Q: I am engaged to a great guy with many wonderful qualities and I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life with him.
But he is prejudiced against one specific race, which also happens to be the race of several of my ex-boyfriends. He works in law enforcement, so part of me wants to attribute the racism to the fact that he has seen this particular race do many horrible things that I haven’t. This seems like a pretty trivial thing – we all have some sort of bias or prejudice – but it’s getting to the point where I can’t even talk to a member of this race in a work meeting about a work-related project without my fiance turning it into a huge fight and accusing me of trying to be a liaison for all [race] people.
He doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong, and I end up being the one to apologize and try to fix things – even though I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong either. The amount of time and energy we have spent arguing about this race is downright embarrassing.
I know you can’t change anyone, you can only change yourself, but short of moving to a commune in Massachusetts, I’m not sure what I can do. This seems like such a small thing to break up over, but it also seems like something I can’t argue about for the rest of my life.
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A: First thing I’ll do when I finish this column is send my forehead some flowers.
If thinking you’re superior by birth to an entire group of humans is “trivial,” then what exactly is significant?
Do your [race] ex-boyfriends also wave off racism as “such a small thing”? Since they ... haven’t lost out on jobs for being [race]? Or been the butt of dehumanizing jokes? Or been looked down upon as a less-worthy other, wordlessly so as to deny them any recourse against it? Or received harsher punishments than non-[race] classmates for the same antics?
Or been pulled over and interrogated for no discernible infraction besides driving while [race] by your “great guy” [race]-prejudging fiance?
Would you admit to them, to their faces, that these things register as trivial to you because they don’t affect you personally?
And: When was the last time you saw a race do something horrible?
My forehead just whispered that I need to spell this out.
A person. A person does something horrible. Not a race.
And yes, we all have some biases and prejudices, but the duty of all decent people is to hold ourselves to the highest standards and be vigilant about not acting on them -- not to rage at our loved ones in defense of our roiling hate.
The person you want to marry and you say has “many wonderful qualities” is doing something horrible and wrong and needs either to get counseling immediately for his judgment-impairing anger or get out of law enforcement. Ideally both.
Sweet deity. I fear for [race] people in his jurisdiction.
And I fear for you. If you’re not connecting these dots yourself, what others aren’t you connecting? And why?
Meanwhile: “The amount of time and energy we have spent arguing ... is downright embarrassing,” you say, and you can’t do your job “without my fiance turning it into a huge fight,” and in an earlier part of the same breath you’re “looking forward to spending the rest of my life with him.”
What the what? Forget what the arguments are about, even -- would you let a friend say this unchallenged about her relationship? Or would you help her pack?
Not that there’s anything wrong with communes in Massachusetts – chowder, good beer, I’m in – but throwing that out there as the only conceivable solution to your engagement to a racist is like saying, “This paper caught fire, but short of summiting Everest, I’m not sure what I can do.”
Um. You can put the flaming article in the sink and turn on the water.
You can break up with your fiance immediately. Over these terrible, horrible, not at all trivial things.
And be careful when you do. Anger is notorious for splashing onto whoever stands too close.
Q: I volunteer with a well-known cancer support organization. I assist women with wig selection. This is extremely rewarding to me, having gone through the experience myself.
My dilemma comes when the client thanks me -- and most are so grateful we end up hugging. I don’t know how to express my gratitude for having the opportunity to help them. Saying, “It’s my pleasure,” or, “Happy to do it,” sounds like I am benefiting from their situation. How can I convey my own gratitude without sounding coarse?
A: “You’re welcome – by helping you, I honor those who helped me.”
“Thank you” works, too. It’s not easy for most people to accept help, even at the best of times, so their trust is a gift they give you – and a beautiful thing to receive.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com