Dear Amy: My parents have a habit of mentioning a person’s race or ethnicity whenever telling a story, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the context and serves only to point out that the person is non-white.
For example, “The nicest Black Boy Scout came to the door” or “I saw my Chinese co-worker at the store!” or “my Filipino neighbor told me about a great book.” I’ve tried gently asking why they feel the need to share racial or ethnic characteristics of the people they encounter, but they get defensive and say I’m being too sensitive.
Is this a weird generational thing (they are early 70s)? They are kind people, but I feel that they are being unknowingly racist, and it makes me very uncomfortable. Am I just being too sensitive?
Dear Wondering: Your folks are revealing their underlying perception that White people exist as the norm, necessitating a qualifying descriptor for any non-White people who might cross their path. This is the essence of privilege, and it also reflects their world as they have experienced it over the decades.
One way to push your point a bit might be to use their typical descriptor, and direct it back at them.
Here’s an example:
Them: “Tom, our mechanic, said we need new snow tires.”
You: “You forgot to mention Tom’s race.”
Them: “That’s because he’s White.”
You: “Oh, well, normally when you mention people I don’t know, you say what race they are. Shouldn’t this apply to White people, too? I’m pointing this out because it’s something that I wish you would think about doing differently.”
After that, I think you should let it go. Their defensiveness indicates that they aren’t going to admit to you that they are trying to change this reflexive behavior, but you will have given them a reason to think about it.
Dear Amy: You recently published my question in your column. I signed my question: No Crystals For Me. In my question, I told you about my frustration with my therapist, who suggested a book for me to read that was full of soul-gazing, crystals, and an overall approach that I described as pseudoscience and “woo-woo.”
It was good therapy to even write the letter to you.
I thought about how very often the advice given for many situations was to speak up for yourself. That does seem to be hard for many people.
I did as you suggested and took my honest concerns to my therapist.
I asked her if the book was representative of the core of her approach to therapy, because if it was, I could not benefit from it.
Well, it turned out that the book is not important to her therapy. We both used this as an opening to a good discussion.
By writing down my concerns, you helped me even before you answered my letter. Thank you.
And to all those that commented that I should just immediately drop the therapist, I say, “Y’all sure are impatient.”
— No Crystals For Me!
Dear No Crystals: In my response, I wrote, “Be honest! Tell her that you are resistant to this particular approach and ask if she has a different recommendation. She will likely ask you to talk about your reaction, and this conversation might lead to insight.”
Based on what you say, this is what happened, proving that your therapist is skilled at using information you supply to help you. She’s listening.
I appreciate that you mentioned that the very act of asking me the question helped you to arrive at the answer on your own. This, too, is “good therapy.”
Dear Amy: As I sit here with my Christmas cards, I think about how much these cards mean to me each year.
Each card that we receive in the mail is slipped into a pretty basket in our living room.
Then, on a quiet evening just before Christmas we sit down together and open them one at a time.
We enjoy them so much and consider each one a small gift from the sender, who took the time and expense to think of us.
During this pandemic year and the inability to visit so many people these “gifts” are especially precious.
— Madam in Michigan
Dear Madam: Even though my own Christmas cards routinely turn into “Happy New Year” cards, I agree that — this year, especially — these missives through the mail bring even more love than usual.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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