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I’m about to get in my feelings as a black mother about this bullshit unsolicited advice to Blue Ivy Carter. I freely admit that I do not give even a tiny bit of a fuck about whatever literary conceits are about to be defended as part of justifying it. Because this letter was not written in a vacuum. This letter was not written out f any genuine concern for her health or safety. This letter was little more than a stunt that used a child of color & her parents to bolster a career. Yes I am sure she will say she meant no harm or disrespect. That she was trying to say good things to Blue Ivy, because she wants to help. Some will likely even say that her message was positive & for the best. Guess what?

We do not exist in a world where mothers of color can walk around without someone passing judgement on their right to be mothers simply because of the color of their skin. We do not live in a world where a woman of color becoming a mother is supported or respected. We do not exist in a world where white women who think they know best have not harmed families of color. We live in a world where white women often decide to “rescue” children of color by taking them from their homes, their cultures, and their mothers. So when a white woman decides she is “helping” by addressing a child of color she does not know as though her words will have any value to that child? I am already wary.

The fact that she is speaking to a newborn about topics that are emphatically none of her damned business & are in fact the province of that child’s parents just makes it even more offensive. It is a curious sort of racist White Woman’s Burden logic that allows you to engage with mothers of color in ways that would be patently offensive to you if the tables were turned. I have seen white mothers of children of color get deeply offended when conditioner and oil are suggested as remedies for the “unmanageable” hair of their child. Often that suggestion comes while they stare at the hair of our children and want to know how we get it to behave.

Meanwhile you often feel entitled to speak to us of everything from religion to sex as though we do not have our own morals to impart to our children. I have had my own share of “helpful” white women who do not know me, but who feel quite comfortable questioning my parenting decisions on every front. Over the last 12 years I have had unsolicited input from those women on everything from what I feed my son with food allergies, to how much responsibility I give to my son with special needs. These are not white women who are my friends, not women who my children know well, these are not even white women who have set foot in my house.

Instead they are little more than strangers (or in some cases employees at a child care facility) with little direct contact with my children. But they feel their input is worthwhile because I am black and a mother, and clearly I can’t know what I’m doing. Here is a thought for those white women who feel the need to approach mothers of color, or their children with unsolicited advice. Don’t. Really, just strangle whatever urge it is that drives you to behave so offensively, and practice the fine art of minding your own damned business. You are not our elders, our partners, or in fact in part of our lives. You do not know what is best for our children, or how we should raise them to survive in a racist society that allows your children safety & security that our children will never know. Spend more time teaching your kids (and yourself) how to engage with people of color as people, and less time finding ways to stroke your egos by attacking ours.

47 comments to Dear White Women Who Think You Mean Well,

  • occhiblu

    Thank you for this. I wouldn’t have recognized this urge in myself without your article.

  • Farah

    That letter is icky,

    I’m in the UK and I’ve seen white women do this in a manner I’d call orientalizing: terribly, terribly curious but still convinced they know best.

    When I was growing up, my mother’s working class background, but move into the middle class, meant we were the target of every middle class do-gooder on the block.

    • karnythia

      I didn’t think to mention it, but yes, it is generally middle class white women who most often feel the need to act this way.

  • Lori S.

    Are my eyes deceiving me or is that letter just one long concern troll?

  • AMM

    Not being black, I didn’t catch the “white moms know better than black moms how to raise kids” part, but a couple of other things did jump out at me:

    For one thing, as far as I could tell by looking at her on-line biographies, the author is not a mother. I’ve noticed that people who don’t have kids always seem to know ever so much more about how parents should raise their kids than the parents themselves. Or even than they themselves do once they have kids. Not that having kids stops people from telling you you’re raising your kids wrong. (Ever notice how much smarter than everyone else ignorant people are?)

    For another thing, it doesn’t seem to occur to the author that Beyonce and Jay-Z are living breathing human beings. Or their child, either. Nor does she seem to care. She has her particular feminist axes to grind, and is simply using some distorted version of Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s public image to decorate them. FWIW, I believe that what she is doing is called, in feminist circles, “objectification.”

    I’m sure she’s aware that a number of musicians with rather, let us say, _colorful_ public personae (KISS, Black Sabbath) have rather conventional home lives. Absent any clear evidence to the contrary, why should she assume that Beyonce and Jay-Z aren’t capable of having equally child-appropriate home lives? (Maybe I’m picking up on some “black people don’t know how to parent” vibes, after all?)

  • Fynn

    When I first read that Good.is article, I liked it, because some of the things the author mentioned are things I hope to instill in my future children. When I started reading your letter, I misunderstood much of what you were saying, but I think I understand it now, and that Good.is article doesn’t read as well as it did the first time, you know? That article seems like a “The Blind Side” savior thing (though I still haven’t seen that movie). Your letter brought to my attention the White Man’s/Woman’s Burden, which I think I’ve known about for some time now but never REALLY thought about.

    Anyway, I’m now thinking about how often I give unsolicited advice to people capable of making their own decisions without help from someone who doesn’t know much but thinks she does. I hope I don’t give advice to people based on some preconception I have regarding skin color, or some other such thing that doesn’t determine a person’s morals, capabilities and such. I’d rather my reason for bothering people with my “advice” be just from my sometimes-obnoxious personality!

    If I said anything stupid/offensive in this long comment, I’m sorry! Blame it on my ignorance if I am offensive.

    In closing, something that can only be taken as a compliment (right?). You wrote a great article. It’s making me think quite a bit, if the length of my comment is an indicator.

  • Jenny

    Thank you. When I read about this letter, I was a bit perturbed, but the article I read about it was very favourable, and I wondered if I was worrying over nothing. The article – and I can’t now remember which bit of Feminist Blogosphere it was I read it on, but I’m 99% certain the author was white – was essentially taking the tack that this wasn’t a letter actually addressed to Blue Ivy, it was a letter addressed to all the people whose attitudes it’s about. And I can see the value in that, in a way; I can see how it is a potential method to make people think about their attitudes and so on.

    But I was uncomfortable, still, somehow, and I couldn’t quite work out why. Your taking an alternative tack has clarified it for me; the author is using this baby without her consent, and thereby doing the same as the people whose attitudes she’s trying to criticise. Thank you for your perspective.

  • WOV

    As a white guy with a newborn, I can provide some insight; insane patronizing out-of-bounds advice from privileged white ladies is something we’ve had to deal with a fair amount of. It is enraging. A lot of why is that *no* parent probably ever feels like they’re really nailing it and doing everything right, so among other things you get very defensive. Now that’s from a perspective where we’ve only had to deal with the amount that these insane moms (or NOT EVEN MOMS(!!!)) feel free to load up onto another white couple. I bet it does get wayyyy uglier when a sense of racial paternalism creeps in.

    Referring here to like on-the-street conversations which are pretty obnoxious but at least usually brief, and you get to respond to the person on the spot. If someone had written a lengthy, anonymous one-sided letter to my child in order to convey their sense of morality to them? That’s….wow. The red mist would come down.

  • Okay, I am white and I am not trying to trivialize in any way the bullshit mothers of color go through, or compare my experiences because I am smart enough to know I exist in white privilege. However, I honestly think the intent of the letter was to call out the expectations that rain down on some children of the A list (Suri, the Jolie-Pitt kids, etc …) and point out how that would be exacerbated for Blue Ivy because she was both an A list kid and an a little girl of color. That newborn is already at a nexus of fame-worship, parental judging, and racism. I think she was calling out the fact that everything this poor kid does will be held up by most of the public as a comparison for or against a stereotype.

    At least that’s what I got from it. But I know we are both wearing different glasses of expectation and experience when we look at things.

    • Please do some research on intent vs impact in race theory. Intentions mean little to nothing in race discourse and are used to justify all manner of atrocious actions. It is not the responsibility of the oppressed (in this case women of color) to educate the privileged and explain their oppression to them.

      • I have actually studied intent v/s impact a bit in grad school, although it was limited to race & feminism. I was sincerely not to justify bad behavior because of ‘good intentions’; rather I was trying explain that the bad behavior was not clear to me, give my perspective, and to ask for clarification. Farah was kind enough to further explain under what bridge the concern troll lived, and although I still don’t think the intent of the letter was negative, I understand much better now that the impact was still very negative.

  • Farah

    Betty, there is a very similar article in The Guardian here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/lostinshowbiz/2012/jan/12/beyonce-baby-blue-celebrity-world

    There are issues in the article I’d challenge if I were talking about this article (the material re Namibia)), but I’m citing it here to note that it doesn’t presume to talk directly to a little girl or her mother who are both going to experience things directly that they don’t really need to have explained to them by someone who doesn’t. I’d have had more time for the woman karnythia links us to if, for example, she had written “here is not what to write about this child”, but she doesn’t. She ignores her own constituency and tells the little girl “suck it up”. She may not mean to, but that’s the effect.

  • Ah! I can see that. I thought she was telling the reader “it sucks what society is going to dump on that kid” but I do understand it could have been “suck it up”. Thank you for clarifying.

  • Okay, I’ve read the letter yet again and I think I have a grasp of the irritation. Is it that she spends the last couple of paragraphs explaining what Blue should do, as though she had the right to say it and/or Blue’s parents wouldn’t do this for her? I didn’t see that aspect of it initially.

    Were similar letters written to Suri or Shiloh? I couldn’t find any.

  • Anonymous Coward

    I figured that this letter was the strangest publicity stunt, even before I considered any racial aspects.

  • Liz

    omfg. She calls out concern trolls while concern-trolling so hard herself. That’s such an infuriating post!

    I’m sure someone’s already turned it around on the author and written a letter to her children, present or future, about the perils that await them…

  • Missy

    OMG, that letter. I just don’t even.

    Appropriate things to say to a baby you don’t know: “Aren’t you just the cutest thing!” or “Awww!” or “Hi sugarplum!”

    Appropriate things to say to the parents of said baby: “What a sweetheart! Congratulations!” or “S/he’s so lucky to have such cool parents!”

    There is NO room in polite society for the bullshit that woman is spouting.

  • Muse

    I didn’t initially see the article through the lens of a white woman being condescending toward the Black parents, though I see now how it could be read that way, given the history of many white people imposing a WHOLE lotta inappropriate and unsolicited behavior onto others. I saw it more as a critique of the celebrity culture and patriarchal oppression that results in the obscene levels of scrutiny and judgment that “famous” girls inevitably must contend with (the Jolie-Pitt girls, the Obama girls, Paris Jackson, Chelsea Clinton, Blue Ivy, etc).

    However, it IS telling that the author felt compelled to write the article to Blue Ivy Carter, rather than, say, the daughters of Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie or Tom Cruise – all of them being parents who are ALSO purveyors of the same highly problematic, sex-obsessed pop culture as Bey and Jay. I am Black, but I am not a mom, so my concern-troll meter didn’t immediately go off when I read the article. Thank you for helping me open my eyes to this disturbing dynamic that brown mothers contend with.

  • Ms. Friedman’s article was quite offensive to me. It just dripped with a kind of condescension and dare I say paternalism, like Beyonce and Jay-Z aren’t even worth addressing in Ms. Friedman’s attempt to “rescue” / “care about” their baby. And now I see the racist aspect of this.

    I’m white and middle class and I have seen my peers express this faux “concern” for children of color a number of times. It took me a long time, and reading articles such as this one by parents of color, to recognize how pernicious this is and to stop myself from doing it. It’s like all the values that white middle-class feminists have about women’s autonomy and what not just go out the window and little Miss or Mister Judgement comes out.

    Ms. Friedman, how about you butt out of Jay-Z’s, Beyonce’s, and Blue Ivy’s lives? Sheesh.

  • Misa

    Hello,

    This is the first time I’ve ever stumbled across this site, from a link on Yahoo Answers. I would just like to say that I’ve never read an article like this before, it kind of gives me a headache. Maybe I’ve just lived a sheltered life, but I’ve never heard anyone mention skin color so much. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, but I feel like a lot of stereotypes were involved in this, and I also feel as though you are feeling insecure when there is really no need to be. For example “they think their input is worthwhile because I am a black mother”. This is so wrong in so many ways, and it shows that you have racial prejudice. Mothers share tips, always, regardless of skin color or whatever preconceptions you have. Neither me nor my parents are “white”, but my mother used to share tips about things such as food allergies, cold remedies, safety, etc. It had nothing to do with skin color, it didn’t even have anything to do with her thinking the people she talked to were incapable mothers. It’s just something that moms, baby sitters, and child care professionals talk about. They just randomly talk to each other about these things, it’s called being sociable and friendly. It’s the appropriate conversation to have with a mother. I mean, if you know someone through your child’s school or day care or whatnot, what else are you going to talk about? Fashion, sports, or finances? I don’t think so, maybe if you become good friends with them, but the only real conversations school mothers have with each other is usually about their children and childcare. You really need to be more considerate and stop thinking that everyone treats you differently because you’re black.

    • karnythia

      Because of course I can’t possibly know what I’m talking about what with living my life right? You keep lying to yourself if you want to, but I can tell the difference between casual conversations (I have those with my friends all the time), and perfect strangers who feel the need to tell me what they think I should be doing to raise kids they don’t know at all.

    • Medusa

      Lmao… yes, come to an ANTI-RACISM website and tell the person who is a victim of racism that they are the ones with racial prejudice. Just show your ignorance from the get-go. Geez.

  • Misa

    Whatever, it’s none of my business I guess. If you want to go around feeling like everyone hates you or treats you differently, then fine. In the end everyone will end up hating you because you’ll be so bitter. To be honest though, I was debating whether your post was a joke or not at first, it’s pretty bad. You could be right, especially if you live in the southeast, but I really can’t see something like that happening in this day and age. And besides, If you want to stereotype, nowadays it’s usually black women who stereotype white people. They stereotypically say things such as what you have said.

    • karnythia

      I linked to a prime example of it. And it happens all over the country. I suggest reading the rules of this blog before attempt to further derail the conversation about the lived experiences of black mothers by insisting that just because it doesn’t happen to you, it hasn’t happened to us. Hate me if you like, I really don’t want people like you to like me. It costs too much of my self & brings absolutely no benefits to my life.

    • Ann

      @Misa, check out
      What is ‘Splainin’ and why should I care.

      Words like “whatever” is dismissive and disrespectable when someone like you talks to a woman of colour. It’s so typical of ignorant people like you, learn something before you go ‘splainin’.

  • “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” MLK, Jr. I certainly don’t “understand” enough, but the further I move out of the shallows the more I understand WHY people of color are so angry. We are not, unfortunately, a post-racial society. Misa, because she would not join the KKK and there are no overt lynchings in her hometown, thinks racism is moot. Because she believes it is moot, it is easier to think you are anti-white than to look at the causal factors of your anger. Systemic racism is a shit load harder to address than acute racism, after all. Trying to explain to people that being angry about being treated badly is not the same thing as “reverse racism” makes my head explode — I cannot imagine how insane it must drive people of color who have to constantly defend their right to be vexed.

  • Sean

    I’m happy that she rescinded her column. Some of the comments from white readers were irksome though…

    I recently had a talk with my boyfriend (who’s white)about how I find it really offensive when he talks like he’s a “good white person” – These kind of white people make racism about them. They make our suffering about them feeling good for not *actively* causing it.

    Worse yet are the people who feel the need to question the experiences that people of colour share. It’s demeaning. It suggests that we don’t know our own story and that they, as white people, do. And even if they aren’t white (looking at you Misa) the amount of internalized racism that they face somehow makes them feel the need to argue the personal histories of other womyn of colour. Clearly the OP has had experience that wasn’t the simple trading of tips – it was the White Lady Knows Best syndrome of white ladies around her trying to teach her how to raise her kids the ‘right’ way – or, the ‘white’ way rather.

    • Josh

      Yeah, she ended up retracting it and acknowledging why it was wrong; and there are still people defending it and leveling leveling nasty accusations against her critics. Ew: we’ve seen this before.

  • Farah

    Misa: there is a huge difference between friends swapping tips and someone you have never heard of thinking it’s ok to tell you how to bring up your baby. Sometimes even someone you know, if they do it with condescension and in ignorance can be appalling. I am more used to the class aspect of this, but I long remember the neighbour who walked in while I was eating and told my mother off for letting me eat with my fingers, and telling her she clearly did not know how to bring me up. She didn’t wait to ask questions, so Mom didn’t have a chance to say “my daughter has refused to eat for two days, I’m deeply grateful she’s eating anything, anyhow”.

    Generally speaking, you can tell supportive imput, it begins with questions, not suggestions.

  • Ellesar

    This is the worst bit for me: ‘race is going to play a factor. (Ask your parents to explain race. It’s a loooong story.)’ That sounds like she is about 14.

    Just the notion of a letter to an unborn child of celebs is bad enough.

    That woman sounds like a total wanker!

  • QueerFatstronaut

    Thank you for this. I tried to read the Friedman piece, but it literally made me sick to my stomach. I had to settle for skimming it, but even so, you are dead on with your critique of her condescension to Blue and her family. You know, I always wanted to write a column like Friedman’s–about the advice I would give a baby girl. The difference is, I want to write it for my own future daughter. I’ve seen pieces like that, and they are very special, but it’s just plain creepy (in addition to the racist framework) to give such personal advice to a child you don’t even know!

  • Lori

    Entitlement…

    Definition: The belief that you have a right to own, do and say anything in this world that automatically requires my quiet acquiescence in spite of your ignorant-ass.

    Example: Jaclyn Friedman

  • Asada

    I don’t understand directing a “sexually charged” letter to a baby. Or insisting a baby do “what feels good” in a letter about sexuality, fame and pressure. It is very inappropriate.

  • Leanna

    That advice was so condescending and racist. I’m reading The Help right now and the entire time I was reading that article I could just picture one of those women from half a century ago saying very similar things to the black woman that works for them. My how things have [NOT] changed.
    I love your response, I hope she sees it.

  • Margo

    The fact that she feels the need to point out that Beyonce and Jay Z send mixed messages about sexuality through their music was the most offensive to me. It was as if she was saying “Your mommy and daddy will do the best they can, but they will probably end up ruining your sexual development in some way. So don’t worry Blue Ivy, I’m here to lay it all out for you. You can thank me when you learn how to talk. YOUR WELCOME.”
    As a white woman with no children, I’ve never experienced this kind of condescending, insulting behavior. But I have absolutely no doubt that it exists and happens all the time. Thanks for this post, it was really eye opening.

  • Rebecca A

    I don’t understand why she felt the need in the first place. She compliments Beyonce on her intelligence but then goes on about who Ivy BLue might not find a good role model in her own mother. This women took it upon herself to fix this poor, famous black baby before she got damaged by her crazy rich parents. She also doesn’t seem to have high regards for Jay-Z and patronizes him as well. What could have saved her is if she didn’t specifically address Baby Blue. If she talked about how these standards could apply to girls of all races born in this upon coming year and went on to talk about more things, her point would have gotten across just find. It’s the fact that she thought that neither Beyonce or Jay-Z would be able to do it by themselves that angers me.

  • ::elbows on desk, head in hands, shaking my head back and forth:: I got here through Black in Public…, a page I read regularly, and I am glad I got here, so thank you karnythia for this post. The author of the piece under discussion seems to be suffering from a misconception common to a lot of people her age (including myself when I was that age long ago) — thinking she knows everything. This isn’t an excuse for the outrageousness of her presumptions, because there’s rational excuse for them. One can hope that as she matures, she will learn to listen more, to consider the ramifications of her words, and modify her approach to a more effective one.

    Beyonce is my “hometown gal,” so to speak, although I never met her, and never have I gotten the impression that she, or her child, would need any unsolicited advice. Her intelligence, business acumen and solid internal values have always been evident to me. I speculate that when it comes time to have a discussion with her daughter about womanhood, she will undoubtedly draw a distinction between what one does on the surface to further one’s career (i.e., “sex sells) and how one behaves in one’s private life based on one’s moral foundation. I can only guess that part of what “inspired” Ms. Friedman was Jay-Z’s announcement that he would be making changes in his lyrics now that he was the father of a daughter. Apparently it didn’t occur to Ms. Friedman that said announcement itself indicates that he realizes what it takes to parent effectively. She also fails to acknowledge that the fact Beyonce and Jay-Z delayed the introduction of Blue Ivy to the public was another sign of parenting skills that suggests her unsolicited advice is also unnecessary.

    As an old feminist (old enough to have passed my childhood in the Jim Crow days), I find her “unsolicited advice” to be counter-productive and alienating both on the racism front AND the feminist one. What kind of feminist discounts another woman, regardless of her color, and her abilities the way Ms. Friedman discounts Beyonce’s parenting abilities, and by extension all other mothers of color? (A corollary is what kind of feminist discounts women without children when it comes to understanding parenting? It is quite possible to read parenting books, take child psych classes, observe one’s friends’ children and other children, and recall one’s own childhood and arrive at a level of understanding of the needs of children without actually having any. Lord knows that’s more preparation than some parents make before actually having their children! And no, I’m referring to anyone specifically, and certainly not to a whole group of parents based on skin color, but come on, we’ve all known individual parents about whom we’ve thought “Whatever made them think they should have children?”)

    No parents are perfect, white or otherwise. Will Beyonce and Jay-Z make some mistakes? Probably, all parents do. Learning who your child is, and she or he IS a separate individual in the final analysis, not an extension of one’s self, is a demanding, time-consuming process, and no parent parents in a vacuum. That is, parenting occurs inside an environment which includes one’s work, one’s socio-political activities, dealing with one’s own aging parents, and a host of other demands for time and attention. It’s almost inevitable that somewhere along the line, something else will have a higher priority at just the wrong moment. In my case, it was my mother’s father’s failing health just as I came into the world. Fortunately, I had an amazing woman of color in my life whose lap was available or whose hip was available to ride on when I needed cuddling. Perhaps Ms. Friedman never had the opportunity to be mothered by a woman of color. I would think that if she had, she couldn’t possibly have assumed that women of color need her advice about either parenting or growing up to be a strong, self-assured women capable of setting her own terms for her sexuality and the rest of her life, within the limitations imposed on her by racism in this society.

  • Shonatron

    I’m a new reader to this blog and I’ve found it very informative and interesting. Especially given that I am not from North America (I’m Australian) and I’m white so there are a whole world of nuances to discussions on gender, race, sexual politics and cultural identity that I am only just being introduced to.

    In regards to the inherent racism that has been discussed here to do with Friedman’s article, I see its offensiveness and I am glad that the author was also able to see (despite being late in realising it..)and apologised. It seems to me that what she really wanted to be writing about was the sexual and gender politics that are being expressed in the music of Beyonce and Jay-Z and if that’s what she wanted to do then she should have done that instead of using their child, coming at the discussion from the side and therefore not really discussing any issues at all.

    I have several of Beyonce’s albums and a lot of her music is great. However I do think that there some very contradictory messages that she sends out in regards to feminism or female empowerment and they deserve critique as she has set herself up as an ambassador for women generally (given that her music is internationally distributed and that she has sung in languages other than English, therefore attempting to make her music culturally and racially transcendent.)For example, I found her association with Lady Gaga, whom I view as a disaster of a role model for women and young girls, extremely troubling and I have to say it seriously damaged my respect for Beyonce as a spokesperson. With that in mind, I understand Friedman’s desire to critique the discourse that Beyonce contributes, but I think she should have been honest in her intentions and been direct in the things she wanted to say. If she had have done that perhaps she would have avoided putting her foot in her mouth.

  • jmbrzy

    Im sorry karnythia but I think you took Friedmans letter to Blue Ivy way too personally.I am a mother of an eight month old baby boy and I am more than familiar with the unsolicited and extremely annoying advice that a woman recieves not only as a mother but during pregnancy as well. I worked as a waitress in a very busy restaurant all the way through my entire pregnancy, and in doing so came into contact with hundreds of people on a daily basis. As a result I was bombarded with unwanted advice from people all of the time. Now, when I am out with my son I continue to be approached by strangers and given unrequested advice and information about babies and parenting.(By the way, the majority of these people have been black women) And although it does become irritating at times, I never felt as though the advice was being given because people believed me to be lacking in morals or parenting skills. I think that people, ecspecially women, feel it is appropriate to give mothers parenting advice simply because motherhood is the one thing that truely connects us all, regardless of race, creed, or class. When you see a pregnant woman or a new baby you smile, because it is a miracle,a new life,it is purity, it is the possiblity of everything good. I think that it is a special bond within humankind, that even if only momentarily has the ability to bring us together. While I did find the content of Friedmans letter to be inapproriate and unnecessary for a baby; it is obvious that race was not her main point of discussion, and Im not sure why it has become yours. I found her comments about sexuality to be much more offensive.

    • karnythia

      Friedman is well aware of where she overstepped & has long since apologized. If you can’t get my point that’s really a personal problem.