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.