This post was originally published at Racialicious on June 15, 2006.
by Jen Chau
Nice story in the Christian Science Monitor — a mom of mixed and transracially adopted kids reflects on a time when she took a stranger’s solemn staring as an act of hostility, but was instead pleasantly surprised.
…it was quite an experience going out in public with them. My husband and I were sometimes asked if we were baby-sitting, if we were foster parents, or, once, if we were “dragging all the neighborhood children along with us.”
I remember us sitting in a restaurant having lunch as a family. Halfway through the meal, I saw an elderly woman looking over at our table. She continued to stare, and then leaned over and spoke to her husband, who also began staring in our direction. I told my husband quietly, “They’re talking about the kids.” He watched them for a while. “You’re right,” he said, “but just ignore them.” Easy to say, tough to do – they weren’t smiling, and they didn’t look like particularly tolerant people.
Finally, they stood up to leave and headed straight for our table. I sat as tall as I could. The woman looked me straight in the eye and said, “We just wanted to tell you, your children are the most well-behaved children we have ever seen in a restaurant. They’re just beautiful. I wish my grandchildren would sit so nicely and had manners like yours do!”
Her words caused me to shed tears of humility and gratitude. I had made a judgment about her based on her race, her age, and her actions.
I was wrong on all three counts, and it taught me a lesson I still remember 25 years later: Although it may be easier to categorize people based on what we see with our eyes, it requires contact and communication, even if it’s only at the most basic level, before we can begin to read what is in a person’s heart.
Cheesy but true. And an interesting depiction of how mixed people/mixed families are in situations where they are on the defensive. It’s a shame that the automatic reaction of so many of us is, “oh, they are probably racist and disgusted by me/my family.” Unfortunately, still, a lot of our mixed families receive negative feedback, so it doesn’t surprise me that this mom assumed that the staring was malicious.