Overheard on Zoom: Co-Workers Talking About My ‘Weird’ Habits

White Person to White Person? You’re Doing It Wrong

White Person to White Person? You’re Doing It Wrong

White Person to White Person? You’re Doing It Wrong

I ran into a friend in the lobby of our building. (I thought we were friends, anyway.) She is black; I am white. And protests over racist policing have been raging in our city. First, I made sure her teenage son was safe. I was worried after seeing news reports. (He’s fine.) Then I told her I was sad to see the protests turn violent, that I sincerely believe violence and hatred only beget more of the same. At that point, she rolled her eyes, said she envied me and walked away. Did I do something wrong?

M.R.

I know you meant well when you spoke to your friend. And you were kind to ask about her son. But I think it’s time for white people to stop handing out bromides on “violence and hatred” to people of color, as if we were in the same boat. We’re not. Your friend and her son are far more likely to face hatred and violence than you.

For hundreds of years, the levers of society have pushed a harrowing portion of cruelty onto black people, especially in policing and criminal justice. As we reckon with this, yet again, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, let’s try to be the friends our communities of color deserve.

The first thing is to get smarter. Read “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander, or “Heavy,” by Kiese Laymon. White people can’t know the hardship of anti-black racism firsthand, but we can try to deepen our understanding of it without forcing our already burdened black friends to educate us.

Even better, talk less and listen more. Black communities have lived the experience of inequality for generations. So, let’s be quiet and try to hear what people of color tell us they need. That may be the best way to become an ally who helps to achieve it. Apologize to your friend for being ham-handed. Then listen.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

My husband and I live in a coronavirus hot spot. We’ve been extremely careful. Recently, a relative stopped by our stoop to say hello. She brought a friend we’d never met. He asked if he could use our bathroom. Normally, I wouldn’t mind, but I didn’t feel comfortable. Still, I agreed because of social pressure. I gave him disinfecting wipes to use. Later, we cleaned the bathroom thoroughly and didn’t use it for a day. But I wish I had said no. Would that have been wrong?

ANONYMOUS

Be gentler with yourself! Sure, under normal circumstances you might extend hospitality to a stranger. But these aren’t normal times. I’m less concerned about viral transmission than your punishing stress after letting this guy into your home: your safe space. Self-care is important. It may be hard for you, but next time, tell him you aren’t comfortable with his coming inside.

I recently moved out of my first apartment, parting ways with my roommate of one year. She thinks we’re best friends and intends to remain close. She is a kind person, and I wish her well, but I don’t consider her a friend. She has many traits I find frustrating: She is too dependent on me, and we lack interests in common. I was friendly while we lived together, but I no longer want her in my life. New York is so big it would be easy never to see her again. But another part of me wants to express myself and tell her I don’t want to be friends with her. What should I do?

LIZ

I get your impulse to speak out. It seems to be tangled with some pent-up annoyance at your former roommate. But it would be cruel to tell her preemptively that you don’t want to be friends. She hasn’t asked for anything yet!

Take a break. Tell her you’re busy settling your new place when she asks to hang out. (New Yorkers have the best excuse in the world right now: social distancing.) You may be surprised, though. After a healthy absence, a kind person who cares about you may sound pretty good.

I am a 60-year-old man in great shape with a lean and muscular body. I have been sheltering in place with my younger girlfriend since March. We get along great. Since we’ve been together, she has adopted my ketogenic diet. The good news: She has gotten much leaner and looks amazing! The bad news: It’s getting harder to find enough keto friendly grass-fed beef, kimchi, macadamia nuts, pasture-raised eggs, organic greens and avocado oil at the supermarket. Because of Covid-19, I only shop once a week. How should I approach my girlfriend about not finding enough keto food for two?

JONATHAN

Your gratuitous bragging — about your foxy body and younger girlfriend — and even longer shopping list do not make me terribly sympathetic with your plight. (Surprise!) Consider modesty the next time.

For now, level with your girlfriend. Perhaps she can shop on a different day than you, after the market has been restocked, or she can explore shopping online. I hear young people are great with computers!


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.




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