My Son and I Got Another Dirty Stare (and White Woman Socialization)

And old dude looked at my son and I with disgust last week. There’s yet one more way that the world is making my son feel like an “other”.

He was grandfatherly age, wearing a cowboy hat and a plaid shirt and jeans. At first glance, I liked him. Then he made eye contact with me, and then he looked me up down, then looked my son up and down, then looked me up and down again. And made eye contact with me one last time. With a look of pure disgust on his face.

At first, I assumed that he just has Resting Bitch Face. Don’t all grandpas look a little grouchy? That night, when I was home and my son was tucked safely in his bed, I couldn’t get that man’s face out of my head. So, I wondered if maybe he just didn’t feel well. The next morning, that look was still seared in my mind. So I thought that maybe he was confused by our transracial family. But, no. I thought about his face. He looked like he had just had a vurp (“vomit burp”) in his mouth and was also smelling poo. So maybe, I thought, he has acid reflux? Later that night, I just couldn’t let it go. I remembered the way he scanned us with his eyes, back and forth, up and down. I’m used to the “triangular stare”, but it’s not always followed by a look of disgust.My mind kept turning it over and over. My mind was searching for a way to make sense of this.

My mind was searching for a way to give this old man the benefit of the doubt.

Because I’m nice, right?

Or maybe it’s because I’m a white woman. My blonde self just doesn’t make people hold their purses tighter or lock their car doors. That is called white privilege, folks, and I have recently learned alllll about that. But, also, I’ve learned about something called “White Woman Socialization.” I fit the description perfectly. Guess what one of the bullet points is for White Woman Socialization? Giving people the benefit of the doubt (and too often).

Why is that so bad, you may ask?

Let me explain. When a Black friend tells you a story about getting pulled over by a cop and treated poorly yesterday, is your first instinct to say any of the following things?

  • “Oh, are you sure that’s what happened?”
  • “Maybe you misread him.”
  • “Well, I’m sure the cop didn’t mean it.”
  • “He was probably just having a bad day.”
  • “Don’t you think you’re being a bit oversensitive?”

If your first instinct is to say (or think) any of those things, then you are dismissing the Black person’s lived experience. You are silencing him. You are dismissing him. This may be the hundredth time this has happened to him. He has experiences that you haven’t. And you don’t get to explain those away.

That’s part of white woman socialization.

And I have it.

Something snapped. I remembered everything I had learned. It took me three days of rolling that old man’s disgust around in my brain before I let myself see what I was trying not to see: HE DID NOT APPROVE OF US.

I was done. My brain screamed, “I AM DONE GIVING PEOPLE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.”

Why? Am I meaner now? Maybe. But I’m a Mama Bear, and I’m gonna protect my kid, and, furthermore, I am not going to dismiss my son’s lived experiences. I am going to be aware of my white woman socialization. I am going to listen hard when he tells me about a feeling or a whiff or an actual experience of racism. I am a safe place for him. I will never know what it’s like to be a Black male in the American South, but I will be a safe place for him. I promise you that.

That old man doesn’t have to approve of my family. Not even every adoptee approves of adoption. Not every person – white or Black – approves of transracial adoption. And they all have their reasons, some of which may be valid. But, BUT, that man may NOT make my kid feel like an “other.”

I’m done. I’m so done. Tomorrow, Trump is in. Gloves are off.

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7 thoughts on “My Son and I Got Another Dirty Stare (and White Woman Socialization)

  1. In the attempt to increase tolerance and raise racial or gender awareness, labeling “conditions” with a gender or a race (like mansplaining or white woman socializing) is degrading and counter intuitive. If we don’t want to be mansplained or white woman socialized – meaning if we want to be treated with respect – then shouldn’t we also treat others with respect? Meaning don’t call them – or their behavior – names. It’s condescending.

    When someone is offensive to me I always give them the benefit of the doubt. Does that mean I white woman socialize everything in my life? Or does it mean that I’m a forgiving person who seeks to assume when someone is offensive it most often about them, not me. I’d like to think the latter.

    That said, I would never silence someone by dismissing their experience. I can’t imagine how frustrated you must be and you’re clearly a good mom who is fiercely protective of her son. But I worry about the slippery slope when we respond to anger and hate with anger and hate. If there’s anything we must do as we face this administration, it is lead with more love and forgiveness.

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  2. I believe tags like “white woman socializing” are more sociological than personal. Personal would be someone throwing “White bitch!” in your face. “White woman socializing” describes an all too common phenomenon in our society: women socialized in ways antithetical to their (and others’) well-being.

    Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is warranted; when it slides into denying one’s experience–“Oh, s/he didn’t really mean it!”–that’s unhealthy.

    When the Okayest Mom says “The gloves are off!”–well, I had to laugh because I know her to be one of the kindest people on earth. I read that statement as an affirmation and encouragement of her own clear-mindedness, not a vow of disrespect, anger, or hate towards disrespectful bone-heads. I bet she will figure a way to be kindly yet firmly confrontive and protective—and when she does, I hope she’ll write about it.

    BTW, I hadn’t heard of “white woman socializing” but I plead guilty! Only I’d add *straight* white woman because I still cringe remembering, though it was decades ago, how I questioned the fears of a gay friend.

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  3. *Snaps and touches and agrees* That socialization thing is so real and I have seen it and been on the receiving end of it. Thanks for sitting with it and figuring out why it bothered you so much.

    Having no time for such foolishness is not meeting hate with hate. It’s drawing a bright line of what is acceptable for you and your family. Carry on mama!

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  4. I understand the triangular stare in a different way.

    In public, some folks will look at me then my daughter and my wife. Immediately they see that my daughter and I go together. But I see the puzzled look in their eyes when they see my wife saying, “How does she fit with the other two.” When they realize that we are one family with two moms, we are called names or given evil glares.

    Those looks hurt but the words sting for a long time. I always stay on the side of being in the defensive mode. I find it safer than being naive, especially around my child. Keep strong!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Five Year Old Quotes | Okayest Mom

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