I am an active member of my homeowners’ association. I am also African-American. While meeting at the home of the president of the association, I noticed that she had a row of African-American iconography lined up in her kitchen: a collection of ceramic “Mammy” jars. They made me uncomfortable. Do I have an obligation to say something about them? Maybe suggest that she hide away her trove of racist caricatures? Or should I follow a philosophy of “her home, her décor” and never go back? (In the past, this woman referred to my son as “one of the good ones.”)
You probably know better than I, Faby, that if you took up every act of racism you encountered, you would be too busy to do anything else — like have a job or any close relationships. It’s up to you which incidents you confront and which you let be. So no, you are not obligated to catch this woman up on hundreds of years of American history and explain to her why those tchotchkes are offensive.
But if you enjoy being active in your homeowners’ association (or if you have benefited by participating in it), I encourage you to speak up rather than stay away. These are business meetings, not social calls. Say to the president: “You know, those jars are racist stereotypes and perpetuate the idea of black women as servants to white people. I’d rather not see them at our official meetings.”
That should do the trick. But if the president argues that the jars are harmless or merely kitsch, send her a link to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University. Our country has produced — and continues to make — troves of racist objects. Her collectibles are no exception.
My mother-in-law and her boyfriend purchased a home in our small neighborhood, despite our stated objections. We are socially active with our neighbors, and my mother-in-law told us that they intend to be, too. I anticipate lots of well-intentioned questions about their arrival. Is there a polite way to say that their move was made against our wishes? Pretending to be happy about it compounds my irritation and makes me feel disingenuous.
I totally get your annoyance. But fortunately, you will not be testifying in front of Robert Mueller (or otherwise under oath) when you answer your neighbors’ questions about your in-laws. Better to be opaque than poison the well against family members in advance. (I might feel differently if your neighbors were close friends.)
Say, “We’ll see how it goes.” And try to mean it. Your mother-in-law and her boyfriend seem unconcerned with honoring boundaries. On the other hand, who are you to prevent them from buying their dream home? Now that the moving vans are pulling up, focus on creating respectful barriers between your households. (Visits by appointment only!) And if you’re going to say anything about your new neighbors to the old ones, aim for optimism.
Divided by Dogs
We’ve had two good friends move within a four-hour radius of our house. We were thrilled about it and looked forward to having them over for weekend visits. When we invited our first friend, he asked if he could bring his dog. We said no. He declined our invitation. The same thing happened with our second friend. She cited the expense of a dog sitter, even though she does very well financially. Is there a way to encourage our friends to visit without their dogs?
You mean, like bullying them into it? No. These interactions went exactly as they should have. You kindly invited your pals to visit. They proposed a wrinkle in your arrangements. You refused (perhaps because of allergies, dislike of dogs or not wanting a pet for the weekend), and so were your invitations.
You had every right to behave as you did, and so did your friends. But I have noticed a trend: As digital contact outpaces face-to-face encounters for many of us, our pets can become an important physical presence in our lives. We like to be around something with a heartbeat! Don’t try to persuade your friends to cave. Suggest lunch at a midpoint between you. Perhaps your reunions will blossom from there?
Six months ago, my husband and I attended the wedding of the son of old friends. We have known the groom since he was a baby. As a gift, we gave the couple a generous check. We have not received a thank-you note. Would it be O.K. if I mention this to his parents? If this were my child, I would want to know.
Assuming the groom is older than 14, I’d suggest contacting the bridal couple directly if you are worried that the check was lost in the wedding shuffle or cashed by some scurrilous third party. But calling an adult’s parents to rat him out is about as inappropriate as his not thanking you for your gift. If the couple’s behavior offends you, skip their anniversary party.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.
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