Rude questions about eyes from strangerS - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 28 Old 01-05-2011, 06:51 AM - Thread Starter
 
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How do you handle that? What responses do you have? I feel like I need some automated responses.

"where did you get your eyes?" Is what we got yesterday. 3X from the same guy, asking my toddler directly. Obviously my son will need to have some auto-responses as well. I'm thinking "where did you get yours?"
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#2 of 28 Old 01-05-2011, 08:28 AM
 
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3x from the same person, maybe this was a person who had a developmental disability or simply lacked social awareness? 

 

Personally, I would just answer with "They get their gorgeous eyes from their daddy!" and let it be. 

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#3 of 28 Old 01-05-2011, 08:32 AM
 
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Oh gosh!!!! I had this all the time growing up (I'm SA, but have green eyes)-- definitely work with your kid on how to respond. I actually considered getting colored contacts to 'fit in' for a bit in high school. I still don't know what to say-- no one in my family has green eyes (siblings, parents,grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins etc).


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#4 of 28 Old 01-05-2011, 08:40 AM
 
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Originally Posted by cappuccinosmom View Post

3x from the same person, maybe this was a person who had a developmental disability or simply lacked social awareness? 

 

Personally, I would just answer with "They get their gorgeous eyes from their daddy!" and let it be. 


yeahthat.gif

 

My kid is by no means multicultural but he gets this same question all the time.  I just tell people the above...from their gorgeous daddy.  Nobody ever asks when DH is with us because the answer is pretty clear I guess.  But I hear you that it becomes annoying when too many people comment on what your kid looks like and nothing else.

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#5 of 28 Old 01-05-2011, 09:19 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I dunno. He seemed like a perfectly capable adult, probably in his 60s. Could carry on a conversation just fine. Had a car in the parking lot, etc.

Lacking social awareness? Likely. Apparently.

We live in a pretty homogenous area. Mostly white. Kind of rural, ex-burb. DS is already not really fitting with his "peer group" because he's kind of advanced. I fear that between that and not quite looking fully Asian or fully white he's going to be getting a lot of veiled "what are you" questions. Add in the fact that at 20 months he acts like a 3 year old, and he sticks out like a sore thumb.

A friend suggested as DS grows I tell him to respond "I get my eyes and my dislike of rudeness from my dad"

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#6 of 28 Old 01-05-2011, 09:31 AM
 
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I don't think its that rude of a question, my ds gets it ALL the time when he's with either me or his dad.  Not multicultural, but his color is like his dad, and the shape is like mine, and his eyes are gorgeous.  I would take it as a compliment and respond with a "oh, from his dad, thanks!"  (or from mom, or grandma, or whoever he looks most like.  Or if they don't look like anyone in the family, just say they are all his own and aren't they cute?)

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#7 of 28 Old 01-08-2011, 05:54 AM
 
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Yeah, when I get asked that, it always seems to be a veiled "what is she" question.  DD is Asian and white, and I'm usually carrying her around without DH (the Asian one).  I think that by looking at DD, it's kind of hard to figure out her ethnic makeup.  We live in NYC (so hardly homogenous) but people here are still very curious about ethnicity. 

 

If I'm in a good mood, I say "she gets those pretty eyes from her Daddy" but if I want to play with them a little bit, I answer that she gets them from me.  winky.gif


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#8 of 28 Old 01-08-2011, 06:04 AM
 
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My son looks nothing like us color wise.  Why people need to comment on this I will never understand.  Depending on my mood and their tone I will sometimes say "The Milkman" and leave it at that.


If they are nice and seem truly interested I'll answer honestly.

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#9 of 28 Old 01-08-2011, 10:53 AM
 
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IMO, most people ask questions (about all sorts of things) because they are trying to fit "something new" into their reality thus far, or re-shape their "reality" when something new is presented.  I think it's normal human behavior, and rarely *intentionally* rude or hurtful.

 

If someone offers me the opportunity to present them with a new thought or concept and broaden their view of the world, I'll take it.  And I like to do it with kindness because I think that's more likely to be heard than snark.  It is tempting for me to get up in arms about someone's attitude, very tempting sometimes.  But I learned so long ago that I need to be careful about assuming people's motives and responding based on the assumption.

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#10 of 28 Old 01-08-2011, 10:00 PM
 
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Oh, questions like that.  *sigh* 

 

I was raised that it's rude to talk about people's looks (and wikipedia agrees with me: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etiquette_in_North_America).  Feeling like it's okay to ask questions like this I think stems from deeply seated culturally unconscious beliefs about who owns genealogical information.  It is an unconscious rehearsal of the historical power structures of our country.  I do agree that it's rarely a conscious attempt to be hurtful.

 

That's my feeling.  I've had a lifetime of these questions, and had a lot of time to read, ponder, and talk with others.  But in the end it's just my feeling.  I think what's good about this perspective is it does allow me to look at a person's question in context and not take it personally.  We all act out of our own sociocultural context.

 

Anyhow, just like with any rude question, I think it's perfectly alright to be firm about your boundaries and only answer what you want to.  I also think that it most cases, it's preferable (for one's own heart) to be kind in setting these boundaries.  Being vague and changing the subject ("Oh he has lovely eyes, doesn't he.  My look at the weather!") is a good tool because then the person can't go back to that topic without feeling a little rude themselves.  But I think there are times when it's also perfectly okay to just smile and walk away.  I do that if it seems like a person is about to get aggressive.  Sounds unbelievable, but it's happened to me.  And yes, there's even a case for anger.  But these days I don't have time for anger.  I hope I'll be able to help my daughter with these skills as she gets quite a few comments as is (skin/eyes/"exotic looks" - baaarfff).  Gracefully changing the subject is a wonderful life skill for any kid.  I don't want her to feel like a teachable moment for any curious stranger unless she wants to be.

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#11 of 28 Old 01-09-2011, 10:19 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the help & replies. It doesn't help that I am by nature sarcastic and defense. Time for me to grow some more. Or at least learn to pretend to calm and not affronted.

I have noticed several things in discussing this here & IRL with people I know: my "white" friends/people/comments think I out of line for being bothered by this. DH (asian) was pissed at the guy when I told him about it. The people who have mixed asian families or are mixed themselves seem to share my concern. As with all generalizations, there are exceptions. But it's interesting to me that these groups of responses Fell the way they did. Very interesting.

And I've realized how very isolated I feel. At times anyway.
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#12 of 28 Old 01-09-2011, 03:17 PM
 
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well, am white and my children are too .... still, was never so put out as during the first few months after having my first child ... as in every day for a good six monthat least a random stranger would comment on my child's blue eyes; I found it so rude to make comment about that , + it seems to imply something negative about people who don't have blue eyes (neither parents have by the way, only the 2 grand fathers), I was trying to remain polite about it since it was always someone different talking about it (it was "new" for them, not for me !!!) but I was privately thinking that most people have very poor imagination or conversation skills to have to comment on the same subject always ....

on the other hand it was nice to receive positive attention as a new mom ...

 

with child number 3 it was at a later stage but consistently in both countries (we moved in the middle of that period) for about 3 and half months, several times a week we would get questions or more like people wanted confirmation that the baby was a boy (even when she was dressed in pink top to bottom); that was quite baffling actually, especially on the day when an elderly couple retraced their steps and made the whole family stop in their track to triple check us since apparently my last child (a girl) was the spitting image of their grandson living miles away ...very sparse hair, I concede, but still ...

 

I think most people like the world around them to ... sort of fit with what they expect or know

so when it doesn't, they have to comment ....

we can't choose how we are born ... so to me, commenting on someone's physical features is "unfair" !

 

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#13 of 28 Old 01-10-2011, 04:02 PM
 
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I think that it is absolutely rude and uncool for people to ask those "What are you" or "Where are you from" questions. I had to explain over and over to my daughter that she was not adopted because people kept asking me that in front of her. When she started school, she came home several times asking me why people thought she came from a different country. Since then, I don't even try to polite with people like that. I don't care of their intentions are good, I will not let anyone practice their subtle racism on my kids.


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#14 of 28 Old 01-10-2011, 04:29 PM
 
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I have to say, I always try to err on the side of 'probably not trying to be rude, just interested'. My older son looks just like me but has his dad's olive skin color (I'm very pale). It really is just gorgeous, and he gets comments on it from time to time (a lot less now than before he was verbal - now people rarely need to look for a topic of conversation when he's around, because he talks their ear off ;)). Anyway, I usually just tell them he got it from his dad, isn't he lucky, and leave it at that. If I'm feeling sassy, I'll say he got his looks from his dad and his skin color from me, and it always gets a laugh and then we move on. Not a big deal. When DS has noticed people asking, he loves to tell them all about how his dad is Arab and tell them about his tayta in the Middle East, and on and on. For him it is a fun chance to teach people about that half of his culture.

 

Interestingly, person who comments on it most consistently is my Indian friend. She likes to joke that she could claim him for one of her nephews and no one would be the wiser. It isn't mean spirited at all, so it doesn't bother me.

 

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I don't think its that rude of a question, my ds gets it ALL the time when he's with either me or his dad.  Not multicultural, but his color is like his dad, and the shape is like mine, and his eyes are gorgeous.  I would take it as a compliment and respond with a "oh, from his dad, thanks!"  (or from mom, or grandma, or whoever he looks most like.  Or if they don't look like anyone in the family, just say they are all his own and aren't they cute?)



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#15 of 28 Old 01-11-2011, 06:36 AM
 
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I had to explain over and over to my daughter that she was not adopted because people kept asking me that in front of her. When she started school, she came home several times asking me why people thought she came from a different country.

 

dizzy.gif

 

One of the worse aspects, to me, is that when people ask questions like that, they are thinking only of how it makes themselves feel (curious, connected, included/inclusive, sophisticated, tolerant, knowledgeable, broad-minded) and rarely if ever about how it might make the person they are asking feel (uncomfortable, exposed, annoyed, interrupted, confused, or so on).  Or they are thinking about how much they would like it if people would ask them that question, but not giving any thought to the idea that not everyone is the same way.  It's a very lack of the ability to put themselves in another's shoes.

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#16 of 28 Old 01-11-2011, 10:20 AM
 
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Yeah, exactly.  You know, my relatives (who are white) don't get at all why it can be rude to ask about someone's ethnicity.  They say, "What's the problem?  They just want to get to know you!"  I wouldn't mind if someone who really was getting to know me asked about DD's ethnicity (although who knows if she'll mind or not when she's old enough to understand).  But it's not new friends who are asking me, it's strangers who just want to indulge their curiosity.  DD's ethnicity is not public property--it's hers to tell or not tell.  I also think there are different connotations to a white baby being asked "where did you get those eyes" to a baby of color being asked the same question.  With a baby of color, there's other layers to the question...subtle racism and "other"fying (is that a word?) are playing in.
 

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Quote:
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I had to explain over and over to my daughter that she was not adopted because people kept asking me that in front of her. When she started school, she came home several times asking me why people thought she came from a different country.

 

dizzy.gif

 

One of the worse aspects, to me, is that when people ask questions like that, they are thinking only of how it makes themselves feel (curious, connected, included/inclusive, sophisticated, tolerant, knowledgeable, broad-minded) and rarely if ever about how it might make the person they are asking feel (uncomfortable, exposed, annoyed, interrupted, confused, or so on).  Or they are thinking about how much they would like it if people would ask them that question, but not giving any thought to the idea that not everyone is the same way.  It's a very lack of the ability to put themselves in another's shoes.




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#17 of 28 Old 01-11-2011, 02:45 PM
 
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Absolutely agree. (Oh and the word is Othering)

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Yeah, exactly.  You know, my relatives (who are white) don't get at all why it can be rude to ask about someone's ethnicity.  They say, "What's the problem?  They just want to get to know you!"  I wouldn't mind if someone who really was getting to know me asked about DD's ethnicity (although who knows if she'll mind or not when she's old enough to understand).  But it's not new friends who are asking me, it's strangers who just want to indulge their curiosity.  DD's ethnicity is not public property--it's hers to tell or not tell.  I also think there are different connotations to a white baby being asked "where did you get those eyes" to a baby of color being asked the same question.  With a baby of color, there's other layers to the question...subtle racism and "other"fying (is that a word?) are playing in.
 

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Quote:
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I had to explain over and over to my daughter that she was not adopted because people kept asking me that in front of her. When she started school, she came home several times asking me why people thought she came from a different country.

 

dizzy.gif

 

One of the worse aspects, to me, is that when people ask questions like that, they are thinking only of how it makes themselves feel (curious, connected, included/inclusive, sophisticated, tolerant, knowledgeable, broad-minded) and rarely if ever about how it might make the person they are asking feel (uncomfortable, exposed, annoyed, interrupted, confused, or so on).  Or they are thinking about how much they would like it if people would ask them that question, but not giving any thought to the idea that not everyone is the same way.  It's a very lack of the ability to put themselves in another's shoes.


 



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#18 of 28 Old 01-11-2011, 05:20 PM
 
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Yeah, when I get asked that, it always seems to be a veiled "what is she" question. 



Ah... I see! I wasn't sure why we were upset. I'm bummed you ladies with multicultural families get this question loaded. What a shame. We live in a pretty evenly split black/white community. So I guess it's not something I have to see much. I am very lucky in that regard :)  I saw this on the main page and we get this question a lot too. DS and I have blue wrapped in blue eyes. I have had more people than I can count ask/assume I wear colored contacts.

 

I just smile and say thank you when they comment :)

 

And I thought there were going to be pictures of pretty baby eyes. I am disappointed. shake.gif 


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#19 of 28 Old 01-12-2011, 05:29 AM
 
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Cute baby, Kriket!

 

And sosolynn, Othering!  Thank you!  It's been a long time since college.  winky.gif


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#20 of 28 Old 01-12-2011, 10:38 PM
 
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What about "she got them for her birthday"? 


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#21 of 28 Old 01-14-2011, 02:51 AM
 
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Ah, this is such an interesting challenge for me, trying to understand that line between harmless, genuine, non-fetishizing curiosity, and, well, the other kind. I'm still figuring it out. Also, when I do get "the other kind" (think, "I just love how exotic your baby is" - this in spite of the fact that I live in a place where my Chinese-Swedish-English baby is totally not exotic, the San Francisco Bay Area), I can't figure out how to articulate my problem with it. How do you explain to someone who thinks they're being nice that, in fact, the implications of what they're saying is not so great? How much do you even invest in that? And what's the best example to set for your child? Because, let's face it, on the one hand I don't want my son to see his crazy little Chinese mama with her fists up all the time, ready to do battle. But on the other hand, I also don't want my son to get the message that he has to simply accept the tacit prejudices that are imposed on him, I want him to see that it's okay to challenge those perspectives and to stand up for himself. And if I had a third hand, I would say that I don't really want to have to play race cop all my life, it just sounds exhausting! faint.gif

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#22 of 28 Old 01-14-2011, 05:03 PM
 
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Well, I think exoticism can go both ways actually.  I'm also in the Bay Area and as I mentioned upthread my (whitey white white) kid gets tons of comments on his blue eyes.  The most insistant comments, the ones where the commentator just.won't.stop. come from older Asian women.  I assume because he is exotic to them.  And, yeah, I find it just as bothersome...because blue eyes have a cultural capital that disturbs me.

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#23 of 28 Old 01-14-2011, 05:44 PM
 
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"Wal-Mart." orngbiggrin.gif

 

I am white and I find it incredibly rude to be quizzed about my ethnic heritage, let alone my son who is biracial. When I was in college a few years ago (older student), a young lady asked me what  my heritage was very baldly. It stunned me that she would be so audacious as to inquire after it and my immediate response was, "American." I'm from the Midwest and had never been asked that before, despite living in a multicultural area (Detroit.)

 

I have had several people ask about my son's heritage, usually with some variation of the question, "What is he mixed with?" I find this incredibly rude and tacky so my usual response is that he's not a smoothie. Said with a gentle tone and smile, it subtly lets people know that is an inappropriate phrasing. After answering such, I usually explain that is a disrespectful way to address his heritage and we prefer the term biracial or multiracial as opposed to "mixed."

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#24 of 28 Old 01-14-2011, 06:33 PM
 
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Hey, Chamomile Girl! Oakland here. Yeah, you're totally right in saying that it can go in all directions (and I apologize if it sounded like I was implying otherwise). It's a really sad fact, I think, of a lot of non-white cultures to place a high value on light skin and eyes, and I can see how it'd be troubling for you as well to have to endure a lot of questions just based on the way your child looks. 

 

I don't know. I'm aware that people usually "mean well," but I don't think that necessarily makes their assumptions/objectification/invasiveness "okay." It's at the very least uncomfortable and awkward to have someone look at your child or yourself and be so obviously fixated upon your race. 

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#25 of 28 Old 01-15-2011, 01:35 AM
 
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I wouldn't take "Where did you get your.........from?" as a question about race/ethnicity.  I'm just plain old White, but I constantly got "Where did you get the red hair from?" growing up.  I think it's just a standard phrase people pull out when they try to engage kids in conversation, and they just pick the first feature that strikes them.

 

It is pretty annoying though.  There are plenty of better standards to pull out, like "how old are you?"  At least with how old are you, you get to change your answer each year even if it is asked over and over.


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#26 of 28 Old 01-15-2011, 09:22 AM
 
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Hey, Chamomile Girl! Oakland here. Yeah, you're totally right in saying that it can go in all directions (and I apologize if it sounded like I was implying otherwise). It's a really sad fact, I think, of a lot of non-white cultures to place a high value on light skin and eyes, and I can see how it'd be troubling for you as well to have to endure a lot of questions just based on the way your child looks. 

 

I don't know. I'm aware that people usually "mean well," but I don't think that necessarily makes their assumptions/objectification/invasiveness "okay." It's at the very least uncomfortable and awkward to have someone look at your child or yourself and be so obviously fixated upon your race. 



Here in China we get a LOAD of comments from people all the time about how cute/beautiful/awesome/smart my child must be because he's mixed. He has blonde-ish hair and so people say stuff like "oh he looks just like his mom" when actually, he looks more like DH, he just has lighter hair. People actually comment on his "blue eyes" too, when in fact he has dark brown eyes -- it is clear they're not even really looking at him, they're just seeing what they want to see, a "foreign baby." It bugs me to no end that my son gets called a "xiao yang ren" (a little foreigner) and gets complimented on his Chinese when he was born in China and Chinese is his first and, at this point, pretty much only language. There aren't quite as many comments about my daughter, even though she has the exact same heritage, perhaps because she's still little but mostly I think because she has more "typical" Chinese coloring, namely darker hair, which makes her, in their most people's eyes, more ordinary. Of course I think both my kids are beautiful and I love their features but I have nothing invested in whether they look Chinese or foreign. I see a mix of their dad and me in them, not a mix of foreigner and Chinese.

 

But to get back on track, I totally agree patecake, the fact that people mean well doesn't really make it ok. I know that most of the people who comment on my son mean well (or, at least, they don't mean to be insulting), but their comments are objectifying nonetheless. It is very uncomfortable for me (and I assume it will be for my son and daughter when they understand what's going on, but who knows) that my children are seen first as a little "hun xue" (literally mixed bloode) and not just as a kid. I get it to a degree myself living as a foreigner in China but I'm an adult and as uncomfortable as it makes me to have my identity here so tied up in my whiteness, I can deal with it. I had a pretty strong sense of who I am before I even came here, but I worry about what the constant objectification will do to my children, who are still developing their identities and sense of self.


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#27 of 28 Old 01-15-2011, 02:41 PM
 
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Jumping in as another Bay Area mom with a racially mixed kid and a totally different opinion. :)

 

I have never found it insulting at all to be asked about my ethnic heritage.  I'm actually white but get this question a lot (that I can recall, people have asked/guessed/assumed Spanish, Italian, Iranian, Afghani, Italian, Indian, Argentinian, generic Middle Eastern, generic Latin American, and a bunch of others I've forgotten).

 

I haven't gotten too much commentary about DD's ethnicity (DH is Indian) - I'd say racially mixed kids are maybe 30% or more of the playground population here so it's not really worthy of notice - but when I have I've never considered it offensive.  I do recall one guy saying in a surprised way, "She looks more Asian than you!" (to which I laughed and replied that my husband was Indian) and another mom at the playground saying "Oh, she's mixed, that's why she's so beautiful!" when I mentioned that DH spoke Hindi to her at home.  I chose to take the latter as a compliment, as it was meant.

 

I'm curious about where people are from as well.  I don't ask strangers directly about their ethnic heritage (as I tend not to ask personal qestions of strangers in general) but I find the topic interesting and honestly I feel that when we interpret kindly interest as loaded racism we contribute further to the overall loading of the topic of ethnicity.  Ethnicity can't be an 'un-loaded' topic if people don't feel free to talk about it, IYSWIM.

 

Of course I might feel differently if I were an underprivileged minority, or had ever experienced direct racism, or lived in a less multiethnic area, or were a more obvious ethnic 'mismatch' with DD.  I don't delude myself that all inquiries about ethnicity are benign and to be taken as such.  But being who I am, living where I do, and having the experiences that I have, I feel my best path is a charitable approach to the curious. 

 

ETA: I would have been annoyed by the guy in the OP as well.  But not for reasons of ethnicity.  Just bc it's rude and upsetting to a small child to be asked a personal question like that repeatedly.  It's harassment really, and would still be  so if the child in question were not racially mixed.  I'd be inclined to say something like, "Looks like he doesn't want to answer that question right now."

 


Me, DH, DD1 (5/2009) and DD2 (10/2011).
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#28 of 28 Old 01-15-2011, 05:25 PM
 
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Hey, Mambera, glad you jumped in! I will clarify a little by saying that I actually very seldom get asked the question directly, "What's your/your baby's ethnicity?" And if I did, I actually don't think I'd mind, necessarily (I'd have to be asked to be sure, I guess!). I think this is likely because my baby's ethnicities are obvious to most people around here. As you know quite well, I'm sure, the Bay Area is home to a *ton* of Chinese people, and a *ton* of Chinese/Caucasian couples, and of course as a result, a *ton* of Chinese/Caucasian kids running around! So, I don't think I get asked that question directly so much because most people can probably already guess. Not to mention that my son really does look smack dab in the middle of my husband and I (if you closed your eyes and hazarded a quick guess at what sort of baby pops out when you've got a Chinese mama and a Caucasian baba, you're probably not far off!).

 

What I get more of is that curiosity about his heritage, but with what feels like an subtextual layer of judgment in one way or another. So, for instance, when someone tells me my baby is so deliciously exotic, it rubs me the wrong way. To me it feels like a "I'm noticing you because of your race!" but with an additional game of "which one of these things is not like the other?" Does that make any sense? A word like "exotic," in my opinion, by definition sets up a contrast between "normal" and "alien." Something belongs, something doesn't. And even it's "a pretty alien, one I'm saying great things about!" it's still alien, no? 

 

Here I have to concede that it's not *just* the assumptions of the person making the comment, but also the baggage I'm bringing to the table as a person made to feel for much of my life as a foreigner in the country that is my home (and, as thelocaldialect can attest to, this doesn't necessarily mean you have to be a person of color!). So, fairly or unfairly, I think I view some comments through a certain lens because of that. I think I'm always subconsciously aware of the fact that there's a power differential when it comes to race (I think when you're not in a dominant group, whether it's because of your race or otherwise, it might be difficult to erase this awareness? At least, that's what I'll say for my own perceptions.). Does this make any sense?

 

And I do want to add that there *are* people whose curiosity is very clearly benign and with no judgment attached. I love it when people overhear me speaking Chinese to my baby at the park and they ask about it ("May I ask what language you're speaking? Did you grow up bilingual? Are your parents American-born?"). 

 

Mambera, I think you make a really good point about being open with respect to discussing ethnicity; you're right in that we can't get past our assumptions if we can't even talk about them. Thanks for that reminder. I would like to remember to be open to curiosity, rather than feeling so immediately on the defense. 

 

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