My Son is Not a Poodle

A corded Standard Poodle

Image via Wikipedia

NOT a poodle!

The other day I went to my local, organic-friendly yet cheap grocery store with Baby E in tow.  As usual, I wore Baby E in our Ergo carrier on my front. He was asleep, and because it was chilly he was wearing a hoody with the hood pulled up over his head as he slept. All you could see of his head was his dark brown, nearly black, curly afro peeking out from under the hood.

I was pondering some goods on a shelf when out of the corner of my eye I noticed an older woman reaching toward Baby E. I turned to look at her and she let out a semi-surprised, half-relieved, “Oh!”

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“Oh, I just didn’t know what that was you were carrying there. I thought it might be a poodle or something but I see it’s a baby.”

“Oh, ok…” I half-nodded my head and with a slight smile, turned away. She walked away while still offering her flustered explanations that kept stumbling over themselves.

At first, I didn’t know what to make of that moment. I suppose it could have been an amusing anecdote to tell C when I got home, yet, the encounter left me uneasy. Whether this woman realized it or not, she’d effectively “othered” my child. Here was a white woman mistaking the hair of a brown child for the fur of a poodle.

Whether she knew it or not she really said this:

  • Not-white hair is seen as not “normal” hair
  • Not-white hair when seen apart from other visibly human features can reasonably be assumed to be animal fur
  • My son can reasonably be mistaken for a poodle
  • It’s not harmful when mothers of brown children are told that their children can be mistaken for poodles or other animals
  • People wear poodles in baby carriers
  • People who might wear poodles in baby carriers should be questioned about it in public by strangers

I guess I should start taking Baby E to the dog groomer now, huh? :/

Posted on November 7, 2010, in Babywearing, I'm a brown mama and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. That was really rude of her. I have never mistaken a baby for a poodle.
    She wouldn’t have said that if your baby were white.

  2. Not defending rude lady, but in Dallas I have seen pampered pets in strollers, so it’s not a stretch to imagine someone carrying her dog in a baby carrier. When she realized you had your son, she should have just kept her mouth shut. Why can’t people just keep they’re asinine comments to themselves?!?!

    • LOL, I went looking for pics of dogs in baby carriers specifically for this post, and yeah, there are people who wear their dogs in slings. However, that’s not something I’ve ever seen in this city nor at that particular store. In fact, I’ve seen babies being worn in carriers quite a bit there. I’m just surprised that her first thought was “that could be a poodle” not “that could be a child.”

  3. Holy cow. I truly hope that woman reflected on what she did, realized how incredibly inappropriate it was, and checks some of her stuff.

    This comment could have come from my mom who would also feel terrible about screwing up but who wouldn’t necessarily investigate her underlying attitudes. 😦

  4. Actually, I had that happen to my baby too. And we are white. She’s was in our Ergo and a lady asked if a I had a toy poodle. I said, “No, that’s my daughter.” She apologized for the mistake and proceeded to fawn over the baby.

    It may be less about race and more about half-blind older ladies.

    • Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

      I don’t doubt that this has happened to other people too. I can’t speak to whether or not this particular woman had a significant visual impairment, but I did not get that impression. The problem in this situation is that she was reinforcing certain racial tropes whether she meant to or not. These tropes include: People of color being compared to animals, and the body parts of people of color being seen as outside of the norm. I’ve had people comment on my son’s hair before, usually in a positive light, however most of the time the comments take an exotifying and othering tone, such as sincere disbelief that his hair is soft to the touch. This is however, the first time someone has seen his hair and expressed that it made them think “poodle” instead of “person.”

  5. Oh ugh, that is super rude. I don’t understand why people feel that it is OK to say these types of things specifically to mothers. I had a stranger tell me that it looked like I had my child in a torture device when I was wearing her in our ergo with the hood up. I’m sorry, how are these comments helpful or OK?!

  6. My (very white) son has very curly blonde hair, and he has gotten so many comments over the last three years, we’re pretty immune to it now. He’s been called she innumerable times. Asked WHERE did he get hair like THAT (because apparently it couldn’t have come from me). Said boys just don’t appreciate hair like that, its not fair that HE got that hair. Complete strangers have gone out of their way – I mean, like, from across a store, walked towards my son with hands extended – to touch my child’s hair. Fortunately the majority of it has been – at least at heart – non-mean spirited (though people completely ignore my daughter). Still, rude is rude. You don’t touch another person’s baby. Ever.

    And really, you shouldn’t say a thing about another person’s child other than something to the effect of, “what a precious baby”.

    I’m sorry you had that experience. I’m sorry she mistook your (obvious) BABY for a dog. I’m sorry people can be so thoughtless & just let words fall from their mouths without even thinking. I’m sorry that there is still racism in this world – and thank you for posting this so that perhaps more people will be aware of what they say – before they say it.

  7. Sigh! Don’t go to the English countryside. I am of mixed Caribbean descent. Very curly hair. An elderly white English lady said about my hair, “OMG it’s like sheep’s wool, I want to knit a sweater out of it.” There now I’ve given you nightmares about old white women chasing your son with their knitting needles;-)

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