Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 15 2004 10:30 AM

Ebony or Ivory?

What to do when racial ancestry is unclear.

9_dearprudence_01

Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)





Dear Prudie,

A person doing a genealogy discovered that a great-great-great-grandmother is listed on the census roles as a black person married to a white person. A female descendant of the grandmother moved to another state and passed for white. She states there were rumors of black ancestry, but she didn't realize that they were directly in her line. Now she has grandchildren of her own. Her relationship with her children is rocky because 20 years ago, she left an abusive husband who's "brainwashed" their children that she is crazy, that she caused everything that was wrong in the marriage, etc. This is just to give you a little background. Here is the question: How do you tell 40-year-old children that they have black ancestry? They are all successful movers and shakers, finished college, married well—and we know for sure that one wife would divorce the son if she knew. Is there any way out of this dilemma, or should she just die with this knowledge?

—Wondering

Dear Won,

Prudie's connection with this subject is limited, so she has enlisted a good and smart friend who is a black woman. Her suggestion is that the woman follow her instinct. "If this were 19th century New Orleans or Savannah," she says, "certainly your friend would go along with the zeitgeist of the time—which would be to say nothing and hope no one with an inexplicably deep tan showed up in baby pictures. The 21st century offers more options. One could be direct and say that in reviewing the family tree, a few black relatives were found a couple of centuries ago. The only substantial reason for this kind of revelation would be that the children are at risk for some diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, that are peculiar to black populations. Such a diagnosis could throw a doctor for a loop if he or she didn't have that patient's full genetic history ... or as much of it as possible. Or ... say nothing if you think that is the right thing to do." Rather than a dramatic Imitation of Life moment, however, you may get a big yawn. A great-great-great-grandmother, after all, is a very distant relation, and if Essie Mae Washington-Williams isn't embarrassed to be the daughter of Strom Thurmond, why would these 40-year-olds be embarrassed by the situation in reverse?

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—Prudie, multiculturally

Hi Prudie,

I'm 25 and have known a close pal for 10 years. My good friend always overstays her welcome when she sleeps over at my house. We don't see each other often as she lives an hour away. The day after sleeping at my place, she always hangs out in her PJs all day, even if I'm cleaning house, having a bath, on the phone, running errands, etc. Recently we both crashed at my boyfriend's place (whom she barely knows), and the next day she camped out on his couch for most of the day until I had to leave. Hints, subtle and obvious to most people, don't work. She just makes herself comfortable and has even ordered pizza at supper time. This has gone on for so long, I don't know how to kindly tell her she has to leave.

—Hiding My Welcome Mat

Dear Hide,

Oblivious friends are a drag, no? Your chum is apparently amortizing her one-hour trip by stretching out her stay as long as possible. Since you don't sound like a mi casa, su casa kinda girl, one approach might be to hustle her off the next morning, saying you unfortunately have things to do. Another would be to establish (better late than never) that when she comes to spend the night, it works better for you if the pajama party ends with breakfast.

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—Prudie, hospitably

Dear Prudence,

I have been married for six years. About a year ago, my husband told me he was bisexual. I was floored, but I believe that divorce is a sin in God's eyes, so I have tried to stay in the marriage. This past week, he decided it would be best to let me know that he is gay. I reminded him that he had told me he was bisexual, and his comment was, no, he is completely gay and has known deep down since he was 13 but hadn't the nerve to admit it to himself. I am very hurt, confused, and angry that he did not choose to mention this "detail" before our marriage. I don't know what to do. I don't think I can live in a marriage knowing that my husband is attracted to men because I am afraid he will act upon his feelings—if he hasn't already. But I still love him despite this revelation. I respect your opinion and would like to hear your thoughts on this.

—Churning

Dear Churn,

There certainly must be a lot of gay ladies and gents in denial or in "de closet" because Prudie personally knows more than one person in your position, and letters like yours come in fairly often. It is, to be sure, sad when someone in sexual turmoil annexes a straight husband or wife, but there you are. It is unclear exactly what you're asking, so Prudie thinks it best to refer you to people who have walked in your shoes. If you type the words "straight spouses" into a search engine, you will have many choices of support groups. (Here's a particularly good one.) Prudie wishes you well and sincerely believes that you will recover from this life-altering development.

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—Prudie, forwardly

Dear Prudence,

I received a letter informing me that my husband was having an affair. The letter was unsigned and offered no proof. The letter did not mention a specific woman by name but described someone who is involved in our life in a business matter and whose husband plays with my husband on a sports team. At times I have been uncomfortable with the interest she would show in my husband, but I am confident that he never encouraged or returned the interest. When I showed him the letter, he also felt it was describing this woman but assured me that he had never at any time been unfaithful—with her or any other woman. I completely believe him. He is a very family-oriented man who loves and respects me. For other reasons, the timing is very good right now for my husband to quit the activities that currently involve her and her husband, so he is going to do just that. Our question is whether we should let her know that we received this letter. We have no idea who sent it, but it could be her husband, out of jealousy, or perhaps she sent it herself in an effort to sabotage our marriage. We feel she needs to be told that she's been accused of this and perhaps should change her behavior. What is your advice in this matter?

—Secure in My Marriage, and Looking To Do the Right Thing

Dear Sec,

Prudie's inner Miss Marple says the husband did not do it; the wife did. There are head cases like this who write anonymous letters in the hope of making trouble and putting themselves in the middle of a drama. Do not mention the letter to anyone. The inference from your silence (as well as your husband's) will be that the issue was a non-starter and was dismissed by you, out of hand. (The woman would not change her behavior, by the way, simply because you suggest she do so. This kind of nuttiness is "suggestion-proof.")

—Prudie, confidently