Dear Prudence

Help! My POC Friends Say Being Interested in My Irish Heritage Is a Dog Whistle.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

A woman shrugging, a graphic of a three-leaf clover behind her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Good morning, and welcome to the chat. Tell me all the bad news!

Q. Accidental racist: I’m a third-generation American. All four of my grandparents were born in Ireland and moved here as young kids. According to my parents, when my great-grandparents moved here, they moved to an area with little to no Irish community and had to assimilate pretty quickly. They changed their names to something more American, cooked only American foods, etc. Obviously, nowadays, Irish last names are very common in the U.S.

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When I was growing up, I really didn’t know anything about Irish American culture because my grandparents didn’t like to talk about it much. Now I’m an adult and I live in a very heavily populated Irish American area. About a year ago I started to get more interested in the culture and wanted to research it a bit more. This basically consisted of me reading a few books about the history of Irish Americans, making a few new recipes, and learning about the origins of my family’s original names.

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I didn’t really think it was a big deal until I mentioned it in passing to my group of friends. To my surprise, my POC friends got upset, saying that Irish Americans have no culture and that it was just a dog whistle to become interested in Irish history. I would never, ever suggest that Irish Americans had it worse than Black Americans or anything like that; I was simply trying to learn about my ancestry.

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My first thought was to write them off, but now I’m worried that I am somehow signaling racism. Am I doing something wrong? 

A: Not at all. If you ask me, reading history books and making a little corned beef and cabbage sounds like the ideal way to get excited about your heritage. We’d be so much better off if more white people chose this route instead of, say, waving a Confederate flag, railing against the 1619 Project, or trying to ban “critical race theory” from being taught in schools. It sounds to me like either something’s missing from this story or there was a big misunderstanding that might be cleared up by another talk about what you’re doing and why. If these people are truly mad at you for researching your family’s history, you may need new friends.

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• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

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Q. Expecting with expectations: My husband just finally got a promotion at work. The only problem is they have assigned him a graveyard shift, even though we are expecting our first child around the same time the job starts. The pay increase was nominal, which obviously isn’t ideal, and then I found out they hired someone else with the same experience and tenure, who isn’t expecting a child, and gave him the daytime shift my husband asked for. I have attempted to coach my husband to reapproach the employer and let them know how dissatisfied he is with their decision to give this other person the better shift, but he is so uncomfortable with this and thinks it won’t make a difference.

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I am the main earner in our household and will need his help raising our infant. I am juggling disappointment in my husband for not fighting this harder, frustration at his employer, and the pressure of being a new mom in a world that seemingly doesn’t care about the workload on women with regard to child bearing. How do I convince my husband that he should fight his employer about this decision?

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A: This is tough. I think you should start with finding out what’s really stopping your husband from making this request (which, by the way, he should present not with a focus on being dissatisfied with the shift the other person was assigned, but by explaining the extreme inconvenience of the shift he was assigned—what happens with the other person is not really his business). If he’s nervous that it’s unrealistic or that his employer will retaliate, maybe a chat with an employment lawyer would help to ease his mind. I don’t know what the law says, but perhaps an attorney would reassure him that the employer has an obligation to accommodate a new parent or that they cannot fire him for having the conversation. It’s worth looking into. In addition, you should explain to him exactly how difficult your life will be if he’s working nights. Make all your fears for yourself and your baby clear. If his taking this job means you need extra child care that will have an effect on your household budget, make sure he understands that.

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I also have to say, this decision doesn’t give me a great feeling about how he sees his responsibilities as a husband and father. I mean, how would he react if you suddenly said you’d be unavailable all night? I’m sure he’d think that was ridiculous—but he’s just as much a parent as you are! Whenever someone tells a story like this, I encourage them to evaluate whether it’s part of a larger pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed with the help of a professional. But if he insists on taking the job without pushing back, you’ll probably have to put the work of improving your marriage on the back burner for a while as you simply try to survive, care for your child, and get sleep where you can. Put out a call for advice, help, and babysitting to friends and loved ones who—unlike your husband—appreciate what’s involved in caring for a baby.

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Q. Puzzled possible party participant: Before the pandemic, I was asked to participate in a close friend’s wedding in a pretty major way, which I agreed to with pleasure. Pre-COVID, their plans changed and they had a wedding (full ceremony and party with friends), which I was not invited to because only people who lived regionally were invited (I live across the country). Then COVID hit and they went as far ahead as they could with their original wedding plan by sending out save the dates. When the venue shut down, the last message everyone received was “we might reschedule, stay tuned.”

Fast forward the better part of a year, and I have fallen out of touch with this couple, aside from the occasional text message here and there. A mutual friend recently saw on social media a comment from one of them about looking forward to their wedding. This friend then searched to see if they had a wedding site (they do) and saw that there was some updated info about an upcoming wedding toward the end of 2021, which would be wildly inconvenient for me to attend (difficult location, difficult to take time off of work, etc.).

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All of this being said, what responsibility do I still have to participate in this wedding, especially since I have not been informed of any of their plans? Since they haven’t discussed any of this with me, would it be odd to reach out to them to say I won’t be in attendance to an event I’m now not even sure I’m invited to? How do I navigate proper wedding etiquette for a couple that already had a wedding but is pretending like they haven’t? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

A: “Hi Engaged Couple, I hope you’re doing well and staying safe and healthy. I poked around to see when your rescheduled wedding would take place because I was so excited. I know it has been a wild year and a lot of plans have understandably changed, so I hope I’m not being presumptuous by assuming I was still [in the bridal party/the officiant/a host/whatever you were supposed to be]. But when I saw the new dates, I realized I have a conflict and won’t be able to attend, so I wanted to let you know as soon as possible. I would love to take you to dinner and celebrate the start of your new life together. Could we pencil in [date]? I miss you both!” Also send an extra nice gift if you can afford it.

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Q. Hiding out: My husband and I have a fantastic relationship on most levels, but when it comes to my family and helping them out, we don’t see eye to eye. That’s OK, but every time I do something for my family (and I feel it’s really not that often), he gets really judgmental, says “it’s fine” when his behavior clearly says it isn’t, and shuts down any attempt to discuss our feelings. I don’t know how to handle that. I don’t know how to stay empathic and kind, so instead I withdraw and feel sorry for myself.

How do I help my husband express his disagreement without judging me? If not possible, how do I keep myself from retreating into my shell?

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A: I assume you’re referring to helping them out with money. This can be a really hard topic to discuss, and people’s values are all over the map when it comes to what is fair and feels good. How about talking to him about it—not at the moment that you’re about to do something, but at a less stressful time? Let him know that his feelings matter and make sure he understands yours too. Explain to him what it means for you to help your family out, but how it’s also important to you to manage your shared money in a way that makes him comfortable.

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Assuming he doesn’t say he’s 100 percent against the whole idea, you two can set an annual budget—something you both feel good about—for how much you spend on family. That way, when you make the next Cash App transaction, you won’t have to get his OK, or even bring it up. And if you still sense that he’s huffing and puffing a little, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that it was already approved.

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Q. Re: Accidental racist: The only thing I can think of that would precipitate this response is if the writer either has brought up the “Irish were slaves” myth, conflated “Irish need not apply” with racism toward BIPOC people, or their friends think that’s where they’re heading. The writer may want to interrogate if they’re using their heritage to feel better about their role in white supremacy. (I say this as someone who is part Irish, and feels the most comfortable about exploring that because it is the least oppressive of my cultural heritages. But y’know, I’m still white with everything that means.)

A: If the letter writer brought this up, they left out a big part of the story; none of it falls under research on family history, recipes, or names. But letter writer, if any of this feels familiar, give it some thought. 

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Q. Re: Expecting with expectations: I’m a parent and to my understanding, employers legally owe your husband no accommodations. Certain accommodations are required for pregnant women and for breastfeeding women, specifically related to opportunities for them to breastfeed, not to preferred shifts or anything like that.

A: Sigh. That’s too bad, but not shocking. I still think it would be worth speaking to a lawyer to get a sense of whether asking about a different shift could have negative consequences.

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Classic Prudie

A dear friend of mine has a 1-year-old daughter and lives a state away from me. She and I communicate regularly via text message or on Snapchat. There are times when she will respond to my texts or snaps while she’s driving. I know this because she’ll take a picture of herself at the wheel, the road in front of her, the radio, or some other view that’s indicating that she’s in the driver’s seat. It’s always bothered me a little because I’m very against distracted driving, but now it angers me that she does it with her daughter in the car. She has replied to messages with a picture of the rearview mirror showing her daughter in the back seat. When I get these types of replies, I generally stop communicating with her for the time being because I don’t ever want to be the reason she is distracted while driving, especially with her daughter. It really bothers me that she’s putting herself and her daughter at risk for an accident. I’m not sure if I should say something. It’s her life, her risk to take. But I’m truly concerned. I feel that even if I ask her not to communicate with me while she’s driving, she’ll still be responding to others. Do I speak up or not?

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