Is it just me?

My mother always told me not to stare, but I soon realized that’s not always possible. So I decided that at the very least, if one must silently judge another, it absolutely should not be done blatantly. And never, ever, with one’s mouth hanging open. (That’s just rude!) But I guess everybody wasn’t taught that, because this guy at the playground was ogling my kids as if he was a wolf in man's clothing, staring at my children like they were running around in red capes. Instinctively, I peeled myself off the park bench and made it my business to know why.

As I got closer, we made eye-contact and I realized he was smiling. Creepy? Yes — but not in the way that made me want to call the police (just yet).

“Your children, they are all so...different.” At least his tongue wasn't hanging out.

“They are,” I forced politely. My mother also taught me not to talk to strangers, but I’m grown now and I didn’t really appreciate his comments. I resented his taking a moment to point out how his ethnic group was “normal” and mine was “not”.

“I might not even know they’re all related, “ he chuckled, as if it was any business of his in the first place.

“They’re actually siblings.” I’m sure that whatever attempt I made at smiling back at him was canceled out by the fact that I was bracing myself – hard – for his next question.

“What race is the father?”

Bingo! “My husband’s mixed, actually…his mom is black and his dad is Irish American.” It came out with a sigh that was barely audible, but I couldn’t have cared less if he’d heard me.

“Unbelievable!” he marveled, “All the same dad?”

“All the same dad.” I repeated after him, just in case he was actually and undercover casting-agent for Maury Povitch. And then for some reason, I felt the need to keep talking, as if I had to have the last word on a subject that really had no conclusion to begin with. “If you really look at all three of them, they look alike…the twins actually look a lot like both sides of our families.” I was stammering like a Mormon tour guide at a sex toy museum. I hated explaining something so basic to complete strangers, as if my life is actually some great big science experiment.

“Twins!” he squealed in amazement. “On top of that, they’re twins?!” He giggled gleefully. “So different and both so unique!”

“Thanks.” Of course they are. But not for the reason you think, moron.

When I gave birth to two perfect babies with complexions as strikingly different as Hillary and Barack’s, I knew that the world might not instantly see that they’re actually brother and sister. But I never thought that perfect strangers would have the audacity to comment on this difference time and time again. I assumed most people — of any race — already knew that black people weren’t actually “black” and that the range of skin tones within the ethnicity could put Crayola out of business. But ever since day one, from the playground to the pediatrician’s, perfect strangers insisted on piping in: “They look so different!” or “You’d never even know they were related!”.

Or other things, like how different their hair textures were. It’s honestly left me often wondering if half the country flunked eighth-grade biology. At the very least eleventh-grade history, when were supposed to have learned about the “peculiar institution” of slavery.

Slowly, I began to gather up our belongings. Enough already. I shoved my son’s Curious George ball in my tote bag and started searching for my youngest daughter’s shoe. We might have to leave here without it, I thought, but at least we’ll go home with our dignity. I was so tired of protecting my beloveds from a world that sees them as anomalies, so angry at all of the supposedly educated people who felt the need to make a spectacle of them instead of seeing them for who and what they really are.

“It’s so amazing what happens when the races are blended together — you never know what you’ll get!”

“You’re right, you never know.” I said matter-of-factly as I fished my daughter’s mary jane from a puddle.

“So fascinating,” he smiled humbly, “so beautiful.”


earthiegirl said...

Screw him. Ignorant people suck and the worse part is they don't think they are doing anything wrong. Than you start thinking maybe I am overreacting, no you are not Before I cut my locs strangers would try and touch them all the time. My eyes would say Motherfucker do I look like an animal in zoo, but of course ignorant fools can't don't speak non verbal. Just beware soon ignorant strangers will what to touch the twins hair. You are going to have to teach them the pull back move.


Yvette said...

Interesting you felt the need to continue the conversation--Otherwise you never would have gotten to this: “So fascinating,” he smiled humbly, “so beautiful.”

Well, as another mother of twins--both little Black girls who often have their hair in braids, twists, or puffs--I know something of what this attention is like. I recommend deep breaths!

As your little ones get older you will find ways to help them deal with this (often annoying and intrusive) commentary and attention.

Thank you for sharing this slice of interaction!

Los Angelista said...

What a creepy, racist guy. I know you've got to be so sick of hearing this about your kids.

Teendoc said...

Fuck him. You're kids aren't some white person's observational science project. I don't care if he ended up calling them beautiful. He was objectifying them by his blatant staring as if they were something other than human. You are better than me. I probably would have said something decidedly caustic.

Doulala said...

It's even more frustrating when we get these type of comments from "our own". I have had more people of color than I care to count ask me if I'm SURE I'm not mixed with something.
My children are bi-racial (Hubby is Italian-American). I've also been asked at a Mocha Moms playgroup "Are you sure they have they same father? That one doesn't even look mixed".
Ignorance can be across the board.

Aly Cat 121 said...

*looking into camera* races blended together? Please, try blending black on black and see what you get. Yeah, some folks just need to get the hell out more. You shoulda told his azz they were all triplets and joined together at the head. Didn't he see that episode on the Discovery Channel? Mo'fo!

Anali said...

What a mess he is. You must have a very plesant demeanor, because the look that I would have given him would have scared him away.

LiveWithoutaNanny said...

I am white and my husband is Mexican-American, our 4 kids include 2 fair skinned redheads (and I'm italian/mixed and NOT fair skinned...go figure)a tanwy dirty blonde and a brunette that actually verges on brown like her dad...oh, the comments. "Does the dad have red hair?" (said to my husband, the dad, when he is holding the redhead) "How many Dads?" (that's always fun to answer)...but I think more often than not, its plain old ignorance that is to blame for these jaw-dropping remarks. Sometimes I have to laugh at the assumptions people make. In your case, the guy/offender obviously hasn't had much exposure to mixed children or people, I happen to agree that they are the most exquisite to behold :) He just didn't know that your sexual/procreating habits are none of his business.

I'm enjoying your blog.

Stilla Momma said...

Yeah so fascinating and beautiful like a national geographic special. Get the heck outta here with that crap. Anyone who has been anywhere or seen anything knows that everyone comes in different hues. Heck, even white kids with both parents blonde haired and blue eyed can produce a red-headed green eyed child (recessive traits, basic biology, you DORK) Sorry, first time poster, found you from Teendoc.

Hi :) Like your blog :) lol

Deathstar said...

Good grief, is this is what I have to look forward to? Hi, found your blog through Teendoc and I am awaiting a bi-racial child through adoption. Have you considered having biology 101 sheets printed up?

Me said...

Hey Meera,

You know we're always channeling the same issues. I just wrote about this for an anthology collection, the fact that my two bi-racial boys are also two different colors with two different hair textures and that means people always have to comment on it!

But here's the thing. I do the same thing too. I'm obsessed with finding other folks with the same or similar family make-up (meaning, multi-colorful). So yep that's me staring at the mother in my neighborhood with one "Black" child and one Blonde child. If my kids aren't with me, she probably just thinks I'm one more with issues. But really I just want to run up to her and go "you too?" "How do you deal with it?" She is probably afraid of me.

But the point is, not that your "friend" at the park was in the right, but biology is pretty freakin' awesome and when something unusual or unique catches us by surprise, isn't it normal to react in some way?

I'm not saying that your family or mine or anyone else's should be on display just because we have different skin tones, but at the same time is there some place for understanding the fascination. It's kind of like how I feel about the Black hair thing. Yes it's annoying that people have to ask, "How do you do that?" but if they don't know, they've got to ask.

Oh my God I am so writing too much here. I guess I just wanted to confess my own sins and try to make a case for those of us who are annoyed by the very same comments, but also guilty of noticing the differences in others too.

Keep writing!


Maia said...

What amazes me is just how casually a perfect stranger thinks they can talk to you about these highly personal things (like, um, YOUR CHILDREN!). I mean - how many more hot issues could he have pressed? Race, your sex life (as in, "They have the same father?") and YOUR KIDS!!! I think it's hard to talk to strangers - and I am shocked by people who can just come up and start asking questions and chatting away like they've known you your whole life. The lack of basic manners is amazing to me.

Christopher Chambers said...

We were at a Superbowl party not in podunk but downtown Washington DC and all of the pilgrims (white folks) wanted to touch my kid's hair. Another remarked "Well, you know he'll be more a professor or a lawyer than a linebacker, right?" (darker skinned folk take note at the implications) We left. These were my wife's coworkers. Hardly peckerwoods. Yuppies who've gentrified DC. Same people who, just yesterday as I saw a group of them (we were all playing hooky and invading the first round NCAA games in DC) were noting that if Barack Obama was more like Lebron James, white people wouldn't feel as "threatened." Yes, I said, an apolitical numbskulled spoiled athlete. A trained blackseal who makes millions instead of a raw herring or squid. Fuck you. They were shocked. They truly don't have a clue...

BasNoir said...

I concur with doulala. I've gotten this nonsense from black folks. I've had folks ask me in front of my children (?!@#$) if they all have the same father. Have had Black Cubans and other out-of-towners fawn over the lighter, long-haired one and not even try to find a compliment for my chocolate girl.

And of course when my dad takes his grandkids out- the shenanigans really start. He is very dark and they are almost white to chocolate, some with hazel eyes to boot. If he has one of the lighter ones and he is by himself, some folk make like they want to call the police.
When and if white folks comment, they tell me how beautiful all my children are. Period.

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Bjefrz said...

I'm a 42 year old bi-racial (white mom, black dad) guy, and have 2 beautiful young children. They get stares all the time, but very infrequently questions. We live in the Oakland CA area, and sometimes it seems that everyone is some unusual mix or other. That's one of the reasons why we love it here.

That said, please understand that many white people are in very unfamiliar territory discussing issues of race. They really don't get it. I know it's hard, but sometimes we can gain a great deal by educating folk. (I'd start with "never ask ANY woman if all of her kids have the same daddy - that's just rude").

I've been educating people - white, black, asian and latino - about race my whole life. I've made some very good friends that way, and found many that I want to avoid.

My best advice to anyone in the same situation is to listen to your gut. Flee from people who feel unsafe; but talk with those who feel right. Some of our best allies in this fight against racism are converts from the other side.

Anonymous said...

Curiosity my ass.

Sometimes I wish we were allowed to tase people who say rude and totally inappropriate things.

lg said...

great article. i think this is why my good friend( black woman married a german guy- they have 3 boys) is scared to leave LA; she does not want to encounter this craziness. it is so weird that someone would ask if the kids have the same father. that is just rude and speaks volumes about our society's fascination with black female bodies/sexuality/etc etc. for example- the myriad of new stories on black women and teenage pregnancy or marriage rates for black women. some of the issues black women and black families face are shared by many but it is taboo to look in the closets of non-minorities (white folks) and discuss their family life decisions, sex lives, and other private matters
lisa g
spelman sister no kids no hubbie

Sarasvati50 said...

Seems a lot of people missed basic 8th grade biology and genetics class. They act like it is something amazing when human beings are able to blend and mix in different ways. Man acted like he was from another planet and had never noticed people of color before. What an idiot he was in his efforts to be complimentary. Jackass...

Charonda said...

ARGGGGGHHHH! Im screaming inside because I totally connected to this post!!!!

Candis said...

I just found this link. Oh Basnoir!! My (now adult) son is the sweet milk chocolate, and my (also adult) daughter is the light-skinned, green-eyed dream. It would infuriate me when people would praise her looks and only give him a perfunctory hello. It was wrenching to see my little boy's obvious discomfort in the face of his sister's preening while strangers complimented her.
It hurt their relationship, and to this day I believe her narcissism was fueled by the ignorant fawning of some whites, but mostly blacks.
I never compliment children on their appearance--only their behavior.

Cindy said...

Hello, just tripped on your blog. We have triplet boys from Ethiopia. One fraternal and a matching pair. Fraternal baby looks very different from his brothers. Lots of hair, different texture, much taller, and just . . . different. My boss actually had the nerve to ask me if their biological mother (not me) was impregnated by two different fathers. And my boss did not flunk 8th grade biology--he has a PhD in genetics! My heart sank that anybody would start speculating about my boys (and their mother!) like this (and I know others have!).

The funny thing is, fraternal baby has beautiful big kinky hair (brothers barely beyond bald still) and he's a little bit darker (something many folks felt they needed to point out to me when we first got home with the boys) and he's the one who gets the most attention from white folks. They love his hair, go on about how totally cute he is, when his brothers are right there and equally gorgeous. I guess because he looks exotic to them and exotic is in. Interesting. . . but a little sad too because *all three* of my boys are incredible.

Kayla said...

Hey Meena,

I understand your frustration. I mean this complete stranger pries himself into your life and thinks he knows everything about you. But to say that he is uneducated is absurd. As a Caucasian female with Caucasian parents I don't know any different. Maybe the stranger is just curious because he doesn't have a biracial family. You should try to see where he was coming from.

Just a thought.

Not just a Mommy! said...

I've just discovered your blog and this post it so hitting home for us. My husband is mixed, black and white, and his daughter's mother is white, and my step daughter is blond and blue-eyed. Whenever we introduce her as our daughter, the quizzical looks are predictable, but the comments like "are you sure she's yours?" are painfully ignorant. My husband's family is a wonderful racial mix, and my two boys benefit from all, and know there is a difference between us and think nothing of it, but I'm so afraid of comments made about their sister when they are around. We also live in a small town in Washington, and my boys as black children are anomolies as well, getting their heads rubbed because their hair feels different, the stares, so on and so forth. The ignorance that is still prevelant even in this day of instant gratification with the Internet, and so many TV shows with a radiant hue of people is so amazing to me. Even my cornrows of synthetic hair make me the rage out here.

Anonymous said...

So why is his inquiry so rude and your comment about Mormon tour guide...not judgemental? What goes around comes around, sugar.

ali said...

we are caucasian with 3 bio kids, an adopted haitian born son and a full african american baby boy adopted from Arkansas. our AA son is as light as we are with blondish/redish hair, even though both parents are full AA(medium toned, i would say). we live in NH, and i must say, people are so...PC here. so respectful, regardless of race. people look, smile and move on most of the time. ONE woman told us he looks like an albino, and she was black, and she wasn't rude in the least. people never mean to be rude. we/they are really just plain curious and assume we love talking about our kids. i think the guy was just....i don't know. goofy? when people look at the baby, then look at me, then look at him i just say "yah, i know" & laugh.

Angela said...

WOW. What gets me is that he just kept on commenting/questioning (?!). Some people just don't know when to stop. And the part that bothers me the most is that our kids are HEARING them. Sometimes I think people like that really don't think our kids have ears!

I just stumbled onto your blog - soooo many stories I've heard like yours (along with some of my own). Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

Mieke said...

This is an interesting issue. I have two boys. They look nothing alike and one has curly hair, the other straight. The one with curly hair is constantly being touched - it is beautiful hair. I have never been asked about their father -but people do comment about how different they look and how crazy that is. This doesn't feel any more strange to me than when people ask my sister, who is two years younger, if we are twins and marvel at our similarities.

My sons and I also had a lot of questions when they were young because they used sign language before they spoke and people would ask us if they were Deaf and comment on the beauty of sign language.

I realize that it may be because of my race and experience, but I always viewed it as the desire for people/strangers to connect with each other.


Kalisha said...

Thanks for sharing your story...it's hard when people judge and oggle, but it seems that he was just interested and wanted to learn what was different.

Your blog name attracted me (from My Brown Baby) because since having my two biracial girls I have gotten stares and comments of other nannies at the park thinking I'm the nanny and much worse the babysitter because I look so young. My youngest daughter was very light comlexted and I always got wierd stares especially when I put your on the boob! That would be my secret weapon--like HA! You didn't think she was mine--but now you know :-)

We will face these challenges through out their lives I'm sure, but it is the way we handle them that counts...you handled your situation perfectly. Don't feel like you are explaining your children--but more of teaching other's.

I've even had little kids question whether I was the Mommy of my girls. I just tell them that I'm black and their dad is white and when you mix colors you get something different.

In our family we call each other chocolate, vanilla, and mocha. All very special unique!

Hope to come back soon--

Kalisha said...

I have written a post on this subject too...http://mommylounge.wordpress.com/2008/05/13/im-chocolateim-chocolate/

Let me know what you think!

anon from DC said...

Agree with some parts of all these comments. First - wtf?!? Who asks someone about their children's parentage? Go to hell.

Second, as someone else said, I too am fascinated by biological variation. Especially now that I am part of a multi-racial couple - I always am always fascinated by mixed kids (I try not to act like a stalker though, and since I am from D.C., the black/white mix is pretty blase to me by now)

third, let's face it - we are all somewhat prejudiced, as someone above pointed out about your mormon comment. none of us is above it.

trust me, black kids in my school were just as wierded out at me little lone white girl as woman above said folks in Washington state are.

Laura said...

I am white with a mixed daughter and the comment I always get (in Utah) is "when did you get her?" I respond "she's mine" They respond "we know but how old was she?" I say " I had her" "Oh but where did she come from?" When I'm frustrated I'll say "what is it can you not picture black and white together? is it that difficult for you to wrap your mind around?" It can be really frustrating. Now I'm a single adopting from Ethiopia. Do you think they'll ever wrap their mind around that?

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