The advice column “Ask Amy”, written by Amy Dickinson, has been removed from my comics aggregator and will not be coming back.
Advice columnists draw from three wellsprings: advice, compassion, and judgment. All three have their place, and different responses call for different measures of each one. Good columnists accompany all three with a healthy serving of humility.
Amy’s balance has never been great, but it has gotten markedly worse in recent years, with compassion often being pushed aside by judgment, sometimes inexplicably so. When called out for judging people too harshly, Amy often doubles down rather than admitting fault.
This recent column demonstrates both Amy’s often inexplicable judginess as well has her unwillingness to admit having been wrong about earlier inexplicable judginess, to the point of distorting what an advice-seeker said.
In the first letter, the advice-seeker reports discovering that her parents had hidden from their children the fact that her mother had been pregnant at the wedding, and that this particular secret was especially hurtful because of how terribly her mother treated one of her own daughters who got pregnant outside of marriage.
Amy’s response spends a total of one sentence acknowledging that the parents should have been honest with their children and says not a single word about the mother’s hypocritical abuse of her daughter. Mostly, Amy just attacks the advice-seeker for being upset and says this makes her unfit to oversee her mother’s affairs.
The second letter is about an earlier column in which an advice-seeker asked what to do about the fact that she and her family were being treated as racists because once, a year earlier, their 9-year-old son had used the n-word in school. Her response in that column was inexplicably harsh and judgmental. She blamed them for what their son did and twisted their words in an absurd and nonsensical way to somehow prove that it was their fault and they hadn’t taken proper responsibility for it. Her response contained not a hint of compassion, nor did she offer any validation or advice about the problem they actually asked her for help with.
In the more recent column, a letter-writer called her out on this. Her response was to double down on her criticism of the parents in an overtly disingenuous way:
“Upset Family” reported that their young child had learned this word at home. So, yes, this renders them responsible for his taking the word out into the world.
The original advice-seeker in fact never said that their son learned the n-word “at home.” What she said was:
Last summer, my 10-year-old son learned a racial epithet (the “n word”) from listening to his favorite music and watching his favorite basketball videos.
When we discovered that he had been listening to music with that word, we asked him to find clean versions. Although he is 10, he has the social maturity of a younger child.
Our son was confused (and still is) about the fact that it’s a bad word when he says it, but a cool, fun word when others do (in videos, music, on the basketball court, and on the street).
While it may be technically true that the music and videos in question were sometimes consumed at home, no one honestly uses the phrase “learned this word at home” to mean “learned it from media he consumed without his parents’ knowledge, quite possibly outside the home, and when they found out about it, they asked him to stop consuming it and did their best to teach him what is wrong with it.”
The problem is not just that Amy is frequently too judgy in her responses. Worse, her judgments are frequently wrong. If you want to see what it looks like for an advice columnist to wield judginess correctly, and with a proper dose of humility, go read Carolyn Hax, Dear Prudence, or Captain Awkward. Ask Amy ain’t it.
Removing Ask Amy from my comics aggregator is not going to impact the success of the column in any substantive way. Nonetheless, I feel an obligation to exercise what little choice I have in this context and to refuse to continue promulgating harmful, abusive content.