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Monday, November 29, 2021

My boyfriend’s parents are ignorant of race. Why should I have to teach them?

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I am a mixed race college student and I identify as black. For a year, I have been dating a white man. We have never had a problem with the breed, until now. When I first met his parents, before the big family Thanksgiving feast, his father told me that being half-blood is “the best of both worlds.” I did not follow him. So, he explained: You’re “really white,” but you get the perks of being black in college admissions and diversity hiring. I was stunned! My boyfriend, on the other hand, doesn’t see the problem. He says that his parents have no idea about race and that it is our job to help them understand. But I’m not interested in that job. I canceled my Thanksgiving visit and now my boyfriend is mad at me. Tip?

TRACEY

Your boyfriend and his father owe you apologies for different offenses. Let’s start with the father. His statement is based on the ugly premise that being white is better than being black. That is not “clueless”. It is racist. It’s also understandably annoying and it’s definitely not your problem to fix it.

Now, your boyfriend is not responsible for the opinions of his parents. But a decent partner will cooperate when you have been criticized. Your boyfriend should have asked you right away if you would like to correct his father or if he should. And even if you didn’t understand the hideousness of the comment, your gleeful assumption that you will bear the racial upbringing of your parents is legitimate and insensitive.

We all make mistakes, and relationships often involve explaining to our partners what is obvious to us. (I can even imagine that he felt protective of his father.) However, that is not an excuse. And it is your decision. If this boyfriend is worth it, explain clearly how he and his father offended you. If you still can’t see it and apologize, it’s a big red flag.

I am the mother of a healthy 1 year old girl. Since she was born, she has been taller and heavier than most babies her age. His pediatrician is happy with his growth rate and his diet. Still, when we meet new people, they often say how “huge” it is. A woman cruelly exclaimed that he was older than her 4-year-old son. These comments annoy us. More importantly, they make us worry that our daughter will become self-conscious about her size. How can we let people know that these comments are dead on arrival?

MOTHER

Rarely do I get as much angry mail as when I ask readers to stop commenting on others’ appearance. They accuse me of being politically correct and of stealing from people who like to receive compliments on their appearance. But I endorse advice that keeps others from feeling bad. (Many people have complicated relationships with their appearance. Why go into that?)

It will be a while before your daughter really understands what someone is saying. And I suspect that hearing her mother in unpleasant exchanges with strangers about her size will be more destabilizing for her daughter than hearing him say, “We are delighted that she is so healthy and well.” I would leave it at that.

Recently, I got to know a friend from high school again. We have had some dinners with mutual friends. During one, she showed me a photo of the man she’s dating. I told her that I was happy for her, even though it sounded superficial. (For example, you can never meet on weekends.) Some time later, the man texted me through a dating app and I reported it to my friend right away. She was livid, but finally forgave him. Earlier this year, he asked me if I had heard from him again. I told him I hadn’t. But now, he texted me a second time. That I have to do? I would hate to pop your bubble.

FRIEND

She probably wouldn’t have told a newly renewed acquaintance that the guy she’s dating had initially texted me. You are not that close. Yet you told her and she seemed to appreciate it. He even followed up and asked if he had contacted you again.

Definitely report the new contact. Your friend has made it clear, she wants to know. Just because she forgave him once doesn’t mean she has a free pass forever. And you’re right: you will probably “pop his bubble.” But you can also know that one bubble is all you have.

Back in Broadway theaters: What should I do if I’m sitting next to a stranger at a performance and he falls asleep and starts snoring?

BETH

When he was young and shy, he would cough or make some other small commotion to try to wake up people who snored. Now, ironically, I am more understanding of sleepers and also more direct. I touch their shoulders and whisper, “You’re snoring.” No hard feelings! Sometimes it is difficult to stay awake, but that does not give others the right to interrupt our experience.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], Philip Galanes on Facebook, or @SocialQPhilip On twitter.

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