Dear Prudence: I’m a black woman with a white boyfriend who doesn’t understand race.

Help! I’m a Black Woman Whose White Boyfriend Doesn’t Understand Race at All.

Help! I’m a Black Woman Whose White Boyfriend Doesn’t Understand Race at All.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 16 2015 2:39 PM

Color Bind

Prudie counsels a black woman who can’t connect with her white boyfriend on matters of race.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions and comments.

Q. Mixed-Race Relationship: I am a black woman for whom culture, race, and politics are very important and sometimes painful subjects. I love my partner of two years very much. He is a white man in his late 30s who has very little experience with these matters, and our differing views have caused many arguments. Now we avoid the subject of my culture completely, and it is killing me that he does not understand this important part of who I am. Occasionally he will make generalizations and comments that I find worrying or insulting. He is not a racist, merely ignorant—he thinks we are all one as humans and should not pay attention to differences. If the playing field were equal between all people, I would agree with him, but it is not. Except for this, he is a sweet and gentle man—intelligent, trustworthy, and a blessing in my life. I love him, but I feel I am betraying my politics and community. Mostly, I just want to talk—but I can see why he avoids it, with all the shouting that’s happened. Help.

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A: When he expresses his sincere and well-intentioned beliefs, you berate him for his naiveté and ignorance. He certainly has to concede your superior knowledge about being a black person in America. But your attitude seems to be that unless he is a backboard for your views, he’s infuriating. You two seem to have arrived at a kind of détente in which you don’t talk about this. But then you feel that race, and discussions of it, are so central to your experience that you can’t stand having this be something you don’t chew over with your beloved. You asked for my help, so I have two alternatives for you. Either you decide that this wonderful man fulfills you in so many ways that you can decide to see him as an oasis from the often troubling issues that you spend so much time on in the rest of your life. Or you conclude having a partner who reflects your own views and experience is so central for you that you must let this good man go.

Q. MIL Brings Moldy Food When Visiting: My parents-in-law live 11 hours away and come to visit my husband, myself, and our three young children about six times a year. On each visit they usually stay for three or four days. Every time they come, my MIL packs a cooler with leftovers from her fridge, which we are expected to be thankful for. The problem is that most of the items, such as partially empty jars of salsa, pasta sauce, and cheese, have already gone moldy. My MIL is an “environmentalist,” and I suspect she brings the bad food because then she can claim to create almost no waste. She also brings empty shampoo bottles and leaves them here. I am tired of hearing her wax poetic about how great she is and then leave me with her biohazardous food to clean up. How can we get her to stop bringing us moldy food?

A: If your mother-in-law wants to drag her moldy food and empty bottles across state lines to enhance her self-image, indulge her. Let her unpack her gross goods, then explain you’ve had bad experiences in the past with old, half-eaten jars of food, and toss them in the garbage. If she makes a scene, she can fish them out and dine on her mold solo.

Q. I’m the Catfish (but Not on Purpose): After breaking up with my husband, I went online to kick-start my dating life. I put my real age (49), body type (overweight), and marital status (separated), along with a recent photo. However, I have a very distinctive name and am somewhat well-known online due to my blog, which has attracted misogynist comments. I therefore didn’t want to have my name in public on a dating site and used another name and hometown (near my own). On my very first date, I met a nice man with whom I get on really well. We’ve now been on three dates, and I think he could be a keeper. The problem? He still doesn’t know my real name ... and I’m afraid if I tell him I’ve been lying about something so fundamental, then everything else I’ve said to him will seem false. But of course, if I don’t tell him my name, it’s hopeless anyway. How do I handle this? I’ve considered just losing his phone number and starting over, now that I know there are nice men out there, even for older, fatter women.

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A: On your next date, bring along a tablet, or invite him over your place for dinner, and show him your blog. Explain, just as you’ve done here, why you used a pseudonym for your first experience with online dating. Then come up with some ground rules with him about posting about your (so far) happy foray.

Q. Re: Interracial Relationship: I am a white woman who has been married to a black man for 38 years, and we’ve been together for 44 years total. We have two daughters. In my experience, the white person in an interracial relationship (I hope I’m OK using this terminology; I am a little uncomfortable with the legacy/history of the term mixed race) has a responsibility to learn about the history and culture of his or her beloved. Actually, both people in any relationship have this responsibility, but from what I’ve seen the black person in the relationship usually knows quite a bit about the history and culture of white people. So my question to the original writer is: Is your boyfriend open to understanding your point of view, to learning what needs to be learned, and to revising the way he talks about race-related issues? If not, seek someone who is, regardless of his race/ethnicity/etc. If he is open, then you will both need patience and time and effort to make it work. But, again, that’s true with any relationship. Best of luck, whatever happens!

A: Thanks, and I agree about the need to be educated. What’s not clear is whether the boyfriend of the original letter writer seeks to “invalidate” her experience—as some other commenters are suggesting—or simply expresses a point of view that differs from hers. I don’t see how an interracial relationship works if discussing race is a central focus of the relationship but only one person’s point of view is considered valid.

Q. My Dog Is Just Fine: My husband, me, and two young kids adopted a puppy from the humane society last spring. We all adore him. He is now a rather large dog (about 60 pounds) and has been taking longer to train than we anticipated. For that reason we have a large kennel in our living room that we keep him in for meals and for short amounts of time (a couple of hours max) for when we have guests over who are fearful of bigger dogs. My sister-in-law is now saying that since we use a kennel we are abusing the dog and need to give it back to the humane society or to her. I really don’t want to get in an argument with my in-laws, but she is now threatening to call the police and say we hit our dog unless we let her take him or give him to the humane society. My husband has tried talking to her, but she will not listen to him. What should we do?

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A: Too bad you can’t put your sister-in-law in a crate. But she is a nut who is threatening to make a false report about you, so she cannot be a guest in your home. Frankly, if you think she’s capable of calling the police on you, you should go to a lawyer and have her or him write up an account of your sister-in-law’s threat. That way, if she acts, the lawyer can establish your sister-in-law’s pre-existing bad faith. Kennels are very important tools for training and safety with puppies and even older dogs. These are the equivalent of dens, and dogs who are raised with crates will seek them out as cozy places to sleep or refuges from household din. There are also times, with not fully trained puppies, that it can be important for their safety, and that of other people and the carpet, that they retire to their crate. This is not abuse, it is good dog ownership. If your sister-in-law were rational, you could have shown her literature about this. But rational family members don’t threaten to make false police reports about other family members.

Q. Sexless Partnership: I have been married over 30 years. We are both still healthy, but three years ago my wife stopped having sex with me, with very little the two years before that. This is punishment for economic problems, starting with a job loss. I can’t afford to get divorced yet. I am now involved in two business startups, so 2015 should be better. She sometimes comments that things can then go back to normal. I am no longer interested in her. What is fair?

A: What is fair is that if your businesses get off the ground you start squirreling money away for your divorce fund. I don’t know the background here. Maybe your job losses weren’t because of the economy but because of your own bad behavior. If so, and your wife lost faith and love in you, that means you two need to figure out a way to address this, or to split. Turning your marriage into a punitive deep freeze was not an answer. You don’t want to reconcile with your wife. So you need to reconcile yourself to moving forward solo.

Q. Re: Mixed-Race Relationship: When I first started dating my husband, the things he said out of ignorance used to drive me wild, especially because I was a teacher about human difference in a very liberal college. I realized that while I made an effort to be patient and listen to my students, I wasn’t making an effort to make my partner feel heard. To work through this, we decided to read and discuss a piece of feminist literature once a month, kind of like a book club, where we would talk with respect like we were in class. All it took was one article and he immediately picked up on the academic language and nuances that are so necessary to me—after all, he is an exceptionally smart man (and I’m sure your husband is, too).

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A: And is he allowed to express any dissention in regard to the literature or your views? After all, he’s male, so you could say he has no standing to have an alternate reaction to the assigned reading or to your superior knowledge. If a given subject is central to one party in a relationship, and if any questioning or disagreement about the views that person expresses is seen as invalidating, undermining, or ignorant, then it seems as if the best solution is to find other partners.

Q. My Fiancée Always Takes Her Ring Off: I asked my girlfriend to marry me about three weeks ago. We have been living together for about six months and we are both very happy to be taking a new step forward. There’s just a small problem that has been bothering me since we got engaged: My new fiancée regularly removes her ring, and it makes me insanely nervous. She takes off her ring pretty often—to take a shower, wash dishes, cook, clean, go to the gym, etc. I’m so nervous that one of these times, she’ll forget where she put the ring and misplace it. I’ve expressed this concern to her, and she says she just wants to keep the ring looking nice without any scratches or dings. But I think the ring is safer on her finger than in the glove compartment of her car while she’s working out, even if she accidentally bangs it against the treadmill once or twice. Can I broach this topic with her again and if so, how?

A: I know the ring represents your betrothal, but it’s hers. So you must stop micromanaging her wearing of it. I agree that in the long run it’s more likely she misplaces it by taking it off all the time than she damages it by wearing it constantly, but you’ve discussed it and that’s her choice. So make sure your (or her) insurance is up to date so it could cover such a loss, and let this go.