Help! My White Boyfriend Just Used the N-Word.

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 3 2013 6:15 AM

Say What?

My white boyfriend just called someone the N-word.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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.)

Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I have been dating for six months but have known each other for more than two years. I am black and he is white. This has never been a problem and our parents, families, and friends are fully supportive of our relationship. Amazingly, we have had precious few arguments or problems. Until now. In a moment of extreme frustration, my boyfriend used the "N-word" in reference to one of my friends. We were alone so no one else heard the comment. I was stunned, shocked, and appalled. I immediately left the room because I was so disturbed. It is a word that neither I nor my family or friends use in any sort of context because I have been raised to view it as incredibly offensive. He came to me and apologized profusely and had tears in his eyes while doing so. I accepted his apology because it was completely out of character for him, but I am now questioning our relationship. What do you think?

—Unspeakable

Advertisement

Dear Unspeakable,
I agree that what your boyfriend did is a gross violation. This word is so verboten that it's hard to imagine a decent person using it, particularly a white one, in the angry circumstances you describe. (Even if your boyfriend had been discussing the dialogue in Django Unchained, he should have stuck with saying "the N-word." Nor was this an instance of the insider banter that some black people use with each other—because for one thing he's white—and which you've pointed out is not acceptable among your friends and family.) Of course you were shaken and are questioning the relationship. However, you didn’t end it at that moment, which some people might have. It’s significant that you’ve known your boyfriend for two years, you’ve been happy together for six months, and you find this lapse to be totally out of character. He apologized and you accepted. But that quick dismissal wasn’t enough. You don’t want to be in a relationship in which your partner is on a kind of secret probation, so you need to reraise this with him. Tell him you were stunned by what he said and you two need to talk more thoroughly about his outburst. Then let him speak. He likely has no real explanation beyond the fact that people sometimes have lapses and do the inexplicable. But he has to be able to acknowledge the depth of his transgression and understand why it’s caused you to question your relationship. Judge the sincerity of what he has to say and tell him you need to think through how you feel. Then if you decide you do want to go on, it will be a test of how you feel if you can say, and mean, that you fully accept his apology. 

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Doubling the Pleasure

Dear Prudie,
I had coffee with an old friend who had lost his previous job and was recently hired by a nonprofit that is supposed to help at-risk women. The organization receives a significant amount of government funds to conduct research on the statistics for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV—information that is to be used for disease tracking and prevention. However, he confessed to me that he suspects the family that runs this nonprofit has been embezzling funds for their own personal use. When it comes time to submit reports, they all contribute falsified surveys. I encouraged him to find another job, then report them, but I doubt he will because he desperately needs the job. I also personally have no proof of what is going on other than his confession. But I feel horrible knowing that this nonprofit is committing fraud with funds that could be used instead by people who actually do good work. What should I do?

—Unwilling Whistle-Blower

Dear Unwilling,
I agree this organization needs a whistle-blower, but before you do anything, tell your friend you think the person to report this flagrant fraud should be him. You can add that working for criminals means his job is insecure, and if the government eventually catches up to what’s going on, he does not want to find himself implicated. I spoke to Philip Gordon, a Massachusetts employment-law attorney, and he said your friend should have a consultation with a lawyer specializing in employment law because if he decides to reveal what he knows, he will want to do so in a way that protects him under whistle-blowing statutes. It’s even possible that under a type of lawsuit known as a qui tam action, your friend could get a payment from the government for bringing these violations to its attention. If your friend won’t act, tell him that you feel it’s your obligation to alert the authorities (without naming your friend) to what is going on. You can inform the appropriate division of your state’s attorney general’s office that this nonprofit is possibly defrauding the government—you can do so anonymously if you prefer. Or you yourself might want to check in with an attorney about how to move forward, because if the government wants to reward private citizens for acting as deputies, you might as well get in line for a check.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I are currently arguing about our sleeping arrangements with the dog. My husband has had his dog for over 11 years. He is a sweet dog and I love him dearly. The dog has slept in the bedroom with us since we’ve been together, which was fine with me. The dog was recently diagnosed with cancer in his nose. It is fast growing and causes him to snort and wheeze all night. I have started sleeping in another room. This upsets my husband because he wants us to be together, but he refuses to sleep away from the dog. I need to sleep. Neither of us will budge. Am I being insensitive about the dog? Is it too much to want to sleep with my husband only if the dog doesn’t keep me up all night?

—Rover Roll Over

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 21 2014 1:38 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? See if you can keep pace with the copy desk, Slate’s most comprehensive reading team.