My son is a comedian. When his comedian friends come to my town for gigs, I put them up. Recently, I hosted a Black friend of his — I am white — and we talked about a famous Black comic. I paraphrased one of the comic’s jokes that impressed me: A TV censor allowed the comic to use the N-word but objected to his use of a gay slur. When the comic asked why, the censor said: “Because you’re not gay.” The comic replied: “Well, I’m not a N-word, either.” I used the full N-word, as the comic had, for accuracy. Later, the guest told my son that my language had made him feel unsafe and that I am a racist. My son is angry with me. But I am stunned that he and his friend can’t distinguish between quoting an antiracist joke and being racist. Do I have to apologize?
Let me start with a compliment: You are generous to house traveling comedians. Aside from that, though, I can’t support your positions here. Your use of the slur was insensitive, and your claim to know better than your guest how he should have felt when you used it is presumptuous. Still, I want to thank you for raising important issues.
There is no reason for you or any white person to use that word — even in quotes. (Yes, I know some Black people do.) It is a racist epithet with a complex history that you can research if you are interested. Otherwise, saying “N-word” is plenty accurate; I knew exactly what you meant. And arguing for your need to use an explosive term, when a common euphemism will do, makes you seem defensive and tone-deaf.
More troubling (to me) is your implication that your Black houseguest was wrong to say he felt unsafe. He — like every one of us — is entitled to his feelings. And for you to dictate how he should have felt is wildly disrespectful. Apologize. You hurt someone, even if it was unintentional. (And in joking news: The one you repeated stinks! Rejecting a racial slur as sideways justification for using gay slurs is not antiracist. We can respect everyone.)
How to Move Forward When Trust Is Gone
My girlfriend and I have been dating for five years. We agreed to be monogamous, which is important to me. I just discovered for the second time that she had cheated on me. She swears tearfully it won’t happen again. I love her, but I no longer trust her. And I’m ashamed to be in this position. Advice?
You have nothing to be ashamed of! We do not control the behavior of others — only how we respond to it. Many people in your shoes would cut their losses and end the relationship.
But it may be useful to you (both) to explore your girlfriend’s infidelity in couples therapy. In my experience, people who cheat are often acting out their own issues, not their feelings about their partner. Understanding her psychology better may help you move beyond hurt and shame, whether you decide to stay together or break up.
Mi Causa Es Su Causa?
I launched a charitable appeal to help a Sri Lankan woman I met in Abu Dhabi, where I used to live. She is extremely poor and in urgent need of medical care. I posted on Facebook and also in a group chat of 18 friends — half of whom are close friends. Only three people donated. I am hurt and angry! I wonder if these people are truly my friends or if they are even good people. Thoughts?
I have no doubt your appeal sprang from a humanitarian impulse. Still, it seems to have turned into an exercise in ego gratification: Do my friends value me highly enough to donate to my cause? This is a charitable request, not a popularity contest.
Most people I know choose charitable causes that are personal to them. Most of my donations, for instance, go to suicide prevention. I set an annual budget, and if I can afford to give more, I do. So, a sad story on a group-text chain about a woman in a country where you used to live would not be my priority. That doesn’t mean the woman is undeserving of help, nor does it mean that your friends are wrong not to donate.
Good Curtains Make Good Neighbors
My husband was chatting with our new neighbor when the neighbor mentioned he could see me undressing at night through my bathroom window. Our homes are on three-quarter-acre lots, so we’re not that close. My husband was speechless, and I continue my nightly ritual, which does not include drawing the shades. Was our neighbor wrong to say something? Shouldn’t he not look?
Your neighbor is not responsible for safeguarding your privacy. And acreage appears to be irrelevant: He can see you undressing. I interpret his comment as a neighborly gesture to tell you something he thinks you would want to know.
If you don’t care, that’s your call. But if you don’t draw the blinds because you think your neighbor should not use certain rooms or look out his windows in the evening, I disagree. At this point, he’s not peeping; you’re flashing.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.