Q. Racist Child: I am disabled. A paid helper comes every Monday to put out trash and recycling and do other small tasks. Last Monday she brought her 9-year-old daughter. While watching the inaugural festivities, the child said she does not like President Obama "because he doesn't believe in God." When I pointed out that he often invokes God and he and his family regularly attend church, she said, "He doesn't mean it"—she read that on the Internet. She also said he "doesn't look like a Christian" and Michelle Obama is "ugly." Her mother was listening and didn't say anything. Because this was a child, I simply said that you can't tell what a person is thinking by his or her appearance; Christians come in all shapes, sizes, and colors; and you can find support for anything on the Internet. My helper is coming again this afternoon and I feel that I have to say something, if only “I was concerned to hear X say that Obama doesn't look like a Christian." How would you handle this situation?
A: I wish people who had particular political beliefs, or even racist attitudes, would stop invoking religion as the reason or even justification. That said, I think you should say nothing. Your helper comes to do some discrete tasks for you one day a week. As repugnant as you may find her views and that she's inculcating her child with them, it's just not your business. Bring it up and you likely will have a lot of tension in your home on Mondays, or you will have to be looking for a new helper—one whose views may turn out to be just as unpleasant. You responded in a mature, instructive way with this child. Let's hope something you said will bubble around in this girl's brain in the years to come. But right now, just turn the other cheek.
Q. Re: Er, "stumbled upon this information ...": How does one "stumble" across this felony conviction, first off, and if (s)he's that damn curious, (s)he can access the relevant state's case search info and learn for sure before spouting off. ... And, btw, be prepared for it to backfire, horribly.
A: If she was Googling a co-worker's name, which millions of people have done out of curiosity or to refresh one's memory about someone's previous employment, etc., the letter writer might have found an article about the case. I'm not sure that the letter writer, having seen this information is about someone whose unusual name, location, and age matches that of the employee should then herself go on to further investigate. It seems like enough information to say, "This may be nothing, it may be a different person, but I wanted to bring it to the attention of management to check out." If children are coming into the office, I don't see that this is going to backfire horribly on the person who in a low-key way alerts supervisors.
Q. Parents: My parents have supported me all through college and I'm very thankful for that. I am coming near to the end of my collegiate career, which means I'm starting to make plans for what happens after college. I lean strongly towards the Teach for America program, which would be great because I'm majoring in education and that program would provide me with a lot of support through my first couple of years. My dad insists that I wouldn't be able to hack it and that I'm going to stay in my college town and live with my sister until she graduates. Worse, he continually brings up the fact that I'm gay as a reason I wouldn't be able to handle moving to a new city and working in urban schools. How much do I owe him with regard to what I do after college? Is there a way for me to argue this? Every time I bring it up he shuts me down and brings me to tears.
A: I hope you're planning to be financially independent from your parents. And if you make it into Teach for America, you will be earning a salary which will be a huge step toward that goal. I don't see how you argue with someone who has such distorted views about you, your abilities, your independence, and your future. Since you're still in college, look into resources on campus, or referrals, for organizations that support gay youth. Also check in with your college's counseling office. You need help negotiating your separation from your parents and how to handle your father's bullying. (And where's your mother in all this?) Sometimes the best way to convince other people about how wrong they are is to refuse to engage in the discussion.
Q. Food Divide: Because my husband grew up in a country with very different cuisine, he likes much spicier foods than I do. Until we got married, this was never a problem. Recently we've made an effort to cook more at home to save money. Naturally, there has been some give and take regarding what we'll eat. I have a real problem though, with almost anything he makes, as he spices his food at all stages of cooking, so I can't eat any of it without burning my mouth. Not one dish. Granted, I'm glad he's willing to help in the cooking duties, but I need blander food. But, when I tried talking to him about it, he got hurt. Until this, everything was OK, now I'm walking on eggshells around him. To be honest, I really don't think I was mean, I just told him his spice choices were too much for me. Tell me, am I being overly critical?
A: Spicy or not spicy is not a negotiable. If you don't like cilantro, for example, it's not going to work for your cilantro lover to only mix a little of it into your food. He has to understand that the burn that fills him with ecstasy has you looking for a fire extinguisher. He also need to realize he can spice to his palate's delight, he just can't do it with your portion of the meal. That requires some adjustment on his part: Either he prepares his dishes in two pans, or he portions yours out, then seasons his. He's got to recognize this is not a commentary on him or his culture, it's a matter of accepting your more delicate taste buds.
Q. My Son Is ... : I have pretty good evidence that my teenage son is a cross-dresser. I really don't care, and I've tried to hint that I don't, but I'm not sure how to proceed. I'd really like to ask point blank but I think he'd be defensive out of surprise and deny it. I don't want to push him further into the closet (so to speak). Do I ignore it? Buy him a dress, makeup, and lingerie for his (upcoming) birthday? Just slip a dress in his size into his closet and see what he says? I'm really at a loss, but I think ignoring it is a bad idea.
A: I think the better approach is to make sure you son knows he can talk to you about anything and show him by word and deed that you are always on his side. Then it is up to him to tell you. Your son is a teenager, and as you've pointed out, such a point blank question might send him scurrying in the opposite direction. So you give him support, and space, and if this is part of his life you hope that in his own time he will tell you. You do not bring him a catalog from Forever 21 and say, "Michael, I think this purple dress with the sweetheart neckline would look smashing on you."
Q. Re: Food divide compromise: I think your husband needs to compromise with you on the spicy food. But you could offer a compromise: If he chills out on the spices, you'll remain open to trying stuff with more spice—gradually. I grew up in kind of a bland food household and I have been able to increase my tolerance over time and actually really enjoy spicy food. You might never want things as spicy as he did, but keeping an open and willing mind will help both of you—as long as he does, too.
A: Good advice. But it's got to be a process of gradual acclimation, not incendiary punishment.
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