Fed up with my friend's racist husband.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 30 2009 6:36 AM

Beer With a Racist Cop

My co-worker's husband disrespected me because of my color. Should I tell her?

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Dear Prudence,
I am a black guy. I recently went to a barbecue at the house of a female friend and colleague with my two tween boys. I had met her husband only once before. They are both white, and her husband is a cop in an all-white force. She is one of the most "colorblind" people I know. I stepped into her yard with a 12 pack of beer, and her husband was grilling, surrounded by his cop friends. My kids and I were the only black people in a crowd of about 50. I said, "Hi" and asked where I could put the beer. He apparently did not recognize me and replied, "Up your ass," to the amusement of his cop friends. I did not think my kids heard this comment, so I brushed it off with a "Very funny" reply. Later, he came over and was a good host. After the barbecue, I got a text from my colleague asking whether we had a good time. I have had time to reflect on the comment by her husband, and I get very angry when I replay this because of the obvious racist connotation. I am not thin-skinned, but I am tempted to tell his wife what a racist boor he is. I am conflicted.

—Ribbed

Dear Ribbed,
The barbecue wasn't in Cambridge, Mass., was it? I obviously cannot discount your experience and perception, and you may have been correctly seeing a racial element to his rudeness. But I can also imagine that he is the kind of loutish person who would make his crude remark to any man, regardless of race. (Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino is an exemplar of this style of discourse.) I don't blame you for being offended—what an obnoxious thing to have to hear, especially in front of your children. That said, you might just want to let this go—you enjoy your co-worker, the husband was gracious after the initial idiocy, and what do you gain by bringing it up? However, if it continues to grate on you, I suggest you tell your friend what happened, but don't say you think her husband is a racist. That's an explosive charge and will forever add tension to your relationship. If you decide to tell her, let the facts simply speak for themselves. Something like, "All of us did have a lovely time. Thank you for inviting us. But I need to bring up something awkward. When I arrived, I went up to your husband, said 'Hello,' and asked him where I should put the beer I brought. He told me, 'Up your ass.' I'm sure your husband is a big kidder, but this was in front of my children, which made it even more unpleasant. After that, he was perfectly polite. I've debated whether to say something to you, but since it's still bothering me, I hope you understand I wanted to get this off my chest."

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My fiance is in his early 20s. When he was a teenager, he found out that his dad was not his biological father. His mother has consistently told him since then that she does not know or remember who his biological father is. My fiance has told me many times that he wishes he knew who this man is. I recently began a new job and now work with my fiance's mother. She has since commented about how my fiance is exactly like his biological dad. She told me that she dated the man for quite a while and left him when she found out she was pregnant because she did not think he was ready for a child. My fiance would be so hurt if he found out his mom had been lying to him, but he would never forgive me if he found out that I know and never told him. What should I do?

—Don't Want To Hurt Him

Dear Don't,
You can't protect your fiance from the pain of one basic truth: His mother is a world-class nut. She has refused to divulge to her own son his paternity, yet she thinks talking about the father is acceptable office chatter. With her as a mother-in-law, get ready for years of manipulation, omission, and deception. Your loyalty is to your fiance, and you have to tell him. Since that will put you in the middle, you might as well give her some warning. You can explain that now that you know she knows the identity of your fiance's biological father, you're going to tell him, since this is information he's wanted for years. You can say you understand this is a difficult subject, but you hope he will now get the answer he's been seeking. Then tell your fiance, and be ready to support him through what's sure to be some emotional turmoil. If she berates you for revealing her "secret," tell her that she must have realized you would feel obligated to pass it on, and it will probably be a relief to everyone to have the truth. After that, if his mother brings up this or other private topics at work, explain that since you two are in the same office, you need to put some limits around your personal discussions. And don't be surprised if, for the sake of your sanity, you find yourself perusing the want ads.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
My younger sister and I are both in our early 20s and live in different states. During a breakup with her boyfriend, she called early one morning and told me a terrifying story: He was wrongly convinced that she was cheating on him, so he hacked into her cell phone records and waited in the parking lot at work to confront her. He was yelling so loudly that a stranger intervened and said he had called the police. I contacted my parents, who live close to her, and told them that I thought my sister was in danger. Then my sister got back together with this boyfriend and refused to talk to me for two months or to discuss what happened. My sister, her boyfriend, and I are home for the summer. My parents treat him as part of our family. I get upset every time he is over and leave abruptly because I can't stop crying. Not only did my sister choose this abusive jerk over me, but my family did, too. My parents have invited him to come with us on our family vacation. I told them that if he comes, I won't go. My parents told me I am being unreasonable. I live far away and enjoy the times I can be with my family. I can't keep boycotting forever, but what else can I do?

—Unable To Forgive

Dear Unable,
I agree that the whole family, including your sister, should boycott the boyfriend and that his behavior is likely not an anomaly but a foreshadowing. However, since you've made your views very clear, and the rest of them have made another choice, you're now the one who is becoming unhinged and out of control. Your sister is an adult and free to make her own romantic decisions. If you don't want to become the family pariah, accept it, be cordial to the jerk, and enjoy yourself. Either he'll keep behaving himself, in which case, all your angst will have been for nothing, or he will get set off again (that's my bet)—in which case, try your best not to say, "I told you so."

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I am in a 10-year marriage with a man who has always been a wonderful husband and father. I love him with all of my heart and have no doubt that he feels the same way. The issue, I am afraid, is going to sound petty, but it really hurts me. Up until about the fourth year of our marriage, my husband used to write me the most beautiful letters. He also used to bring me flowers on a regular basis. As our lives got busier, these things have stopped. My husband shows me every day how he feels, but I miss the passionate letters and the flowers. I know I already have so much more than some people, but I really miss that part of our relationship. How do I communicate this without sounding petty?

—Selfish?

Dear Selfish,
I'm afraid when love letters become the equivalent of a homeroom detention assignment, they lose their emotional verve. You already realize you are amply blessed and that your disappointment is petty, so apply your self-insight and drop this. Accept that at this busy point in your lives, your husband is expressing his love in a different way to you and to your children. Since you've taken the time to write and tell me how lucky you are, you might even put pen to paper yourself to let your husband know that after 10 years together, you love him more than you ever thought possible.

—Prudie

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