Poolside Whispers

by Camille on August 24, 2012

As I wrote in my last post, we’ve been fortunate enough to spend the past week at the beach with the whole family. Overall, it has been a lovely trip, and I plan to share some highlights with lots of pictures tomorrow. But now, I need to clear from my system the one unpleasant experience from the past week. Because the ills of the world don’t always get a notice that they’re supposed to stay away from vacation. 

As you might expect, we’ve gotten some rather interested and curious stares from people this week as they’ve tried to figure out the family dynamic of two black guys chilling on the beach with folks so pale they blend into the sand. You can see the wheels turning even more while trying to figure out how our little curly-haired, bronze-colored chunk fits into the picture.

 I get it. Our family picture looks different from what people are accustomed to seeing. I too love people-watching, and from behind my sunshades, I’ve thought…..Is that old guy her husband or her dad? Are all five kids hers? That dude should NOT be wearing that swimsuit! Speedos for Ryan Lochte only, please!

Interest is fine. I love talking about all my kiddos and how we are fortunate enough to have them all as part of our family. I don’t mind explaining to the curious family next to us how it is we all ended up vacationing together.

What is not fine is treating a member of my family unkindly because you don’t think he belongs. So, to the group of ladies that decided to make one of my guys so uncomfortable that he felt compelled to leave the pool this week, I’d like to say the following:

Dear Ridiculously Stupid Ladies:

Count your lucky stars that I was not near the pool area when you decided to point, whisper, and stare. See, while I normally tend to avoid conflict, I would have kindly made an exception for your blatant racism, and I would have conflicted with you all they way down the beach!

Becoming a mother has made me brave, and becoming an adoptive mother of an increasingly transracial family has made me fierce. The hurt boy who told me how you looked at him weird while muttering to your friends made me want to roar…and punch you in the face. He had every right to swim in the pool, relax in the hot tub, and soak up the sun. Lest you wonder if he somehow snuck into the resort (because black teenagers are always suspicious and couldn’t be paying guests, right?), he was wearing the appropriate identification bracelet. 

Of course, this isn’t the first time he’s had to deal with ignorant people like you, and sadly, it probably won’t be the last. Perhaps you thought you were being subtle, but he felt your eyes, your questions, and your disapproving judgment. He has a peaceful heart, and he ignored your stares and moved on. But he shouldn’t have to spend a single second of his vacation that way. He deserved better. 

That boy you targeted with your stares and whispers…he’s amazing. He speaks four more languages than you and has seen parts of the world you can’t pronounce. He works full-time while doggedly working his way through school. He calls my sweet baby “Little Buddy” when he scoops her up for a hug. He is considerate, thoughtful, generous, intelligent, funny, and kind. 

But you didn’t see all that. You just saw a black kid in a resort largely populated by white people and wondered why he was in your pool.

I’m going to pray for you, and hope that you stop viewing the world through a racist lens dictating who belongs where. I’m going to hope that the next time you see something that doesn’t make sense to you, perhaps you will introduce yourself, strike up a conversation, and take the time to meet someone new. 

Or, you know, take that pointing finger, wrap it around another cheese stick, and leave other folks the hell alone. That works too.

Sincerely, 

Angry Mama

The remainder of the week was better with lots of fun times. But the incident made me consider how having a transracial family might impact things like vacations in the future. Both the guys are older, and I know they can handle themselves. But how would those stares have affected younger children? Charlie and I plan to adopt African-American and/or biracial children from foster care in the future. Will we have to worry about them exploring a resort without us? We’ve thought about the racial demographics of school options, our church, etc. but not vacation destinations. I’m not completely naive; I realize that racism still exists in far too many places. I was just surprised to encounter it in this circumstance, and I realize that I’ll always have much to learn.

 For those of you with transracial families, do you think about how your family will be received in different locations before you plan vacations? Is race a factor when planning where to go or where to stay? How would you counsel your teenagers or young adults to deal with this type of ignorance? 

 

Jim August 24, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Your combative brother in law would have been glad to make a scene on Ellie’s part. And even though I don’t know Ian and Herdest that well, I would have gladly made a scene on their part as well. 😉

Camille August 25, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Thanks Jim. 🙂

Kim August 24, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Sorry this happened. I can relate, in a way, to the stares and whispering. I had much of that with people pointing, gasping, staring, whispering, turning away, etc., at Brianna’s cleft lip. It still happens. It still hurts.

Herdest, Ian, and Ellie, just remember you do not have a character flaw; the idiots who point out someone different does.

Camille August 25, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Thanks for taking the time to comment Kim. It breaks my heart to think of anyone being unkind to your sweet, beautiful girl. 🙁 How have you guys dealt with that? Sometimes, I just want to smash folks, ya know? Love you and your beautiful family. 🙂

Kim August 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Jesus said to “love your enemies and turn the other cheek.” That is mostly how we handled it.

I had to go to school once when Brianna was in elementary school because some boy was making fun of her. Then, in middle school, for two years in a row this boy decided he would make fun of her. All three of these instances were handled immediately by administration. The kid in middle school is a senior this year and is just as big a jerk now as he was then. He really needs to grow up.

A kid in the neighborhood kept calling Brianna “Lip.” Well, she came home last winter all tore up because he would not stop. I headed to his house to speak with mom and dad. Mom and dad were not there (as usual) and he was on the street. I basically told him off in front of about 6 of his buddies and I have not heard anything since out of him.

Over the years, I have noticed it is the grown-ups who stare and whisper more than kids do.

Camille August 27, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I think you’re strong to “turn the other cheek,” but I can relate to telling off the neighborhood kid, definitely. Wish I could have seen that one. 😉 Bet he was shaking. Brianna is an amazing kid, and I’m proud to know her and her fabulous mom. Thanks for your input.

Carrie Horne August 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm

So growing up it was my two white parents, me, (white), my younger brother and sister (Korean) (did I ever tell you that?) and we had more then 20 Japanese exchange students over the years (always 2 at a time, girls about 20 years old). We grew up on the not so well know area of Eastern Washington State (not so diverse). We did whatever we pleased as far as locations, things to do, but we did as kids feel, the stares, see the whispers. I remember a time when we all went to a Chinese food resturant, let me tell you everyone was talking. I don’t have a lot of advise other then to make sure you don’t ignore it, make sure everyone in the family is ok after every occation without making a big deal of it (your mom gut will tell you if it’s not). My family was/is very sarcastic so we would say things to eachother about what others might be saying and make fun of it. I guess it is our way of talking about it, but not making it everything either. We still to this day get looks (even w/o the exchange students) and now add in my curly haired little man, well we like to keep it interesting! I hope this in some way helps. If you ever have a question for me about this, please feel free to ask ANYTHING!

Camille August 25, 2012 at 7:33 pm

I don’t think I did know that about your family. 🙂 Thanks so much for the thoughtful advice from a place of experience. We too handle most of life’s challenges with humor, and we cracked a few jokes about this incident. It still upset him though, and I hate that so much. I hope to find time to call you and catch up in the next few days. Thanks again for sharing. Love y’all!

Monika August 25, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Some people (like those ladies) deserve a high five. In the face. With a chair. I have to admit I’ve done more than my fair share of judging in the past, but that’s totally and completely outrageous that they were pointing at him and whispering due to his skin color. Ugh.
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Camille August 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Hehehe. Agree. 🙂

leslie August 25, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Camille,

Once again, you blow me away with your fierce-ness. You truly are one of my heroes … and this world is now and will continue becoming a better place because of people like you and Charlie. I want to spend time with you and your family. Soon. Hug them all for me. And your Charlie. And tell him to hug you tightly from your old friend Leslie. This shy introverted person would like to have a go at those ignorant, unenlightened women by the pool. I hope somehow they hear of this post. You rock.

Camille August 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Thanks so much Leslie. 🙂 Not everyone likes some of the things I write (as I’m sure you can imagine), and supportive comments mean so much. Charlie and I are nothing special; we just give glory to God and ask Him for continued guidance. We’d love to spend time with you and Cheryl! Let us know when you’re up this way. 🙂 Love ya!

tess August 27, 2012 at 3:46 pm

That’s too bad that people have to be like that. Sometimes we just need to ignore ignorance that other people have learned.

Jeanene March 30, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Camille…in short, yes. I am the mother of four biracial boys(by birth) and one hispanic boy by adoption…and a little red haired blue eyed girl who looks like my husband, but is also adopted. We get stares and comments all of the time…what is interesting, is watching people try to figure out if our little hispanic son is ours, or belongs to one of my older sons(whom he strongly resembles, especially my 19 year old! They are 16-23 years old) usually we can just laugh about it…

But, I will tell you…my older boys were born in Hawaii(their father was born there as well, but, they are Puerto Rican/Caucasian) I lived there for 20 of my growing up years (and experienced racism of a different flavor as a blonde haired fair skinned child in the south pacific…however, once I had lived there long enough and married a local boy…I was more accepted)….when we moved to the mainland for a short time after our first son was born(New Mexico), we learned quickly what “parts of town” my boys father could or could not enter safely…that was the first time that I really became aware that as a family we were different…and would be treated as such. We went back to Hawaii for several years…and when we returned to the mainland, we were careful to choose a west coast (larger) city to live in…and we dealt with far less of that sort of thing….now, with my boys being older…the concern is for our youngest son by adoption…and sad as it is…we have had to pass up on moving to a beautiful area, because we realized that he would be far more likely to be targeted by locals in that area based on his race…it’s really sad to have to think that way…but, I, too have that mama bear reaction at the mere *thought* of someone hurting any of my sons…I will do whatever I have to do to keep their life experiences as positive and affirming as possible. It is something you need to keep in mind…and something that we have to be very deliberate and purposeful about addressing…we want our kids to understand that the “lack” lies in the heart of the person who would treat them poorly because of their skin color. (But, still foster compassion for those who do) I love a story I once heard about a little 8 year old girl…she was one of many adopted children in her home, she is black and her parents are white…one of the girls at school asked her “WHY are your parents WHITE?” …I love her reply…”WHY AREN’T YOURS?” 😉 LOL…I love that…I don’t know exactly what her parents did that taught her to be so confident in her answer…but, I love it…and I want it for my kids!

Camille April 4, 2013 at 10:50 am

Thanks for sharing about your awesome family. 🙂 I really appreciate your experiences and advice as someone who has faced this type of thing Wish you lived here! You sound like my kinda people. Fortunately, we live in Memphis where there is more diversity than a lot of places, but it’s definitely something we’ll have to consider for vacations and such in the future.

Also, may I just say I’m insanely jealous that you lived in Hawaii? I got to go there for one week, pre-children, and it was amazing. Ahhh…..

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