I am black and in the seventh grade. I have two best friends: one black and one white. With my black friend, we often talk about our experiences of racism and white privilege and similar topics. But when we do, my white friend gets uncomfortable and says defensive things, like: “It’s not my fault I’m white,” as if we were criticizing her. I understand that she might not want to discuss these issues, but what should I say when she makes statements like these?
How impressed am I that you are able, at such a tender age, to put your finger squarely on a crippling social dynamic? (Thanks for writing!) I never receive as many quibbling replies as when I suggest that race may be at play in a Social Q. People offer up every (nonracial) alternative under the sun. Like your friend, they may feel bad about what happened to you, but they’re even more anxious (or loath) to acknowledge that racism (or they) have anything to do with it.
You go too easy on your friend. If she’s your bestie, she has to try to empathize with your experiences. Say, “I know you’re not to blame for that salesman trailing me around the store like I was a thief, but if we’re going to be close, you have to hear my stories and support me — the same way I support you.” That’s what friendship is!
We can keep avoiding the tough conversations about race that we still desperately need to have. But doing better means listening to our friends and neighbors with open hearts, including when we feel guilty and even when we’re in the wrong. (Being wrong just gives us another chance to apologize and get it right.) And readers with other ideas for our awesome young writer: Send them in, and I’ll pass them along.
My husband and I eat out frequently with a couple we like. But the husband doesn’t order his own drinks. When cocktails are served, he asks to taste my husband’s instead. I find this disgusting! My husband refuses to say anything; he doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. But what about me? My husband is jeopardizing my health over this man’s feelings. We have fought about this. How do I make it stop?
You must really hate shared appetizers. (Two forks, drenched in saliva, accidentally clinking!) I assume the jeopardy to your health comes in when the man transmits typhoid fever (or a cold) to your husband by sipping from his glass, and your husband gives it to you, in turn. But wouldn’t the other guy forgo the sip if he were feeling ill?
Stop pressing your husband. You have asked him repeatedly to speak up, and he has refused. He doesn’t mind the sipping. But you do. And the risk to your health, though attenuated, is real. Next time, say, “I don’t want him catching a cold and giving it to me. Can’t you order your own drink?” He may find you hypochondriacal, but that’s a small price to pay for good dinner company.
What’s the Alternative?
I meet up with a friend occasionally, and we share stories about our lives. Lately, mine are about looking for nursing homes for my mom or buying a rental property for extra income. She responds with worst-case scenarios: “Elder abuse is rampant in nursing homes!” “The real estate market could crash again!” I usually go silent, feeling insulted and like a doormat. How do you respond to negativity?
Be grateful that your mind doesn’t work like hers. It’s probably more painful to think constantly that the sky is falling than to hear about it occasionally from a friend. But I get your hurt feelings. The next time she stomps on your plans, say: “But my mom can’t live on her own much longer. What alternatives to nursing homes do we have?” Then hear her out. I bet it’s easier to push past her glass-half-empty impulse to a substantive conversation than it is to change her into a glass-half-full kind of person.
This Art Is Kind of One-Note — I Mean, One of a Kind!
I became friends with a very famous musician on Facebook. He’s close friends with my boyfriend. He posted a photo of a white gallery space with large monochromatic paintings on the wall and asked what everyone thought of them. My wit is benignly sarcastic, so I made a comment in that vein. I thought that’s where he was headed, too. Little did I know it was his son’s art exhibit! I am heartbroken. My boyfriend told me not to worry about it. Should I apologize or let it go?
Well, I hope you’re heartbroken because you may have hurt someone’s feelings — and not because those feelings belong to a glittery celebrity. (You did lead with his fame.) Still, having been rude (a.k.a witty), don’t let it go. Be thoughtful and apologize: “I’m sorry for my comment. It was a failed attempt at humor. Please forgive me.” Who knows? Maybe the minion who monitors your V.I.P.’s social media accounts will even reply.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.