"You don't look 'American'…and are you the nanny?" More Bullshit at the Playground

This is my weekly non-vegan rant focusing on race and whiteness in the USA. IT just takes a few minutes at the playground with my newborn and 2.5 year old to get some “well-meaning” white woman to insult me by ‘complimenting’ me about the whiteness of my children and how I don’t look ‘black’ (yet I also don’t look American).

This is not an anomaly. This bullshit happens all the time and I’m just sharing it right now because it’s just been one of those weeks….

To those who thought I should have called her shit out: You’re right! I am still stuck in this “I should be compassionate to everyone including those ignant folk who racistly hurt my feelings” mode. I talked to my mother after it happened and she basically said or made several points:

(1) Amie (that’s what she calls me), If I reacted to all the racist shit white people have said to me, I’d be (a) in jail and/or (b) dead from high blood pressure. This is why so many black and brown people in the USA have high blood pressure.

(2) You’re right Amie about wondering if that lady would have mistaken you for the nanny if you had been a white woman. That is what white female privilege means: you can have a multi-ethnic child or even a “white” looking child and you will never been seen as a ‘servant’ to that child, only their capable mother. As a black woman, you are a capable nanny, buy rarely seen as a capable mother.

(3) Raise your children the way I raised you: to love yourself and everyone and not be a judgmental racist, colorist, etc. You’ll get stupid people who identify as white who say racist things to your children. And believe me, at this point in life, Eva Luna looks like she’ll be seen as ‘white’ by most white people. When she’s in school, she will probably be in a situation in which she is around all white children and they may very well start talking about black people and maybe even refer to us as “niggers” . You’ll have to train her to fight back and stick up for herself and your family. This is what it means to live in an ongoing white racist USA… and don’t think you’ll also be exempt from colorism by black folk who bother her about her being not black enough.

She reminded me how, when my parents first moved to our all white rural town in New England, the white man who came over to fill the oil tank for the heater asked, “How can YOU people afford to live here and buy a house?” She said my father told him to leave. Wow, such white entitlement to say that to my mom and dad.

So, maybe this this isn’t really a non-vegan ‘rant’… I remind myself to eat healthy vegan foods, especially my green kale smoothies with spirulina, avocado, fresh ginger, and maca root in the morning. It helps me with the physical stress in life, particularly when dealing with racist situations and feeling my blood boil. I hope I can teach my babies many methods to heal our souls and psyches and bodies from perpetual racism and normative whiteness and neocolonialism. I tell them to try to remember to be compassionate and loving to yourself and when you don’t feel well, are angry, upset, etc, nourish your soul with some green smoothies, kale chips, or a cup of nourishing mineral tea. So, here I go to make a kale maca Spirulina smoothie for all of us…

24 thoughts on “"You don't look 'American'…and are you the nanny?" More Bullshit at the Playground

  1. As a (bigger) brown woman with very coarse curly hair I can tell you: if people are over 50, let the comments go. Anything younger, speak your mind firmly and politely. People under a certain age should know better (at the very least not to open their mouths to say certain things). I’ve had the nanny question at the playground w/nieces/nephews and the “do you work here?” question in grocery stores and supermarkets.

    As for your children, let me tell you: they will NOT be treated as white folks. I’m sorry to tell you but they will not be safeguarded. My nephews/nieces, also mixed and light-skinned like yours, are not considered “white.” They do get certain white discourse privileges,as yours will, but they are related to as “mixed” (a whole discursive pathology on to its own) and I suspect your children will have to learn to live with complicated, rather than “safe”, interactions.

  2. I could be your grandma, Breeze. I remember similar shit–because my babies were light,” one a blue-eyed blond-throw-backs they were called as father and I are brown. I am feeling the rage all over again. Your mother is right, but some of us do get the HBP. I’ve wanted to grab them and hide in a high mountain We have to handle the ignorance, our ancestors have–and try to make it better for the children. Sadly, all we have is hope that the paradigm will change–some day.

    My granddaughters, one w/Irish mother, two w/Korean mother, will have challenges. We must affirm, and TEACH, so that these children will survive and succeed, Damn the obstacles, full brain ahead.

    I think it will be healthy-as well as the Spirulina–to surround the children with a variety of cohorts–and do not run-away from the obstacles–in a loving way, of course.

  3. Also (sorry about the back to back post), I DO think white Europeans have even less of a compunction about making race comments than counterparts in this country (doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about them).

    How about a disarmingly polite “Well, would you not think my children are beautiful if they had brown eyes?” or “Are you saying that black people with broad noses are not beautiful?”. You will either a) give her food for thought in case it truly hasn’t even occurred to her and/or b) call her on her own racist BS that she KNOWS she is getting away with.

    On another note, I will ask you: How can we as human beings express curiosity or admiration for different types of color/features without degradation or the baggage of race/colonial power relations? Can we appreciate rare red hair or Indian/Persian yellow eye shades without devaluing the universal brown of hair/eyes and yes, skin (which the overwhelming majority of humanity has, including myself)? Can we appreciate rare color and phenotype combinations through/in spite of the baggage of exoticism and “orientalism”(I realize that rarity is also contingent on time/place/context)? After, all, beauty and aesthetics are not, never have been and never will be a ‘neutral’ field in human history annals. Furthermore, we don’t fall in love, exclusively, “on personality.” It is very difficult to engage in this dialogue given the thicket of racism in both socio-economic as well as discursive terms, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. For instance, I think really red hair is gorgeous and I realize I sometimes have been curious about getting up close and examining a strand of such hair when I see someone with a particularly lush mane. Obviously, I’m not going to approach a stranger and “entitle” myself to their physical body as I’ve had others do regarding my own hair. How, then, again, can we, even in a very unfinished world tarnished by racism, appreciate and admire physical distinction and rarity without it being interpreted as “racist”.

  4. Breeze, a white, privileged friend of mine (well, her mother is half-Pakistani, but Heather looks as white as an Appalachian kid) is married to a Ugandan and they have a beautiful child, Iris. Once Heather was asked by a white woman if she was the parent or if the child was adopted, because heaven forbid, how could a white woman be the mother of a mulatto child. I think people just spout off from their gut without thinking so often – truly subtle deeply ingrained racist tendencies, no doubt. .

  5. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me where I was from I would be rich. I typically say Texas and then they uncomfortably say, oh, I mean…then I explain that my ancestors help found cities in Texas before the fall of the Alamo and they were from the Canary Islands – part of Spain on my mom’s side and that I am Mexican on my dad’s.

    I mostly get are you, Italian, Greek, but not Mexican. When I say I am Mexican, I have heard “well, that’s okay.”

    Anyhow, yes, your mom is right that your sweet Eva Luna might hear racist comments when she is young – I have had that happen to me all my life. I wish when I was young, I had been told how to handle it. I know Eva Luna will have your wisdom on her side.

    And btw, what is “looking American?” First of all, America includes Mexico and all of South and Central America and when you consider the USA is a country of immigrants – what do WE look like?

    Okay, sorry for my rant. Love, lauren

    1. laurenornelas– “rant?” if you/were not entitled who is?. I love confounding idiots with, “I am African-European and Indigenous–and we were here before the colonials.”

      Remembering a Mexican-American student whose family looked down on “dirty Indians.” After my history course he returned, two years later to say, “Thank you for teaching me that I am Indian.” He had bragged of Aztec. he finally made the connection.

      Our educational system do a terrible job. Arizona, and its followers are despicable.

      Two years ago a white man asked, “Were you always this light?’ I’m plain American “Colored.” like many. This was Florida. G-r-r-r.

  6. I hope that a few of the white-privileged folks who don’t ‘get it,’ but are curious to understand, will eventually see your video, which so clearly shows the frustration, painfulness, and unfairness of the situation.

    One of the points often missed in mainstream discussions is how the intentionality of racism is not the issue–an individual with ‘good’ intentions still reflects the whole hierarchy of stratified privilege divvied out by assigned categories such as race. As you mention, Breeze, this won’t be the last time. Because it’s not just one obnoxious or flawed person, or even just a separate group of ‘those racist people’ who could perhaps be avoided or dismissed. Even those superficially courteous white (or other privileged) individuals who know better than to ‘use the wrong words’ will still act on the basis of pervasive assumptions arising out of our unjust social reality.

    1. Final comment. Whqt comes to mind is the unexpectedness of these assaults. After the fact, I have, always, been able to construct an appropriate response to the racism.These assault are unexpected. I can not recall one not being so. I think this has led to the “angry black” concept. an armor of expectation grows This is stress of a high order.

      The very first time i was called a racial name I was riding my bicycle when a previously, friendly white neighbor called from behind her porch,”You ol’ brown nigger.” First and last time for that one. We were, probably eight years old.

  7. First I would like to say, I just discovered your blog and enjoy reading your posts.

    Second… I have had the same kind of week. I hear ya!

    I am a 44 year old stay at home mother of 3 boys (mixed – my husband is white) 10, 5 & 3. I don’t think of the current racial climate as being any better than what my grandmothers spoke of ‘when they were my age’… its just different.

    I’m just taking it one day at a time and making sure my boys NEVER forget who they are and our history.

    1. Dalyn H,
      I agree with your grandmother. It’s like an old TV program,” Dragnet.” The actor would say, “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

      Ignorance does not change. We must shake our heads and laugh–when we recover enough–and roll with the punches. The deep wound-annoyance remains–but we learn to deal with it. After awhile, the surprise/shock can be anticipated. We are Strong–and superior.

  8. This is beyond ignorant and laced with racist thinking on the Parisian woman’s part. I can’t believe that she said that to and thought it was a compliment. I also don’t understand why she thought that you weren’t American because of your facial features. Africa (and black people in general for the matter) is the most diverse continent on the planet in regards to phenotype and ethnic groups. When ignorant people want to bring up “you don’t look ‘black” thing it’s because they have a set view of how they think black women (in general) look like. It’s also offensive that she was confused that those were your kids. I can understand your frustrations.

    I have gotten a few comment like that too. My dad is from Eritrea and my mom is African American and I have been told that I “don’t look black” or “you look like a black person with brown skin.” Too much ignorance. It’s always good to vent out problems that bother you. Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman! I hope things get better for your family. Hopefully when your kids will grow up in a more excepting environment when they reach school age.

  9. My cousin is half white, one quarter black, and one quarter Asian, and through some interesting twist in genetics, her two little girls have thin red hair and extremely pale skin. I’ve heard her speaking about these type of conversations, but was aghast at a stranger who straight-up asked her how the adoption went and what age she “got” her children. Another assumed I was their mother since I’m white, though I was only fifteen years old at the time. Somehow that was easier for the stranger to accept, but it made me sick.

  10. @Elle, that is how I felt. Deeply sick, physically, spiritually, and psychically.

    @everyone . Also, when some “post-racial” folk tell me that I should get over it because, “Well, it’s just one little incident”, it’s not understood that this is incident number 1000. It’s cumulative and occurs all the time throughout many non-white racialized people’s lives in the USA. It’s a type of repetitive assault on one’s spirit that eventually takes its toll on most; see the plethora of peer reviewed journal articles and books that show the physical manifestations of racism on the health of black people (high blood pressure for example). I am not sure about other groups who are non-white racialized, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they too suffered from health problems from the stress of everyday racism and normative whiteness.

    1. it is amazing how so many are eager to dismiss experience by calling it “one incident,” etc. There is a deep fear of learning anything that is unwanted by dismissal. The use of the term “anecdotal” makes my blood boil. It is used to denigrate the value of an individual, and her/his validity, It is lazy thinking (if that is what it is.)

      Reporting a delayed allergic reaction my allergist, he said, “We’re trained to discount a reaction that occurs more than ___minutes after the exposure.” So, every human body reacts, precisely, by the clock. G-r-r.

  11. OM MANI PAD ME HUM – I live in New York and it’s bad here too and I’m not even inter-racial, but have white guys bothering me constantly. My birth certificate says “colored”. I always tells them I’d rather be friends. Too much stress for me. Their women are RUDE! And then there are the African and Caribes that think black Americans, or whatever they call them now-a-days, are below whites and will call you the “N” word also. Stay strong and may all the multi-cultured children stay strong also. They may be the ones who have to save this nation. My grandfather always taught me, if someone told you you were superior all your life, you’d believe it too. Here they play the game of always helping the blacks and hispanics and not the whites, for the purpose of keeping the racism going. Again, i say, Stay Strong! I’m 65 and still going through it! And mom is right, they try to make you kill (which is suicidal) or ruin your health – Stay Strong!

  12. I have a daughter she is 8 months almost nine, when she was born her hair was straight her skin light both me and her dad are brown skin with curly wavy hair his hair finer, mine thick wavy and curly. Black people would look at her then look at us her parents and raised the eyebrows, as she got older her skin color became a beautiful brown but her hair curled up somewhat but not alot, her hair is still straight. Because of my native american ancestry Grandmom was cherokee and south asian (India) her hair came out the way it did, However she is black and white people would ask me right out where are you from your daughter is exotic! Black folks would say she mix race she gotta be with that hair. I just hope when she gets older this world will get pass the issues of race and skin color and hair texture

    1. What do you suggest would help this? Some people are ignorant, some oblivious, some don’t care, and some are simple rude dolts!

  13. I can completely relate to this post. I used to live in NYC and white women would constantly mistake me for the nanny. Or, they would ask why I didn’t work, or if we were American blacks. It was so nerve racking. I can see the frustration on your face and it reminds me of when we would return from hours at the park and how I would just feel like we didn’t belong. I hope you will continue to document these experiences. A lot of time people think because you live in a “diverse” city that these social/racial tensions don’t exist and you and I are a testament to the fact that they do occur everyday.

  14. Did you not expect this in the society we live in? I would argue America has always been racist and it hasn’t changed much, just the way people articulate it!

  15. It is perfectly ok to get up and walk away from a stranger whose questions make you uneasy or uncomfortable. You have no obligation to engage them in conversation just because they wish to impose their questions upon you.
    Your emotional energy is a valuable resource. Protect it, and enjoy your life.
    The questioners sound like rude, nosy people who did not deserve your attention.

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