I cringe at the thought of being confused for my child’s caretaker. I’m pretty sure it won’t happen, but I sometimes think it might. My fears are not unfounded. This has happened to a friend of mine who lives in our neighborhood. We share similar demographics in that she is black, her husband is white, and their child is fair with fine hair. When she told me this happened to her (and I think more than once), I was angry for her and of course sad about the reality that people definitely judge books by their covers. People are judged based on what others see and not necessarily who they are.
As a new New York mom with African American and Caribbean heritage, I find myself more sensitive to the racial divide between our city’s caretakers and the children for whom they care. We live in a neighborhood where there are a growing number of babysitters caring for baby to toddler-aged kids throughout the day. Primarily hailing from West African and Caribbean countries, ladies who range from their early 20s to their 50s and perhaps even 60s stroll primarily (possibly) white children from the library to the park and from play date to play date.
My husband is white and our child is both of us. She is significantly lighter than me, but darker than him. She shares both of our features. She has my wider Caribbean nose and fuller lips, but his fine, reddish hair and lighter than dark brown eyes. She is truly a mix of us both.
The person who confused my friend for her child’s sitter probably did not think about the complexities of race. They did not think about who her child’s father might be or who my friend’s mother, father, or grandparents might be. They looked. They saw. They judged. And, they were wrong. My anxieties about being confused for someone other than Baby Popcorn’s mother come from my own worries about her being judged without consideration of who her mother or father are. She is more than what the eye sees. We are all more than what we may seem. And so, thinking about my friend’s experience just reminds me of a very basic thing – don’t judge especially if you don’t know the full story.