The whole time that I have been mom to my kiddos, we lived in an area that was not particularly diverse. I guess that’s the reason that everyone knew who we were. Transracial families were also more unusual than they are now. Not that they are particularly common now but it is definitely a bit less note-worthy. Anyway, we have grown accustomed to everyone knowing us. Often more than we knew them. We constantly got comments about how they are growing, unsolicited but welcomed advice on Lizzie’s hair and sometimes direct questions about our family dynamic.
Brian and I have joked that we are local celebrities and this awareness probably kept me in check when my temper was about to flare in public settings. So, thanks, St Johns County! 😉
Now that we have moved to a more diverse area, this is changing. Our neighborhood has many more people of color and my kids are just kids. I love it.
I also have a part-time job that involves a lot of independent work. This means that I haven’t spent a lot of time with my coworkers. We are all out in the field and don’t spend much time interacting. I love the freedom but don’t love the lack of socializing opportunities. That’s not the point, though.
The point is society’s perception of us has changed but my perception of our image hadn’t. I still think that everyone knows my story. Until the other day when I went to a work training and I noticed one of my black coworkers had a new hairstyle.
See, I was excited because Lizzie had just gotten crochet braids.
And while her hair was being done, I asked the stylists some questions. They kindly and patiently answered them all. So anxious to test my knowledge, I asked my coworker if she had crochet braids.
She looked surprised (as did the black co-worker next to her) and said, coldly, “No. This is my hair.”
Awkwardly but still trying to be cheerful, I said “Oh, my daughter just got crochet braids and I’m trying to learn all the terminology.”
More strange expressions accompanied her response, “No, this is my hair. It’s locked.”
More awkwardly, “Oh, it’s very pretty.”
Meekly and totally confused with her reaction, “I hope it’s ok that I asked.”
She said it was totally fine. Neither of the women looked like it was fine, though.
The room sat in silence as I wondered why that interaction had been so weird. Then it dawned on me.
She has never met my children.
And since I don’t go running around saying, “Hey, we’re a transracial family! Nice to meet you,” she had no idea that I didn’t have white kiddos.
I sat there, dealing with the realization that the women were imagining me taking my white daughter in to a African American focused salon and getting braids in her hair. And, to make it better, I then came in acting like I’m now the authority on African American hair styles. Man, in a world where appropriation of other cultures is a common topic, it would not be cool to come in to a meeting room, bragging about basically appropriating one of their hairstyles. Which from her perspective, that’s totally what I did.
But, I wasn’t!
All I wanted to do was scream “No, you don’t understand! My kids are black!” But, something told me that it might have made an awkward situation more awkward. 😉 So I just sat there. The group moved onto other topics while I obsessed until our boss came in and rescued me from my mental loop. (Thanks, boss lady!)
It’s a little funny, a little embarrassing, and I think it’s safe to say this will not lead to a friendship between my coworker and me. But, since I see her maybe once every couple of months, I guess that’s ok.
And it is definitely a lesson in thinking before I speak and not worrying about what people think of me. I also probably shouldn’t take the hair stylist up on her offer to put braids in my hair. At least not until I quit my job! 😉
Yes, it’s been amazing being let into this secret circle, so to speak. I’ve gotten so used to it that I forget that every black woman in America is unaware of my honorary membership