How to Respond to Racist Comments
I was recently at a small dinner party when one of the guests used an anti-Semitic slur in telling a story. Nobody (myself included) said a thing, and the rest of the night went smoothly. I took my cue from the host. Was I wrong?
— Suki, Iowa
Some say it was 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke who came up with, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." From this we can glean two facts: (1) Burke saw how frighteningly easy it is to gloss over whatever creates discomfort, and (2) Burke was not at this dinner party.
Forget about the host. When your head hits the pillow at night, you need to know you did the right thing. In this case, you should've let the person finish his story and then calmly asked, "What did you mean by [fill in the anti-Semitic blank]?" Hopefully, this elicits an apology, and someone quickly brings out the chicken Marengo. If, however, the guest in question suggests you're being overly sensitive or too politically correct, simply smile and say, "Actually, I'm the perfect amount of sensitive and just plain correct. Words matter." Then change the subject. Turn to someone else at the table and ask about a vacation they've recently taken, a book they've read, a Nazi they've hunted...whatever. The rest of the evening will either go smoothly or it won't, but not because you said the wrong thing.
Q. Dear Lisa,
Is it okay to have sex on a first date? My friend's good friend is fixing me up, and nothing looks weird when I Google this guy. Please say yes.
— Kendra, North Dakota
Whoa there, Kendra!
It's clear you want me to bless this potential hookup between you and Mr. Nothing Looks Weird When I Google the Guy. And grudgingly, I guess I do. But not before offering a cautionary tale. It won't be a lecture on getting AIDS, chlamydia, HPV, or roofied—but if you don't want to hear it, turn the page and come back to me next month.
Still here? Okay, then: My pal Marta met "he who must not be named" on a blind date. The guy was a good-looking manufacturer, originally from the Midwest, who picked a genuinely charming restaurant and ordered a decent bottle of Shiraz to boot. She invited him up; the clothes came off; a good time was had by all. And then it happened. Marta came out of the shower to find him watching TV. "Hey," she said, "can we put the news on for a second? I just want to see whether it'll rain tomorrow." He looked at her as if she'd lost her mind and said, "I can't miss The King of Queens." He was almost indignant, adding, "Kevin James is brilliant in this one." She thought he was kidding. He wasn't.
Isn't it always the way? One minute you're glad you wore your fancy underpants; the next you're realizing you've worn them for a man who believes Paul Blart, mall cop, is the Sir Anthony Hopkins of his generation.
Granted, TV compatibility isn't mandatory in a sex partner, and another couple of dates won't tell you whether he parks in the handicapped space or cheats on his taxes. And maybe on a cold night in North Dakota, none of that really matters to you. Fair enough, my friend—check the expiration date on your condoms and enjoy. But I still think there's no harm in making a little more conversation before making a lot more contact.
Q. Dear Lisa,
I know this sounds crazy, but my husband has fallen in love with Eloise, our new puppy, and I'm feeling left out. What do I do?
Yours is not the first letter I've received on this subject. In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that my husband has written me about this very issue on several occasions. He would have preferred to speak to me directly, but I was way too busy with the dog to pay him any mind.
Learn from our tender loving dysfunction: Take your husband to a pup-free zone, maybe dinner. Tell him how you feel, that you could use a little more care. Don't whine, don't accuse, don't lash out, don't assign blame—let Eloise be the bitch in the house. Believe me, Char, anytime someone new joins the family, there's a period of adjustment. I still remember how my former sister-in-law used to chew up our slippers. The point is, this will get easier.
Lisa Kogan is O's writer at large and the author of Someone Will Be with You Shortly: Notes from a Perfectly Imperfect Life. To ask Lisa a question, email email@example.com.