Dear Prudence: How to talk to white daughters about black boyfriends and everyday racism.

Help! What Should I Tell My Daughter to Do if Her Boyfriend Is Pulled Over for Driving While Black?

Help! What Should I Tell My Daughter to Do if Her Boyfriend Is Pulled Over for Driving While Black?

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 5 2017 6:00 AM

DWB 101

I’m worried my teenage daughter’s boyfriend will get pulled over for driving while black.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Image via Zinkevych/iStock.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
My 15-year-old daughter is a freshman in high school and has her first serious boyfriend. They are both star athletes, honor students, nondrinkers, and really nice kids. I love it that they are starting this new adventure in the dating scene together. He is a year older than she is and occasionally drives her around town. He is black, and she is white. What, if anything, should I say to her about traffic stops? I want to warn her that stops may be inevitable and that she should keep her hands visible, be compliant at all times, etc., but I also don’t want to look like a crazy white mom who thinks this really good kid is going to get them into trouble. For what it’s worth, we live in a wealthy, mainly white suburb of Chicago, and his family is wealthy. He drives a nicer car than I do. Help me advise my millennial about 21st-century dating.

—Concerned Mom

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If nothing else, let this serve as a lesson that you should speak to your white children about institutional racism regardless of whether they date someone of another race. It is important to talk to your daughter about the racist disparities in traffic stops as a white woman who lives in America and is presumably invested in interrogating and dismantling white supremacy both in herself and in the world around her, not only because her boyfriend is black. The goal of this conversation should not be “how to make sure my daughter is never made to see or experience racism due to her proximity to blackness.” Read this article about the racist history of traffic stops together, and talk about the information you read there. Talk about the history of sundown towns in the state of Illinois and how they contributed to the existence and concentrated wealth of your “mainly white” Chicago suburb. Tell her how you would like her to handle being pulled over, and also talk about how “acting compliant” is a course of action that’s most likely to benefit someone already privileged, and that “resisting arrest” or “failure to comply” is often used as after-the-fact justifications of police violence. Let her know that sometimes even a nurse defending her patients’ legal rights can be arrested and dragged out of the hospital she works in, and that a child named Tamir Rice was shot by police as he played in a park—that “compliance” cannot save someone who was shot less than two seconds after the officer got out of his car.

This will be an ongoing conversation, and it will often prove challenging and uncomfortable. It is worth having, regardless of whom your daughter is dating, and I’m glad you’re prepared to start now.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have been preparing to adopt a baby from “Anita” for six months. We’ve paid Anita’s medical bills and an allowance so Anita didn’t have to work too hard during her final trimester. She’s due in six weeks, and we discovered by accident that at some point she’d changed her mind. Anita will be keeping her baby. It’s a devastating but not unexpected loss. My husband and I wish Anita well, because we want her baby to succeed, but we also want to sever our relationship with her. Anita won’t be able to afford the same level of care without our money, and her mother has accused us of being heartless. We’re torn. We can’t afford to support Anita and pursue adoption. Are we obligated to continue paying for her medical expenses?

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—Paying for Baby

My first impulse was to tell you to speak with the adoption agency you’re working with, since presumably they have policies in place for situations exactly like yours. But upon rereading your letter—the fact that you appear to have been paying Anita directly, that you found out by accident that she can’t go through with the adoption, that there’s no mention anywhere of any mediators—I suspect you have been pursuing an independent adoption. If you have been working with an attorney, signed any sort of agreement with Anita, or had any contact with a reputable agency, please seek advice from them about what responsibilities you may have toward her for the remainder of her pregnancy.

It’s heartening to see that you understand this as a personally painful but acceptable outcome—ultimately, it’s for the best that Anita does not feel financially pressured into giving up a child that she wants to parent. You don’t say, however, that she is in danger of a medical or housing crisis without your support—just that she will not be able to afford “the same level of care” without your continued assistance. Regardless of what Anita’s mother thinks, you and your husband should determine whether you can afford (and are willing) to help defray any further costs over the next six weeks, if for no other reason than that you want Anita and her baby to be well. If you cannot afford it, and if you believe it will not put either of them in harm’s way, your best option may be to encourage her to seek resources from the financial assistance center at the hospital where she plans to give birth. But if nothing else, let this serve as a useful lesson in why it is so important to work with a reputable agency that balances the needs of birth parents and prospective adoptive parents, for situations just like this one.

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Dear Prudence,
I have a weird etiquette question: I was in an abusive marriage for a decade, and after we split, I had to distance myself from both my social and professional circles because we worked in the same industry. I’m very healthy and happy now. Recently, I’ve started to fold a few previous connections back into my life. Nobody has any idea how bad the abuse was, or why we divorced, and I still have to see my ex on occasion. My question is: How do I address my divorce circumstances politely, without burdening my new connections with a heavy dose of emotional content?

—No Polite Way to Say This

If your goal is simply to communicate that you two aren’t on friendly terms, you can say something like, “We went through a difficult divorce, and it’s better for the two of us not to socialize.” You may have to smile and nod at some of the same work events, but at least you can let your friends know that you’re not so friendly you’d like to be invited to the same dinner party.

But if you’re feeling a desire to share the truth of your abusive marriage with some of your friends, then I think you can go into greater detail about why you left, to whatever extent you feel comfortable with. Those conversations may feel heavy simply by the nature of the topic you’re discussing, but that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong in telling your own story. If you want to share some of the broad strokes of your history without feeling obligated to answer follow-up questions or go into more detail than you’re comfortable with, you can say, “I’d rather not go into this at length right now, but it was a really difficult time for me, and I’m very happy to be out of my abusive marriage. Thanks for listening.”

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Implicit in your question seems to be a fear that by acknowledging your ex-husband’s abuse, you’ll either be flagged as someone who violates professional and social etiquette, or be thought of as a “downer.” I don’t think that’s the case. You’re not obligated to keep silent, or pretend that you two parted amicably, just because he works in your field, or because you haven’t talked about it before.

* * *

Dear Prudence: My sister tells everyone that she lost a child, but I don’t think a miscarriage counts.

Hear more Prudie at Slate.com/Prudiepod.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’ve known my friend “B” for around five years. We met as students and had a wonderful companionship through school and still remain close. The only problem is her escalating interest in the cast of a television show, particularly one male actor. It began with a minor interest in the show while we were students. She was going through a rough time personally and began watching; over the years, she has become so obsessed with one of the lead actors that she now spends thousands of dollars to go to conventions across the country, attends related events, and generally finds reasons to be in his neighborhood. They have “coincidentally” met several times, and he was rude to her on multiple occasions. This is only a fraction of what B has done to research, stalk, and meet this actor, who is twice her age. He now recognizes her.

I’ve never spoken to her about how I feel although the whole thing creeps me out. Now she has a group of friends that she met online, and they are all intensely involved in the “fandom,” too. When I have met them, they only discussed said actor, who most recently saw him, and what’s happening in their online community. Many of her pre-fandom friends are ghosting her, including her closest friend from childhood, and I’m considering doing the same. Others have told B that her behavior is odd, and she has responded with anger. Should I tell her that this is why her other friends have stopped speaking to her? (She is completely unaware of the reason they dropped out of her life.) Or should I avoid the confrontation and fade out as well?

—Caught Up in Fandom

Your friend B’s behavior isn’t odd, it’s worrying and dangerous. Having a significant interest in a particular show, or spending a lot of time thinking about celebrities, is harmlessly odd, in much the same way that getting really into any hobby or pastime is a little odd but ultimately rewarding for the enthusiast. What you’re describing—stalking an actor to the point of immediate recognition, the fact that he clearly does not like running into her, turning on friends who don’t share her all-consuming interest in the object of her affections, an apparent inability to recognize her own behavior as socially inappropriate—is highly distressing, and since you’re already on the verge of giving up your friendship with her, you have nothing to lose by telling her the truth. You already know that her immediate response is likely to be anger, so prepare yourself for that outcome and say it anyway. Tell her that you care about her, that you value her friendship, that the change you’ve seen in her over the last few years has worried you profoundly, that you’ve seen her react to gentle criticism with defensiveness and anger, that she’s lost friendships over her all-consuming obsession with this actor and recentered her social life around people who validate and support her stalking, and that you’re worried about her and want her to seek help to make better choices. If she decides not to take your advice and stops speaking to you, you’ve lost nothing, and at least you’ll know that at least once, someone tried to reflect reality and truth to her. I wish both of you the best.

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Dear Prudence,
I have been with my husband for five years. He is attentive, kind, thoughtful, and attractive, which are all qualities that make him appealing to other women. Four years ago he cheated on me, and I found out almost immediately after the affair started. He showed remorse, we went to counseling, and I decided to stay with him. Since the affair, I check his Facebook, emails, phone calls, and texts regularly. It’s obviously insane and has become somewhat of an obsession. I have attempted counseling but this hasn’t stopped or curbed my snooping. I am just waiting to catch him again and feel that it’s only a matter of time before he strays. I have had five serious long-term relationships in my life, all of which have ended with infidelity. I am not quite sure what about me screams “cheat on me,” but it is an obvious pattern. This man is the love of my life, and I live in daily fear of getting cheated on. I need advice on how to deal with these issues and move on into a healthier mindset.

—Husband Monitor

I’m so glad that you’ve become aware of how untenable your current situation is, and how unhelpful your snooping is to either improving the state of your marriage or helping alleviate any of your own paranoia and suspicion. It seems that you know there is no amount of monitoring or control that you could wield over your husband’s communications that would make you feel safe and secure and that you’re willing to try something else. You say that you have “attempted” counseling but that your behavior hasn’t changed, which suggests that your attempt was both short-lived and half-hearted. I encourage you to try again and dive deeply into the process this time, and to find a counselor who specializes in helping patients break unwanted habits and intrusive thoughts.

You don’t say that there’s anything about your husband’s behavior that is thoughtless or unhelpful now, so I think your therapeutic goal should be not how to force him to demonstrate further penance for his affair four years ago, but to address your own feelings of panic, insecurity, and insufficiency—and to completely stop checking his texts, emails, and social media accounts. Your goal should be total sobriety from surveillance, and you should enlist your husband’s help in this. It’s not clear whether your husband is aware that you’ve been monitoring his communications, but either way, he needs to know that you’re making a change. If he is unaware of the scope of your activities, it’s possible that he’ll be incredibly angry with you, and you should be prepared for that.

Together—with a therapist’s help—you should set aside a time for him to take back his passwords and set his accounts to private so that you no longer have access to them, because you do not need access to them. None of the answers to your fears are in your husband’s chat logs, as long as he’s treating you right and committed to being faithful to you now. They’re in your own head, and you deserve to live in something other than a state of constant panic, just as your husband deserves to live in something other than a state of constant monitoring.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a casual Spanish speaker—I can understand a good bit of what I hear and read, but have more difficulty speaking it. My mom, bless her, thinks I am fluent. Normally, this isn’t a problem. She might call sometimes with a question about something she heard on TV or about something on a menu, but that’s it. Recently though, something happened that made me uncomfortable. She had some furniture delivered, and the men who dropped it off spoke Spanish. She wanted me to give them instructions in Spanish, and I told her it wasn’t necessary, as it was obvious they also spoke English. Later, when they were speaking to each other in Spanish, she wanted to know what they were saying and if it was about her. I told her I didn’t follow their conversation, but now I wish I had said that she was making offensive assumptions. Would that be appropriate next time something like this happens, if it does?

—Not Your Translator

It would be perfectly appropriate to revisit the last conversation, rather than wait for her to do or say something offensive in the future. You can say, “Mom, I felt uncomfortable the last time you asked me to translate for you because it was clear that the delivery men spoke both Spanish and English. I’m also not comfortable being asked to eavesdrop on a private conversation, so while I’m happy to help you translate something you’ve read or help you speak to someone else, I don’t want you to ask me to do that again.” You might even ask her why she assumed they were speaking about her and have a more in-depth conversation about the assumptions she made and what underlying ideas they may have originated from. But it’s better to be clear now about what you are and are not willing to do for her than to wait for her to make you uncomfortable again.

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