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My Boyfriend’s Parents Are Ignorant About Race. Why Should I Have to Teach Them?

I am a mixed-race college student and identify as Black. For a year, I’ve been dating a white guy. We’ve never had an issue with race — until now. When I met his parents for the first time, ahead of the family’s big Thanksgiving feast, his father told me that being mixed race is “the best of both worlds.” I didn’t follow. So, he explained: You’re “really white,” but you get the advantages of being Black in college admissions and diversity hiring. I was stunned! My boyfriend, on the other hand, doesn’t see the problem. He says his parents are clueless about race, and it’s our job to help them understand. But I’m not interested in that job. I canceled my Thanksgiving visit, and now my boyfriend is mad at me. Advice?

TRACEY

Your boyfriend and his dad both owe you apologies, for different offenses. Let’s start with the father. His statement is built on the ugly premise that being white is better than being Black. That’s not “clueless.” It’s racist. It’s also understandably upsetting and definitely not your problem to fix.

Now, your boyfriend isn’t responsible for his parents’ opinions. But a decent partner will pitch in when you’ve been dissed. Your boyfriend should have asked you immediately whether you’d like to correct his father or if he should. And even if he missed the awfulness of the comment, his blithe assumption that you will shoulder his parents’ racial education is entitled and insensitive.

Everyone makes mistakes, and relationships often involve explaining to our partners what is obvious to us. (I can even imagine he may have felt protective of his father.) That’s not an excuse, though. And it’s your call. If this boyfriend is worth it, explain to him clearly how he and his father offended you. If he still can’t see it and apologize, that’s a huge red flag.

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I am the mother of a healthy 1-year-old daughter. Since birth, she has been taller and weighed more than most babies her age. Her pediatrician is happy with her growth rate and diet. Still, when we meet new people, they often say how “huge” she is. One woman exclaimed unkindly that she was bigger than her 4-year-old. These comments bother us. More important, they make us worry that our daughter will become self-conscious about her size. How can we let people know that these comments are dead on arrival?

MOM

I rarely get as much angry mail as when I ask readers to stop commenting on the appearance of others. I’m accused of being politically correct and robbing people who like to receive compliments about the way they look. But I stand behind advice that prevents others from feeling bad. (Many people have complicated relationships with their appearance. Why wade into that?)

It will be a while before your daughter actually understands what anyone is saying. And I suspect that hearing her mother in nasty exchanges with strangers about her size will be more destabilizing to your daughter than hearing you say: “We’re thrilled she’s so healthy and well.” I’d leave it at that.

Recently, I became reacquainted with a friend from high school. We’ve had a few dinners with mutual friends. During one, she showed me a picture of the man she’s dating. I told her I was happy for her, even though he sounded sketchy. (He can never meet on weekends, for instance.) A while later, the man messaged me on a dating app. I reported this to my friend immediately. She was livid, but eventually she forgave him. Earlier this year, she asked me if I’d heard from him again. I told her I hadn’t. But now, he’s messaged me a second time. What should I do? I’d hate to burst her bubble.

FRIEND

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I probably wouldn’t have told a freshly renewed acquaintance that the guy she’s seeing had messaged me initially. You aren’t that close. You did tell her though, and she seemed to appreciate it. She even followed up, asking if he’d contacted you again.

Definitely report the new contact. Your friend has made it clear she wants to know. Just because she forgave him once doesn’t mean he has a free pass forever. And you’re right: You probably will “burst her bubble.” But she may as well know that a bubble is all she has.

Back in Broadway theaters: What should I do if I am sitting next to a stranger at a performance, and he falls asleep and starts snoring?

BETH

When I was young and bashful, I would cough or make some other small commotion to try to wake snoring people. Now, ironically, I’m more sympathetic with sleepers and also more direct. I tap them on the shoulder and whisper: “You’re snoring.” No hard feelings! Sometimes it’s hard to stay awake, but that doesn’t give others the right to interrupt our experience.


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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