Care and Feeding

I Have a Crush on a Classmate of Color, but My Mom Is Racist

How do I handle this?

Middle aged white woman with short hair reading texts on her cellphone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a young teenager, and my mom is a very low-key racist. For context, she’s White, my dad’s Hispanic, so I’m mixed, but I look White. It seems she’s only racist towards Black and Middle Eastern people. She’s not the type that’s like “Black people don’t deserve rights,” but she doesn’t support Black Lives Matter or anything of the sort. The reason I think my mom is racist is due to a few tendencies of hers. To name one instance, I friended a (White) school friend of mine on Facebook, and his profile picture was a semi-inappropriate meme. My mom, never having met this friend, immediately asked if he was Black. That really bothered me. Or when we see someone with a head wrapping from the car, she’ll yell (not within earshot of them) “ISIS!” At the moment, I’m crushing on a mixed (Black + White) boy, and I’m worried about what she’ll think due to him looking more Black. I have a feeling she’s going to check my texts more often than she usually does and be very cautious, as she normally is with my Black friends. The last time I had a boyfriend (White), she checked my texts more often, but only occasionally, and she absolutely adored him. I’m worried that my current crush wouldn’t get the same treatment. So my questions are 1) How do I deal with my mom being a somewhat racist? I can’t talk to her about it directly due to my horrible communication with my parents, so that solution is out of the question and 2) If, in the future, I have an African American boyfriend, how do I cope with my mom in that scenario? Thank you in advance for your advice.

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—Racism Is for Losers

Dear R.I.f.L.,

I’m so sorry that your mother is high-key racist, and that you and your parents have communication issues related to and, from what I am gathering, unrelated to that fact. I’m happy that you don’t share her bigotry, but I don’t think you’re going to be very happy with my advice. I just hope that you understand that I am sharing it with love and consideration for you and your feelings.

When girls with racist parents decide to date a Black boy (or another kid of color who doesn’t meet their parents’ approval), they put him in danger. Additional scrutiny of your text messages is the least frightening thing that could happen if you and your crush, or the next Black cutie who gets your attention, start to date. What if your mother called the police on him for something, or got him in trouble at school? What if she or your father caused him some physical harm?

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At this point, your mother is a threat to your Black friends—including the girls, but especially the boys. You don’t want her next “Karen” moment to be a tragedy for someone you care about. Unfortunately, simply watching you have healthy friendships with kids of color is not enough to change your mom’s heart and mind. Considering that, I have to strongly recommend that you keep it platonic with boys of color until you are living outside of her home and away from her scrutiny, away from the danger she represents to them. Some might say instead to hide these relationships, but I’d argue that the deception could anger your parents even further and increase the amount of trouble that could result.

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You say you’re a young teenager, which means that in three to five years, you’re likely to be living elsewhere. That is the time for you to truly follow your heart when it comes to your romances, not now, at a point when you’re young enough to have to deal with the consequences of your mother’s bigotry and for those consequences to threaten the very people you profess to care about. One of the toughest things about love (and strong like) is that there are times when you’ll have to care about someone enough not to be with them. If you really like this kid, think about how awful it might be for him to encounter racism from the mother of a girl he was dating … or how terrible you’d feel if she did something to get him hurt.

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Again, this sucks, and it’s not your fault. But trying to fight this battle now, outside of the context of some after-school special, is too risky for you and your crush. Adulthood is just around the bend; you’ll have plenty of time to defy your mother’s worst wishes. Just please, hold on a little longer.

Slate is looking to interview parents and children together—young parents and older ones, younger kids and adult children—for an upcoming project. To participate, send us an email at pandemicparentingproject@slate.com with a few words about your family.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 14-year-old living with my parents and one younger sibling. My sibling used to go to a therapist for two years after she told my parents that she wanted to see one. My parents made an appointment for her within three days, no questions asked. I’ve always been a “shy” kid, and it’s hard for me to open up to others and make friends. Luckily, I have an amazing friend group. However, with every social event I attend, I have feelings of nerves and anxiety. These symptoms aren’t visible: I don’t have any tics or mannerisms that show up when these feelings occur. Recently, I’ve been having what I think are panic attacks before social functions or even before going to school in person. I’ve spoken to my parents about this several times. I’ve done the research, and I recognize some symptoms of high-functioning social anxiety within myself. I don’t want to self-diagnose, and I’ve made it clear to my parents. I would like to see a therapist or someone to evaluate me. They always write my feelings off as unimportant and are routinely invalidating my valid concerns about my own mental health. How do I calmly convey to them that this is a serious problem that I would like addressed?

—Socially Anxious and Stressed

Dear S.A.a.S.,

I am so sorry that your parents aren’t taking your concerns seriously. I wonder if they felt some sense of guilt or responsibility over your sibling’s request for therapy that is preventing them from recognizing that they owe you the same consideration they gave her, or perhaps they might be feeling like you’re only wanting therapy because she went. Either way, they are the ones making a mistake here, and I hope you do not feel that it is your fault. Identify another adult in your life who you could talk to about your concerns who may help you talk to your parents: A teacher, grandparent, neighbor, a friend’s parent, a guidance counselor … someone who could hear you out and speak to them on your behalf in a way that, hopefully, they will understand. Wishing you all the best, and please keep us posted.

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• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner’s daughter is a very smart, fun, and snarky 11-year-old. I love her weird interests, and we get along great. We spend a lot of time together (her mother passed), and we (my partner, me, his daughter, and my own 5-year-old daughter) are all moving in together soon. I’ve actively worked on developing a relationship with her directly over the years, and we have bonded a lot. I love this kid.

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The issue is: She is often really, really annoying. She talks constantly—through movies, through dinner with food in her mouth, through other people’s conversations. She will yell, “What did you just say?” to people having conversations without her on another floor of the house. She interrupts frequently. She “well actuallys” every single thing: “Ooh, cheese puffs!” “Um, these are cheese poofs, not puffs, ughhh.” This happens to everyone she interacts with. Her dad, thank God, is proactive about addressing it (and exhausted from the constant correction), and she responds with a sarcastic, over the top “Sorry” or whining/crying.

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Some of this (maybe all of it?) is typical for a kid her age, particularly in a pandemic when she’s starved for attention from friends her own age, and when you’re a kid with a dead parent whose dad is moving in with someone new. I know this, intellectually. Can you help me remember in my heart? I know in my role as not-quite-stepparent there is precious little I can do, but maybe there are good ideas or resources for helping me tamp down my irritation and ramp up my compassion in those moments? Do I just lean in and bond harder? Do I just internally roll my eyes and complain to my therapist? Please tell me there’s a third option.

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—Stepmom Interrupted

Dear S.I.,

Have either of you talked to this young lady about why her behavior is so irksome? It’s not enough to simply remind kids when they are being annoying or rude; they have to understand exactly what they are doing wrong if they are to course-correct. This actually may be a good way for you and her to bond. The next time she does one of her super irksome habits, instead of looking to her dad to address it or simply reminding her that she’s done something she was asked not to do, instead, sit down and have a real chat with her about it.

Talk to her about how people feel when they are “Well, actually-ed,” and how especially bothersome that can be for an adult to hear coming from a child. Explain that talking with your mouth full isn’t just rude, it’s unhygienic, and it can be nauseating for other people. Let her know that the people in your home are happy to talk to her, but that in order for her to join a conversation, she has to get off her butt and physically join the conversation. Don’t assume that because she’s heard all this before that she’s ever processed a single word of it. Help her hear your partner—and be sure to keep your therapist appointments, because as you said, much of this is totally to be expected based on her age and these circumstances. Hopefully, you can get to a place where it’s a bit more bearable.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a 14-year-old female who has always been expected to be perfect. I am expected to be the best athlete, musician, student, and daughter. My dad constantly asks me if I am the best at whatever I am doing and points out people who are better than me. He doesn’t do this in a mean way and only has good intentions, but sometimes it hurts. Recently, my cousin got into Harvard. My whole family, including me, was ecstatic. My dad later on told him how proud he was, and that felt like a punch in the gut. I have rarely (and I mean rarely) been told that someone is proud of me, despite the numerous setbacks that I have encountered. When I told my dad that I want to go to an Ivy League school, he indirectly made me feel like I could not do it. I am constantly feeling like I have to prove him wrong, and it is exhausting. The hardest thing for me, though, is that all of my accomplishments have been put down. I have won numerous awards for school, won national medals in prestigious competitions, have made honor rolls and societies, among many other things, and yet he doesn’t acknowledge them. I guess what I am trying to ask is, how do I tell my dad that I am exhausted of his unreasonable expectations, without coming off as lazy?

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—Exhausted Perfectionist

Dear E.P.,

This is one of those times that I have to betray the fraternity of parents and remind you that adults are very capable of being not just unreasonable, but straight-up jerks. Your dad may not be trying to be a jerk to you, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. You can, and should, continue to talk to him about the undue pressure he puts on you, and how he fails to be supportive despite all of your academic success. However, you will also need to make peace with the possibility that he won’t change, that this is the only way he knows how to parent, and it may be the only way he ever knows how to parent.

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For that reason, and others, it is important that you measure success on your own terms. Don’t shoot for all-As to please him; do so if that reflects the goals that you have for your own life. Don’t allow his discouragement to sway you away from applying to an Ivy League college; you can read the requirements and prepare to meet them all on your own. And, most importantly, do not wait until he has adequately acknowledged your hard work to take pride in it. It sounds like you are doing incredibly well and should feel very good about that. Hopefully, he’ll come around, but if he never does, that doesn’t mean you aren’t kicking butt. I’m proud of you, and I hope you are proud of yourself, too.

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—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My 9-year-old daughter claims she is mostly friendless and describes a rough, heartless situation at school. It is true that she doesn’t do a lot of play dates and I have to really help make those happen. But after my daughter describes some mean or dismissive thing that happened, in the next breath she will talk about the singing group she’s formed or how she teamed up with Katie on a project. When I’ve asked the teacher for her perspective, she sees a well-liked girl with friends, full stop. I want to listen and advise, but I’m starting to suspect my daughter has a distorted view of the reality, or her expectations are way too high, or both. How can I help her?

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