When it comes to race, racism and just plain old decency, there’s no doubt that there are plenty of people in dire need of a little guidance. But it’s a shame that these “teachable moments” so often come after a misstep, misunderstanding or controversy. (See Paula Deen, Duck Dynasty, that friend who yelled at a white co-worker in front of the entire office for touching her hair without permission, etc.)
That’s why The Root launched Race Manners this year—to offer nuanced, compassionate advice grounded in expert perspectives on some of the topics that are the hardest to talk about. We asked for your tough questions about the ethics and etiquette of racial interactions in a changing America, and you delivered (and then some). A few of the highlights:
Most popular: In response to a column titled “‘Mixed Kids Are the Cutest’ Isn’t Cute?” we learned that this reader wasn’t the only one who was unsettled by loaded comments about the alleged unique beauty of her biracial children. Summary: Keep calling kids adorable; leave your racial baggage at home. Runner-up: “I Hate My ‘Ghetto’ Name. Can I Change It?” Plenty of you agreed with the advice that there was nothing inherently wrong with “Laquita”—except the attitudes it triggered about black people.
Hardest: Talking about race gets really, really real when there’s a child being raised by someone who is potentially poisoning her with hate. This reader got tips on how to appeal to the decent side of a bigoted caregiver of a biracial 6-year-old, with the caveat that it definitely wouldn’t be easy.
Saddest: This reader’s dilemma—how to talk to a cousin about skin whitening—paled (pun intended) in comparison to the one faced by women around the world who go to great, dangerous lengths to make their skin lighter. Our expert put the entire thing in perspective, saying, “Skin bleaching is but one consequence of global white supremacy.”
Weirdest: It seems maybe just a tad overly sensitive to think that a friend’s pet has a problem with your husband’s ethnic background. But guess what? Doggie racism is actually kind of real (and, if you feel super awkward laughing about what’s going on and how absurd it is, you might not be as close as you think with the owners).
Most angsty: There’s very little room in this world for complaints that people are being too cautious or sensitive about the experiences of people of color. But bless the heart of this bride-to-be who was worried about whether brown wedding guests would feel uncomfortable with Jamaican caterers. Short answer: No. (Oh yeah, and there was that openly racist uncle who she was fretting over a lot less.)
Most honest: Kudos to the reader who wrote in, because “Help, I’m a Racist and I Don’t Want to Be” is something we wish more people would say. Of course, it’s what he does at this important juncture that will matter most.
Most 2013: A mom saw the road Miley Cyrus went down at the Video Music Awards and didn’t want her hip-hop-dancing white daughters to go anywhere near it. Hopefully this advice eased her mind—and hopefully we can leave all twerking-related questions in 2013 (and can at least get through February without cultural-appropriation controversies).
Something tells us there are more questions where these came from. Send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org, and continue looking for the column every Wednesday.
Previously in Race Manners: “Biracial Girls Will Be Fine If Their Dolls Don’t Look Like Them”
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.