I am a young Black woman who’s been quarantining with my white boyfriend for months. It’s been mostly great for us as a couple. When we visit his family nearby, they often ask me about the Black Lives Matter protests, in which we’re participating. I find them genuinely interested, respectful and curious about why expressions like “All Lives Matter” are racist. I’m happy to engage. But my boyfriend gets furious with them! He turns simple questions into big fights. What am I missing?
I love your willingness to talk about race with people who may not have considered it much before our current reckoning, in the wake of George Floyd’s horrible death. But I’ve received many letters from readers of color who feel legitimately burdened by their white friends’ newfound and seemingly insatiable interest in racism.
Your boyfriend may feel protective of you or embarrassed that his family is treating you like an expert witness on Blackness. They could do some work too, right? A simple Google search would explain how the phrase “All Lives Matter” robs the protests against anti-Black racism of the specific point. It’s not your job to educate this family.
Still, I bet you’re having a big influence on them. Thanks to you, they may develop a deeper sensitivity and, in fairness, it’s only recently that many white people have been willing to acknowledge that a “colorblind” approach to racism (treating everyone the same despite our long history of inequality) only further entrenches the problem.
As for your boyfriend’s anger, tell him you’re happy, for now, to invest this energy in his family because you love him and want to help them know you better. And promise you’ll let him know when you tire of being their great Black resource. (And make sure you do!)
My colleagues and I are working remotely during the pandemic. Our boss has an 8-years-old daughter who delights in making daily appearances in our Zoom meetings. She holds up handmade signs for us to read or climbs onto her mother’s lap and waves at the camera while her mother runs our meetings. I feel pressure to delight in her supposed adorableness. I understand the hardships working parents face now. But most of the people in these meetings have young children who do not make cameos. I find our boss’s child hard to take. Any suggestions?
Of course I have suggestions! That’s my job. And incidentally, those suggestions must be broadly acceptable to my boss, or I’d be fired. It’s called working for a company. Here, I suggest holding your fire about your boss’s kid. Not every grievance needs to be aired, especially not petty ones involving our superiors at work.
Let the little girl have her 30 seconds of attention. It’s probably inappropriate, as you suggest. But letting this slide means that when you have a serious issue to bring to your boss, she won’t see you as the whiner who shut down her daughter’s harmless fun. Consider muting Zoom, averting your face and shouting into a pillow, instead.
My wife and I are an older couple. We were terrified of Covid-19 and very careful about masks, social distancing and staying at home when possible. Still, I got the virus anyway. I didn’t have to be hospitalized, and my wife was fine. We quarantined at home. I have no issue talking about our experience, but my wife doesn’t want me to. She believes people will think less of us, that we were careless about the pandemic. You?
It breaks my heart that on top of the fear and illness you’ve already suffered, your wife is now grappling with shame. Neither of you is to blame for getting sick. The novel coronavirus is highly contagious, and it sounds as if you took reasonable precautions.
Sadly, victim-blaming and shame over illness are nothing new. Read Susan Sontag’s essay, “Illness as a Metaphor,” for a deeper dive. I can’t tell you and your wife what to do. But let me float an idea: By showing your friends the responsible face of Covid patients (yours!), you may encourage extra vigilance in them. A great result!
More than once, at different people’s homes, I have been served chocolates or wine I gave as host gifts months or even a year before. I know that once given, a gift is no longer under my control. But I feel rejected when this happens, as if my gifts weren’t worth consuming or serving to other guests. Am I oversensitive, or are my hosts being rude?
Let’s wheel back to the bigger picture. Host gifts are tokens of thanks for often larger gestures of hospitality, like feeding us dinner or inviting us for the weekend. The circuit is complete when the gift is made and the visit ends. Why inject a note of pettiness about the gifts’ use? Maybe your hosts don’t care for the chocolates or wine you brought. No crime there! Isn’t it doubly thoughtful of them to remember that you do?
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.