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?