On families that look different and being rude

Written by Diane on. Posted in on everything else

If someone passes me by on the street and something about them stands out to me, I’ve thankfully managed to be discreet about it at this point in my life. I’ll take a quick glance without staring to the point of being obvious. But when your family looks different, people can be curious and plain-out rude with their stares and looks. And unfortunately their comments.


For this post, I wanted to bring up one of Tom’s co-workers who recently visited Quebec and New York City with his family. He and his wife are white and in their 40s and they have two children — a 15-year-old boy who is their biological son and a 6-year-old girl. His daughter was adopted at birth from Ethiopia. And something about their time in the USA really surprised him….

Read on!

 

dagny-on-racism

Upon returning to France, Tom’s French co-worker, Ed, told Tom all about his first-ever trip to North America and regaled him with fun stories of shopping and eating and seeing the sights. But something stood out to him and his family and he was really taken aback. While this didn’t happen in Canada, Ed said that in New York City, people blatantly stared at him and his family. They’d look at his black daughter and then back at him and his wife and son with perplexed looks. They just couldn’t put it together in their minds. Others just stared with looks of disdain.

As if the stares weren’t enough, several people stopped Ed on the street and asked him if his daughter was his daughter. His real daughter.

HOLY HELL. Of course she’s real. How rude.

It’s pretty common knowledge that white parents don’t produce a black child so a logical explanation would be that the girl is adopted or that she’s a friend’s child or some other very normal explanation. Two parents smiling and having fun with their children, regardless of skin color, isn’t really a big deal, is it? It’s 2014. It’s not like he was walking around with a dancing tiger or something really stare worthy. So daughter or friend’s child or niece or whatever, who cares about the details. A happy family is a happy family.

And more importantly, as a passerby, it’s not really any of your concern.

What’s it to you anyway? What does the answer change? Not much.

I normally don’t comment on people’s kids on the street. If anything, I’ll stop them to ask about their dog. But kids? Nope. And if I saw a beautiful family that happened to consist of several ethnicities, or all the same, maybe the American in me would pay them a compliment. Maybe. It’s one thing to say, “Your family is beautiful” and an entirely different thing to ask personal questions that go from inquisitive to insulting in about 2 seconds flat. Thank goodness Ed’s little girl doesn’t speak English.

In France, Ed told Tom that he has never been rudely stared at or questioned. Not even once. If people in France are curious, they keep it to themselves.

So what is it with Americans? Have we never heard of adoption? Or fathomed that mixed-race families exist? Do people really think that an adopted child is any less real than a biological one? I told Tom to apologize to Ed because I’d like to think that Americans are more open-minded, accepting and polite than what he experienced.

And on the bright side, Ed loved New York — especially all the different foods and department store sales.

So what’s your take?

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Comments (15)

  • Marianne

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    ugh! Speaking as an American, this makes me sick. There’s something to be said about how American’s are considered to be “friendly,” however perhaps we just don’t always know where the boundaries lay. It’s too bad because the same qualities that may makes us (or some Americans) very friendly can also cause them to be quite rude unknowingly. This is unfortunate and sad.
    At this point in my life, I am like you, I hope I have learned to be discreet, but oh it just makes me so annoyed to hear that the family were STOPPED in the street by passersby, that did not know them!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yah, you bring up a good point about boundaries. And Tom touched on this in one of his posts about social differences between cultures. That the French respect social space and if you’re not full-blown friends that small talk kind of stops after the bonjour and the weather and that personal questions don’t find their way into polite conversation. I have a friend who is white but tan and has very tight curly hair. She was teaching a fitness class one day and a lady in her class came up to my friend after class and the first thing she said (they don’t know each other) was, “So tell me, which one of your parents is black, mom or dad?” WHAT THE HELL?? She was flabbergasted.

      Reply

  • Tchuco

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    I’m American, and I find that rude and unusual. Maybe they had some bad luck with the Americans that were nearby.

    I also lived in Marseille several years ago and remember that the locals always looked at other people much more that I think American do. It wasn’t a stare but kind of an evaluation. I saw the same thing in Paris.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Apparently rude comments like that are more prevalent than I thought. I asked some people I know who have mixed race families and they get stares and comments allllll the time. Now granted they aren’t in NYC, but still. You’d think people would see the person and not the color at this point.
      I’ve heard others mention that the French do that evaluative stare. People have told me it’s common on the metro in Paris. But I can’t say if I think the French look (at people in general, not a race thing) more than Americans. Gonna say no since i haven’t noticed it really as being a “thing.” Thank you for your comment!

      Reply

  • Cynthia

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    Thank you for posting this Diane !
    As a first generation American I find this behavior appalling. Unfortunately My cousins who are white supremacists have always acted in the manner that you have described. I know that they will never change because their parents taught them to behave in this manner. I think that it depends on the area in North America. There are a lot of good people in the US but certain areas are worse that others for racism, ageism, and social segregation according to marital, health and financial status. Unfortunately I’m seeing this kind of behavior more often. I have experienced it many times myself. It’s not only common amongst the uneducated but the highly educated as well. For example: This week I had a doctors appointment and the entire office was rude. The doctor gave me 5 minuets only and wouldn’t listen to my complaint. He talked down to me in disrespect and I left his office with the issue unsolved. Rudeness and crass behavior have become a common way of life in many parts of the US. Many Americans have built up an immunity to the rudeness. If you confront rude people they are quick to tell you that you are the one with the problem. In my opinion the roots of this behavior run deep, are very serious and reflect the currant standard of life in America.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      It’s shocking, isn’t it? I think we all can be rude at one point or another but knowing when to act respectfully and with grace is important as well even if your first response is a rude one (not YOU Cynthia, I was speaking in general terms). And saying sorry if you know you’re out of line is important too. I’m sorry for your experience at the doctor. ;-( Thanks for your comment.

      Reply

  • Revé

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    As a Black American, I find that both surprising and not-so-surprising. Racism in the U.S. is still a very real thing. As Americans are more willing to “chat up” strangers, I’m not surprised that people would take it upon themselves to be so blunt when addressing someone on the street. But I am a bit surprised that a mixed-race family would seemingly…perplex people who live in NYC, of all places. His experience in NYC is a bit like my experience here in Madrid, in that it exposed much of the ugly part of said city with regards to racism, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the norm.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, sad but true. I was surprised and not so surprised when I heard it. There are all types of people but like you, I figured people would be more discreet or keep rude comments to themselves. I have a white friend who has two adopted children of another race and people have actually said to her (thinking they’re funny), “So you’re too good to adopt white babies?” And mean comments like that. In earshot of the kids. I hope Madrid starts treating you right…

      Reply

  • Jackie

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    I’m extremely surprised that this happened in NYC. NYC is very diverse. It’s the “league of nations.” Just take a taxi… there are so many nationalities throughout the city. I’d like to think a language barrier made the interaction seem more derisive than it actually was… I have never witness this kind of behavior myself. I am sorry that your husband’s friend had a bad experience in The Big Apple. And for the record, everyone loves Canada, eh !

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, I was surprised to hear that this kind of thing happened in the city but I have a feeling that since he was in touristy places, that maybe the curious folks were tourists too that just didn’t know better? Maybe from small town USA, who knows. Even with the language barrier, he said the stares were obvious and hurtful.

      Reply

  • LKT

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    I was once in American Girl with my colleague’s daughter having lunch. We are both African-Americans. I am olive-skin brown and the little girl is a few shades darker. The waitress , who was Caucasian, looked at me, then the girl, then back at me with a look for an explanation of our relationship. What I found strange, we are both Black!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Wow, people are so strange. I’m sorry to hear about this. It’s rude enough to be stopped on the street by a stranger, but when you’re the customer at a business and an employee acts like this? Just baffling to me. Love how normal people think they can play geneticist for fun. Did you acknowledge the looks? I would have called her out on that BS. Ew.

      Reply

  • Punaiz

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    When you stop by a family in the street to ask about the dog, is it because the dog is black and family white?

    Reply

    • Diane

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      HAHAHHAHAHA, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Reply

  • Nicole

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    My husband once got spat at in France. He also got spat at in Prague. He’s asian. These things happen anywhere.

    Reply

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