Sunday, August 30, 2009

When Your Mother In Law Sues You She's Just Not That Into You!

I had briefly heard of this story in passing but hadn't realized all of the ramifications involved. Comic Sunda Coonquist has been sued by her mother-in-law for making jokes about the behavior of the family. Much humor is rooted in pain and certain comedians are very skillful at dissecting the actions of others. Sunda is a bi-racial black woman, her husband is white and she converted to Judaism to marry him. At the crux of this case is the story of her husband's family who have a history of exclusionary antics. The fact that Sunda's husband is representing her in court has been lauded by some. I think the entire scenario is ridiculous and clearly was escalating for some time.
Croonquist’s act includes jokes about her many encounters with her husband’s family over the years, like her first visit to her mother-in-law’s house. She gave Roker a sample: “I walk in, I say, ‘Thank you so much for having me here, Ruthie.’ She says, ‘The pleasure’s all mine, have a seat.’ ” Then, in a loud aside, “ ‘Harriet, put my pocketbook away.’ ”

On a more serious note, Croonquist said that despite her obvious commitment to Judaism, she has suffered through painful incidences of exclusion from her husband’s family. “It’s not been easy,” she told Roker. “I’ve been asked to step out of family photos. I guess I’m just not right for the bar mitzvah picture.”

The comedian said that she has been the brunt of her in-laws’ jokes as well. “They made jokes at my expense. Not on stage, but in temple.”

Insulting your relatives while at your house of worship is a big FAIL!

If we're going to encourage (black) women to "think outside the box" and look for caliber in a mate part of that evaluation needs to be what boundaries are enacted for other family members should they pose a threat to the relationship. After you've been married for FIFTEEN years, have had children and certain family members are STILL doing things that undermine your relationship or your mate they NEED TO GO! Clearly there were no consequences in place for this mother-in-law. Or other members of the husband's family. His sister AND brother-in-law have also joined in the lawsuit - and the husband expresses "surprise" at this!? Get a clue....

This was not an empowering marriage choice to me!

At one point you can be too self-sacrificing - and marry a WIMP! I personally wonder how much racial/ethnic pride Sunda has in herself to have allowed things to deteriorate without standing up for herself. I question whether a black woman who was not bi-racial would have been so willing to let this go. I don't think this is an example of a husband providing for and protecting his wife. I think this is a scenario of deniers, excusers and people-pleasers run amuck. I also think this is one of those situations where other Jews need to step in to police the behavior of one of their own. This family is hurting the "brand" by engaging in such obvious hateful behavior that is clearly based on their own racial prejudice. You can't discuss your own history of oppression by doing it to other people lest you want others to turn a deaf ear to your pleas. Just ask African Americans about that one.....

Here's an interview with Croonquist on the Today Show (yes I also noticed they tossed it to Al Roker not Matt, Meredith or Ann):

h/t Felicia
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Karen said...

This is a perfect case of NOT having married a QUALITY man. Weak men come in all shapes, sizes and colours.

The first time such an episode occurred, her husband should have laid down the law and nipped that in the bud.

Obviously he did not and now all these years later it will be settled in court.

She chose poorly....

bwdb said...

Indeed...Hubby is a wimp who needs to "Grow A Pair"...A line needs to be drawn in the sand...Fifteen years is wayyyy overdue...


Mommie Dearest better be happy that Richard Pryor didn't marry in. This is not about comedy, it's all tragedy. We try to joke about the things that hurt, mostly because that is the only way to bring it out without weeping.

I firmly believe that out of the heart the mouth speaks. There is nothing worse than a veiled racist who is "offended" and "hurt" when light shines on their nasty behavior.

FilthyGrandeur said...

wow, i thought I had it bad.

at least when the recent shit went down between me and my future in-laws, my fiance immediately defended me (short version: they found my blog, and apparently they think i'm toxic. or something).

anyway, this woman is awesome. too bad her husband's not so great, and too bad too that her husbands family treats her like an outcast. i can's not a good feeling.

Anonymous said...

After reading this I feel a whole lot better about the tensions between me and my in-laws. While my FIL doesn't have warm fuzzies towards me and after 14 years no need to fake the funk, I know just based on the fact he loves his son and granddaughter he knows there are lines we don't cross.

You posed a imteresting question " would a Black woman who is not biracial have been willing to let this go" I think the answer is most likely no.

I am married interracially and about a year ago my FIL said some stuff that was skirting the line and I shut it down to the point my husband knew if his father ever crossed a line, he could kiss seeing his granddaughter good bye.

For me it was a matter of I will not be disrespected and ultimately I see this as a problem of Sunda's husband...excuse my french but he let his Mama talk greasy about his wife for 15 years...come on now. That is insane, still its a sad situation where they aere now kids involved.

Khadija said...


I co-sign what Karen said 100%. This woman chose VERY poorly. She chose a coward who failed in his first duty as her husband---to protect her.

She compounded this initial error in judgment by choosing to remain with this coward all these years as he continuously failed to protect her. That's why these racist relatives were emboldened to go this far in their attacks on her.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Karen: Yup so all the Internet Ike Turners will be free to have a field day with this one - oh well! But this should also be used to correct some who think our discussions of empowerment and dating ALL men doesn't mean dating ANY man, esp any white man. Plus if you look at the photos of the family the husband is just lacking to me across the board. His wife is far more attractive and youthful looking.

CW: Personally she can do better but that was her choice.

Bluebutterfly: Oh but Pryor was rich AND famous so who knows. I wouldn't have married this jerk at all. Sometimes being alone is better than being saddled with an anchor.

FilthyGrandeur: I didn't edit your comment since I just noticed it - but ask that you observe my posting rules about no cursing in the replies. Thank you. The husband gets an F but the wife gets a D in my book for going along with this nonsense.

blackgirlinmaine: I am rollin' at your "talking greasy" reference!!!

Khadija: You're right and this is what happens when people decide to let these "little slights" go. They escalate into full blown anarchy and assault.

FilthyGrandeur said...

oops--i apologize. i should have taken the time to do more than scan your comments rules (especially since I've been having issues enforcing my own policy on my site). i will be good from now on (and I meant no disrespect--thanks for pointing it out).

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

FilthyGrandeur: That was quick! It's ok. Like I said I didn't notice until I replied. Thanks!!

tertiaryanna said...

I'm wondering about this woman's decision making across the board. The comments about her husband have already been made here, but I'm also thinking about the woman's position with these jokes. I thought that if you make false statements against a person, and it causes that person to gain negative notoriety, then they can sue for slander.

The mom might well have been mean to the daughter-in-law, but if the jokes weren't true (if the mom didn't say what the woman said she did) then I thought the mom really does have a legal claim to sue.

I could be wrong, but I'm wondering why the woman felt that way to address the racism against her was to be so pointed in her standup, instead of saying that "a friend" had a (similar) experience. It's just like when you write a story about yourself. You have to be careful that you don't violate another person's legal rights even when their story touches upon yours. Just the fact that she identified the people by name and location in her jokes (which is a business venture, not private speech) makes it on shaky ground.

Either way, it's just a toxic way to handle a serious situation, and I'm wondering about her personal judgement skills.

She's correct, she shouldn't be mistreated and has a right and responsibility to stop the abuse (or get out) but there must be ways to handle this that don't leave her so legally exposed.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

tertiaryanna: I don't know. This sounds like a frivolous lawsuit to me and some lawyer just decided to take the money to pursue this. Regardless this is nothing to celebrate but it is a valuable lesson for the rest of us!! NO VALUE men come in all stripes!

Unknown said...

just an fyi:

she married into a jewish family and converted to judaism... did her husband every consider converting to her religion?

from experience, and I had Jews tell me this to my face, for them it's race first even for the atheist stripe.

and this is a clear example (like everyone else is saying) that it was a poor decision on her part AND that poor men come in all shades.

redcatbiker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evia said...

This underscores the fact that VETTING men is a critically important skill.

Since I've been in an intercultural and an interracial marriage, there've been folks in both situations who would have rather that both of these guys had chosen a woman from their same-group. However, the degree to which these folks express their disapproval depends totally on the man involved. SOME men of ALL groups will allow their family members to mistreat their wives. I never had that experience. I felt very comfortable about moving to Nigeria with my ex husband because I knew he was NOT going to tolerate that from any his folks, but they tried. LOL! And he told them where to go right away.

In my current marriage, folks knew not to even try. Darren is a softspoken man but he is solid and strong in the way that I love for a man to be strong. Folks know not to even try to cross the line. People in his family and others close to him ***respect*** him and therefore no one bothers me.

I would advise any bw who is considering an intercultural or interracial marriage to go with the guy around his family,friends, associates a LOT to see how he handles their reactions to her. This is a vetting area that should never be overlooked. She should do this EARLY in the relationship so that if he's not strong, she can drop him and move on.

When a man is dating a woman, he is applying for a job or at least this is how I look at it. LOL! If he messes up in a critical area like this, that would be a prime reason to go on to the next candidate, and unlike so many bw these days, I know that there are other men out there who are willing to SHOW me that they can and will meet my criteria.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

BrotherOmi: I always question when women convert to their husband's religion when that's a key component in the decision to get married. It seems to me that on some level a woman is being told she's not good enough as is and it's usually about proximity to "power". I also think it's part of the larger patriarchal society. I suppose it also has to do with how much a role religion played in that person's life prior to the relationship. On the other hand you (I and others as well) may be thinking in marriage in terms of a "love" contract when many marriages are STRATEGIC alliances. So if said woman is trying to access the perceived "power" position as I mentioned above then she'd comply with the steps necessary to secure the marriage.

redcatbiker: Actually Sunda's mother is African American. Though in many instances that racial/ethnic pride may have been exhibited through the black mother that's not a guarantee or the case with many families. As for who determines the status of children that depends on many factors. Jews (as well as others) define themselves through race construct, ethnicity or secular philosophy. Perhaps one of the lurkers may wish to weigh in on this, but this wiki entry and this site provides some background information. I know many people think the Hebrews of the Old Testament were predominantly African not the Europeans who claim Jewish heritage today many things may be up for interpretation. You know it's part of the larger "the history that gets told is by the conquerers/survivalists" theory.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Evia: I like that. A spouse is applying for a job and should be subject to annual (semi-annual?) reviews. Just like with a career. Areas of improvement need to be identified. Areas that are cohesive should be acknowledged. Future goals should be discussed. It makes perfect sense to me.

Anonymous said...

I've known for a while that marriage is essentially a business (I'm guessing merger/acquisition?). Based on this story, Sunda failed miserably to conduct a thorough background check or even annual reviews (as you've already established). Even the expansion (I really feel for the girls) is suffering.

This case, however sad and pathetic, serves a valuable lesson for us (even the IITs/general haters).

Thanks for the confirmation, Evia--I'll try not to be overwhelmed thinking about how many candidates I must interview/comb through and for how long.

Renee said...

The problem isn't that the relationship is inter-racial it is that she and her husband have failed to set boundaries with his family. The first time they displayed their racist behaviour she should have made it clear that it was unacceptable. If he did not stand up with her she should have left. I am sorry but I would not have up with 15 years of racism no matter how much I loved the man. I made it very clear to my unhusbands family how it was going to be from the get go. My mother raised me to respect myself and I was not going to trade that to fit in with anyone.

TiaRachel said...

This is just untrue: And with Judaism, even if you convert, you are never seen as a real Jew, and the converted woman's children (Judaism is passed along through the mother) are never considered Jewish. Converts are religiously (legally, within jewish law) Jewish (and ao a woman's children are automatically jewish), although Orthodox (and extremists) don't recognize conversions other than their own. They're a minority among american jews, though. Socially, there are differences between communities -- the ultra-orthodox tend to disapprove of marriages with non-ultra-orthodox jews, even when that person has "returned" to ultra-orthodox observances. Generally, the more important 'yiddishkeit' (pre-war eastern european yiddish culture) is to a person/community, either in their daily lives or as an ideal of what it is to be Really Jewish, the more they'll disapprove of marriage outside the yiddish community. That's not all jews, though.

Absolutely, spouses have to stand up for each other -- and themselves. When my converted-to-jewish mother was introduced to her future in-laws and was the target of some sort of verbal sniping, she got up and left -- she wouldn't be treated like that. And my dad got up and followed her out. (I'd like to note that this set of grandparents were quite egalitarian in their nastiness, and I've never heard that this incident had anything to do with her not being jewish.)

And the grandparents were respectful, even over-the-top, after that.

There were parts of both sides of the family who sort of managed not to have anything to do with us after their 1960 marriage -- it wasn't a one-sided transgression. And there were people at the temple we went to when I was young who were, well, problematic, but they found a new temple and my mother especially has been very involved for decades now.

My parents mostly protected us (and themselves) from the prejudice on both sides, but that required work, being willing to change and sometimes being willing to give up on people. Mostly, I think, it required them working as a team (and being aware of it), not making it only his job or hers, not counting on other people magically changing without someone letting them know that there's some reason to change.

(Why, yes, I have known a few less-successful intercultural relationships.)

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

I'm closing comments for this post as we've covered what needs to be said and I'm not interested in letting either the interracial or the religious aspects of this particular couple to be the focus. It is about CHOOSING A MATE WISELY and what happens when you DON'T. None of the other factors really matter in the end. Thanks all!