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.

Separating Adoption from Race – and a Momma’s Overdue Outrage

wp-1484095409908.jpg

Racial mirrors matter. Watching “A Snowy Day” together.

So far, the blog posts I have written about race have been placed in my “adoption” category on my home page. It’s not enough. Blackness and adoption are obviously not the same thing. In our house, maybe they have been the same thing, for too long now. But our son is getting older. He understands his skin color is different from ours.

He’s hearing what people say to him. When we are together, he gets a near-constant stream from white peers of “Is she your mom? But you’re black!” From Black peers, he gets “Is she your mom? But she’s white!” He already asked me not to come to lunch with him at the cafeteria again. He firmly asks me not to chaperone any of his field trips. That’s okay with me… cuz I have potty training twins… but I wish I could be inside his head for a little while.

It’s time to add a new category to this blog. Should I call it “Race”? “Black and White”? It can’t just be about one color, because I’m going to have to add a lot of stuff about my own white privilege. Remember, “if you don’t think white privilege exists, you are already enjoying it.”

Just because a problem isn’t YOUR problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

As my son matures, so do his understanding of adoption and race. As his brain or body has a growth spurt, so do his anger and his grief and his knowledge. But you know what? SO DO MINE! I have been living in a white bubble for 37 years and I think it’s finally popped. I think – I hope – my eyes are opened. And now I’m using those eyes to try to see the world through my son’s eyes, just a little. I am learning. I am asking questions. I am reading, reading, reading. I am listening. I am growing.

This growing hurts. And you know what? IT SHOULD HURT.

I SHOULD be uncomfortable. I have growing pains as I realize all the ways I’ve been ignorant. Downright wrong. I have regrets as I realize that I wasn’t paying attention until I had a Black son – until I had to pay attention. Where was my anger before?* Why did it take me so long? Because I have white privilege, that’s why. I was completely blind to that fact. Now, I am having growing pains as I realize just how different my life, as a white woman, has been from a Black boy’s life. (And it will continue to be different, no matter how much outrage I have.) I have growing pains as I realize just how incredibly hard it will be to raise a Black man in the American South. How much it’s going to hurt to do, and to watch.

I can’t ever go back. I have opened a door and gone through. My old life with blinders is completely over. As the inauguration looms over us, “Black & White Thoughts” is a now new category on this blog, and in my life. You are going to hear about it.

***

*This week’s episode of the TV show “Blackish” delivered a very powerful speech about this topic. The main character, Andre, addresses the way white people (including me) were more surprised by the election results than were People of Color. He wonders why we white people were not paying attention sooner. He says, “You think I’m not sad that Hillary didn’t win? That I’m not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains.” Read more about it here. Watch the full episode here.

New Year, New Haircut, New  President – and the Racial Mirror That Was

January. A new year. Everyone is all excited about kicking goodbye the dumpster fire year of 2016. But are we actually excited to welcome 2017? It is now the month and year that we will inaugurate … that guy. I can’t seem to remember his name.

No matter what your political leanings are, you can certainly understand that any mother of a Black boy will be saddened to see President Obama leave the Oval Office. My son has had a racial mirror in the President of the United States of America for his entire life. I absolutely cannot stress to you how important that has been for our family, and probably for millions of other families. I am overcome with emotion.

(When he was born, his grandma took one look at him and said, “My little Obama!”)

wp-1483411314734.jpgToday was haircut day for my oldest son. For certain sensory reasons, it’s not easy for him. He says he is not ready for a barbershop, so, as always, my husband was cutting our son’s hair in the upstairs bathroom. I thought my twins were playing in their room, but as I reached the top of the stairs, I saw Twin A perched on the toilet lid, holding my oldest’s hand. He was offering his hand of comfort to his distressed brother. No one asked him to do that. A fat little four-year-old white hand holding the shaky brown hand of his six-year-old brother. My heart melted.

The steady hand of his brother calmed my son, and the rest of the haircut went smoothly. They sat like that for about ten minutes, no one saying a word as the clippers buzzed.

There is a now-iconic image of a five-year-old Black boy touching President Obama’s hair in the Oval Office. Have you seen it? President Obama, the leader of the free world, is leaning over to let the boy touch his hair.

Photo credit: Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

I don’t know if the significance of this image can truly cross the racial parenting divide. I am no expert in Black hair, not by any means, but as the mother of a little boy who looks like the one in the picture, I weep every time I see it.

(I was thinking of printing that photo, to hang in our home, but what if I cry every time I walk by it? Hmmm.)

“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to speak again.

Jacob did, and Mr. Obama replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” He lowered his head, level with Jacob, who hesitated.

“Touch it, dude!” Mr. Obama said.

“So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.

“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said.*

Even if you are staunchly anti-Obama, can you see how important this image is to us? Can you walk with me for a moment and feel this? More importantly, can you walk with my son, who sees only white faces in his very own home? Can you imagine what it’s like to be him – or any other Black boy in America whose ancestors were probably slaves – and know that the most powerful man in the world has hair that feels exactly like his?

For eight years we’ve been able to hold up that mirror to our boys: The President of the United States of America looks like you.

And now, in this new year that is supposed to be new and fresh and better, we get to hold up … a man who… not only doesn’t look like our boys, but … nevermind. I can’t.

It was not just hair. It was hope.

 

***

*Source: Calmes, Jackie. “When a Boy Found a Familiar Feel in a Pat of the Head of State.New York Times. 23 May 2012. Accessed via Web 2 January 2017.

And the Washington Post says it better than I can: Photo Speaks Volumes About Obama and Race.