Group Therapy is a weekly relationship-based advice column that allows readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we'll offer up a problem for you to weigh in on, and then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist, Claudia Dey.
One of my closest friends got married last year, and my boyfriend and I have been spending lots of time with the newlyweds. But the more we discover about my friend's new husband, the more we're appalled. He's a total racist - every conversation turns toxic when the subject comes up, and I'm afraid I'm going to lose my old friend to her husband's abhorrent views. She's never been a racist herself,
but she seems to be letting
her partner poison her worldview. Should we confront her about him, or simply cut them out of our lives?
-- Miss Manners
CONFRONT HER CALMLY
On their honeymoon, I doubt he was kidnapped by Pygmies and forced to swallow some magic racist potion. No, this jerk has been bashing minorities for years, including those golden moments when your friend first fell in love. Courtship is when lovers discover what they love and loathe about each other, before vowing to accept their faults forever. If she loathed his swinishness, she could have ditched him before the engagement. She didn't, so she supports it with her silence. Have a private chat with your friend. Calmly say that racism is unacceptable. She might be relieved you spoke up. She also might defend him and cut you loose. Either way, good friends are worth fighting for. Racist friends are worthless.
-- Ken Hegan, Vancouver
MAKE HER CONFRONT HERSELF
There are a few things you should immediately establish when you begin dating someone. Are they sexist? Racist? These aren't quirky personality flaws that you can overlook in a mate, like snoring or leaving the toilet seat up. I can't believe your friend would let a creep like this into her life, and you absolutely have to confront her. And while you're at it, get her to confront herself. What does she see in this guy? I wouldn't beat around the bush. Take her out alone, and let her know that you're uncomfortable with his worldview - and you're surprised that she isn't. If she defends his ideas, you might have to let the friendship go. Maybe you don't know her as well as you thought you did.
-- Shannon McKinnon, Toronto
CHALLENGE HIM PUBLICLY
Sounds to me like your friend needs her rose-coloured glasses removed from her face, or you do. Best to know now, before anyone is asked to be godmother. Here is what I would do: Throw a fabulous party and invite all your friends of every hue. Invite your close pals who are black, Asian, indeterminate. Be sure to include your prettiest-in-pink gay friends, and of course invite friends from the Paralympics. Throw in some slow learners, some folks you know from Falun Gong and the merely weird for good measure. Invite the newlyweds and then stand back as buddy blows a gasket. If your friend stays with him, she goes as your friend. And if she goes, she stays your friend. We can tolerate anything but intolerance. It's black and white.
-- Tracy Nesdoly, Toronto
THE FINAL WORD
Dear Miss Manners,
May I declare the death of the "private chat," the "pull her aside," the "take her out alone," the "let her know you're uncomfortable," the "calmly say that racism is unacceptable" approach? Surely we have learned that the subject deserves a lot more noise.
To answer your suspected fear, you have already lost your friend to her husband's abhorrent views. As Kidnapped-by-Pygmies Ken points out, your friend did her reconnaissance during the courtship phase when she and her venomous date trolled the market for field mushrooms, bathed each other and parcelled out sections of the newspaper over breakfast at the diner. Your friend knows him. She married him. And her silence shouts "complicity."
Yes, friends do marry duds. The boring and the jokeless can make the double date a problematic venture. But a racist? Miss Manners, it is time to cry foul. It is time to peel off your white gloves and raise your fist in the air. Rather than using your friends, "indeterminate" and otherwise, as props, I propose an old standby: the showdown. For me, it's the bull's eye. Upon the next slur, smash your dinner plate, toss your wine in his face and send the sniveller back to the murky swamp from whence he came. Your friend may follow. Or she may not. But that is one fight you will have to leave to her.
Claudia Dey's plays, Beaver, The Gwendolyn Poems and Trout Stanley, have been staged across Canada and, once, in the former American Communist Party headquarters in New York City. Her first novel is forthcoming from Coach House Books in the spring of 2008.
Next week's question
I borrowed money from an old friend of mine several months ago. It was a significant sum, and it has helped me get out of a serious situation. I've been paying him back steadily, as agreed, but it never seems to be enough. He's always lording the debt over me: If I'm wearing something new, he'll make a crack about the money I owe him; if I buy a round of drinks, he'll shoot me a dirty look. Can I justifiably tell him where to go, or am I on the guilt hook until my debt's been paid in full?
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