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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