DEAR AMY: The other day a woman I work with brought her 8-month-old grandson around the office. He was a charming, lovely boy, and she was obviously very proud to show him off. But there's one thing I'm struggling with. My co-worker, who is white, had mentioned to me that her grandson's mother is black. Hey, I'm from the Caribbean and we've always had a much more relaxed attitude toward racial mixing. I'm biracial, myself. The parents of this baby are unmarried and just out of high school, but I don't judge them. What I'm struggling with is that this child doesn't look biracial at all. He is very dark skinned. Nobody back home would believe for a second that this child has a white parent. But people in America don't seem to be as savvy as we are about these things. I don't know this woman's son, and am definitely not in any position to suggest a paternity test. But I feel like saying nothing might not be right, either. I'd hate for this young man to be stuck caring for a child that isn't his, even if I don't know him. Am I terrible for even thinking this?
DEAR WORRIED: Um, yes — you're pretty terrible.
Thinking is one thing — nobody can police your thoughts. But yes, speculating on the race or DNA parentage of a baby you've met exactly once is at the very least terrible-adjacent. I hope you'll keep your thoughts to yourself.
I know African Americans who are fair skinned and freckled. I have biracial family members who are dark skinned, while their siblings are fair.
Your co-worker might be white, but her son might be biracial (you don't mention his race).
Your Caribbean heritage or racial identity does not make you an arbiter of how other people identify.
In short, stop. This is absolutely none of your business.
DEAR AMY: What are our obligations to friends on social media? I have a friend from college (30-plus years ago). We were briefly roommates one summer and in a social circle together. I haven't seen him since college. He's halfway across the country now. He's a kind soul with mental health issues, and was recently divorced. There are consistent cries for help on social media, with friends (old and new) recommending social services, creative living arrangements, etc. I've provided some financial support (I am financially comfortable) and a few ideas for social services, but I know that some of those services take time to put into place. I talked to another friend recently who said they had a similar experience seeing friends in need across the country on social media. What's realistic for what people can do from afar? How can we help people on the edge of homelessness and/or a mental health crisis? Although it's not fair, I find myself somewhat resentful that people put everything out there.
Empathetic from Afar
DEAR AFAR: Social media has made the sharing of personal information easy, and people use it to varying degrees to reach out. Please don't blame your old friend for sending out an SOS. Merely sharing his vulnerability in this way might be helpful to him.
What you don't need to do is to weigh in with specific solutions. It was kind of you to send him money, but you — and your friends — cannot save him through your kind recommendations. You can, however, continue to let him know that you care about him and that you are thinking about him. Sometimes it is necessary to establish a boundary: "I'm sorry I can't help you more, but I hope you always know that I care about you."
Even kinder than merely responding to one of his posts would be for you to spontaneously reach out to him: "How are you doing? I've been thinking about you." Share a relatable memory you two share. Let him know that he is not alone.
DEAR AMY: I laughed so hard at the question from "Reluctant Art Collector," concerning an artist who had a hard time finishing a painting of Reluctant's (nude) wife. As an artist, I paint pets and many abstracts. Those who like them want one, "Just like THAT one." I could just duplicate the same little white dog for everyone and call it good. The artist was probably bored to death with the subject!
DEAR PAINTER: As a creative person, I well understand the pressure of not finishing a project. I agree that boredom with the subject is definitely a factor.