I have just realized fully, after seven years, that I am married to a racist. He’s used the “N word” a number of times over the years, and we always fought about it. But he has always claimed to be directing the slur toward somebody “acting” like one, and not toward people of color generally. Well, I recently learned how he truly feels. He voted for McCain and I voted for Obama. He said, “Looks like we have an ‘N’ for president.” I was saddened and disgusted by his remark. I don’t believe I can live with anyone who thinks like this, and I’m planning to get a divorce. This is not the only reason, but it’s certainly the icing on the cake. Do you think we can change racists’ minds?
Name withheld, Virginia Beach, Va.
Dear Mildred (may I call you Mildred?),
I don’t mean to sound harsh, but wasn’t the first, or second, deployment of the N word enough to convince you that something was desperately wrong with your husband’s moral wiring? I know: it’s often very hard to see what’s right before your eyes, so I congratulate you for realizing, even belatedly, the depth of your problem, and I wish you luck on your extraction. To answer your deeper question with a question: Why try to change their minds at all? Racism isn’t a burden for us; it’s a burden for racists. In any case, trying to bring a racist to civilization is like trying to teach a dog to sing Verdi.
I’ve always felt that my sense of humor has suffered because I’m not part of an inherently funny ethnic or religious group. My best friend is Jewish and Italian (a veritable font of humor), and my wife is Catholic (also good for laughs). But I was raised Presbyterian. How do I mine my psyche for better party repartee?
Kevin, Williamsville, N.Y.
The idea that Presbyterians are not funny is a calumny propagated by Episcopalians, who are jealous of your dancing abilities. Just study this list of successful Presbyterian comics: David Letterman … David Letterman. It’s true that genetic memories of pogroms, or the Middle Passage, or at the very least the Bourbon occupation of Sicily provide a crucial spark of humor. But it’s not true that Presbyterians are naturally unfunny. Here is one famous Presbyterian joke:
A Presbyterian husband makes love to his Presbyterian wife. After finishing, the husband asks, “I’m sorry, dearest, did I hurt you?” The wife responds, “No, dear, why do you ask?” The husband answers, “Because you moved.”
For further proof of wicked Presbyterian humor, I refer you to the limericks that begin, “There once was a man from Nantucket,” which I believe were written by Presbyterians. Or possibly by dirty-minded Congregationalists.
To submit your question for advice, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org