Miss Conduct

Advice: My friend says offensive things. How can I make her stop?

She keeps repeating negative racial stereotypes, as if they are innocent observations. Plus, why are prospective roommates ghosting me?

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What is the appropriate response when a person makes an inoffensive but inappropriate remark about a racial or ethnic group? A friend in the hospitality industry often makes what she believes to be innocuous observations about other people’s behavior, such as “Chinese people sure travel light” or “Black people love scrambled eggs!” I don’t like hearing this, but I’m not sure how to point out that a comment is offensive even if it is not negative.

J. / Brighton

Who doesn’t love scrambled eggs? They’re a safe choice at a buffet!

I realize the human brain naturally concocts meaningful patterns out of the most minimal of stimuli — useful both for predicting our environment and staving off the terror of a random universe — but wow. “Black people love scrambled eggs” is really special on that score.


The next time she tells you that Latinos prefer toilet paper to hang over the roll (or whatever), reply, “White people sure do love generalizing from insufficient data.” She’ll say she’s not being racist, and you’ll say you weren’t, either. She’ll say, “But Latinos actually do that,” and you’ll say, “White people actually do that, too — it’s causing a bit of a crisis in behavioral and medical research these days.” (Google “replication crisis.”)

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This avoids the trap of arguing about the factual merits of her assertion, which you don’t want to fall into, because that’s not the point. There probably are differences in how ethnic groups engage with the hospitality industry, due to complex historical and cultural factors. But it sounds as if your friend is less interested in learning about those differences than she is in feeling that she has them all figured out and being congratulated for it. Don’t play. Your goal isn’t to make her understand the error of her ways — it’s to make her understand that playing the What Susie Noticed About Minorities Today game with you is no fun.

I am trying to find a roommate, and it feels as though the process has been going on for an eternity. Nine times out of 10, if I arrange an interview, the potential roommate doesn’t show up. I am being ghosted! I spend a lot of time making sure that my place is clean and inviting, and that the room I am renting out is appealing. I have even lowered the price. Why is this happening?

Anonymous / Oakland, California

If you want specific real estate advice, talk to someone local — there’s a chance it may be market factors. A chance! From across the country, I can only tell you that ghosting is a social disease that has reached epidemic proportions. Whether it’s for a date or an apartment, people increasingly believe that ghosting strangers is acceptable.

I don’t agree, obviously, and wail from my tiny platform not to do this, people! But as long as people are doing this, be prepared. Bring work with you everywhere, and don’t ever agree to meet a stranger at an inconvenient time or place.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.