Over the long weekend, while visiting my family and having some after-dinner drinks with their neighbours and friends, I was surprised to hear some of the jokes they were telling. It was a very white crowd. I wouldn’t call them “racist”, but the jokes were about race. These are good people, and I don’t think they meant anything by it, but I was offended.—Dave
Outside of the most conspicuously extreme ways of being racist, nothing much about race and racism is black and white (I’ll atone for that unintentional almost-pun somehow, I promise). Same goes for “comedy,” if we can even consider the probably terrible jokes made at an old, all-white turtleneck convention like your family’s Thanksgiving anything close to funny. Racism, I think, is about being detached from the lives and experiences of other people, which is also an easy metric to apply to sexism, classism, whatever. Did you read that perfect thing Michael Chabon wrote about the long-ago inspiration for his new novel? Following the O.J. Simpson verdict, confused about why black people were celebrating in the streets of L.A., “I discovered, to my shame, to my absolute wonder and horror, that in the course of that journey I had, somehow, become a racist…. All you have to do is look at [other] people in a kind of almost scientific surprise.”
Race and racism has got to be somewhere near the apex of cultural confusion. I mean, between the sexy black U.S. president, the TV shows where non-white characters exist on similar, if separate, narrative planes, and the indisputable collective crush on Beyoncé, it seems to some people that racism is done, we’ve solved it, and so it might be just fine to make jokes about stuff we don’t completely understand.
Sheila Sampath, creative director at activist design studio The Public, and a professor at OCAD, says that in Canada, despite a super-racist history of genocide and colonialism, “we tend to promote a view of being post-racial,” or even “colourblind”, which is the most kindergarten way of avoiding complexity I’ve eeeever heard of.
Sampath (who has been called “Paki” and “terrorist” on the streets of downtown Toronto) says that there remains a lot of social segregation, adding that “the reality is that some white people do not step back and realize how white their social circle is.” Your mom and dad’s pals are probably not guilty of the not-actually-ironic stuff of “hipster racism” (which is just “racism”), but it’s the same principle: Race, as Sampath points out, is about power, and while power is still centralized with one group of people it’s not funny coming from them. Even if they do, in fact, have that one black friend.
Still, humour is the best way to approach and access basically every discomfort. So, your best move is probably to make a (better) joke about whoever is making a racist one, even if their intentions are probably not explicitly, specifically racist. Also, in the same way that it’s not my job to girlsplain about sexism (men should be doing that, to and for other men), Sampath says “as a white person, you do have more responsibility,” to get up on other white people (especially at Thanksgiving, come on!) about their assumptions and arrogance. I wouldn’t worry about changing an 85-year-old’s mind, but it could be cool to say to someone who isn’t going to die soon that their joke reminds you of that Chris Rock line about how being white is like always having five bucks, or, make something up: There is just as much pathos available in other people’s racist ignorance as there is in your mom’s friend’s feelings about cab drivers and manicurists.
I met this girl online near the end of the summer. It was a first date worthy of Dating Diaries (10/10), and we kept seeing each other. She even made me dinner for my birthday. Then she randomly said she needed space and that she wasn’t feeling a spark. I don’t know what to do. Give her two weeks and talk? Pretend she never existed?—Toby
What? No. None of those things. Don’t re-approach her; don’t re-imagine it. You were rejected, and it hurts more than almost any other human experience, but that’s what happened. Feel it, and try to learn from it, talk about it, and get ready for a version of that to probably happen all over again with someone else. You don’t need to hold on so tightly to a single, short relationship, and always remember: Life is beautiful and the worst.