White Wedding, Black Servers: Bad Optics?

Race Manners: When it comes to the racial dynamic, worry about how things are, not how they look. 

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I’m so glad you asked what not to do, because the only thing that will make this really awkward is if you go overboard being condescendingly kind (“Oh, stop cleaning up—we’ll take care of that! Come dance!”), over-complimenting (“This is the best food ever! It is so unfortunate that white people are so culturally lacking that we can’t make this”) or overexplaining (“We chose this restaurant in a colorblind fashion because it’s the best food around and we’re going to tip the caterers very well—in fact, we’re going to pay twice as much as they asked”).

As for the Zionist Republican uncle (I had to cut part of your letter detailing all of his racist antics, but readers should know that they’re pretty bad), I’m kind of an extremist about these things, so my first instinct is to tell you to leave him off the list. Short of that, part of being a good host is making sure your guests aren’t antagonized or insulted. Be prepared to call him out if he gets out of hand, or even assign someone watch him. Make it clear that it’s your day, and he’ll be asked to leave if he can’t respect your friends and your values.

Your deep anxiety about this is a reminder that you care about racial inequality, about how the legacy of racism manifests in our society and that you want no part of perpetuating it. That’s a really healthy and admirable feeling to have, so by telling you to calm down about this wedding, I’m by no means telling you to stop thinking about it overall.

I have no doubt that you use respect and decency and do your best to be aware of your privilege in your individual interactions. Beyond that, I think you and your fiancee want to harness your instincts for inclusiveness and equality in your respective professional fields by advocating for diversity, checking your own assumptions, making sure the voices of people of color are heard and using whatever influence you have to ensure that stereotypes and biases don’t get in the way of people’s tenure, partnership or annual reviews.

There is nothing wrong with being preoccupied with race and racial inequality, but your life will tell the story of where you fit into those dynamics much more than this one event will. You should relax and enjoy your big day, remembering to focus on the way things are, rather than the way they look.

The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

Need race-related advice? Send your questions to racemanners@theroot.com.

Previously in Race Manners: “White Dad Wonders How to Raise His Biracial Kids