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?
By now you’ve probably become aware of the incident between Dr. Laura Schlessinger and a caller to her radio show. Unfortunately, much of the narrative in the mainstream media seems to focus on her use of the “N-word” while glossing over the other offensive elements of her rant. Yes, her use of the “N-word” was offensive, regardless of the context in which she assumed she was using it, and she should be called to task for it. However, she had no right to accuse a person of color of being “hypersensitive” toward racism. She had no right to presume that she was a better judge of racism than the person of color who was experiencing it. She had no right to outright dismiss this caller on the basis of her (the caller’s) race. I could go on, but I’ll sum up the rest by stating that she was failing Racism 101 in a hardcore way.
The sad thing is that Dr. Laura is not the first person to espouse those views publicly and I doubt she’ll be the last. I also doubt she’ll receive any significant sanctions over her behavior. I’ve personally encountered her type of thinking. I’ve been treated as less than equal by those who think this way. I’m “lucky” that I only suffered hurt, humiliation, and a hard-to-shake, mild anxiety while shopping because of those encounters but far too many others have suffered worse. And because this type of thinking still exists, I have to somehow prepare my son, a child of color, to be wary of this world without damaging him in the process. But according to Dr. Laura, that would mean I’m “hypersensitive” and that I engage in “black think.” Unfortunately, I think that instead of this incident leading to a mainstream deeper reflection on race in the US, it will be forgotten in a few weeks and go down in history as “that time Dr. Laura said the N-word on air.” Hell, we’d already forgotten her attacks on the LGBT community.
So, I dedicate this edition of Soapbox Sunday to Dr. Laura and those of her ilk. May they learn the errors of their ways (but I won’t hold my breath).
Renee at Womanist Musings gives her take on the incident.
Danielle at The Black Snob explains, hilariously, (for those like Dr. Laura who are confused) why using the N-word is not appropriate.
Countdown with Keith Olbermann votes Dr. Laura as Worst Person.
Arwyn at Raising My Boychick sums up the fact that Race Affects Everyone.
Tamara Winfrey Harris notes on Change.org What “So Ghetto” Really Means.
As always, feel free to share the links that made you think this week.