Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
About a year ago I bought a lovely off-white windbreaker on sale with the brand’s iconic logo in a monogram print. It was from the late Virgil Abloh’s last collection. The jacket fits me perfectly, is comfortable and luxurious, and makes a bit of a statement. Lately, however, it has been problematic. While walking through Soho last week, a man who was oddly yelling out random statements to passers-by noticed this coat, prompting him to proclaim: “Hey big man – in off-white, stop and say hi! » I continued to pace, but his demeanor immediately became accusatory… “You’re wearing a black man’s jacket, but you won’t say hello.” Yesterday, at a Chase branch, the jacket caught the eye of a security guard, and while he was talking to the teller, the eavesdropping guard caught a comment that I said was cause for a judgmental laugh. The other week, local high school students walked by on my block from their school to the subway, and one of them used a homophobic and derogatory term to describe me to their friends. I feel like I’m often told that I should support black businesses, artists, and designers—but doing so seems to bring me unwanted attention, hate, and homophobia. It’s just a windbreaker, but it causes a noticeable reaction. How should I respond to these comments and react in the future?
— Off-White right?
I’m completely out of fashion and had to look up “Off-White” and wow, congrats on your wealth! Although it was on sale, it was not a cheap item of clothing. I see now that you paid a lot of money, planned to be seen as classy and cool, and instead you get yelled at and mocked. No wonder you’re upset.
But I have to say, I did a close reading of your letter and I think you are very much in your own head about your racial politics and also a bit paranoid. Here we have a person who yelled random things at everyone and was probably unwell and yelled something at you. We have a perceived judgmental laugh, the source of which we cannot determine. And we have a truly disturbing homophobic attack with no clear link to your outfit.
Listen, you are under no obligation to buy from black artists if you truly believe it will expose you to public exposure. (And you could take what you spent on this and probably buy more artwork from little Etsy stops instead of sensational fashions. There are options here!) But I think what’s happening is that you were hoping that buying this particular windbreaker would provide you some kind of public credit, or congratulations, or cool points from black people, and it didn’t pan out. If so, go ahead and resell it or stop using it. If you really love the garment for what it is and want it to be part of your wardrobe – because it’s your style, not because you’re obeying the orders you claim to have received – keep it on, with headphones to drown out unpleasant remarks like may or may not have anything to do with what you’re wearing.
My daughter is 20, a junior in college, and lives on the west coast now far from home. She has gained about 20lb. (compared to high school where she couldn’t eat as much due to health problems), but is not overweight. She is active, still has some health issues, and I am proud of her for working hard at school and with her health. My husband expresses his “concern” by calling her big, fat, ugly and criticizing her dress sense. He expects her to dress like a 50-year-old, which is obviously not practical. He complains to both me and her, and when they talk it’s explosive. I have tried to clarify the efforts she is making to stay healthy, but also helped him respect her individuality and preferences. He won’t listen to any of it. He denies that I’m just on her side and “giving” her too much freedom. I want her to be comfortable being herself around us when she visits the home, but this behavior is breaking their relationship and frankly eroding my respect for my husband as well. She is an independent young lady and I trust her with my life. I want to respect my husband’s opinions, but I can’t control our responses to them. What do you recommend?
– Can’t take this long
Darling can’t take this,
Stop respecting your husband’s opinion. Seriously, I get that it would be nice if he had an opinion worth respecting, but he doesn’t. This isn’t you who gets caught up in a debate between a spouse and daughter who each want to watch something different on family holiday movie night, or who can’t agree on where to set the thermostat in your home. There’s an innocent person who’s still very young and a violent, more powerful person who should know better—especially since you’ve already thoughtfully broken down why his view is ridiculous. Your relationship with your husband, if you stay in it, is going to continue to be bad because he is a mean, sexist person, but you have a great opportunity here to deepen your connection with your daughter by protecting her. Let her know that’s the plan.
Christmas is approaching and I will finally introduce my loving, kind and intelligent partner of more than 3 years to my extended family. I should be excited, but I’m honestly worried. I am white, my partner is Korean, and my entire family’s only other interracial relationship involved a black gentleman who encountered racial hostility. My parents consider themselves open-minded, but even they ask my partner probing questions about citizenship and hold stereotypical views. I do a solid job of buffering him from my parents, but I worry about not being able to protect him with extended family if they make offensive comments. I have voiced my concerns to my parents and their response was “if they make comments, it’s probably not on purpose and [boyfriend] must be an adult and soak it up.” I’m not going to make him “suck up” racism in the name of peace. What is a script for talking to my family about this? If something offensive happens, what is the most tactful way to handle it?
— Begging the family to behave
Dear beggar family,
The first conversation you need to have, if you haven’t already, is with your partner. Can I give you a script you didn’t ask for?
“So, Christmas is coming and I wanted to know how you felt around my family. As you know, they range from ignorant to horribly racist. I don’t want to spoil your holiday by asking you to absorb any comments they might make, and I’m not entirely sure I can prevent them. Do you just want to show up quickly, or stay home and celebrate with just the two of us? I never want to send the message that the things they say are okay or that it’s up to you to deal with them.”
If he says “No no no, I’m perfectly fine with participating, it rolls off my back.” You might say, “Okay, but I have my limits when it comes to what I can handle hearing. Even if you’re fine, hearing racism from my family upsets me and I don’t want to be a person who tolerates it. Can we together make a plan for how to prevent and respond to any comments?”
Then have him edit a text to the family that starts with something like this, which I’ve written so it puts the responsibility of any conflict on you, not him: “Hello family. I can’t wait to see everyone at Christmas. The boyfriend wants to be with me. In order for us all to have a great day, I would ask you to be thoughtful about the remarks you make about race and ethnicity. Please do not ask any questions about his citizenship or [other topics] or comments about [whatever]. He is very patient but I find these comments upsetting and have to go if I hear them. I’m sure that won’t be necessary now that everyone is on alert.”
Is there anything normal to say after someone calls you “kind”? I don’t think I’m a nice person, but at work (mall food court) I’m very happy, I do my best to compliment people if I like their clothes – not in a creepy way, just like “cool hat!” -and I’m a people-pleaser, so if they ask for something, I try to fulfill their request. I’ve done these things and afterwards my colleagues have said things like “you’re so nice I could never” or “oh she’s so nice.” I like my coworkers, but I can’t tell if they’re being sincere or if it’s sarcastic or funny or what, and I don’t know what to say to them. What is something neutral to say? Should I stop telling people I think their hats are cool? Please help.
— Not mean, not nice
Dear Not Naughty,
Here I go, acting like the unhelpful parent of a middle schooler again: Just keep being yourself! Don’t worry about what they say!
Seriously, you’re probably right that some of your coworkers can be a little judgmental. But don’t stop. This quality of yours – wanting to do something that doesn’t cost you anything to make people’s everyday lives a little brighter – is a good one. It’s going to make your life more meaningful and bring joy to many people long after you’ve given up food court.
Follow this week’s Prudie.
More advice from Slate
For the past few weeks, mum has weaponized Christmas. Every conversation—and there are many conversations, even if I don’t answer—seems to include the question of when we’re going home for Christmas and how we can stay extra long. We will not travel this year. Any concerns I’ve mentioned about the pandemic, travel stress, and the expense (and fear) of leaving my dog with a stranger are met with criticism and dismissed. She sends family group texts with pictures of all the Christmas decorations she puts up for me. If I don’t answer, she sends texts that sound like it’s an emergency—but it’s not. It’s getting to the point where I want to leave my phone on silent and never pick up…