My Boyfriend Says I Act Weird Around Black People


Dear Robin:

Hello from La-la Land!  I discovered your blog through some friends in Palm Springs and girl, we love you!  Can I come to your party at Le Parker Meridian Thursday? 🙂

My problem: my boyfriend Chris is black, I am a white boy from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I moved to LA three years ago after graduation to work for a talent agent and I am loving life!  Chris and I have only been dating for 5 months but it is pretty serious, so when he made this observation last week I was pretty shocked and hurt: he says I act weird around black people!  His family lives here in LA and he has a ton of black friends we spend time with so obviously this is a problem, especially since he said it embarrasses him!!

Robin, I really try to act normal and tolerant but according to Chris I seize up and seem very unnatural and uncomfortable!  Easter dinner with his family was a disaster and we had a big fight afterward.  He thinks I may be racist and not a good fit for his life!

I love him!  I am not racist!  What do I do to make this better and prove to my boyfriend I have no problem with black people?


Dear Ben:

Simmer down, pot roast.


Just because you don’t get a period doesn’t mean you don’t have to use them.

There is a significant difference between being a “racist” and being unaccustomed to the presence of others who don’t share your hereditary background.  A racist hates black people, you just hate being around them!  Totally different!

I’m going to make a giant leap here and assume you are NOT a racist, because you are in love with a black man and allow him to put his black man parts all over your lilly-white parts on a regular basis.


Ben, you are from Coeur d’Alene.  I’m surprised you made it out of that town alive seeing as you have the double status as a gay man with a jewish name.  Coeur d’Alene is 93.4% white, 0.4% black.  It’s no wonder that you act a bit befuddled around the darker-skinned folks.

One thing I note from your letter is the use of the word “tolerant.”  That’s not a good place to come from.  We should be tolerant of retarded children and women with bad haircuts and a terrible fashion sense – not an entire race of people.



A better word might be “open,” as in open to experiencing the differences between you and your new black friends.  You opened your legs and your heart to Chris, I’m sure you can open your mind to having a diverse group of folks around you as well.

You are trying too hard.  When we texted you gave me a little more detail, including your efforts to start conversations about rap music (which you know nothing about) and Martin Luther King (you grew up in Coeur d’Alene, so you know nothing about him either).  No wonder Chris’ friends and family find your efforts stilted and uncomfortable for everyone.


My advice is pretty simple:

1. Ask Chris to be patient with you and show him the demographics for your hometown.  Inquire what it is specifically that troubles him.

2. Once you have a good idea what the problem is, invite Chris’ family and friends to a BBQ at your house.  In addition to the unleavened bread and kosher meat I assume you will be serving, be sure to put chicken, collard greens and watermelon on the menu so you can prove just how colorblind you really are.


3. Dude, just act normal.  Stop trying to initiate race-based conversation and just talk to these people.  They are just like you, but with more melanin and better dance steps.

If race issues come up, don’t have a conversation in your head in which you try to figure out what your new brown friends want to hear before you speak.  Stop being embarrassed about your hue and where you come from and stop indulging in your white guilt and anxiety.  Seriously, take a Xanax and chill the fuck out.  You think too much.



I don’t mean to over-simplify your problem, but I can’t come up with much else to tell you.  You are nervous and uncomfortable because these people are different, but you have only been dating Chris a short time.  I’m willing to bet ($5.00 – times are tough) that the longer you interact with these brothers and sisters, the more at ease you will become.

Having been raised in Portland, Oregon and in a very white neighborhood at that, I am all too familiar with this issue.


I have an entire conversation with myself in my head whenever I make eye contact with a black person I don’t know.  Here’s a good example: I’m walking down the street in downtown Portland and I see a black man walking in my direction:

“Did I look at him too long?  But he was really good looking, he must know I wasn’t being racist!  But does he think I’m eying him because I’ve heard how big he might be?  Does he think I’ll seduce him to experience the stereotype and then cry rape and get him lynched? Did I clutch my purse a little too tight?  Did I smile or grimace?  I know, I’ll pretend to talk on my phone!  But does he know I’m pretending?  Fuck this, I’m crossing the street.  Wait, that’s racist!  Aaaauuuuggggghhh!”

I’ve been working diligently on this issue by avoiding downtown.  Really, it’s better for Portland race relations if I just stay inside.


Believe it or not, I have some black friends and readers of this blog who I hope will weigh in on this issue in the comments section.

Unlike me, you live in a diverse city teeming with people of all colors and persuasions.  Consider yourself lucky and just try to focus on the content of the conversation, not the color of the person you are having it with.  I’d hate to see you lose a great guy because you can’t unclench your cheeks a bit (until you guys get home, I should say!).


Best of luck and please keep in touch.


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jimmy

    Everyone-not just black folks-can tell when you’re trying too hard. Be yourself. It’s okay to admit “I’m from a small town in Idaho and I don’t know much about what you all are talking about”. Use self-depracating humor. You have plenty of material.

  2. Queen Bee

    Just treat people the way you want to be treated or better yet the way they want to be treated. Don’t try and act like the enlightened white person, like you get everything about the race or culture, just enjoy the learning experience. Just be White! It is okay to be the only one in the room and not be in a position of privelege and power. Black people like white people who act white. Just be you, be respectful and be nice. SIMPLE….

  3. Earline

    I think you gave good advise for the most part, however black people eating watermelon is a stereotype and maybe I missed your point, but if he would be himself and if he should invite the family to dinner why not exposed them to his way of life?

    1. askdescamp

      Thank you for your comment! My menu choices were made with tongue firmly in cheek to highlight how ridiculous some stereotypes are. Sometimes my jokes miss the mark!

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