Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Walking in Someone Else's Shoes

You know when something is so obvious and yet when it knocks you upside the head you feel like you've experienced a revelation? Doesn't ever happen to you? Well, it happened to me the other day.

My husband came home to tell me yet another "funny" story of how a White woman treated him kind of strangely when she realized that his son was kind of colored. In a nutshell, my husband was inquiring about some graduate classes at one of the local colleges here in Philadelphia. At the end of his meeting with the representative from the admissions office, the woman (described as a well-dressed, older, White woman) mentioned that there would be an Open House this weekend that my husband was welcome to attend, adding that there would be refreshments and live music. She then glanced at my son who had been quietly waiting for his father to finish and she stumbled in speech as she said, "And you can bring your," she paused here, my husband said, looked at my son again, and continued, "partner or significant other, too." My husband wondered why she didn't just say 'wife?' Did having a son who is obviously Black-ish, mean he eschewed marriage? Did she assume he might be gay and this little brown child had two daddies?

I certainly wasn't offended and el esposo and I laughed about it, but that's when the big realization hit me. And I know, this is a big duh, but all this time I've been writing about ME, ME ME, I never really connected the dots of my husband's experiences and realized what a crazy life he lives when he and my older son go out in public together. I mean, I know sometimes strange things happen, but I've never stopped to think how that makes my husband feel. The White guy with the brown son. What assumptions do people make? What looks do they shoot his way? What kind of treatment is he given for crossing over to the dark side?

One time he was in the lobby of my son's dance school and he ran into a woman he'd recently met. She apparently had a child in a different class that met at the same time. They made small talk and then she asked my husband which child belonged to him. When he pointed out our son, she barely managed to mask her surprise and her clumsy comeback, was, "Oh, I didn't know he had curly hair." Excuse me? My husband has also been asked where he adopted my son from, and of course there was the proudly racist cab driver from Columbia who was ferrying my husband and son to school in Brooklyn one day and spent the whole ride explaining why he hated Black people!

It can't be easy to be in that position and yet I've never thought too terribly much about it. I mean we've talked in grand terms and theories about the extra responsibilities a White man has raising Black children, but I've never put myself in his shoes, never thought about what he feels when he walks down the street with his son whose deep-caramel colored skin and kinky-curly hair makes them look unrelated at first glance. Is it different for a man? Is it different for a man who hasn't grown up in this peculiar country of ours?

Perhaps I'll ask el esposo to post his thought here one day. But in the meantime, I'm wondering if some of you readers who are White with brown children can tell us a bit about what it feels like to walk in your shoes. I'm listening.



meeshtastic said...

My hubby-to-be and I don't have kids yet, but I often wonder what his experience is as the "white" half of us. I don't know how the whole kid situation will play out....

Such a thought-provoking post.

JBH said...

Oooo, girl - now you MUST read "Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?" by Donna Jackson Nakazawa:-)! These are exactly the issues she tackles (as the "white" member of their multiracial family).

And it's so interesting how that woman uses the PC term of "partner/significant other." My husband and I had this discussion the other day. He said, "Doesn't anybody use the term wife/husband anymore?" But the people to whom he was referring are a hetero-couple who are not married and having a baby:-) And lots of the families in our school have parents who don't "match" their children...and they ARE lesbian/gay couples:-)

Good post! Good questions!

Ola said...

Interesting post. I felt myself very interested in your husband’s opinions while reading your book and it is one of the reason’s I started following your blog. I am the type that always wants to know what all parties involved are thinking/feeling. I don’t seem to be satisfied without knowing both sides of some issue..*sigh* people kinda find it exhausting…lol.

Anywho I can’t believe that woman! Why the heck couldn’t she just say “and you are welcome to bring family or friends!” THERE that takes care of everybody…..goodness!
Also, I’m not trying to stir the pot or anything but you mention that your son is black, does your hubby think so or does he say “my mixed kids?” I’ve always sort of wondered about this. Growing up we always referred to mixed people (no matter the mix) as “browning” or ”douglah”. “Douglah” was mostly used for people of Indian (from India) and African ethnicity. No one identified with just one race if they were mixed.
Great post!

me said...

Great questions. As a white woman, I was nervous when I was pregnant that I would have a child that "wouldn't look like me." My daughter (now almost 2) is light-skinned and I have been surprised at how few blatant questions about our relationship or her racial background strangers have asked. I often wonder what people think about our relationship or her racial background. Or if they think anything at all. And how I feel about either being true.

Even though they don't ask explicit questions about my daughter's race, people are continuously fascinated by her hair (shockingly enough). She has thick dark cigar curls. I have straight brown hair. People often ask me if "her father has curly hair" (which, first of all, assumes that she's biologically related to me and her father). This one always stumps me. Is this really what they want to know? Are they asking more about her racial background? And how to respond?

Quiskaeya said...

Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog! You are always welcome to come back at anytime and comment. :) I will definately be back to your blog again.

Interestingly enough I posted a similar topic on my blog last week. It was titled "Mama's brown. Son's tan. Got Confusion?" You've raised a very interesting question regarding what the husband must feel or what is his experience.

I think coming from the minority perspective it's easier for me to deal with "crazy people" comments and reactions. Minority at some point in our lives we will have to face some sort of racism - whether blatant or subtle. However, for white men (being at the top of the imaginary hierarchy of race) they can easily go their entire lives and never know what racism is or have to deal with questions about their race.

Although, I've spoken to my husband about this at length, he always blows it off that it's no big deal. Still I wonder if it gets him a tad bit annoyed that any would question him about his relationship with his child.

Anonymous said...

As a white mother with a brown son (adoption) and a white daughter (I birthed), I have experienced all sorts of looks, comments, questions, you name it. I also find that I encounter different dynamics when I am out with just one of either of my children, or when we are all out with my white husband. I got much less attention before my daughter was born and just my son and I were out. But now, people can't quite figure out how we all got together.

When we lived in the American South, people asked rude backwards ways, trying to get the "story" without being too forward. Now I live in Australia and I've had strangers stop me on the street to ask if my children have two different fathers. I have experienced more direct and relentless questioning here than anywhere else.

I can understand that our family sticks out and draws attention, but I have trouble understanding the liberty people feel to ask personal questions. And it is a constant effort to protect my children from the message that we "don't match" or that my son doesn't "belong", because that's what people are implying all the time.

LT said...

At least you're already thinking about it.

JBH, Thanks for the book suggestion I'll add it to my list. And yeah the whole husband/wife labels are seeming to become outdated.

Ola, Never apologize for being exhausting! That's what makes me a good storyteller. I always want to know all sides of the story and if I can't get them, I make them up. That's why I'm thinking I should be a novelist:)

Me, It is always about the hair isn't it!

Thanks for stopping by! And you make a really good point in that being Black, we're kind of used to the looks, but White people, men especially can be thrown for a real identity crisis when they are suddenly scrutinized by the color of their children's skin. It must be really mind-altering. But as your husband indicates, some men just don't let it bother them. Interesting.

Kohana, I was just reading your blog and read some of the ways your son has been feeling "his difference." It really doesn't help that people can be sooooo rude and insensitive. I understand curiosity, but keep it to yourself.

Anonymous said...

Colombia, the country, is spelled with two O's.

My daughter is adopted from Colombia with Cafe con leche skin. Beautiful.

People assume all sorts of things when we are out in Public. Reading other people's experiences is always reassuring.

I'm just finishing up Kinky Gazpacho. Great Job!

Spring @ forever spring said...

I'm white, with Asian, African, and mixed race kids. Get a lot of comments, looks, etc. My experiences are very different, based on whether I'm alone, with my husband, or with the kids. Rather than make a super long comment, I described some of it here:

Highly Conspicuous Family

Love this topic, Lori. !Vamos a ver lo que dice el esposo!

Rose-Anne Clermont said...

You know, I blogged about the different treatment my husband gets with our kids. Like our kids always get free sausages at the butcher (a German custom) with my husband. When I'm with them, at the same butcher, they never get them. . .it's interesting. I think my kids are seen as cute half German kids with my husband and simply as "immigrant kids" when they're with me. . .