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The Wrong Way to Approach Sensitive Subjects

So, it’s roughly 10 to 7 in the a.m., and I’ve been awake for an hour. Why, you may ask?

Well, I’ll tell you.

I came off my meds a couple of days ago, and after sleeping about 10 hours the first night, last night, I went to bed at 2:20 and woke up at 5:50… and I’ve been lying awake worrying about something I said to a friend of mine, oh, a year? 2 years? ago.

That’s my life, folks. That’s why I take the meds, at least in part… nobody should have a near-sleepless night over whether or not they offended someone 2 years ago, and how to make it right. You’d be surprised how often a 3-hour night’s sleep is what I get, when I don’t take my meds (usually due to incredible levels of anxiety and/or self-loathing)… ain’t nobody got time for that!

But just this once, I’m gonna carry on and not take my meds yet, because I need to get this out. I said a shitty thing, and I kinda backtracked and half-apologized at the time, but I need to do it better. So I’m gonna do that now, while I’m lucid and freaked-out by memory enough to follow through.

Basically, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine (mixed race, male) and, as myself (white, female) I was trying to make the point that there are better and worse things about being black vs. being a woman. That’s true, and it’s all well and good to have that discussion… but what I said (like a dumbass) was something like, “Black men got the vote in the USA like 60 years before white women;” and that was as a response to him actually telling me something about, like, the life of a black dude. (Note: it was actually 50 years, but I was guessing.)

In case you’re not sure, here’s what’s wrong with what I said:

I drew a comparison between 2 situations that can’t be quantified in that way, and made a statement that painted one as worse than the other. You can’t *do* that. Now, in my defence, I was kinda joking (I’d been mocking folks I know who are self-confessed racists not too long before this) but in a way, I think that only made it worse. If I’m admitting I associate with racists (family members; whatcha gonna do?) and then make a jokey comment that’s, if not out-and-out racist, certainly intolerant and just a lame thing to say… well… how is someone (who I count as a friend, but not one who’s known me a long time) supposed to take that? And then, when he was upset by what I said, I got SUPER EMBARRASSED (rightly so) and stuttered around trying to apologize without closing the conversation down (wrong time, at that point; again, the conversation’s worth having, but not from the perspective of trying to decide who has it “worse”–and you can’t un-say that, in the moment, so I should’ve just dropped it then and there, and come back to it later, when I knew how to say what I was trying to say).

And this, by the by, is what I should’ve said (and also, my hand to the foot of the Cross, what I actually meant):

“I agree that I can’t know anything about what it’s like being a black man; I don’t know what to say about all this, but it sounds pretty shitty in a lot of ways. On a related note, I think that I could tell you some things about being a woman that might surprise you–there are (obviously!) a lot of differences in our situation, but also some similarities that I think you would appreciate hearing about.”

Or, as my sister said it, to one of her friends (yes, male, and yes, black), “I don’t know how hard it is to be black, and you don’t know how hard it is to be a woman,” to sum up a conversation they had that evidently went much better than the one I had with my friend. This is partly because I’ve always expressed myself more clearly on paper than when I’m speaking, and partly because my sister remembers how to talk to people… I live in a house I often don’t leave (other than walking outside my front door to get my kids on/off their bus) for 5 or more days in a row, and I avoid going anywhere in public by myself (no, really, anywhere–I won’t walk to the corner shop unless someone’s with me). And when I’m with people, it shows. I say shit I shouldn’t say, and understand that I did *something* wrong, but I don’t understand what it *was* that I did wrong… and then something reminds me of it 2 years later (thanks, Sis; and yes, I mean that genuinely) and then I have a night where I wake up and think about it for hours, before deciding I have to get that shit off my chest. So. Here you go. A load from my very bosom, straight to you… and I think it goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway; I am sincerely sorry that I even went there, and especially in the way I did. There are maybe 5 things I’d go back and change in my entire 30-almost-31-years-of-life, if I could; and that conversation is one of them. Because I hurt someone (past tense) I really care about (present tense) and it’s had more of an ongoing effect than I can describe to you (past, present, and future tense).

But what else can I say? Not much… so, on to the other important point: the dude I said that to–is he still my friend?

I think he is, you know. He certainly makes a good effort to stay in touch with me. He’s kind to me, and encouraging, and says nice things and doesn’t berate me for the stupid shit I’ve said… but *I’ve* been standoffish, with him. I’ve… not avoided him, exactly… but when you’re stuck waiting for yourself to fuck things up again, you can’t relax and just move on. I can’t, anyway. And so my half-joke/half-point-badly-made has nearly ruined what used to be one of the more important friendships in my life.

Why don’t you address the question again, I hear you ask? Why don’t you talk to this guy, and express what you did wrong and what you meant to say, and then just go from there? I mean… you have *apologized* by now, right? Like, properly?

And the answer to that is–yes, I have… in a post I’m calling, “The Wrong Way to Approach Sensitive Subjects”.

Wish me luck?

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7 thoughts on “The Wrong Way to Approach Sensitive Subjects

  1. J says:

    Well, knowing a little bit about the mixed-race guy Amanda was talking to (it was a while ago and he both is and isn’t the same person he was then) I can be confident when I say that he was a little dumb and less-than-thoughtful during that exchange. He’s since all but forgotten about it, and doesn’t hold it against Amanda at all, nor does it color his perception of her in any way that he’s aware of.

    I think it’s incredibly endearing that you still think about stuff like this Amanda, or that it still pops into your head sometimes. We’re a lot alike. Give it airtime no more. You were probably more right than I was, and I was probably more touchy than was constructive. Pacific currents under the Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe we both can take a page from your sister’s wisdom and concision. Maybe since that conversation we both have.

  2. You are f*cking hilarious! Yes, I know you really felt bad, so much so that you distanced yourself from a good friend who probably knows you well enough to know that you are not as tactful as your sister and that you from time to time stick your foot firmly in your mouth. You could let him know that you wrote about your friendship with him and your faux pas. OR, you could stop acting distant, let down your guard, forgive yourself for speaking before thinking, and just accept it as part of your quirky charm. Think of how often we laugh at sitcom shows in which this very thing happens.

    • Hey Kitt 🙂

      Am I? Thanks for that. Life (mine, anyway) seems to be a series of me/folks I know making each other laugh over the ridiculous lengths we go to, to be ourselves/be good people/be honest/be popular/be a hundred different things that are all subjective… anyway, I’m glad I made you laugh. I make myself laugh, too.

      The dude’s already seen this and sent me an email 🙂 As you guessed, he’s much less hung up on it than I am. He’s a good guy, and if he can let it slide, I can learn to. Right? 🙂

      • I’m sure it wasn’t the first time a white friend made an idiot of herself or himself. Thank you for writing about it. You have a wonderful writing style, very warped and funny.

    • Thank you 🙂 I’m just out here in cyberspace (is it still called that?) doing my thing, without the sense to hide myself. I never have had that kind of sense, though 🙂

      What brings you here? Whatever it is, thanks for commenting and reading 🙂

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