Back in December, when my family and I were out trying to squeeze in some last minute Christmas shopping, I had a repeat of an uneasy sort of experience that I do run into every now and again. We were all in the Gymboree store (gosh I love that place) and the kids were all watching the little television they have set up playing the educational dvds that they sell, when a sweet little African American toddler joined them.
My own kids are sometimes like puppies and they can bounce all over a new person with the excitement of wanting to know them. That is how they were that day, quick to greet and attempt to play with this little boy. My girls especially tend to act like little mommies with anyone under 2 ft tall, even if they have never met them before. I was watching the interaction as I browsed the nearby racks, and I noted the child’s mother was also eyeing all four children.
I think that the little guy became a bit overwhelmed with the prospect of two clucking little (white) girls trying to turn him into their very own ‘baby alive’ and he began looking toward his mother with that a face that said he might start to cry. The mother herself was looking a bit agitated about the girls trying to play with her son, so I called the girls over to help me scour the racks, and to give the poor baby a breather.
My son, who is much more laid back about meeting new folk, still was talking to the baby, and the mother seemed to relax and resume her shopping. As she came to claim her son with her purchases in hand, she looked around as if to question where the mother of this other little boy (mine) could possibly be. I noticed that, so it was then that I decided to engage her in conversation myself. I smiled and asked how old her son was.
She looked me straight in the eye, and said nothing.
I asked again, saying that he looked to be at least 2 years old. . .
She looked straight at me again, this time with a glare that said she was not interested in speaking to me.
At that point I called my son over to me and told him to tell his playmate goodbye.
That is when the recognition must have hit her that this little black child, was here with this white mother, and it was then that I received an extremely hostile glare. She looked me straight in the face, so no mistaking it was meant for me (plus there were no other shoppers in the store.) She still had yet to utter one word to me. She yanked her baby out of the tiny seating area and quickly headed for the register.
Funny how she did not say one thing to me, verbally anyway, but I knew exactly what she was letting me know. It has happened before, and honestly was not something that I had ever thought about till the first time I ran into it head on. I always thought that if I appeared friendly, most people would view me as such. I also forgot that some would only view me as ‘white’ and for them my being white would not hold any positive connotation at all. For many Black Americans especially, why would it?
I had steeled myself for white folk to be anger or hostile toward me at times about our black/white family, but it had just never occurred to me that black folk would not be very happy to encounter our transracial family either. Mainly that is because of my own racist views as I have come to understand.
I admit that I subconsciously buy into that belief that all of society sees white people as, kindly, approachable and benevolent. Many of us are just that, and many people do view us in that way, but we should not feel automatically entitled to it. I also now understand how quite a number of Black Americans do not see whites as anything other than oppressors. Obviously history shows us why that might be the case.
While I felt very sad that my family could not seem to make a positive connection with this one mother and child on our shopping trip, it reminds me of the larger world and how difficult our journey as a transracial family will be. We will meet negatives and perceptions of us based on other experiences, and it will be a lot more uncomfortable that just not having someone respond positively when you great them. The most I can do as a parent is recognize those times, and talk to my children about them, and why I believe they occur.
Later in the car I let the kids know that perhaps the lady and her son did not know how to feel about a family like our own. I explained that maybe some other people had made this mom angry, and seeing us reminded her of that, but it was not really about us, or who we are at all. Then to lighten it up I told them that I bet if we could sit with that mom and son on the Dr. Phil show, for just ten minutes and talk to each other, that we could most likely come away as friends. They all had to laugh at that because they think Dr. Phil is ridiculous, and can never figure out why their mom watches him anyway!
In all honesty though, I wish the future was going to be so easy.