She’s, Um…Like You

Let me start this little post by saying first and foremost, I ain’t mad at the woman. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel, but anger isn’t part of the equation.

With that out of the way, let me begin.

Yesterday, we went to my favorite place for breakfast: IHOP. (Yes, even divas can get off on some IHOP pancakes!) We were there with little girl getting our grub on. Little Girl decided that she too liked IHOP pancakes. Smart girl, this Zizi.

Anyhoo, an older white couple came in with a young girl who appeared to be biracial, and sat down at the table next to us. After they ordered, the woman decided to come over and get a look at Zara. Appropriate cooing ensued and the little girl came over and asked Zara’s name. I told her and then asked what hers was. It was one of those combination names that I’m not so fond of, but I held my tongue about the name and did my usual asking how old she was and all that.

The lady, who I now understand is this youngster’s grandmother, starts telling us that her (the little girl’s) parents are “just like you two.” Yeah, I get it, I think to myself, one is black and one is white. Understood. But grandma feels the need to draw me a clearer picture.

“Yes, her father is white,” she begins. And I nod, smiling. “And her mother is…well, um, she’s like you.”

I continued to nod and smile as I thought to myself, it’s OK to say black or African American. I really wouldn’t have lept over my Colorado omelette to jump at you had you used the word “black” or even “colored” or “Negro(especially since “Negro” is on my birth certificate). I know that I’m black. You won’t offend me by saying that I’m black. It’s not a dirty word. And it certainly isn’t news to me.

In any event, I just finished with a bland, “that’s nice,” and went pack to feeding Zizi some more pancake. But the encounter stayed with me. Again, I’m not angry. I’m more perplexed.

Is being black one of those things that it is socially unacceptable to mention, like how people pretend not to see a physically challenged person’s wheelchair or ignore the short stature of someone with dwarfism? And if it is indeed socially unacceptable, then does it extend to all races? Why was white easy to say but black was not? Or is it that since they were white, saying black was uncomfortable? So then this would mean that as a black person, I could easily say that the little girl’s mother was black but then stumble and say that her father was, um, well…like them?

See what I mean? It’s just a little weird.

But I know, I know. It’s a sensitive area for many. You never know how someone is going to react when you bring up race. So my advice would be, if you aren’t comfortable saying any of the socially acceptable words to describe peoples of African descent, don’t start a conversation that will lead you to need to use one of those words! Just eat your darn pancakes. And they were really good.  😀

Published by: teendoc on March 10th, 2008 | Filed under on race, ramblings

21 Responses to “She’s, Um…Like You”

  1. Julie Says:

    It’s PCness gone mad if you ask me.

  2. Deathstar Says:

    ohmigod, it’s a “black”moment if I ever heard one. It always seems to happen when interacting with “older” people. Like they stopped reading the newspaper after 1975. Even my adoption social worker was confused when I refered to myself as “African-Canadian”. She seemed to think that meant that I was identifying myself as African, as in from the continent of. Sigh. I make it a point to correct people if they use the term “coloured” even if they are 85 yrs. old. And if they say “like you”. I say “like me how?” and tease them. If they are going to make me feel awkward, I’m not going down alone.

    Deathstar’s last blog post..It’s in you to give…

  3. beagle Says:

    You sure are getting more than your share of those stupid comments from stangers. Ugh! Do you think it’s the State we live in?

    This is exactly why a trans racial adoption still freaks me out a bit. People are so ignorant (I can almost accept that part) but why must they be so VERBAL about their ignorance (that part might send me over the edge!)

  4. Marcia Says:

    It’s always a moment like that when I wish I would have said something slightly twisted, like “Like me, you mean brunette?” or “Like me, you mean beautiful?” 🙂

  5. teendoc Says:

    I was waiting to see how long it took before someone suggested being less sensitive. Five posts! That wasn’t long at all. 🙂

  6. Mary Says:

    Hi! I followed the link from FF to here. Comment: As a white female, I can see where they were coming from, although I agree with you: just don’t start such a conversation if uncomfortable! I’m 42, so I always thought that the term “black” was the acceptable term, just as I’d describe myself as white. I think what has happened is that people don’t know what term to use anymore! (For whatever group! 🙂 If this was another couple, they’ve probably been through three or four “terms” that were acceptable, then not (terrible that anyone needs a label). I would say to cut them some slack: they were trying to be nice, but were oerhaps a little goofy. Let’s all be a little less sensitive & a bit more forgiving!

  7. Mary Says:

    I meant to type “an older couple,” but it came out as “another.

  8. Deathstar Says:

    Goofy. Goofy. That’s one word for it. I wonder how sensitive their grandchild will get when grandma and grandpa run around and say, hey, sweetie, there’s another little girl who is um… like you … half white and half, well, you know.

    We could all be a little less sensitive and more forgiving, or conversely, get educated and be informed about other races and cultures.

    Deathstar’s last blog post..Bits and Pieces

  9. Stillamomma Says:

    I posted about race just a few days ago on my blog. I remember a co-worker who had a conversation with me and when she got to the word BLACK she whispered it. I stopped her in her tracks and asked her why…she said it was because she said she didn’t want the boss to know what we were talking about. HUH? The boss just heard the whole conversation. You think she couldn’t figure in context from ONE MISSING WORD? And why whisper? I told her…she must be used to talking about black people and whispering and she slipped up and did it front of me. I asked her not to do it again. I said black is beautiful and I’m proud to be black.

    Stillamomma’s last blog post..Protected: Living Black

  10. Stillamomma Says:

    Whoa, I just read that “less sensitive” comment. Talk about a slap in the face of anyblackwomanusa. Ugh

    Stillamomma’s last blog post..Protected: Living Black

  11. teendoc Says:

    Stilla: It’s easy to be cavalier and tell someone to be “less sensitive” when you don’t have a dog in the fight. I’m gonna be posting more on this and more when I get a spare moment.

  12. atlasien Says:

    My 2 cents: I think she was uncomfortable saying the word “black” because according to the unspoken rules of race, “white” is the invisible norm, and anything else is a deviation from the norm. “Black”, which in the US is viewed as the complete and most visible opposite of “white”, produces the most uncomfortableness… because when a white person points out that someone is black, that means they are simultaneously pointing out that they themselves are white. Most white people are not used to thinking of themselves as white. They would rather think of themselves as “just normal” and not marked by race at all. Actually thinking of themselves as white can be painful and shocking.

    So the white people who whisper the word black are well-meaning but also selfish. The feelings they are sparing are really their own.

    atlasien’s last blog post..Really Quick Message

  13. StillaMomma Says:

    Atlasien, love ya hunny, but I have to disagree on this one. I have a myraid of theories in my head about why this woman whispered black and protection of feelings of this woman was the furthest thing from that list. This woman who made the statement is not white.

    I also think that when a person points out that someone is black, that {white} person does not acknowledge their whiteness by doing so, but merely points out the “non-whiteness” of the black person they are pointing it out to.

    In other words, white people have no problem being white.

    StillaMomma’s last blog post..Protected: Living Black

  14. teendoc Says:

    I’m really not feeling you, Atlasien. This woman was so into the fact that her granddaughter’s parents were “like you two,” meaning one black and one white. In this case, she was making particular note of both of our races. She wasn’t saying that one was the norm and one was “different.” She was simply trying to explain that her granddaughter was biracial.

    The problem came in when she decided to illustrate what “like you two” meant operationally. White came out fine, but she couldn’t bring herself to say any word that indicated black, even when it was she herself that was making that point about her granddaughter’s biracial heritage.

    I agree with Stilla. I don’t think whites have a problem being white. I think they have more of a problem figuring out the best way to address a person of color.

  15. atlasien Says:

    Well, I don’t disagree with your disagreement 🙂 I think there could be several different reasons in Liana’s case, and was advancing one possible one. I really do think many (but not all) white people have a problem noticing that they’re white. They don’t have a problem BEING white, but actually having it pointed out is distressing to them.

    I’m a bit confused, I thought the woman in Liana’s story was white, but you’re saying the same “whisper” thing happened to you, from someone who wasn’t white?

    Maybe in your case it could be a little of that (a non-white person who was thinking about race as if they were a white person)… or I’m wrong and it was just a simpler kind of nastiness.

    atlasien’s last blog post..A Moving Article about Barack Obama’s Mother

  16. atlasien Says:

    Ok, I’m less confused now, I was thinking about your blog post but skipping your comment above with the anecdote…. oops.

    atlasien’s last blog post..A Moving Article about Barack Obama’s Mother

  17. atlasien Says:

    I’ll try to explain a bit more: I agree with “a problem figuring out the best way to address a person of color”… I’m just trying to get to the next psychological stage of WHY they have that particular problem or uncomfortableness. And I think part of the reason (in some cases) is they don’t like whiteness pointed out or made visible (which is not the same as BEING white and consciously or subconsciously using white privilege).

    This might be a better explanation of what I’m tryign to get at — — that is, number 2) from the list on “colorblind racism”.

    atlasien’s last blog post..A Moving Article about Barack Obama’s Mother

  18. Chatman Says:

    For the record, I prefer to think of myself as melanin challenged.

    I find this discussion really interesting and have attempted a couple of responses but each came off as rather pathetic. As a white guy, it’s not that I’m uncomfortable with ethnicity. It’s more like I don’t know how not to be uncomfortable. I don’t get a lot of practice. I always feel like I’m going to stick my foot in my mouth if I not super careful when talking with people ‘like you.’ You know, you being female and all. Gets me in trouble every time.

  19. JJ Says:

    how ironic that i should make my way over here again after a long hiatus to see this post. yesterday, my husband went to a conference of attorneys that work in a very large government agency with very few black lawyers. A man he barely know walked up to him, hand extended to greet him and then glanced at my hubby’s badge and exclaimed, without hesitance, or forethought, “OH, YOU’RE NOT ‘THE ONE” THAT WORKS IN THE X DEPARTMENT!” Then the guy withdrew his hand and went about his merry little way.

    um “the one?” …

    this incident breathes credence into the above referenced theory that the non-white person (my husband in this case) is abnormal in that context. Unfortunately, hubby’s status as the anomaly rendered him in the same category as that bizarre and rare exotic creature, whose name is difficult to pronounce and trying to may embarrass the one making the attempt

    JJ’s last blog post..three more signs that I’m getting old real quick…

  20. AdrienneG Says:


    I was reading your blog and told a friend of mine, “You know, I should tell her about the times people would lean over and whisper “she’s deaf” ” as if something was wrong with stating the obvious.

    Maybe the grandchild was being raised that no one is to ever say that she’s *whisper* black LOL

    At least little children are honest and say it loudly. I smile when an excited child says really loudly “MOMMY SHE CAN’T HEAR! SHE’S DEATH!”

    I am hoping and praying that the child you saw at IHOP eventually regains that childhood innocence again and says loudly that she is BLACK and smiles. 🙂

  21. chris Says:

    Oh, I hate crap like that. I can only imagine that granny wanted to show her granddaughter that there are lovely couples out there that look just like her family (sometimes, as someone who is white married to a Chinese American guy, I get excited when I see a couple who looks like us because it’s still not that common, especially the white woman/chinese guy combo and especially in the south) but she certainly could have put it better, now couldn’t she?

    chris’s last blog post..Best Cheesecake Ever.

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