Patricia Elam, SeeingBlack.com's new advice columnist
Heart to Heart:
SeeingBlack.com's Funky, New Advice
By Patricia Elam
with this advice? Or not? Talk about it here!
Dear SeeingBlack.com Crew,
Who am I to offer you advice? If that's what you're
wondering, I understand completely. I certainly don't profess
to know everything or have all the answers. What I know is that
very often friends and sometimes people I don't know so well
seem to like telling me their business and listening to what I think
about it. Other people's problems or "opportunities"
(as I'd rather refer to them) are often easier to address
than my own. In any case, here's some info about me: I've
done some traveling, owned a variety of pets, worked as a secretary,
a lawyer, a high school teacher, a novelist, a retail clerk, an
adjunct professor, a radio and tv commentator, among many other
lives. I've made a lot of mistakes, had some successes and
am constantly trying to improve myself as I move steadily toward
my dreams. I've sought and continue to seek advice from those
I deem wiser and/or more experienced.
So let's get started. I invite you to join me in a heart-to-heart
dialogue in which we share and learn from one another. Remember
we need your letters to keep the column going. Since you can use
a pseudonym, I hope you'll open up and feel free to ask whatever
is on your mind. Please note that we reserve the right to edit letters
for length and propriety.
Many thanks to the following writers for getting us started:
Dear Heart to Heart:
I have a disability, which makes me feel unsure of myself. I feel
uncomfortable when, instead of looking at me, people look at my
leg because I limp. Often, people will not make eye contact with
me when I approach them. I am becoming afraid of being seen in public
and have refused invitations from friends. What can I do to overcome
—Afraid in Maryland
Sometimes when we have a disability or what we perceive as a flaw,
we think people notice it more than they actually do. So the first
thing is to check in honestly with yourself and make sure you are
not calling attention to your leg through your own insecurity, or
perceiving the situation to be more grim than it is. Walking with
a limp is not that uncommon. Of course there are some ignorant people
out there but chances are most aren't intentionally trying to make
you feel uncomfortable so you may have to politely let them know
that they are staring. A sentence like "Hi, I'm up here"
when they are not making eye contact may do the trick. Other than
that, the solution comes down to developing your inner self so that
you feel confident about who you are and believe deeply that you
are much more than your physical appearance. You may be able to
do this through reading self-esteem books (such as Simple Abundance
by Sarah Ban Breathnatch or In the Spirit by Susan Taylor),
creating affirmations that remind you of your many gifts or through
professional counseling. Please do whatever it takes so that you
will be able to freely share your knowledge, courage and wisdom
with those who are waiting for you to do so.
Dear Heart to Heart:
I recently married someone who is White. Although many people in
my family accept this marriage, there are still casual acquaintances
who make sweeping comments about Whites when I'm in their presence.
Note: I am not suggesting that my marriage obliterates all of the
historic bad blood between Blacks and Whites but I feel that these
generalizations are sometimes just as hateful and bigoted as the
ones they complain about from Whites. Whenever these comments arise,
I feel conflicted. If I don't say anything, I feel like I'm betraying
my husband, and if I do say something, I feel misunderstood and
defensive. Any advice about how to deal would be appreciated.
—Pulled in Two Directions
I sometimes wish, to paraphrase the words of Rodney King, that
we could all just "get along." But, you're right, there's
so much history between the races and a lot of hurt and pain, as
you alluded to. Have you discussed this with your husband? I'm sure
he gets the same situations in reverse. How does he handle them?
Try to let go of this idea of betraying him, first by discussing
those precise feelings with him. Would you want him to defend your
race in every conversation with an ignorant soul? If he should choose
not to, would you feel betrayed? Once you two come to an understanding
about how each other feels and what your mutual expectations are
in these situations, you'll have a clearer road map. Then you need
to decide how much these acquaintances you referenced really matter
so that you can "pick your battles". You don't have to
respond to every comment. It takes energy to assert yourself and
discuss emotionally raw topics like race relations so you may want
to save your energy for the relationships that really matter. Which
of these acquaintances do you see on a regular basis? Which ones
have the potential to become friends? How often has the conversation
come up? Then devise some standard responses. Try not to say things
that sound accusatory orwill make you or them feel defensive. It's
probably better to talk about yourself. Perhaps there were times
in the past when you (or someone close to you) shared negative thoughts
about other races or ethnic groups. If so, you can say, "I
used to feel that way too but now I understand...." or talk
about the fact that gross generalizations are usually not very helpful.
Gently remind them that they wouldn't like people of other races
to make such comments about them. It will not be easy but you may
be instrumental in changing someone else's thinking or attitude.
I wish you and your husband well in your journey through life together.
Dear Heart to Heart:
I have a 20-year-old daughter who has the sweetest 7 month old baby.
My daughter is presently in a training program and working hard
to be a responsible citizen as well as responsible parent. Recently
she was bedridden for stress and lack of rest. The problem is that
the baby's father is not carrying his side of the responsibility.
Whenever she asks for help, which is not often, he blows up and
claims he doesn't have any money or time and often becomes angry
and disrespectful. A few days ago when my daughter asked him to
purchase diapers for the baby, he blew up and, to make matters worse,
had his mother accuse my daughter of spending up his money and not
letting him see the baby even though he's the one who has made the
decision to only see his child every now and then. My husband and
I want to encourage my daughter to seek child support even though
we know he half works and can be put in jail for non-support. Do
you feel we should assist my daughter in seeking child support or
should we allow nature to take its course, in essence allowing the
baby's father to follow in his own father's footsteps?
— A Concerned Mom
The key thing for your daughter and the baby's father to understand
is that an innocent baby was brought into the world because of the
actions of two people. Consequently two people are responsible for
the baby's care and needs. We do fathers (young and old) a
great disservice when we allow them to get away with not pulling
their load and we do their children a disservice as well. Unfortunately
the young man's mother doesn't seem to understand this.
I would imagine you've tried discussing this situation with
her, while it sounds like she is determined not to allow her son
to become a man. So as parents and grandparents you must do what's
right for your daughter and especially, your grandchild. Please
encourage your daughter to file the necessary documents to obtain
child support (that's why those laws exist!), even if it means
traipsing down to courthouse with her. It doesn't matter how
slight the young man's income; his first financial responsibility
is to the child (somehow I bet he pays his car note every month)
so perhaps he'll have to work more than one job. It wouldn't
be a bad idea for you and your husband to sit down with him and
talk to him about what kind of goals and dreams he has for his child's
future. Let him know that there are many rewards in store for him
if he steps up to the plate and that if he doesn't do it on
his own, you will assist him in moving in that direction. Obviously
and unfortunately he didn't think all this through beforehand.
Let him know that it's too late for him to choose not to be
involved. His child is here and the baby needs him to be a full-time
father, not an occasional visitor. Good luck.
Dear Heart to Heart:
I am an administrative professional who makes an effort to do a
good job in the work place. Recently I was assigned oversight responsibilities,
much to the chagrin of some of my co-workers. Now it is not uncommon
for snide remarks to float in my direction or to be treated with
a cool, but polite greeting in office common areas. I find this
disheartening and disappointing given the fact we are all adults.
Prior to my additional duties, I had been on friendly terms with
several of my co-workers, often going on lunch dates and attending
outside activities of mutual interest.
My general response in life and in this situation, as well,
is to pull back and not overshadow or consciously outshine those
around me. I know that this approach is not the best one.. I do
neither myself nor anyone else any good when I diminish my talent
and abilities. But what else can I do? I'm starting to feel like
I need to keep a low profile. I don't want to intentionally offend
It's clear that you are not intentionally offending anyone and that
your co-workers are acting like jealous children instead of supporting
you. It also sounds like you are getting absolutely no enjoyment
out of this new position—I hope you at least received a
pay increase. In any case, rather than keeping "a low profile,"
whatever that means in this situation, I'd suggest talking frankly
to each of the people involved. Tell them how you feel, the changes
you've noticed in their behavior toward you and ask them to explain
it. Yes, put them on the spot but do it individually rather than
in a group setting. Catch someone in the ladies room or invite them
into your office or maybe downstairs to the coffee shop but have
them look you in the eye and tell you what's going on. Let them
know you are only trying to fulfill your duties and they are making
you feel like you're on punishment for doing so. Last but not least,
take some time to appreciate and praise yourself for being good
at your job and deserving the new responsibilities. Give it reasonable
time but if nothing changes for the better, you may need to look
for another place of employment. You're bound to get a great recommendation.
Need some advice? Patricia Elam is ready to respond in our new
column. Send your questions to her at email@example.com.
-- October 20, 2003
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