone made while faking a smile and saying "oh yes, this is wonderful!" the book is what it says in the disclaimer -- made for humor, entertainment and a general guide to not offend people. key word general. I imagine this book would be helpful for a small portion of people but definitely not all.
Profile Image for Kari Jo.
35 reviews3 followers
August 7, 2017
A great read for someone interested in starting their social justice journey.
Profile Image for Kimber.
10 reviews
August 31, 2020
A quick, easy read that can be a helpful starting point for folks just beginning diversity and inclusion work.
Profile Image for James Uscroft.
82 reviews3 followers
November 19, 2020
My only problem with this book is that as a 'Politically Correct' & 'Culturally Marxist,' 'Radical Leftist,' Feminazi, SJW, (or 'A Considerate & Respectful Person Who Seeks To Learn & Grow & Opposes Defensive Bigotry' as we used to be known before we all realised solving the problem would mean accepting that we are a 'PART' of the problem,) the points that the author makes are so mind-boggling obvious and ridiculously simplistic that I almost felt cheated. However, this book isn't for people like me. It's intended for those of us who do literally think that "But don't worry, you're one of the good ones" is a compliment and "No, where are you 'Really' from?" is a valid question. And even now in 2020, given how often people still spout these "35 Dumb Things" without the slightest inkling of just how grossly ignorant and damaging they are, this book is still as necessary as ever.
Profile Image for Rachel.
221 reviews5 followers
February 23, 2020
I would recommend this book to those who are just beginning their allyship journeys, and/or those who educate on diversity and inclusion and would like a tool to use in explaining the intent and impact of many common sayings. Cullen includes stories of her own mistakes, which can make this book more accessible to those hoping to learn.

I felt it was a little basic, and I was bothered by how Cullen quotes herself in her own book. Definitely not a book without value, just not what I hoped it would be.
Profile Image for Natalie.
348 reviews16 followers
May 9, 2018
I was required to read this book for training as a Resident Assistant in college. The title itself bothers me. But then throughout the entire book the author continues to quote herself, rather than draw from outside sources or research studies. The main theme of the book is that we should all be aware of our intentions vs. our impact, but that was probably the only useful thing that I got out of the entire book.
1 review
September 3, 2018
I was required to read this book for training as a member of Residence Life at a distinguished college. It was intended to be a book from which we started a conversation about diversity and I found that it fell short in that regard. While it addressed the idea of intent vs impact, it failed to spark a true conversation about diversity.
Profile Image for Amy.
49 reviews5 followers
October 27, 2009
This is an excellent primer for diversity awareness and training. She seasons her text with personal experiences of being advantaged and disadvantaged. We all say dumb things -- but how do we go on from there? Do we learn and grow and help others do so? Well worth the read.
Profile Image for Rikhia Chatterjee.
22 reviews5 followers
April 10, 2018
I had to read this book for a course in college, and I got very frustrated with the writing and content. The author makes broad generalizations, has a patronizing writing style and does not explain why. Although perhaps well-intentioned, I found a lack of depth and scrutiny within the book.
Profile Image for Alex Lawless.
312 reviews4 followers
January 29, 2020
Final edit after attending a workshop with the author: the book definitely comes off better when there's a discussion around the material. She talked a lot about her experiences as a lesbian, but it was still such a very narrow viewpoint. I don't know, I still think your message isn't coming through clearly when I have to go to a workshop by you just to get the full picture of intent. But, I stand by my evaluation of it being a good beginning step resource. Not your be all, but definitely helpful to clarify misconceptions and begin conversations.

So I'm going to start off by saying I'm not a huge fan of the title, as the term dumb is historically not great and the entire book is about being intentional with your language, but I digress. I should also state that I'm coming from the perspective of someone who also has a gender studies degree, and I'm being a little more critical than maybe I would if I didn't have the degree.

Overall, I think this is a helpful resource to have around, especially for us who have a very normalized, white, heterosexual view of the world. I would consider this a good primer. The book essentially provides examples to common "non-PC" sayings/questions, explains the intent behind them, the impact they actually cause, and best practices instead. Before you even get to the 35 things, she explains some core concepts and why they'll be important in understanding the impact of the 35 things. She explains everything in layperson's terms and often uses practical, real-world examples to illustrate how a person in a disadvantaged (her wording) group might feel. Personally, I found the core concepts to be some of the more helpful pieces in the book, but it could be that I've been practicing being intentional with my language for the past 10 years and the "dumb things" are all common enough sayings I'm familiar with.

On one hand, I'm a white woman critiquing another white woman's work about how to essentially be a better ally and human using the author's own life mistakes and experiences. I'm also a white woman who has similar educational backgrounds as the other. For white people, there's a real benefit here and I think this is important stuff to read in order to challenge our historically privileged viewpoints. I can speak to the women and LGBTQ perspectives, but I cannot speak for anyone else. There were a couple examples she had that seemed a little off, but I genuinely could not tell if it was my white privilege talking or if the gut feeling was genuine.

That aside, this book is really a stepping stone to get into conversations about diversity. It doesn't really tell you how to be an ally (as a person who identifies as queer, there are right and wrong ways to foster that relationship) and it doesn't really tell you how to have conversations about diversity. I think this book would work best as a companion piece to other works around conversations of diversity, or as a workshop. I'll be attending a workshop with the author later this afternoon, I'm curious to see if I don't gain some more insight to her process after.

One final note, I really didn't like how she used her own quotes throughout the entire book. I really thought it ended up discrediting her, which is maybe why I'm feeling so conflicted about this particular work.
575 reviews4 followers
May 27, 2019
This book probably would have been better read at the age of 18 than at the age of 52. I didn't spend the intervening years saying a lot of the dumb things, but I thought a good half of them at some point or another. Hence the inherent wisdom of keeping your mouth shut whenever possible.

It was only in the last year that I learned that Chanukah is actually a minor Jewish holiday, basically "for the kids", and so it turns out that saying "Happy Hannukah" isn't dumb per se but it is a strong indicator for the same dumb thought that is encapsulated in #34, "you are so lucky to have "your Christmas" spread over a week".

The dumb thing that grates me the most because I hear it with some regularity is #32, "I don't care if you are pink, purple, or orange..." I feel like the author under-analyzed this one, saying only that "this statement totally dismisses the person's differences as insignificant, which results in anger and frustration. Since there are no 'pink, purple, or orange' people in the world, it's probably wise to stay away from such an analogy". Elsewhere the author expanded on the salient ideas, that to deny the importance of race in the lived experience of "minorities" is to deny the experience of negative bias by those minorities and (symmetrically) to deny the existence of the inherent advantages enjoyed by those in the privileged group. (Which is to say, white males, and thank you very much I am duly appreciative of the advantages I was born with).

Dumb thing #30, "That's so gay..." is also a thing I have said over and over again. It's a real laugh-getter, in the bar with your buds. In some ways I am sad to see this one go, because for a basically insecure man this is such an easy go-to mechanism for generating comraderie with the alpha-males. I am also not confident that I can be an effective ally, that is, in the author's formulation, "a member of an advantaged group who takes action against injustice with the belief that all will benefit, not just those from disadvantaged groups". In the sober business world, I am ready and able to be an ally. In the bar, probably not.

Every ten pages or so there is a full page dedicated to a salient quote... by the author. That irritated me and I ignored the quotes after the tenth one.
163 reviews4 followers
April 21, 2019
I went to a 1-hour presentation at Dartmouth by Maura Cullen which I thought was quite good, and thought it was worth picking up this book.

The good:

It's a very quick, easy read or skim. A lot of it is things I think I'm really aware of, but a little extra conscious thought can't hurt.

Two individual bullet points in the list of 35 really stood out- one where I noticed I should do better, and one where a co-worker really should do a lot better, and I should try to help make them aware and guide that. If thinking about it makes me do a little better job guiding them and being a better ally, the quick read was more than worth it.

The meh:

Maura has a great presentation style. The book is extreeeeemely similar, and some of the time it is a little distractingly informal. It seems more like a polished-up transcript than like it was written to be read on the page.

It is a physically small book with large type and large spacing- I'm not sure about the word count, but it really could be a very long blog post, and some readers might think it was an unreasonably expensive book for the amount of content.
Profile Image for Jade Pham Gift.
57 reviews
March 30, 2019
It's not what I thought it would be; insightful yes, on some of the unintended dumb things that we would say. However, if this book was meant to help us to be more "inclusive" in our communication with others, it didn't do it for me. The reference of "people of color" was quite offensive. It would have been so much better to leave the reference of "people of color" out of the context, and addressing the problems to all people instead. We all stumbled and said these things ourselves not just one group or one race to another. To me this book was more like "what white people should be aware of what they said" which is divisive in itself.

It could have been better if the author was to address her intention for this book toward all of us instead of "we vs them". I would not use this book as a diversity teaching tool. The idea of the book was "well-intended" just not-so-well-on-delivery!
Profile Image for Jamie  Cayley.
98 reviews3 followers
February 28, 2021
I knew from the second I read the blurb that this was going to be a painful read, and had I not been required to both read it and write a 6 page paper on it, I never would have picked it up. I think it does a good job of taking lots of commonly said things and highlighting the difference between what the person saying or asking the question think of it vs what the impact of the words are on the person in the receiving end, plus giving tips on how to be a better ally and how to better react when someone offers feedback about the impact words have on them. That said, being someone that has been at the receiving end of 31 out of the 35 things listed and having plenty of friends at the receiving end of all 35, going through the list and the explanations was exhausting and harrowing and I'm dreading having to write about it.
Profile Image for Dustin.
119 reviews
July 7, 2019
I think this is a good stepping stone for people, specifically white heterosexual people, to begin learning about the impact of language on social dynamics; however, the some of the content bothers me coming from a white author. I do not discredit the necessity of including topics of race in this book, but I do think that it should have been multi-authored with personal tales and perceptions from people of color as well. In many ways, its current state can increase its readability to a white close-minded audience, yet this premise devalues its overarching content. Regardless, it is a decently clear, if dated, discussion on awareness and merits use as a talking point in conjunction to or in the absence of other works that can bolster the white wlw perspective of the author.
Profile Image for Madison Doerr .
478 reviews12 followers
March 28, 2019
I received this book during RA training. I never picked it up until now when I was trying to explain to someone why what they were saying was harmful to others but I had difficulty explaining it. This book explains things in simple terms and is straight to the point. The writing is not amazing but that’s not the point of the book. The point is to educate people about diversity of all kinds and to equip the reader with knowledge so they can be a more informed member of society. I feel as though the simplicity of this books explanations made them ones I will be able to remember and implement into my daily life. This is a quick read that I believe is also an important read.
Profile Image for Lori Wolf-Heffner.
Author 27 books26 followers
January 6, 2020
A wonderful book. It answers the question, "Why can't I say that?" with compassion. There are no finger-pointing rants here. Dr. Cullen draws attention to the minutiae of language and why certain, well-intentioned statements and questions actually mean something unintentional and harmful.

My only complaint about this book is that the editing and interior layout are quite bad. I don't want to explain this in too much detail, because it'll detract from the general message of my review.

I strongly encourage people to order a copy and read it. Just please don't let the errors on the inside distract you from Dr. Cullen's overall message.
Profile Image for Sergio.
42 reviews
August 26, 2021
This book means well, and although it does makes an effort to educate in the background behind why some forms of aggressions can pass as exaggerations for the uneducated, it is very superficial in that regard, may be good as a starting point. I did find however that some of the “dumb things” in the list seem to stretch beyond what could be given the benefit of the doubt as “well meaning”, but I guess that’s a matter of perspective.

As other reviewers have mentioned, the author’s propensity to self quote can get silly or feel corny most of the time, so I would advice to just blow past the quotes.
Profile Image for Sara Mutchler.
204 reviews11 followers
November 12, 2021
I read this for work and it's a good starter book for thinking about the words we use and the IMPACT of those statements vs. the intent. It was pretty simplistic and easy to read, much of it felt like things people should know but I'm not here to shame anyone picking up this book to educate themselves. I think it's written in a way that makes it easy to understand why you shouldn't say certain things and what you can say or do instead. One thing I didn't like is the quotes she put in throughout -- because they were all her quotes??? Seemed...unnecessary.
Profile Image for Kevin Stumpf.
423 reviews
January 16, 2022
As a white male, educator, I signed up to read this book as part of a book discussion in my district.

I found the material interesting, but not revolutionary. There were definitely some pieces of information I need to incorporate into my terminology, but I was not as moved as I was after reading books like: Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough, Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, or Losing Ground by Charles Murray.

The actual discussions start at the end of this month(January 2022). Maybe I will think differently after those discussions.
November 1, 2022
I picked up this book expecting it to be a little more high level coming from a professor and left with the impression that this book should be a pamphlet in an HR office at work. Like 20% of the book is simply one sentence quotes from the author. Largely blank pages where the author quotes herself.

It also appears she had to hit some sort of page minimum for the publisher between the two separate conclusion chapters and the quote pages. This is good information for those struggling to communicate or a quick reference guide to HR representatives but not much else.
Profile Image for Mandi Miller.
29 reviews34 followers
July 27, 2017
"Noticing difference is not the problem. It's what we do when we notice that matters most." We have all at one time or another said what we thought were well-intended statements to people who are different from us. However, these statements can have a lasting impact on those who are on the receiving end. This book is helpful in recognizing some of those statements and learning how saying them can affect those around us.
Profile Image for Anna Deniz.
14 reviews
December 21, 2017
If you are living in the US and you are new to this diversity, then this book might be helpful. If you have well intentions but still you make someone frustrated, then this book might be helpful. If you say something and you are unable to understand the response, then again this book will be helpful:)) Cullen makes very clear and simple statements, which could improve our culturally diverse relationships.
Profile Image for Erin.
179 reviews2 followers
September 8, 2021
We read this for an anti-racist book club, and it covers so much more intersectionality in terms of sexism, ableism, ageism. If you are like me, you feel well equipped to discuss your whiteness and ongoing anti-racism journey in like minded environments but struggle to be both knowledgeable and kind in real life racist environments. This book gave me the words to use to maintain kindness and also share all that I've learned so far. Keeping this marked-up, dog-eared book for the long haul!
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