I'm the Mommy

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Kamyra L. Harding

I am the Afro-Caribbean-American mother of a bi-racial preschooler. My son is pale like his father. People often assume that I am my son's nanny. Or a black sitter for a white child. Or a family friend, stepmother or aunt by marriage. This never happens when the three of us are together; I guess we interact like an obvious family unit.

For four years I've struggled with my reaction to this assumption. Long ago, I lost interest in the socio-economic, political messages. My feelings have disintegrated from hurt to anger and dismissal.

Today, I have a reserve of gentle responses to what has become the inevitable nice-to-meet-you conversation. However, I wasn't on my best behavior one recent afternoon when a woman asked me, after meeting my son, "How long have you been with him?" I haughtily replied, "Since my husband knocked me up."

If someone is bold enough to respond after I have spotlighted her racism and classism she usually stutters something like, "Now I see the resemblance." Or "Of course, he looks just like you." More often she stares at the ground until I change the conversation topic.

These annoying moments do not define motherhood for me. Being a mom is too wonderful to allow others' myopia to cloud my journey. Surprisingly, they helped me meet a friend. This past spring another brown mom initiated a sandbox conversation with, "So do people assume that you're the nanny, too?" We delayed lunch and naps, laughing together the way people do when they're afraid to cry.

Early in his life, I briefly wished my perfect baby boy possessed obvious African features so that we wouldn't be burdened with other peoples' limitations. But it's impossible for me to imagine him other than the way God made him.

When people see who they want you to be, instead of seeing who you are, how do you cope?

Kamyra Harding is a management consultant and freelance writer who lives in New York with her family. Her work can be found at www.Kamyra.com.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  October 2, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Mostly I just wonder why anyone cares what other people assume. I cope by not giving it a moment's thought.

Posted by: abrown2 | October 2, 2007 7:15 AM

Ahhhh, stupid people and their insensitive questions and comments. Gotta love it. Personally, I liked you're "knocked up" answer -- snarky retorts like that are what people like that deserve. They'll never learn to self-monitor their comments, so you may as well get a laugh out of it.

Posted by: justhere4beer | October 2, 2007 7:32 AM

I think it is human nature to care what others think of you. It takes a certain amount of toughness or distance (inherent or consciously developed) to let go of what others think. And it is not also a good thing -- part of being human is caring about others' opinions of you.

So I have sympathy for Kamyra...and respect that she learned how to ignore these comments.

Posted by: leslie4 | October 2, 2007 7:33 AM

"Personally, I liked you're "knocked up" answer -- snarky retorts like that are what people like that deserve. "

People ask a perfectly harmless question based on an incorrect assumption and in return get a barbed passive aggressive response (and maybe not so passive).

Posted by: r6345 | October 2, 2007 8:10 AM

How do you cope? You never stop noticing the looks, they just become less important. Thanks for the blog.

Posted by: bobh1967 | October 2, 2007 8:18 AM

It's not perfectly harmless! With one question, they assume, by her skin color, that she's the nanny -- NOT the mommy.

Maybe you've never had people automatically assume things based on your appearance, but it's hurtful, and most often, unfounded.

Posted by: justhere4beer | October 2, 2007 8:24 AM

It's funny, because I used to see this woman and her kid on the playground and around town and the kid looks exactly like her, so I assumed she was the mom, until I saw the child with his mom one day.

So you just never know.

But, it can't be easy to deal with - the best way to deal with it is to not worry so much about what others think. It's not the easiest thing to do, though.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 8:24 AM

No it's not harmless, but what can you do? Making snarky comments is a start, I guess. There's not much one person can do to change people's attitudes, and really, it's not her job to do that - and it's tiring to do all the time.

She just wants to go to the playground and play with her kid.

Not the same, but pisses me off when a dad takes the kids - and they are praised to high heaven if they watch them for a few hours. But that the mom is the one expected to do it all.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 8:28 AM

This is a case of a misunderstanding that the guest blogger has decided to get angry over. If you're with a kid that looks nothing like you, be it your biological or adopted child or not, and someone asks about him/her, it's not a big deal to explain. People are looking for reasons to chat. They're trying to be friendly. Make a federal case about it if you will, but you're really just being intentionally rude to an innocent question. If this is the worst of your problems, maybe you need to do some charity work.

Posted by: atb2 | October 2, 2007 8:32 AM

from MaryB:

I have a male (white) friend whose first wife was Korean. They have a daughter who has rather strong Asian facial features and black hair. I don't know how many times he has been asked if he adopted her, but out of his earshot, I have been asked this question (it's more like "Isn't it nice he adopted her") by members new to the group to which we both belong. That, among other things, has taught me not to make assumptions about family relationships.

Posted by: nahnah | October 2, 2007 8:33 AM

It's not harmless and I like the "knocked up" answer too. I do have to say though that I don't understand why anyone would ask the question to begin with.

I don't run around asking people if the children they are with are "their" children. I don't care if the kid is purple and the mom is green.

I also don't really care about what people think, but it took me a long time to get to the point where certian comments didn't bother me.

Posted by: Irishgirl | October 2, 2007 8:35 AM

"When people see who they want you to be, instead of seeing who you are, how do you cope?"

I work to change their assumptions. But it's not an easy thing to do, and sometimes you just have to move on. I know that it must be so difficult for you, Kamyra, because you're dealing with people who are questioning or presuming upon your relationship with your child, certainly one of the most if not the most defining relationships of a woman's life. I wish I had better advice. The only analogy I can make in my life is that I work in HR and the majority of the staff seems to feel I'm probably in league with the devil. I try to show them I'm not (while at the same time maintaining the firm's interests), but sometimes I just have to say "oh, well" and move on. However, my situation is not about race, and it would bother me on a different level if it was. The thing is, whether people believe it or not, whether they say "one of my best friends is black/white/Jewish/Muslim/etc., most people are prejudiced.

One of my au pair's friends (a young woman from Denmark) cares for an Asian girl, and she says she is frequently assumed to be for the child's mother. Initially she found this to be very strange, as she in no way looks Asian, but I explained to her that there are plenty of Caucasian couples who've adopted Asian children.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 2, 2007 8:35 AM

I think that if you believe it is an innocent question, you are someone who has never been on the receiving end of something like this and probably ask personal, annoying questions.

I like the knocked up answer! I only wish I could come up with stuff like that when people ask me rude questions.

People please remember what happens when you assume...

Posted by: Thought | October 2, 2007 8:39 AM

This is one of those annoying question examples. All you can do is assume the intent is innocent, which it likely is, and try not to get bent out of shape. I'm with IrishGirl, I don't see myself asking the question, but I'd rather assume innocence on the part of the asker so I don't spend my life irritated and angry.

Posted by: atb2 | October 2, 2007 8:39 AM

"Personally, I liked you're "knocked up" answer -- snarky retorts like that are what people like that deserve. "

People ask a perfectly harmless question based on an incorrect assumption and in return get a barbed passive aggressive response (and maybe not so passive).

Posted by: r6345 | October 2, 2007 08:10 AM

And good luck to Kamrya teaching her children manners when she apparently has none. She lives in NYC where the nanny population is probably the highest in the country - are these questions so strange or outrageous given the setting? I think not.

Sounds like another one of Leslie's snotty friends that has nothing better to do than think of way to divide people into certain categories and judge them.

Posted by: Hellofagoodtime | October 2, 2007 8:52 AM

Just because it's the first time you've heard of an experience like Kamyra's doesn't mean she hasn't engaged in this dance 1000+ times. I applaud her overall restraint in her encounters with a social form of Chinese water torture.

I wouldn't assume the intent of the asker is either positive or negative. Isn't the point that ill-informed assumptions serve no one? If Kamyra's not uncommon experience teaches us anything, it's that it is inappropriate to make comments to strangers indicating that we have reached certain conclusions about them with zero information. The only way to perhaps change this rude, sometimes insulting behavior, is to respond in a way that gets the speaker thinking. I'm not advocating snark, but don't think the world is necessarily a better place because you entirely let the askers of inappropriate questions off the hook.

"Why do you ask?" or "What do you mean?" combined with a thoughtful, full attention stare, might be the perfect response. It's not Kamyra's job to teach people that families come in a wide variety of combinations of weights, ages, socio-economic backgrounds, heights, ethnicities, and genders. Nonetheless, maybe interacting with her will teach one or more of these numbskulls that lesson.

Posted by: Megans_Neighbor | October 2, 2007 8:52 AM

I have been on the receiving end of those type of rude questions, although my situation wasn't exactly the same. I got married right out of college and was pregnant for wedding anniversary one (and two). I was young anyway, I looked a bit younger even not pregnant, being pregnant made me look *really* young, and I puffed up just enough so my wedding ring didn't fit. Consequently, those times I was out with son #1 in the stroller, preggers with son #2, no wedding ring, looking about 16...you can guess what people said and the looks I got! I never had a snappy comeback -- either I just stared in wide-eyed disbelief or made lots of comments about my degree and my husband, depending on the situation.

So, I LOVE the knocked-up answer! People like that get what they deserve -- that comment was rude and invasive on so many levels.

Oh, and when they were toddlers, I got a few 'are you the nanny' questions, and I always answered, no, I'm the mom and isn't it wonderful how young I'll be when they're grown? A bit snarky, but I don't like being condescended to.

Posted by: educmom_615 | October 2, 2007 8:53 AM

One suggestion is to introduce yourself this way: "Hi, I'm Tommy's Mom, Angela," or whatever. This happens more than you would think. I have an adopted stepdaughter who is brownskinned, and my husband has been mistaken by (insensitive) people as our 5-year-old's grandfather, since he's 60. I also have a white friend with an Indian husband and an adopted Korean son--they have learned non-hostile, friendly ways to cope. A strong sense of humor helps; chips on shoulders do not.

Posted by: abradley | October 2, 2007 8:54 AM

OT...WorkingMomX - I'm new to HR but keep coming across that "HR is evil" mentality too. What's up with that?

Posted by: JEGS | October 2, 2007 8:58 AM

People need to realize that their comments can be hurtful, whether they mean them that way or not.

I am a young mother and have 5 girls. I am now 27 but can pass easily for 18. I am often assumed to be the nanny or treated poorly because people think I am so young with so many kids. Sometimes I am able to smile and engage these people in an enlightening conversation, but sometimes I don't have the energy and "snarky" remarks are the best I can do.

Posted by: michelewilson | October 2, 2007 9:00 AM

"A strong sense of humor helps; chips on shoulders do not."

I agree, but I think when someone has heard (or dealt with) the same insensitive comments over and over and over... I can't blame them for snapping.

Posted by: justhere4beer | October 2, 2007 9:03 AM

Michele, there is a big difference between being "assumed to be the nanny" and being "treated poorly because people think I am so young with so many kids".

The nanny assumption is a harmless yet incorrect assumption but there is no excuse for treating you poorly, regardless of the assumption or truth.

Please don't assume that somebody who assumes you are the nanny is/will be treating your poorly. While some will, many will not.

It seems to many here that one assumption is the same as treating somebody poorly.

Oh, the back aches some here must have from carrying the huge chips on their shoulders.

Posted by: r6345 | October 2, 2007 9:05 AM

JEGS, welcome to the madness!  Every day is different working in HR, which is why I love it. I have come to believe that the majority of people who think HR = evil have deep-rooted issues (probably leftover from childhood) regarding authority, or else they were had a bad experience with HR at another organization.  I have two mottos, one that is posted in my office and the other that is stuck in my head.  The one posted in my office is "Be kind whenever possible . . . it's always possible".  And the other one that I repeat like a mantra in my head is "just smile and wave, girlfriend". Good luck to you!

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 2, 2007 9:06 AM

Who gets to determine what good manners are anyway? I've always believed that if someone is rude, they get what they deserve when they are met with rudeness back. Maybe they will learn not to open their mouth and insert their foot next time they see a women and child who don't look alike or maybe they will not say things like "how does it feel to know your niece really isn't your niece."

This happened to me after we found out my sister in law had an affair on my brother and didn't tell us the little girl wasn't his. I usually said it feels wonderful, my brother had a nervous break down, lost his job and my niece will need therapy forever, which was sometimes met with "you know she's not your niece anymore."

Posted by: Irishgirl | October 2, 2007 9:06 AM

Michele, just smile and point out that you will be 45 when your youngest leaves for college, and you're very excited about that, and besides, you're glad you're young and energetic enough to chase after five children all day, and you will be a young and active grandma when that time comes. It may not always work, but I guarantee you will feel better (not the least because you will be reminding yourself of all those things too).

Posted by: educmom_615 | October 2, 2007 9:08 AM

My mother had me when she was 39 years old - common now, but not so much 35 years ago. She also went gray/white prematurely. Everyone thought (assumed) she was my grandmother and made comments to both of us based on that assumption. At the time it hurt her feelings more than mine, but mine too, especially as I got a bit older.

I also had a friend with a very dark complexion from the Dominican Republic, married to a very fair American guy. Needless to say, their first child looked very much like him, and between her looks and her accent, everyone assumed she was the nanny.

Your question is a good one, even outside of the parent-child context. I, too, am disappointed and frustrated when people see me as who they want me to be instead of how I see myself or who I am. As far as how to cope, I think you have two choices, both of which have been mentioned already: you either ignore it, since you know yourself and therefore other persons assumptions or perceptions shouldn't matter; or you work to change their assumptions by presenting yourself as the person you want them to see.

I didn't much like it when people viewed me as "the wife" or "the homemaker" during the two years I was not working and staying home with my daughter, but they only knew me in this context since we had just moved, and they didn't know about my former career and former life. Now I've gone back to work part-time and it is more apparent to people that this is an important part of my identity and how I see myself.

Posted by: viennamom | October 2, 2007 9:09 AM

I think the reason those of us who, for whatever reason, have been mistaken for the nanny is the way we are usually asked the question.

As in:
Oh, are you the (pause for effect) naannnny?, said with an accent that is a cross between Mrs. Howell and that Joan Collins character on Dynasty.

Try hearing *that* a few times, and then tell me you don't want to just smack the next person who asks you that alongside the head with the diaper bag.

Posted by: educmom_615 | October 2, 2007 9:16 AM

And the worst part is, teaching the little darlings to drive aged me about 20 years, so I won't look young enough to be mistaken for my grandchild's mother (not that I want to be a grandmother for many, many years!!! no no no!!). These days, I certainly wouldn't mind someone taking a few years off when they meet me...

Posted by: educmom_615 | October 2, 2007 9:21 AM


Re: Hellofagoodtime, you state, "Sounds like another one of Leslie's snotty friends that has nothing better to do than think of way to divide people into certain categories and judge them."

Aren't you doing the same thing? Without even meeting this person, you are assuming that she is snotty to everyone she meets. You assume that she is passing bad behaviors to her children.

Have you walked a mile in her shoes? Think of it this way, if people always assumed that you were a nanny and not your children's mother, wouldn't you at some point just get tired of it? Have you ever had a bad day? I can imagine that after a crummy day you might get a little irritated.


Posted by: Thought | October 2, 2007 9:27 AM

I agree about how annoying this must be if you encounter it time after time. Yet, there is nothing you can do to prevent people from forming (often baseless) assumptions when they first meet you. I think the best you can do is to use it as an opportunity to teach your child(ren) how NOT to do the same thing, and about how hurtful assumptions can be.

I don't see a problem with the snarky response in the abstract, but remember that your child(ren) are also picking up your attitudes and the things you say. My mother was amazed and irritated by how smart-alecy and sarcastic we were as children, but she is the same exact way! Just remember that eventually you will see your behavior again, only directed at you, so be warned.

Posted by: raraca1 | October 2, 2007 9:35 AM

Leslie: thank you for your candid remarks yesterday. Everyone has tried everything (it's been almost 10 years). But she doesn't want to admit a 'mistake' so she thinks staying with him is better (years and years ago she made some remark like: oh, I'd NEVER date anyone whose PARENTS have been divorced (as if there was anything they could have done about it). Then her own parents got separated and I guess her whole vision about the world changed?).

I've tried the: well, he's not so nice to you.

I've tried: you don't seem happy - which is met with the defensive: of COURSE I'm happy - I have a husband and three kids and a big house. Of course, - none of those things can make you happy - you have to be 'happy' in your own skin.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 9:37 AM

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. On the one hand, it DOES get tiresome to be on the receiving end of irritating and wrong assumptions, and a quick snarky comeback is a lot of fun. On the other hand, generally assumptions are based on lots of experience and good information and when assumptions are wrong it's usually because the case in question is the exception and not the rule. And since the first thing you do when you meet someone is try to feel them out and find out who they are and why they are here, etc., people ask questions and sometimes those questions are off base, but a snarky comeback is not necessarily the best approach.

In my case, when people see me and my son, the assumption is that I'm one of those non-caring parents who doesn't discipline her child and lets him run around wild with no boundaries. This is a good assumption--usually when you see a child who is ignoring his mother, throwing himself on the ground and howling, and refusing to cooperate with any suggestion, it's because the kid needs some more discipline in his life (or needed to be taken home a long time ago!). But one time out of 150, the kid will be autistic. That's my kid. I completely understand that to anyone just watching us and not having met us before, they're going to give us the evil eye and make snide comments. It's pretty easy to ignore them, because I understand why they think what they do (and usually I'm too busy getting kicked by my child to respond to snide remarks anyway!). If I *do* say something, I just explain the situation--I fear that any rude comment in return would only reinforce their suspicions. And sometimes, if I think my DS might be heading towards a meltdown or might start engaging in particularly odd behavior, I forestall the assumptions by telling people in advance that he is autistic. I find that most people are genuinely just curious and happy to learn more and be understanding--but not if I've started the conversation with the equivalent of "what kind of an idiot are you--can't you see he's autistic?"

Posted by: sarahfran | October 2, 2007 9:39 AM

Well, I can't remember anytime where I've asked someone whether or not they were the parent of a child they were hanging around with. But I'll definitely try and keep it in mind.

"Hi, I'm M_M, so-and-so's mom."

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 2, 2007 9:39 AM

And, it's definitely good to have sense of humor. As most of the time I'm the only female in the meeting at work, many people don't know what to do with me - they think I must be an assistant or something.
But - no, I'm not - hey, I have two math degrees. As a female, people don't expect that - usually I get the gasp from people I tell.
As if girls aren't SUPPOSED to be good in math - I should have gotten an english degree or something.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 9:40 AM

As if girls aren't SUPPOSED to be good in math - I should have gotten an english degree or something.

Posted by: atlmom1234

It's not my best subject. But at least I've hammered one basic math point home with my kids: compound interest. Use it for good (retirement accounts), or evil (credit card debt).

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 2, 2007 9:42 AM

Oh, sarahfran, whenever I see kids who aren't behaving, I think: must be difficult - cause no matter what, every single kid, no matter how good they usually are, can have a bad day.

And I'm ALWAYS happy when it's 'not my kid.' It completely DOES NOT bother me at all if a kid isn't behaving. Unless it's something like I'm out at a nice restaurant and they should be, or a movie or wherever a kid shouldn't be at all. But if we're at a park, or a fast food restaurant or something, I'm always glad I don't have to be the one who is so embarrassed cause it's not my kid who's not behaving (and we've ALL been there!).

And, kudos for you and all you do for your son.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 9:44 AM

hahahaha maryland mom!

Actually, DH is the one with the MBA, but I have to handle all the finances. that's just the way it is.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 9:44 AM

my (biological) mother is chinese, my dad is caucasian. interracial marriage was less common in the early 1960s than today, for sure. my brother & I don't look very mixed. we look pretty white. we heard comments/questions sometimes when we were out with our mom.

what can you do? people are going to be baffled, curious, confused.

Posted by: ssolnick | October 2, 2007 9:45 AM

Hi Atlmom1234,

I handle all the finances and investments too. I don't trust luck or good will.

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 2, 2007 9:51 AM

Personally, I would give the people benefit of doubt they are not being racial, or racially insensitive they are just being human. We base our ideas on what we see most often. Having lived in two different cultures I can see how what is normal for one person is not for another.

They are not trying to hurt you or be mean (maybe some are) just laught it off and correct them. Your being hurt is as human as thier assumptions so both of you need to get past these feelings, heir feeling awkward is proof enough of their intentions. They will learn a lesson and next time be more accepting.

Posted by: sound | October 2, 2007 9:53 AM

I can understand the irritation! I also know several mixed-race families who've chosen to live in areas where they're less unusual (Oak Park, Ill outside of Chicago for example). But if you can't do that, I think the most constructive approach is to teach the ignorant (even though you never volunteered for this job.) I mean eventually this is going to be your son's problem (oh, is that your housekeeper? No she's my Mom) so snarky or otherwise, you're stuck being a role model for him in this.
My niece is part Turkish, part Jamaican so I'd love to wave a magic wand and make the ignorance go away but it takes women like you to make others confront (and hopefully adjust) their assumptions. Just don't opt for silence. Call people on it. And god bless the friends you can laugh with about it afterward!

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 2, 2007 9:58 AM

"benefit of doubt they are not being racial,". Hmm, sound, it's not "being "racial" (whatever that means). It's being "racist". Very different.

Anyway, Kamyra, I think you're being too sensitive about this issue. Also, I don't think that people assume you're the nanny because you have darker skin. I think they assume you're the nanny because you have a DIFFERENT skin color. That's quite different. Essentially, they think you're the nanny because you look so different from your child and in a way that's easy to see from a distance. You don't have to study the child's face to see whether the child looks like you. It's what social psychologists call a "heuristic" -- a mental shortcut. We use heuristics all the time, and there's nothing wrong with them. It's just that, being a shortcut, we're sometimes wrong. Oh, by the way, you're not immune from heuristics -- EVERYONE uses them all the time.

Anyway, this is something that you're going to have to accept: Your child doesn't look like you. And, as we generally expect children to look like their parents (or at least not too different from their parents), it should not be surprising that people don't realize you are your son's mother. Therefore, they assume some other relationship. It's too bad that this bothers you so much.

Posted by: rlalumiere | October 2, 2007 10:00 AM

Another one of Leslies' snootty friends. I can choose to relate to this guest blog, but I don't want to. She sounds whinny and self important. Leslie needs to expand her circle of friends. She needs to get people with more expanded view of the world to guest blog, not some poor me broad who think she does.

Posted by: lourd | October 2, 2007 10:02 AM

If Kamyra Harding assumes that the nanny comments are directed at her based solely on the color of her skin, I think she is just as prejudiced as the people making the comments.

Kinda like the pot calling the kettle black. :-)

Posted by: DandyLion | October 2, 2007 10:03 AM

I think Mrs. Harding has a right to make humorous comments in response to ignorant ones.

First of all, people are saying to be seen as the nanny is not demeaning, but it is. Haven't you noticed that if a nanny takes a child out in public the rest of the public (esp. parents) pays more attention? It's almost like a secret parent-guild. You assume the nanny won't have the child's best interests ranked as highly as would a natural parent, so it's almost like everyone's watching and making sure she doesn't screw up. Mrs. Harding has to deal with this and probably other reasons people are singling her out and always watching her. I think walking up and asking someone if they are (basically) a paid servant is in bad taste, I don't care how much the woman doesn't look like the child. Just because she's an ethnic minority they are asking her. Would they ask a white woman the same question if her child was dark skinned? Probably not. They'd probably assume she either adopted or was interracially married but the author doesn't get the same benefit. Just the way the world is and to criticize her use of humour as "snarky" or "rude" shows none of you have ever been victims of racist attitudes.

Posted by: _Miles | October 2, 2007 10:11 AM

I'm going to agree with rlalumiere. I don't think the comments are ill intended. This thread reminds me of last week's discussion. You can't stop it. I think its best to assume that the person has the best intentions and respond accordingly. After all, you are really the only person who walks away upset. The other person goes on with their day.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 2, 2007 10:12 AM

If Kamyra Harding assumes that the nanny comments are directed at her based solely on the color of her skin, I think she is just as prejudiced as the people making the comments.

Kinda like the pot calling the kettle black. :-)


Posted by: DandyLion | October 2, 2007 10:03 AM

Ahh, the old blame-the-victim trick. Racism doesn't really exist eh? You wouldn't be offended at the assumption you belong to a different social class because of your skin color DandyLion?

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 2, 2007 10:12 AM

I'm with Sarahfran: I get the frustration of being asked the same stupid question over and over, especially when the presumption is demeaning. Yes, there are rude people out there. But there are also a lot of people who don't really know the right thing to say but would like to find some way to connect, so they grab at the first thing that comes to mind. And if you slap them down, then the "lesson" that they learn isn't that you shouldn't assume someone is the nanny -- it's that, dang, people are mean, and I shouldn't even try.

I'm one of those socially intimidated people -- it scares the bejeebers to me to talk to new people, because I'm terrified of saying the wrong thing. If I asked a stupid question, well, the humiliation of being wrong like that would be punishment enough; but if someone was rude to me, I'd think that she was just a jerk and I shouldn't have taken the risk of talking to her in the first place. If you really want to "teach," vs. just vent, you can't do it by being rude yourself (otherwise, you'd never see anyone driving 50 mph in the left lane, because all of the tailgaters wold have "taught" him to move his butt over).

The only thing that I've found that works is to assume the most flattering thing. I have yet to hear a grandma get offended because I asked her how old her "son" was. :-) And the same goes in reverse: when I am in a situation where it's not clear who's who, I try to drop hints early on in the conversation -- and if someone assumes the wrong thing, I'll brush it off with a laugh, because I don't want them to be feeling as bad as I would if the situation were reversed.

Posted by: laura33 | October 2, 2007 10:13 AM

Wrong assumptions. I guess it can be annoying, but I wouldn't necessarily take offense. People do make assumptions on what is the most common or ordinary scenario. I have a white friend who adopted an African American baby, and she is always asked if the baby is hers. People are just curious.

When I was a kid, I had an uncle, by marriage, who was closer in age to my grandmother than to my aunt (his wife). So whenever I was out with them without my own parents, people assumed that my uncle was my grandfather. He also picked me up from school sometimes, since he was retired, and even the teachers assumed he was my grandfather. I remember once when he came to pick me up from school, I was in the playground, and a teacher came to call me, telling me that my grandfather was here to pick me up. "Grandfather," he said. "I'm not her grandfather. I'm her brother." He cracked me up. But he never took offense. I think people are mostly well-meaning, even when they do happen to be dead wrong.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 10:21 AM

Laura

"If you really want to "teach," vs. just vent, you can't do it by being rude yourself (otherwise, you'd never see anyone driving 50 mph in the left lane, because all of the tailgaters wold have "taught" him to move his butt over)."

Ha, ha!
Despite numerous requests, I have never had intercourse with myself...

I nominate for Quote of the Day!

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 2, 2007 10:22 AM

"You wouldn't be offended at the assumption you belong to a different social class because of your skin color DandyLion?"

So it's ok to be classist? I would only be offended if I thought that nannies were somehow beneath me.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 10:24 AM

i think i might be a little backwards in my reaction to strangers making wrong assumptions about me ... sometimes i egg it on because i don't want some random person prying into my life.

i realize this is very very different than having your relationship with your child questioned, but for example, when people ask me what i do, i frequently tell them i'm a waitress (which is true, although not my main source of income). it can reveal quite a bit about the person you're talking to to watch them assume all kinds of strange things and it can be a source of amusement throughout an otherwise obnoxious conversation. (disclaimer: obviously i only do this in situations where i'm not trying to make friends with the stranger involved ... however it does get at the question of "how do you deal with other people seeing you differently than you see yourself" ... i rather enjoy the distance it keeps)

Posted by: ffx16 | October 2, 2007 10:27 AM

"You wouldn't be offended at the assumption you belong to a different social class because of your skin color DandyLion?"

So it's ok to be classist? I would only be offended if I thought that nannies were somehow beneath me.


Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 10:24 AM

As a former nanny, I see your point! But I also know black/brown women have had to take jobs as nannies because they were locked out of other choices. So the stereotype of a brown nanny and white child prevails when it's no longer valid. People have to be reminded it's a stereotype and that it's time to discard it!

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 2, 2007 10:29 AM

Ann, I am what you would call a "special needs" father. When I babysit my kids at the park, I do get a lot of mommies who praise me and tell me I'm amazing.

I accept it as a compliment, though the "amazing" presumption is an unfair standard to hold me up against.

Posted by: DandyLion | October 2, 2007 10:31 AM

I'm a white blonde girl who used to be a nanny to two biracial preschoolers. Most people (correctly) assumed I was the nanny, just because I looked so obviously different from the kids. However, their mom looked just like me, so lots of people assumed the same thing about her. It's certainly not a one-way street. It happens to everyone who (for whatever reason) has a different skin color from their kids.

Posted by: theladykali | October 2, 2007 10:31 AM

Wrong assumptions. I guess it can be annoying, but I wouldn't necessarily take offense. People do make assumptions on what is the most common or ordinary scenario. I have a white friend who adopted an African American baby, and she is always asked if the baby is hers. People are just curious.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 10:21 AM


But they never ask your white friend if she's the nanny, which is the point here. People aren't asking the author if she's the mother, or if the child is hers, they're pretty nearly assuming she's the nanny and asking that.

Posted by: _Miles | October 2, 2007 10:33 AM

Miles, see the post the ladykali. And yes, they have asked my friend if she was the au pair. Not the nanny. Probably because she is white and has an accent.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 10:35 AM

Well at any rate, I'd say the author's 'response' is only meant to be humorous, not snarky. What is she supposed to say, "no, I'm the mother" then probably smile politely and graciously and maybe walk whoever it is through a whole lesson of racial tolerance so that the world is one person further away from ignorance. No, probably not since she gets asked this question a lot, and doesn't have the time or patience to be in the most gracious mood every single minute of every day to give every person who asked the benefit of the doubt. So instead she has a humorous comment that will hopefully teach these impolite people who enjoy making assumptions that maybe THEY shouldn't be so intrusive or make assumptions based upon what they see.

Posted by: _Miles | October 2, 2007 10:39 AM

_Miles

"Well at any rate, I'd say the author's 'response' is only meant to be humorous, not snarky."

No. The author's intent was not to be humorous, she "was not on her best behavior."

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 2, 2007 10:43 AM

Some things are truly offensive, and people have the right to be offended. But my view is that people who are looking to take offense will inevitably find it somewhere, whether it objectively exists or not. For me, that's no way to live.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 10:45 AM

The author needs to take a chill pill. You do your child (or your blood pressure) any good by being rude. Two wrongs don't make a right. My suggestion is to put your arm around your son, smile and proudly state he's your child. I guarantee the response you get will be another smile and a lovely comment about your son. Please there is enough ignorance in this world, can't we try a little civility first?

Posted by: BullyLover | October 2, 2007 10:45 AM

My nanny is black and my son is ash-blonde and blue eyed. She reports being asked if he was adopted, and also if he takes after her husband, which is code I guess for "are you a bi-racial family?" Those are rare exceptions though.

I think if comments are made in all the directions, then it becomes understandable. But if the assumption is always that you are the nanny, it really does take on a biased tone.

I'm not sure what the solution is though, because assumptions are the basis of light social interaction. I think the weird thing about having kids is that it does toss you into a whole new social realm - where you do end up talking to other adults just because your child is interacting with theirs, and you may end up saying something like, "oh your... nanny/mommy/babysitter/aunt/companion is just right over there!"

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | October 2, 2007 10:50 AM

I have to admit, however, that I was ONCE mistaken for my kids' nanny when I took them to the doctors' office. It was one of the best compliments I ever got since I am 42 and most nannies are...younger. So very occasionally these assumptions work in your favor...

Go, Kamyra! Can you come up with some snappy retorts for other awkward situations? There's a good book in there...

Posted by: leslie4 | October 2, 2007 10:51 AM

I still think assumptions can be irritating, especially racially based or anti-Semitic or the way some people have of talking to people with disabilities as if they were children. I think Kamyra deserves some credit for bringing up the issue. I'm sure I can learn something from DandyLion too. Are you really a "special needs" Dad or just a "special pain-in-the-a**" Dad :)

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 2, 2007 10:52 AM

"On the other hand, generally assumptions are based on lots of experience and good information and when assumptions are wrong it's usually because the case in question is the exception and not the rule."

Assumptions are based on "lots of . . good information"? Wow. That's a Hax "wow."

What is the support for this breathtaking rationalization of narrow-mindedness and a lifetime of limited social encounters? Assumptions are different from stereotypes. Assumptions are based on nothing more than the speaker's limited experience and awareness. If I assume a bagel is a donut because I've never seen a bagel, my assumption is not a reflection of my gobs of experience and good information. It means I haven't gotten out much.

Posted by: Megans_Neighbor | October 2, 2007 10:54 AM

"Since my husband knocked me up."

To this, I would probably respond with something like, "I think it's great that you waited until marriage!"

Can you tell that I make friends easily?

Posted by: DandyLion | October 2, 2007 10:55 AM

When I was single, I let my younger brother live with me for about a year (becasue he could not get along with his college roommates--I should have seen the red flags). In any case, he is quite a bit younger than me, and people in my building either thought I was robbing the cradle big time, or that he was my son. Pretty funny either way.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 10:56 AM

Dandylion.
I bet you do make friends easily. Because you refuse to take offense. It's a very disarming tactic. Goof for you.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 10:59 AM

I shouldn't giggle, but I still remember the day I went to the grocery store with infant #1 when I was maybe 10 days postpartum.

I looked like I felt (an exhausted, stringy-haired, overwhelmed MESS). I was standing in the checkout line when this much older woman started commenting to a younger woman (daughter?) that she "disapproved of teenagers having babies!"

It took me a minute or two to realize that she was talking about ME. I smiled, sidled over and said, "Well, my baby-daddy is 30," and waggled my wedding ring.

She looked shocked, the younger woman stifled a chuckle, and I paid for the milk and left.

Lesson to me? Don't put my hair into pigtails (I was in my mid-20's) and try to get some sleep. I'm not fit for human companionship with less than 4 hours per night.

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 2, 2007 11:01 AM

"maybe THEY shouldn't be so intrusive or make assumptions based upon what they see."

So should we assume that the person caring for the child has no relationship with that person at all? I'm just wondering what the "right" question is? Are nannies offended if people assume they are mothers? Honestly, this has got to be the craziest, most hypersensitive group of people. If you don't want people to ask questions about you, who you are, where you work, what you are interested in, then move to the mountains.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 2, 2007 11:02 AM

Dandylion.
I bet you do make friends easily. Because you refuse to take offense. It's a very disarming tactic. Goof for you.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 10:59 AM

Yes! Emily is right. It's funny how I've gone from irritated to curious about DandyLion in just a few posts. Keep posting!

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 2, 2007 11:06 AM

My take is that Kamyra is setting a good example for her son by sticking up for herself (and him). The comments are rooted in racial and economic misconceptions, and she has every right to be a little snippy. Her so-called "rudeness" is nothing compared to the ignorant comments she's been getting.

Do you really think she should just meekly "take it"? Especially in front of her child?

Her son will probably face the same kind of bias in his life. She will give him a good life skill if she models how to simultaneously confront/diffuse these situations.

Posted by: leslie4 | October 2, 2007 11:06 AM

Maryland_mother,
When I was a teenager, taking care of my kid brothers (one of which was a baby at the time) at the playground, I was once approached by some people (I think cult members) who invited me to dinner and said they could "help" me. I told them they weren't my children, and they told me I should not be ashamed of such beautiful kids. LOL.

Another time, when I was babysitting them as well, we decided to pool our pennies and go out for pizza instead of eating whatever my mother had left us. We were literally counting change to pay the pizza guy. I was also wearing a ratty coat. The pizza guy thought we were destitute or something and gave us the pizza for free. Just would not take our money (even though we had enough). So we ate the free pizza and got ice cream afterwards. The ice cream place was not so noble, and made us pay.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 11:07 AM

Emily,

Maybe the pizza guy was hoping you'd date him!

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 2, 2007 11:10 AM

Today's topic strikes home in a couple of ways. More than 30 years ago in the maternity ward at Walter Reed Hospital I received my hours old son from a nurse for his first feeding with the nurse saying "I gave out all of the other babies and this is the only one left so I guess he must be yours. What is your husband?" I thought she meant his rank. It didn't occur to me that she meant his race. This was at a time in our country when race was front-page news. My friends tell me still that I've led a very sheltered life. Later living on an Army base in Texas and socializing with lots of wives with young children, frequently we baby sat and shopped with one another, toting kids other than ours. I never stopped being amazed by the looks I received.
Now I'm seeing these looks again. My son is in a bi-racial marriage and has three daughters. The eldest (11) has an olive-toned complexion. She is my daughter-in-law's child but been my son's daughter since she was 2 month's old. He is her daddy in every way that matters. When you see the three of them together they look like a family. Unfortunately when he has been alone with her (or when my husband and I were alone with her), not so much. There have been looks and questions especially when attempting to discipline a two-year old. Now they have added a cafe-au-late daughter (2 ½) and a very white daughter. (6 months). Recently we were all shopping in K-Mart where we got lots and lots of very strange looks. In truth we probably were a motley group because added to the mix were 2 little female cousins who were very blonde and my son was in his discipline mode. I waited off to the side with the baby in a shopping cart as my son and daughter-in-law checked out. One busy body actually came up and said "I've got to see what the baby looks like" and proceeded to stick her face around the baby carrier and peer in at the baby. We laughed about this all of the way back to their home! If we had been in upper northwest DC I would have been mistaken for the nanny. In southern Maryland who knows what they thought.
Even in the 21st century people's biases are apparent. I wasn't raised in a color conscious family and neither was my son. Thankfully my daughter-in-law is color blind, although some of her family members are a different story. We do not wear our ethnicity on our sleeves. In spite of this it isn't always easy to explain away and/or brush off ugly comments, looks, or probing questions. Hopefully my son and daughter-in-law can continue to shield the girls from ugliness and preserve their innocence.

Posted by: HVStewart | October 2, 2007 11:13 AM

"maybe THEY shouldn't be so intrusive or make assumptions based upon what they see."

So should we assume that the person caring for the child has no relationship with that person at all? I'm just wondering what the "right" question is? Are nannies offended if people assume they are mothers? Honestly, this has got to be the craziest, most hypersensitive group of people. If you don't want people to ask questions about you, who you are, where you work, what you are interested in, then move to the mountains.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 2, 2007 11:02 AM

"are nannies offended if people assume they are mothers?" No, probably not.

And this isn't about people asking questions of where you work, or what you're interested in. Apparently this isn't obvious, so I'll just throw it out there. Assuming that this african american woman is the nanny to this little white boy harkens back to a time when little white boys did frequently have african american servants or "mammy"s. They're not asking "are you the nanny?" so she can politely say "no" they're asking "how long have you been with the boy?" What precisely is she supposed to answer to that? "His whole life"? And then let this ignorant person go on thinking she's the nanny? And I get the impression this question is being asked by snooty people and that the author isn't using this response EVERY SINGLE TIME so just cool your jets in calling her snarky, or mean or whatever else you feel like calling someone who daily suffers racial prejudice and has ONE CLEVER COMEBACK.

Posted by: _Miles | October 2, 2007 11:16 AM

It's important to remember that we are all a product of our environment. As one poster pointed ount, there are so many nannies per square inch in NYC that this should be considered a factor. I've been part of a biracial family since 1977, so I am a little more perceptive to the concept of multi-racial families. However, a lot of people have lived in predominantly white neighborhoods, attended predominantly white schools/churches and see things accordingly.

I think it's important to understand someone's intent before being angry or responding with malice. If someone simply mistakenly assumes that she is a nanny, I don't believe there is malicious intent there. And I don't think it's necessarily fair to dub this racism. It's most likely mistaken identity. Racism would be picking up your child and walking away from a biracial child.

Posted by: pepperjade | October 2, 2007 11:26 AM

"ONE CLEVER COMEBACK"

Sir, I take umbrage at your assertion that the comeback in question is indeed clever. I think not so clever really - just snide.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 2, 2007 11:30 AM

"I'm just wondering what the "right" question is?"

Hmmm. What is the "right" question when you start up a conversation with a person you don't know? *taps forehead*

1. Isn't this great weather?

2. How 'bout those 'Skins / Jets / Giants / Yankees / 'Canes?

3. May I borrow some of your Purel?

4. What's your horoscope?

5. Do you come here often?

6. Do you drive an environmentally destructive SUV?

If the diverse group of people who submit comments on this blog put all of their collective heads together, I'd bet $20 that we could come up with a great list of 200 or more conversation-starting questions without ever considering, "how long have you been with him?"

Laura, Kudos for the best suggestion of the day: "The only thing that I've found that works is to assume the most flattering thing." What a great rule for life.

Posted by: Megans_Neighbor | October 2, 2007 11:31 AM


I think we all have our little quirks that reliably provoke the same superficial response from strangers.

When people ask me what I do and I tell them I'm a physics professor, 85% of the time I get a confessional or awed+confessional response: "Oh, I hated physics"; "I was terrible at physics"; "Physics almost kept me out of med school"; "that's great, I could never do that". Why angst that aspects of your identity provide a superficial Rohrshach, triggering the same repeated superficial responses from peoples' own experiences? It's just a starting point; it's perfectly possible to empathize and move on. It's repetitive to you but unfamiliar and reflexive to your counterpart. Get-acquainted 'small talk' by nature runs in these superficial, somewhat dopey and predictable channels, until some connection is made; god knows many of my get-acquainted comments fail to be novel and scintillating.

More annoying is my tendency to get mistaken for a secretary by visitors/meandering students/etc. . . something that happens repeatedly to women in science. Usually it's incidental and innocent; sometimes it's quite persistent (people really expect a secretary to drop everything and assume all comers' problems as her own, so they sometimes get in a needy/demanding mindset that won't let go. . . ) Questions I can answer are often quicker to just answer, who cares about correcting incidental impressions; most are quickest to redirect ("Ah, you'll need to see a department secretary in room xxx or at phone number yyy for that"). Sometimes an increasingly sharp or rude edge is needed to deflect persistent ones . . . I remember one who called my phone number (why?) and after a barrage of demands which I was redirecting to the department office asked, "well, can't you just connect me?". I replied, "sorry, faculty phones can't do that. Only secretaries get the fancy phones." Scientists tend to dress down to show they don't take frivolity and style seriously, they're focused on their work; but women in science also dress down to avoid being mistaken for the better dressed (and less comfortable) secretaries! (which also means we get mistaken for grad students, but big deal, I don't expect people to intuit my identity, as if it were so all-important as to be self-evident). But the main point is to dispatch efficiently, without angst, these misassumptions and their presumption on our time; I've found it most effective to redirect matter-of-factly and with only as much brusqueness as is needed. Little is gained by stewing over a recurrent social glitch.

Posted by: kbatl | October 2, 2007 11:32 AM

But the main point is to dispatch efficiently, without angst, these misassumptions and their presumption on our time; I've found it most effective to redirect matter-of-factly and with only as much brusqueness as is needed. Little is gained by stewing over a recurrent social glitch.


Posted by: kbatl | October 2, 2007 11:32 AM

Deep-down, you're an engineer, aren't you? ;-)

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 2, 2007 11:39 AM

Good for you, Kamrya. I can't blame you for getting annoyed. Just this week a nanny pointed to my daughter at asked: "Is she yours"? And she and I are both white, look alike, etc. I guess being home during the day made her wonder. I was annoyed at the time, and there were no implications for race, class, etc., so I can't imagine how it must make you feel. Props to you for getting past it as often as you do. And I love the snarky comments, too.

Posted by: KTedrow | October 2, 2007 11:41 AM

Moxiemo

"ONE CLEVER COMEBACK"

"Sir, I take umbrage at your assertion that the comeback in question is indeed clever. I think not so clever really - just snide."


Yes. The comeback is snide and a poor example for kids.

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 2, 2007 11:45 AM

"I don't expect people to intuit my identity, as if it were so all-important as to be self-evident"

Best line so far, in my book!

Posted by: laura33 | October 2, 2007 11:46 AM

Ann, I have an obvious handicap, and if I got $1 for evry time somebody asked me, "Do you need help?", I'd never have to raid my kid's piggy bank for beer money again.

Ding! A light just went off in my head. The next time somebody asks me if I NEED help, I'll ask them for $20, then $10, then $5, at least I should get some change out of them, you think?

... or maybe I should sour the mood and pretend that I'm offended.

Posted by: DandyLion | October 2, 2007 11:48 AM

kbatl takes the cake. There are too many good points to point out. I'm also young, female, and in science, as are many of my friends. What do I care if they assume I'm someone's assistant? I just point them to the person they need to talk to. When people assume I'm working at Old Navy etc (which happens every time I go shopping) I don't automatically freak out and spill my CV. I just say I don't work here. Neither experience is insulting.

Posted by: atb2 | October 2, 2007 11:53 AM

"Do you need help?", Posted by: DandyLion | October 2, 2007 11:48 AM

It seems to me fundamentally different to ask if you need help than to assume you do. That said how 'bout this for a retort:

Yes, quick, where's the nearest psychiatrist?!

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 2, 2007 11:58 AM

marylandmother wrote

>Deep-down, you're an engineer, aren't you? ;-)

I'm taking that as a compliment ;-) I'm a theorist, head-in-the-sky, with an underdeveloped engineering side . . . but I guess I am practical on this point. Stewing never accomplished anything for me but magnifying the disruption. But since the situation *is* so recurrent/predictable, you need only find one strategy to cope with it graciously, with minimal intrusion and upset, and then it's defused . . .

Posted by: kbatl | October 2, 2007 11:58 AM

I would like to point out to the people who believe that the "How long have you been with him" comment was the first comment, Kamyra says:

"However, I wasn't on my best behavior one afternoon when a woman asked me, after meeting my son, "How long have you been with him?" I haughtily replied, "Since my husband knocked me up.""

This was after meeting her son. It is a very safe assumption that there were at least a few words spoken before the question was asked.

Posted by: r6345 | October 2, 2007 12:00 PM

I don't know how you handled it without going off on the other person. I personally would have been tempted to say, "hmm--how long HAS it been since I met those white tourists in (Caribbean country)? I bet they really miss this little guy--oops, I've said too much!" or something like that. But I love the answer you gave. Maybe a cold stare, followed by "what do you mean?" would stop them in their tracks, while giving them a chance to explain (and thus fully admit to) their stereotypical thoughts.

I often wonder if I will have this problem. BF is Asian and I'm white, and it's highly doubtful that our kids will have my blonde hair, pale skin and blue eyes. They will probably look at least Asian in part, and I'm sure some will think they're adopted. But I probably won't encounter such racism as you have, and that says something about our society that really makes me sad.

Posted by: Monagatuna | October 2, 2007 12:03 PM


LOL, atb, maybe we're twins. I do make it a point when I go to Target not to be wearing red top/khaki pants --- I get enough of those "where can I find xxx"/"do you work here" questions already! Maybe I just give off "I can help you" beckoning vibes!

I'm not insulted, either, just want to avoid long diversions of my time/mental focus . . .

Posted by: kbatl | October 2, 2007 12:05 PM

"are nannies offended if people assume they are mothers? No, probably not. "

Ours was.

Seriously, our first au pair was from England but of Pakistani descent - olive or slightly darker skin; very dark hair. She was out one day with the one daughter who happens to be a blue-eyed blond, and someone commented on what a lovely child she had.

She was very offended; she asked the commenter if the commented really believed that someone like her could really give birth to a child that looked like that.

She also pointed out that she was far too young to have a child that age.

(But then, that au pair never did have any manners.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | October 2, 2007 12:06 PM

With all due respect, assuming that a consumer is an employee at a retail establishment carries neither the historical baggage nor the socio-economic implications of assuming, as Miles notes' that an African-American woman is the nanny to a white child. DandyLion's experience comes closer in terms of the repetitive, and perhaps demeaning, nature of such assumptions, e.g., that a physically disabled person needs assistance in completing a task, but at least in his experience speakers intend to be helpful. Perhaps we should consider whether we know as much as we think we know about what it's like to walk in Kamrya's shoes.

Posted by: Megans_Neighbor | October 2, 2007 12:06 PM

Hmm, if you enter into a biracial marriage, you have to know that you will have some hiccups along the way. When families look much different from each other, people will assume things, it's just human nature. Now having said that, it is never ok to be rude but since it is uncommon, it's not surprising that she encounters people asking questions that may be hurtful.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 2, 2007 12:08 PM

MN- But it's OK to assume a woman is a secretary? Age-old sexism is OK, but not this alleged racism? This does not seem racist to me. It appears as if asking if someone is the nanny is perfectly normal if you see a woman out during the day. Why does it have to be more than this?

Posted by: atb2 | October 2, 2007 12:09 PM

Actually, Leslie, snippy comebacks are NOT good lessons to be teaching your kids. Kamyra is NOT sticking up for herself. You stick up for yourself when someone is trying to do you wrong. These people asking her questions based on the fact that Kamyra and her child do not look alike are NOT trying to do Kamyra wrong.

Moreover, how is responding rudely to questions a good life lesson? If you believe the question is rude (as you do), then what does it teach your child if you respond with equal rudeness? That's not "disarming" as you call it. In fact, Kamyra calls it "haughtiness". Leslie, is that what you want your kids to learn?

For my kids, I want them to learn grace under pressure. I want them to learn forgiveness and not to assume the worst about others. I want them to learn empathy so that they can imagine themselves in someone else's shoes and then realize that maybe the person didn't intend their comment to be rude/racist/(fill-in-the-blank). And I want them to learn that revenge (i.e. responding with rudeness, etc.) is wrong. Maybe I'm crazy but I think those are far better value than what you would teach your kids, Leslie.

Posted by: rlalumiere | October 2, 2007 12:25 PM

Oh, miles, I totally don't agree with you. My nannies take care (have taken care of ) my kids as their own. We used to joke about our old nanny (she's not old, she's just not our current nanny) that we weren't sure that she liked to let us be alone with the kids and we were hoping she'd let us take them on vacation with us - as she wouldn't be seeing them as often and wouldn't be able to keep an eye on us!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 12:26 PM

I think the person asking the question was exposing their gender bias rather than their color bias. Very few Dads are asked if they are the Dad or the "caretaker" because this job is still primarily being done by WOMEN. If a man is in the park with a kid, you know it's the father. She was no doubt sussing out how to "talk" to you - as an equal (mom) or as a subordinate (nanny.) And that pisses me off to no end - women treating other women as lower than themselves because they work as nannies, au pairs, etc. You're in the park together, you're obviously all taking care of children - what more do you need in common to start a polite conversation?

Posted by: liduggan | October 2, 2007 12:31 PM

kbatl, I get the same response as a female chemist. I take it as a compliment, along the lines of, "You must be really smart to understand such a hard subject." It helps that I don't fit the stereotype of the nerdy scientist. I love exploding stereotypes like these.

Kamyra, my family adopted a biracial boy with African features when he was an infant. You should hear my lily white mother's stories of the looks she got when she took him to the grocery store. This was in the seventies when biracial marriages were rarer (my father is also white). When someone asked her about it she said the child was the mailman's. In her case she perceived definite racism in those stares, not simply curiosity. As if there was something wrong with a white woman reproducing with a black man. That, btw, is exactly what happened with my bro's birth parents: we learned that the white mother gave the baby up to avoid being ostracized for having slept with a black man (and out of wedlock, too). Sigh, I thought we had made some progress as a society.

Posted by: kk | October 2, 2007 12:35 PM

rlalumiere - i think this is one place where i have to agree to disagree with you. i hear what you are saying and i respect it -- there are lots of good ways to deal with this kind of situation, including let it pass and talking with your kids later.

for my part, i would never let a sexist comment pass in front of my daughters, and i apply the same standard here. i don't ever want my daughters to think that derogatory assumptions about them because of their gender are valid.

Posted by: leslie4 | October 2, 2007 12:41 PM

Oh, miles, I totally don't agree with you. My nannies take care (have taken care of ) my kids as their own. We used to joke about our old nanny (she's not old, she's just not our current nanny) that we weren't sure that she liked to let us be alone with the kids and we were hoping she'd let us take them on vacation with us - as she wouldn't be seeing them as often and wouldn't be able to keep an eye on us!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 12:26 PM

Sorry I didn't meant to imply that nannies don't take good care of children, and that most don't treat the children as if they were their own. I just meant society does not perceive it that way, I think we are always on guard in public for people mistreating children, and if there's a suspicion that the person is a "nanny" (or au pair) then likely that person will get a lot more public scrutiny. I think people make an effort to look out for other people's children in public. Same as if you saw a small child alone, you'd probably try to help them out.

Posted by: _Miles | October 2, 2007 12:58 PM

Posted by: kbatl | October 2, 2007 11:32 AM

Heh, your post is spot on. I work at an engineering company and started as a "department assistant." Now that I'm in a technical job field, I've tried to 'dress down.' They say you should dress for the job you want to be, and the engineers and other technical professionals usually wear jeans and tennies. Only the secretaries, assistants, and executive assistants dress professionally (ok, the male executies dress professionally too). My boss is female and doesn't dress "as nice" as her male supervisor peers, I wonder if it's so she's not mistaken for a secretary type. It's not easy as women to make the transition. And then there's the double whammy that women, no matter the profession, are supposed to smile and be friendly all the time in the work place. Try getting by without a smile and you've offended everyone. But that's a complaint for another day...

Posted by: _Miles | October 2, 2007 1:04 PM

Another thing is: I have a very unusual name, and a degree in Math. I actually think that when I was out of college, even though I am a US citizen (as well as all of my grandparents, of eastern european descent, etc, etc), I got the feeling that sending out my resume to people (as opposed to talking with headhunters on the phone and/or meeting someone in person) that they thought: hey, that's a foreigner, we'd rather go with a local. I can't prove any of that happened - and I thought it would be funny if it did, but I always had that nagging feeling...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 1:08 PM


kk,

I also take no offence and like to present a more accessible face for my discipline, and I often emphasize how important good teaching is, in keeping math/physics accessible at every stage, since it's so sequential. It's easy to lose the thread. But I just get that response so reliably :-)

miles,

You're saying that the black nanny/white child is an offensive assumption/possibility because of the history it harkens back to . . . but it's hardly history or harkening back. At my eldest's preschool (in Atlanta) pickups were about 50% by moms or neighbors/carpools, 50% by sitters or nannies, and of the sitters (of maybe 80% white kids) about 70% were black, 15% Hispanic, 15% white. So a black sitter for a non-black child is still a commonplace (likely so in NYC as well). Having that as one possible relationship in mind is not inherently racist, it's just one likely possibility among several. And there's nothing shameful or offensive about being a nanny/sitter. No more than there is about being a secretary or other identity that happens not to be yours. Yes, there may be a class difference but why is it so important for class to shine through, if you feel both occupations honorable and worthwhile?

I'm wondering though now if its less the mistaken identity thing and more the overlooked relationship: that you love and nurture your child so much you want the fact that he's *yours* to just shine through.

Posted by: kbatl | October 2, 2007 1:13 PM

"women, no matter the profession, are supposed to smile and be friendly..."

Yeah, and if so endowed, should sport some cleavage from time to time. :-)

Posted by: DandyLion | October 2, 2007 1:13 PM

I am lurking today because I think this one might affect ProudMama lots more than it affects me.

When people see me with my beautiful little boy they assume I'm the dad. Because the alternative would be to assume a male nanny, I suppose. Which is very rare.

My little guy has very light skin, so who don't know differently would assume his dad is hispanic.

I don't have anything wise to say. Other than, perhaps that ProudMama is stern enough that people rarely ask her questions that can be taken as offensive. Maybe that's a tip. Scowl more?

Posted by: ProudPapa15 | October 2, 2007 1:18 PM

Ha ha proud papa.
My husband has very dark skin (olive tone) and I'm white as a ghost. So one of our kids has my skin tone and the other one has DHs. It's funny, really, since they look EXACTLY alike, except for the skin tone (and maybe slight difference in hair color).

No one has ever mistaken either of us as not the parent, but it is funny to me that they are brothers.

KB: I too hated physics. just didn't make any sense to me. I took one physics class in college and that was enough for me. I could do the problems once they were formulated (the math part) but the formulating them was the tough thing - logically, I could hardly grasp it. I failed the first exam, got a C+ in the course, and was really proud of that!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 1:22 PM

I found this blog very interesting. While I did think her knocked up comment was absolutely hysterical I do think it defeats the purpose of "educating" others. Whether we like it or not, the world has NO shortage of idiots and sometimes it is our job to educate them. Growing up in an all white or black or whatever neighborhood is no excuse in this day and age. Have these people ever heard of the internet, newspaper, or TV? Anyway, the point I would like to make is it is not Kymra's job to educate people but it becomes her burden. And you will get better results with a more polite response. I always thought the best responses are snarky coated in politeness. Then the person gets to know they were WRONG and goes away with not being quite sure if they are being insulted or not. I probably could come up with an example if I had more time. I have heard some great ones aimed at big families. Like if some says I could never have that many kids. YOu say something like, "yes, I could see that you couldn't handle more then your two." But honestly, people are sensitive and isn't it better to aire (sp?) on the cautious side. I was actually a little shocked by Laura's post about if somebody says something snarky, I will just feel more intimitated to socialize the next time. If you make an assumption and ask a rather stupid question, you have to expect at least some of the time you are going to get a nasty comment in return. I am still amazed that all the people actually care about anyone else. In NY no less. But it is definitely different with women of color. Because in reverse ( a white mom and a dark skinned child) the assumption is the child is adopted. I see that time in and time out. Overall, I don't think people mean to be rude but it is still important to point out that their comment is none of their business and hurtful nonetheless.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 2, 2007 1:27 PM

Foamy you make a great point. Curious as to how atlmom1234 sees that.

I've always been of the opinion that one of the things I owe my biracial child is to continue the process of "educating" (sorry if that term sounds condescending) those who would have a well-intended curiousity as to what our family's thoughts and experiences are.

That's part of why I follow this blog, actually.

Posted by: ProudPapa15 | October 2, 2007 1:34 PM

Overall, I don't think people mean to be rude but it is still important to point out that their comment is none of their business and hurtful nonetheless.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 2, 2007 01:27 PM

See I just don't see it as our job to educate other people, nor do I think her comment rude, but I guess plenty of people on here do.

kbatl - Just because that's the "common" makeup of your area of Atlanta doesn't mean it's an assumption that's good to make, anywhere. And I think the author has a right to 'defend' herself in wit, though I am seeing most people do not see her comment as witty.

ProudPapa - I find scowling works excellently for all situations. At work I have a friendly, approachable attitude (years of being an assistant ingrained in me) and find if I don't turn it off so to speak, I get weird questions/comments all the time. Guess I'd rather look like I'm having a really bad day than have to 'educate' people as foamgnome suggests.

Posted by: _Miles | October 2, 2007 1:36 PM

"women, no matter the profession, are supposed to smile and be friendly..."

Yeah, and if so endowed, should sport some cleavage from time to time. :-)"

Thanks for the laugh DandyLion. Fact is, we women get it coming and going. I have students write on their anonymous course evaluations things like, "You should wear more makeup and have longer hair." and "You're hot!" (I'm not making this up.) I can only imagine what comments I would get if I wore mini-skirts and showed cleavage. Look what reaction Hillary got to her v-neck shirt.
The sad fact is that we are judged just as much according to whether we are conforming to certain expectations about feminine behavior as we are according to our expertise and skill. That said, I have never felt the need to dress like a grad student to avoid being mistaken for a secretary. I still rather like having people underestimate me and then be surprised. Most days. I do like to get a good snark on occasionally.

Posted by: kk | October 2, 2007 1:39 PM

rlalumiere,

I am going to agree with Leslie on this one. I would never let a rude comment go past me, especially if my child was with me. I am not going to teach my child that they are a door mat or that it is their job to educate the rude and stupid people in the world. As I said before, who gets to determine what good manners are? I am sure that if you spit, hit, or scream at someone we can all agree that is rude. However, if someone asks you how long you have been with a child and you reply since my husband knocked me up; I'd say that it is a deserved comment.

I've been to parties when I was younger with my husband where people ask me what it was like to have running water now and if I felt better now and other rude questions about where and how I grew up. The first few times I smiled and took it because I didn't want to be rude. However, after the third or fourth comment I let them have it. I put them in their place.
.

Posted by: Irishgirl | October 2, 2007 1:42 PM

_Miles: I said it wasn't her job to "educate" others but unfortunately it becomes our burden. I thought the comment about being knocked up was hysterical. But I can see how some people take it to be rude.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 2, 2007 1:42 PM

kbatl: "pickups were about 50% by moms or neighbors/carpools, 50% by sitters or nannies,"

How are you determining which are which? After today's discussion, how confident can you feel identifying one from another?

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 2, 2007 1:43 PM

Ah, KK, one of my posts got somebody to smile/laugh. My work here is done for today.

Posted by: DandyLion | October 2, 2007 1:47 PM


LOL, tomtildrum, usually from context . . . actually met the parents along with the kids at other dropoffs or events, parents/sitters introduced themselves to compliment kids/arrange playdates, sitters bustled kids off with "We'll have to be sure to show that beautiful picture to Mommy tonight!", kids called sitters by name and moms by a "Mommy" variant (not foolproof, I know). But, thankfully, not because I asked?! (My default waiting-for-kids question is usually something like, "so, who are you attached to?"; that is, if I'm not trying to hustle my own along.) But then these would be kid-adult pairs seen everyday, not just an incidental meeting in a park.

Posted by: kbatl | October 2, 2007 1:57 PM

atlmom: us too! I am pure blue-eyed scotch-irish, my husband is swarthy. So we have one little brown-haired, brown-eyed girl who instantly tans at the slightest hint of sun, and one blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who turns beet red after 5 minutes playing outside. And, of course, neither one looks anything like me. :-)

foamgnome, you missed my point a little: the problem is, when you're socially awkward, you don't know WHAT is a stupid question and what is appropriate. You KNOW that you will be scorned if you ask something stupid, but you also know that in the heat of the moment, you can't always judge what's stupid and what's not -- so you end up living in fear that whatever you say will be wrong.

Here's what happens: you meet someone, you want to chitchat, but you go into this little mild panic mode trying to think of something to say. So you light on the most obvious thing, the thing that is "different." And in your panic to say something, anything rather than just sit there tongue-tied, you say something incredibly dumb, like "your grandson sure is cute," or "is he your child?" And the second it leaves your mouth, you start kicking yourself, because you know it was stupid. At this point, the other person holds all the cards. She can be gracious and laugh it off, in which case you relax enough to start chatting (while still kicking yourself for your stupidity -- but you think she's incredibly nice for looking past your gaffe). Or she can snark, in which case you clam up and walk away, while that little voice inside your head says, "see? I TOLD you you shouldn't try."

This is why at parties, I tend to spend a lot of time at the buffet. :-)

People seem to be viewing every foot-in-mouth as proof positive of racism, or sexism, or some other horrible thing. But seriously, does everyone here except me have such perfect social skills that you've never said something stupid or inappropriate? If so, please let me know when you start holding classes, because I want to learn how to manage that. Yes, there are clear cases of racism or classism. But every stupid comment does not qualify.

Posted by: laura33 | October 2, 2007 2:01 PM

Laura: OK, why doesn't the little voice in your head learn something and say OK that is what NOT to say? I am not trying to be mean but a lot of what you describe is sort of like mild forms of autism which is a social disorder. In therapy for autistic children, they literally go over and practice social dialogue. Believe it or not, I run into far more socially awkward people. I am just amazed it would stop you from trying. At some point, you just have to say, I am the one who is socially awkward and if I want to stop nasty comments, I am going to have to learn what is considered generally acceptable. The difference between socially awkward and true forms of autism is that autistic people seem indifferent to the nasty comments. They can't even decipher when some one is being snarky. If you can decipher that, then your half way there. Just a few thoughts. I certainly wasn't trying to be difficult. I am just surprised by it.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 2, 2007 2:07 PM

Oh Laura, we all have said something stupid or awkward at some point. Some of us just considered it a learning experience and took away something positive. And for some people the rude and obnoxious comments are actually considered funny to the reciever. I know quite a lot of people that would say touche or that was a good one.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 2, 2007 2:09 PM

proudpapa: don't know what I said to make you want to hear my comments, but I completely agree with foamgnome. She made some good points.

Laura: at the end of the summer, one child is very dark, the other still white as a ghost - mom is VERY attuned to putting lots of sunscreen on, but the one gets so dark anyway.

At a HOLIDAY PARTY (so, in DECEMBER) I had a coworker come up to me and ask if my (then) boyfriend was black (now husband). I just chuckled. I really didn't know what to say (and no, it wasn't anyone being rude, THAT I know - no mistake about it).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 2:10 PM

oh, DandyLion, it made me laugh too!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 2:12 PM

People do make stupid comments all the time. When I was a baby, in the early 70s, my parents were in some store, where the clerk looked at my mother (black) and my father (white) and me (slightly darker complexioned than my father with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes) and actually said, "I didn't think it was genetically possible." I wonder if it ever occurred to her how idiotic that was. I have no idea what my parents said in response; perhaps they were stunned speechless. But that phrase has come down in family lore.

Posted by: rockvillemom | October 2, 2007 2:17 PM

Laura, I'll stand next to you at the buffet! I get similarly tongue tied in social situations and either say something stupid or don't say the thing that should be said (my kids come by their autism honestly!). And maybe that's why I don't take offense at whatever people assume about my parenting skills, or my marital situation (different last name than my DH--people often assume that we're divorced) and I gamely put up with the same dumb joke about my last name that I've heard at least three times a week for my whole life.

Posted by: sarahfran | October 2, 2007 2:20 PM

Okay, let's slice this another way: We all occasionally say something totally stupid and possibly offensive. Last week I committed a faux paus so stupid (to one of my kid's teachers!) I can't even tell you about it, I'm still so embarrassed. What do you do in that situation? Should Kamyra's offenders apologize? Come clean and say, "Wow, I can't believe I just said that horribly racist/sexist/offensive thing?" Or does that make it worse? What if you blunder again in your apology? Is it enough to just vow that you will be more careful next time?

Posted by: leslie4 | October 2, 2007 2:37 PM

Laura,

I'll join you in the buffet line, offer you a margarita, then we'll sneak outside and swap reading lists.

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 2, 2007 2:38 PM

Is it that we should never remark about resemblence? I once said to my brother that his best friend was the spitting image of his father, only to find out he was adopted. Genetics and chance can intersect in interesting ways. My parents could be brother and sister... we've had many comments about how our family is easy to pick out of a crowd. Is it flattering to say you look like someone and rude to say you don't?

Posted by: MaryL | October 2, 2007 2:43 PM

I advocate prompt, heart-felt but brief apologies. They frequently evoke gracious acceptances from the wronged party. The sooner both parties can put the incident behind them, the smaller it tends to become. One size doesn't fit all, but each of us is adult enough to figure out how to handle the situation from both sides of the fence (i.e., whether as offender or offendee).

Posted by: mehitabel | October 2, 2007 2:44 PM

Foam,

You know I love you, but some people just never really "get" how to read other people. Others never really "get" statistics. Or how to bake the perfect popover. I know that I seem to have some sort of magic touch for being either too late, or too early, or dropping something.

Fortunately, I can do mousse. I cheat. Two boxes of chocolate Jello pudding, one tub of cool-whip and some milk. Beat it to death. Put it on top of a chocolate cake.

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 2, 2007 2:46 PM

What do you do in that situation? Should Kamyra's offenders apologize? Come clean and say, "Wow, I can't believe I just said that horribly racist/sexist/offensive thing?" Or does that make it worse? What if you blunder again in your apology? Is it enough to just vow that you will be more careful next time?

Posted by: leslie | October 2, 2007 02:37 PM

I'd go for the quick apology. I think that would save on the obsessing on it from either end. And hopefully that would help train us out of saying dumb things in the first place. And I think that blundering the apology is probably better than not apologizing at all.

Posted by: rockvillemom | October 2, 2007 2:48 PM

Quick apology, yes. Mental palm to forehead and note to try not to repeat error, too.

Posted by: MaryL | October 2, 2007 2:51 PM

Leslie maybe something like "oh I'm sorry, how stupid of me" or "oh I'm sorry, what a stupid mistake for me to make." I don't think aknowledging it as sexist/racist is useful, even if that's what prompted you to act like an idiot and even if the other person gets it. They just need you to be instantly remorseful, say you're sorry, and move on. Saying "I'm sorry how racist of me" is probably going a bit overboard. The offended party probably has a good guess as to what made you say what you did, no need to to compound it, just admit you were briefly an idiot and use your character to prove you are NOT sexist or racist from there on after.

Posted by: _Miles | October 2, 2007 2:52 PM

Fortunately, I can do mousse. I cheat. Two boxes of chocolate Jello pudding, one tub of cool-whip and some milk. Beat it to death. Put it on top of a chocolate cake.

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 2, 2007 02:46 PM

Thanks M_M, love it, best tip of the day!

Posted by: _Miles | October 2, 2007 2:53 PM

I am trying to remember the last time I said something offensive or that was taken as something offensive, and one time in particular comes to mind. I had a coworker who was dark skinned and had very black hair. She looked like she was probably hispanic, and I asked her where she was from, as a way of making conversation and perhaps finding something in common. She seemed very offended by the question and answered that she was American. But I continued and asked her if her family was from South America. She glared at me. So I just kept on fumbling along, and told her that I was hispanic, and wondered if she was also. She then softened up a bit and said that yes, her family was Mexican, but that she did not like to admit it, because she had experienced so much racism from others. The minute she discovered that I was just looking for some commonality, she was no longer offended. I can see that sometimes, these questions do seem intrusive and rude. I am no expert on diffusing the situation though. I would like to think that I would always try to be polite, but knowing myself, I know it wouldn't always be true.

Posted by: Emily | October 2, 2007 2:54 PM

As I am a statistician, I am constantly surrounded by adults who don't get social situations. I am also raising a kid on the autism spectrum. So I am learning how she views the world. It is interesting that some people don't pick up social cues. I just think we all could learn about different social interactions by practice. I think apologies go a long way. My guess is 9 times out of 10 the person did not construe the comments to be offensive. I think a "gee I am sorry. I did not see that my comments may be perceived that way. " I think that works a long way. If they can't accept that then they are the one with issues and I would just walk away.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 2, 2007 2:56 PM

"Should Kamyra's offenders apologize? Come clean and say, 'Wow, I can't believe I just said that horribly racist/sexist/offensive thing?'"

I sure hope so, because that's pretty much what I do. Not so much as a formal, sincere apology, but more along the lines of wow, I can't believe that just came out of my mouth. Most people seem to get that ok.

Foamy, it's not that I haven't learned -- when you say X and it goes badly, you pretty much figure out not to say X. But there's still the whole rest of the alphabet out there. . . . :-)

Blogs are weird. I realize I'm coming off today as a total social nincompoop. I'm actually not so bad -- as I've aged, I've gotten less intimidated (because I realize it matters less what other people think), gained experience on what are appropriate things to say, learned that assuming the best rarely gets you in trouble, and discovered that a sense of humor and perspective go a long way towards defusing a situation (plus learned other valuable coping skills, like where the buffet line starts). But I guess this is just a fairly sensitive issue for me, because I remember like it was yesterday that feeling of clueless panic when you don't know what to say, and I don't think that little voice in my head will ever completely go away.

Posted by: laura33 | October 2, 2007 3:01 PM

Then, there's the time in college when we walked by a mostly Jewish fraternity and someone commented: look, it's the K*** house (a term I had actually never heard anyone actually use - as in, I had heard the term, but never from uttered by an actual person).
We left soon after...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 3:07 PM

Here's a question I puzzle about. What do you say when someone you don't know well uses racist/sexist/anti-Semitic language? A woman I knew, but not well, checked the change in her bag and announced she'd been "jew'ed" at the store. And I was too flabbergasted to say anything.

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 2, 2007 3:18 PM

Ann:I would be sort of obnoxious and say something like "I can't believe you just said that. My grandmother is Jewish." At that point, they are too dumbfounded to say anything and you can just say, " I am just kidding. But really, your comment came off as rather anti semitic. I am sure you did not mean it that way." That usually works. It gives them the benefit of the doubt but lets them know that the comment is definitely perceived as prejudice. Unless the person really is racist/seixst/anti-Semitic, that works well. If they are really prejudice then, there is really nothing more you can say because they are probably lost to reason at that point.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 2, 2007 3:23 PM

Wow, Anne, that's a tough one. I think flabbergasted is a fairly typical response.

I had this happen once that I remember: my grandmother was in town to introduce us to her new fiance. I was about 14-15, I guess. He started making racist comments (not of the "are you the nanny?" type, either -- not much room for doubt over what he meant). At first I was, well, completely flabbergasted, and had no clue what to say or do. I kept expecting my mother to step in and stop him. But she didn't. So I finally mustered up all of my courage, and very quietly said, "you know, I really wish you wouldn't talk about black people that way, because a lot of my friends at school are black, and it makes me really uncomfortable to hear you talk that way about them." He of course blustered a little about how he didn't mean it that way, but he stopped. I don't think for one minute it changed the way he thought, but at least he stopped talking like that around us.

Posted by: laura33 | October 2, 2007 3:30 PM

Should Kamyra's offenders apologize? Come clean and say, 'Wow, I can't believe I just said that horribly racist/sexist/offensive thing?'

No, not if she's nasty. We walk away from nasty people and talk about them behind their backs.

Posted by: atb2 | October 2, 2007 3:30 PM

Atb, are you saying that if a person who takes offense at a nasty comment says so in a firm manner to the offender, then that offendee becomes the party in the wrong? This sounds like a game of "Gotcha."

Posted by: mehitabel | October 2, 2007 3:39 PM

I am a biracial woman who is married to a caucasian man. We have two children. My daughter is very fair like her father and my son is a bit darker with more of a resemblance to me.

I am so glad that Kamyra shared her story. This is something I deal with quite a bit and it's comforting to hear from others going through similar things.

The world has progressed pretty far but we still have a ways to go. When my parents were married in 1966 it was still illegal in many states for them to marry. Now, it is better but I must admit it is still difficult when it comes to teaching my now elementary school age children about prejudice. I haven't read what anyone else wrote but just wanted to say brava to Kamyra for her entry.

BTW I used to post under downtown working mom but apparently now we must use our user ID.

Posted by: soleil2000 | October 2, 2007 3:53 PM

I get that look on my face that you probably do, anne. Realistically, many people don't even know it's derogatory - especially a comment like that.
I dated a catholic boy once and was hanging with him and his parents and one of his parents said that - then she was mortified, and actually realized what it meant - she literally had never thought about it before, there really weren't any jews where they lived, everyone she knew used the term. And they was DEFINITELY not racist/anti semitic - that I know.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 3:57 PM

Kamyra, thanks for sharing your guest blog. I've skimmed the comments and am amazed at how many people think those assumptions should be or are harmless - they're not. I don't blame you at all for occasionally sniping back, and given the stories others have shared about sniping over their own pet issues I'm surprised to see so many people taking umbrage here.

Posted by: LizaBean | October 2, 2007 3:58 PM

Atlmom and Anne, If it's a stranger in public or a near-stranger who says something bigoted, I just shoot them a quick silent look rather like the one might use if someone had just belched deliberately loudly in order to be offensive.

Posted by: mehitabel | October 2, 2007 4:02 PM

I agree, LizaBean. Some of the people who were dismissive toward Kamyra's concerns seem to live in glass houses.

Posted by: mehitabel | October 2, 2007 4:03 PM

I said nothing about a "firm" comment. I said nasty. I will in no way, shape, or form grovel at someone's feet who has been nasty. If you just say, "you know, that's insensitive," I'll be more than happy to look at what I said and how I said it and apologize, provided you didn't get bent out of shape because I asked "so, where are you from?" at a party. If you get nasty, I can only assume you're a nasty person.

Posted by: atb2 | October 2, 2007 4:05 PM

Atb, you're still blaming the target of the insensitive comment.

Posted by: mehitabel | October 2, 2007 4:08 PM

Good tip my dad (grew up in rural GA during the hayday of the Klan) gave me as a teenager:

One of the few social advantages of being a black male over 6 feet tall is that people will rarely come at you and get nasty. If somebody does, you can be sure they want you to be nasty back...

I am surprised at how much I learned today. I don't get nearly this much 'negative' commentary when I'm out with the boy. Generally all positive stuff. Of course, my little guy is the most beautiful kid in the world.... ;-)

Posted by: ProudPapa15 | October 2, 2007 4:30 PM


mehitabel, what happens if atb didn't realize the original comment was insensitive, and the response was downright nasty?

Here's a scenario: I'm at a conference, there's a reception in the evening, and in making small talk with another attendee, I casually ask, "so, where you from?" The response is "I'm as American as you are, a##h#le, so you can stop the racist jokes now."

Okay, I didn't realize that my original comment was going to offend the other person, and in fact I was trying to find out for what organization the other person worked. (Although admittedly I could have phrased it more explicitly, in a professional context "where you from?" is often understood to mean "where do you work?") However, the other person is maybe Asian or Hispanic or whatever in appearance, and is tired of people assuming he's an immigrant. I talked to him at the wrong time and he snapped.

So, who's right or wrong?

And, more to the point, if I respond by making it clear that the person is a rude and obnoxious jerk, have I committed a double faux pas? Is he blameless for his comment?

Posted by: ArmyBrat | October 2, 2007 4:33 PM

ProudPapa, One of the hallmarks of some of the most high-profile demonstrations during the Civil Rights movement of the late '50s/early '60s was the stoicism and placid demeanor with which the peaceful protesters endured the vile and violent abuse of their segregationist opponents. During those comparatively early years of TV news, the moving (in both senses of the word) images coming into people's homes each evening prodded the consciences of many basically good but previously unconcerned viewers.

Posted by: mehitabel | October 2, 2007 4:40 PM

I casually ask, "so, where you from?" The response is "I'm as American as you are, a##h#le, so you can stop the racist jokes now."

Army Brat, I'd laugh and explain that I was merely inquiring where s/he worked. Then the other person might actually wind up apologizing to me for having overreacted!

Posted by: mehitabel | October 2, 2007 4:42 PM

ArmyBrat, here's my proposed general protocol for situations where it's clear there's some misunderstanding that's got everyone's back up - if you can be the bigger person and apologize and try to clear it up, then do. If you can't, because it's been that kind of day or it hit too big of a nerve for you or whatever, then walk away.

It just seems that there's rarely a clear answer with regard to blame or fault and somebody has to extend that kindness to the other, so what's the point of standing on the question of who it "should" be?

Posted by: LizaBean | October 2, 2007 4:51 PM

Posted by: ArmyBrat | October 2, 2007 04:33 PM

Didn't we all learn in kindergarten or from our parents that two wrongs don't make a right? Whether or not the other person is "nasty" (an overused word if ever there is one), the appropriate way to respond is, "wow, I can't believe what I said came out like that", then walk away. When we start letting others' conduct determine what is right, we are not headed in a positive direction.

Posted by: Megans_Neighbor | October 2, 2007 4:58 PM

Gotta agree with ArmyBrat and atb. Frequently these stupid comments are made out of simple ignorance and are not malicious in intent. I have less respect for someone who intentionally belittles another rather than someone who makes a social blunder.

Bottom line: we cannot control what others say or do, but we can control our own actions. How we choose to handle social indelicacies speaks to our own values.

Posted by: pepperjade | October 2, 2007 5:05 PM

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Irishgirl and Leslie, you guys are saying that I'm suggesting things that I'm not. I am not suggesting being a doormat. Nor am I suggesting that one let "sexist" or "derogatory" comments pass. Moreover, equating what happens with Kamyra as "derogatory" or "sexist" is a stretch. Is being a nanny a derogatory profession? Is assuming that someone's a nanny derogatory in some way? Only if you think being a nanny is beneath you.

Moreover, as Miss Manners could tell you (and Miss Manners does run here in the Post, right?), there are polite ways of correcting misperceptions and bad assumptions. As she would (I'm quite sure) agree, not being a doormat does not necessitate being rude or "haughtiness". In fact, my original response to Leslie was pointing out that you do not need to engage in a tit-for-tat. I never said "Be a doormat".

My major point to Leslie is that you teach your children how to respond properly and politely. It's unfortunate that the two of you (Leslie and Irishgirl) equate "politeness" with not responding to rude comments or being doormats. I think it's a sad sign of the times that the only choices people think they have for dealing with rudeness is being rude back or nothing. There's a whole world of options in between.

Posted by: rlalumiere | October 2, 2007 8:19 PM

Megan's neighbor: yes! I try to teach this every day. I can only have control over my actions - and that my kid can have control over what he does - and at the end of the day, we all have to live with ourselves.

If you can live with yourself at the end of the day and all, then it was a good day. And, I beat myself up all the time for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and think: what a dolt I am!!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 2, 2007 8:29 PM

Mehitabel- You'd probably love to live in Demolition Man world where people are only allowed to say pre-selected nicey nicey things that couldn't offend anyone ever. I'm not going to apologize for NOT making a racist, sexist, or classist comment. If you have that much trouble detecting intent from my tone, then maybe you do need to be screened for autism. There are going to be people who will be offended every day of their lives. That's not my problem. It's their problem. Is that blaming the victim? Possibly, though you've MADE yourself a victim by assuming people are out to get you. Sensitive people are exhausting to be around.

Posted by: atb2 | October 3, 2007 8:41 AM

rlalumiere

That is your opinion and you are allowed to have it, just like Leslie and I are allowed to have ours. Perhaps if the situation wasn't racially charged it would not be derogatory, but it was, and in my opinion the other person was extremely rude. I am glad for you that you have a set of morals and manners that fit your family, I have a set that fits mine, and I am sure Leslie has a set that fits hers. I see nothing wrong with being a nanny, my nephew is my nanny right now, and as I have said numerous times on this blog, at the young age of 33 I have already helped raise five children that are not mine.

No one is wrong here and there is nothing "sad" about how I deal with rude people. Perhaps if more people said things back to them, they would learn that they are being rude and try to correct their behavior. Now, I am defiantly not talking about people who have social problems. As someone who is pretty much comfortable around everyone, I would never, ever be rude or make them feel bad about a slip up.

Posted by: Irishgirl | October 3, 2007 8:41 AM

I am a white woman with two biracial kids, so I could relate to Kamyra's story. It's easy for people with children who look just like them, and who don't have to deal with situations like Kamyra's to say stuff like "who cares what other people think". My husband is a medium brown-skinned black man, and I have pale skin and red hair. Our daughter looks obviously biracial, with tan skin and tightly curled hair, but our son is barely darker than me, with very loosely curled hair, and could pass for a white Italian kid. If my husband goes somewhere with just our daughter, he doesn't really get stared at, but if he goes to stores, etc., with just our son, he gets a lot of strange looks, like he kidnapped someone else's kid. When we've been together as a family, we've had our fair share of negative experiences too. It gets very tiring after a while. How would you like to go out to eat for your husband's birthday, and get stared at so long by the occupants of an adjacent table that you lose your appetite? Or get stopped by a police officer doing security at a store, being asked to see your receipt, and having all of your shopping bags pawed through, like you are a criminal, while a bunch of other white couples/families had walked out past the guard prior to you getting there, and weren't given a second glance? Or having a potential landlord chat with you for 20 minutes on the phone (because he can tell from your voice that you are white), and being eager for you to see his rental property, knowing that you are married, have children too, but then when you arrive at his property with your black husband and biracial kids in tow, he tells you point blank that he was hoping to rent to a single person? Or the time when I was in the hospital in labor with my son, and the anethesiologist, an Asian man, came in to give me an epidural, looked at me, looked at my husband, and said to me in a nasty tone of voice, "Who is THIS guy?", as if my husband was a random black man who just wandered in off the street to watch a white woman giving birth. I can go on and on. All of the above has happened to me and my family. I don't blame Kamyra a bit for snapping at that lady who assumed she was her son's nanny. Sure, tactfulness is a good ideal to aspire to, but sometimes a person can't take much more.

Posted by: lauraconeal | October 5, 2007 11:23 PM

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