Welcome to ‘Unsolicited Advice’, the weekly column in which I give advice no one asked for to people who don’t even know who I am. Last week I aimed my word count at Will & Grace stars Debra Messing and Eric McCormack. This week I head back to one of my personal favorite advice columns over at Slate, Dear Prudie.
I read Prudie because the advice is always so bad. I was not disappointed this week in my search for a hate-read. An exhausted Woke Warrior wrote to Prudie asking for advice on how to deal with her (I don’t know if it’s really a “her” but I’m thwarting the patriarchy anyway) progressive parents who aren’t progressive enough.
My parents consider themselves liberal and donate to causes that support racial justice and LGBT rights. They are also in their 70s and way behind the times in a lot of ways. Lately, I feel like every interaction with them turns into me correcting their “unenlightened” statements, and I can feel them getting tired of this dynamic. I want to ease up on them and trust that while they may make an off-color statement now and then, their hearts are generally in the right place, and I’m not going to change their entire vocabulary at this late stage. But I also don’t want to let bigotry or racism slide. I’m conflicted: Do I continue to correct them multiple times per interaction, or can I let some things slide? Some examples would be referring to a Chinese friend as “Oriental”; making a joke about not wanting to “look gay”; and saying, “Well, did he resist arrest?” when discussing a black victim of police brutality.
Prudie basically told Exhausted to keep fighting the good fight with her dumb, basically right-wing-nutjob parents. Exhausted, you wrote Prudie and not me but this is ‘Unsolicited Advice’ so here I go.
Your parents have both been alive for more than 70 years. I know you think you’re smarter than them, but trust me sugar…they’re not idiots. Unless you’re saying you were raised by idiots and then I guess by association that would make you an idiot.
But you seem pretty sure about your intelligence, and your rightness. One thing I often hear people like you say about the Christian faith is, “I think there could be more out there, but I hate how Christians are just so damn sure about it”, as if that were some kind of superior argument…to be unsure about what you believe.
You’ve probably made that argument many times against right-wing positions on morals and values. Perhaps you also should not be so sure about things.
I gave this same advice to the woman who wanted to cancel her #MAGA-loving in-laws. No matter how woke you think you are, in 20-30 years some kid will be looking at you and scoffing at your antiquated notions and thinking they hope they don’t end up as dumb and clueless as you when they get old.
Your parents aren’t stupid, Exhausted. They’re probably just…exhausted! It is not your job to educate every single person around you in “acceptable” expressions. What a horridly dour guest you must be, correcting everyone around you the moment they use the wrong word or expression. Your parents come from a different time. I know old Black people who still call themselves “colored” or “Negro”. They’re not racist, they’re just old.
But old doesn’t mean stupid. I’m consistently saddened by the attitudes of people I see on the Left who gleefully declare to the world that what they know at 30 is ALL THEY’RE EVER GOING TO NEED TO KNOW and that those who have progressed into their twilight years are useless in their opinions or points of view.
Your parents are saints for continuing to let you speak in their presence, for continuing to engage you on cultural issues. You sound like a nag and frankly, they sound too old to be dealing with nags. Perhaps they’ve just resigned themselves to the fact that they’ve raised a spoiled nag and if they want a relationship with you they have to be willing to put up with your constant speech-policing. Maybe they like being treated like they’re 10 years old by their own child. To each their own.
Your parents are progressives and they’re still not progressive enough for you. I get the impression you’re hard to please.
If you were my child I’d have long ago told you I don’t need your help being “woke”; that I raised a family, worked my whole life, helped my community and served those around; that I am educated both personally and formally; that I am a adult who has loved and lived and fought and had experiences you’ll never be privy to as my child; that I have earned my scars and my expressions. I would tell you that I don’t need you to educate me, I need you to shut the hell up and just be a normal person once in a while.
There’s a scenario here where you don’t say anything, where you don’t make yourself responsible for the reeducation of your dumb, old parents. It’s a scenario where you go their house, talk about the interesting news of the day, and when you hear a word that gives you pause, instead of scolding your loving parents as though you were their superior, you simply acknowledge in your own mind that you know what they meant on go about your day having a lovely time together.
In that scenario, you are grateful for your parents and you treat them with the respect they’ve earned. In that scenario you accept that you don’t know everything and your parents are much wiser and much more experienced than you. In that scenario, you have a great time together. You enjoy each other the way parents and grown children should and you soak up every blessed moment you have with them.
In that scenario you resist being a snobby little asshole in favor of just loving the people who love you.
You can write about it in your diary afterward.
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