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Author Topic: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense  (Read 22302 times)

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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #15 on: May 04, 2013, 09:35:45 AM »
While I do think the writer went a little over the top with saying that mothers wipe their own kids' faces with extra love, people do make a lot of interesting assumptions based on skin color.

My family is of Irish descent--pale skin, fair hair. One of my brothers married a woman from Turkey--dark hair, olive skin.

Their daughter looks exactly like her mother--same eyes, same nose, same chin, same face shape. But she got my brother's pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes.

When they are in Turkey, people assume my SIL is a nanny for my niece. When they are in the US, people assume they are mother and daughter.

And people just make assumptions. I had to pick my other niece up from day care once, and three different people asked if I was her new nanny. She's never had a nanny, most of her friends don't have nannies, but the first thing that sprang to people's minds was "nanny" and not "relative" or "family friend."
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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #16 on: May 04, 2013, 10:05:45 AM »
I asked that question once, of someone I met in a social context. The mother was offended.

The reason I asked? So I wouldn't inadvertently make an offensive remark later!  :-[

Yes, we have a societal expectation that children will have the same skin color as their parents. It's somewhat natural; if I saw a mother dog with long ears, whose puppies all had upright triangular* ears, I'd wonder the same thing.

Next time, I'll just wait and see what they call each other. Lesson learned!

*Because dogs don't have "wingadingdingy" ears!
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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #17 on: May 04, 2013, 10:50:32 AM »
The writer of the original article mentions she's in Brooklyn.  If she lives in our neighborhood, the potential for confusion is high. 

There are many inter-racial couples.  Hey, we're one.  :)

There are many nannies, most of whom are of African heritage. 

There are many LGBT couples with adopted children of varying heritages. 

A walk on a Saturday afternoon is an ambulatory United Nations. 

'Are they yours?' can be asked of any adult accompanying children.  Whether the adult is a care-taker or a parent the answer can be, 'Yes'. 

I remember the Hong family.  They were Chinese-American and had three children.  Jill married a Chinese man.  Jim married a Swedish woman and Jane married a man from West Africa.  They all had children.  The whole family got along well and spent the holidays together.  Can you imagine the confusion when the entire clan went out for an excursion? 

The Hong family just thought it was funny. 

In some situations it can make sense to ask but it usually doesn't matter. 


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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #18 on: May 04, 2013, 10:54:16 AM »
The question, "Are they yours," most often I think is just a conversation starter. I honestly don't think people were trying to be rude. We all are curious about things and people who don't fit our "mold" of how we mentally organize our world. If you live in an urban community where most people are black (like mine) seeing someone Asian or White is unusual and they get started at. I brought a Chinese couple to my rural, white, community where I grew up and warned them ahead of time not to be surprised to get lots of stares. Low and behold they were staring at the Amish who seemed normal to me because I grew up with them. We start at short people, tall people, people without legs, fat people, famous people, people with tattoos all over their faces,  tall skinny modes, beautiful women with old men and gorgeous young men with a couger. We all do it. We try to hide it but we are all fascinated by anomalies in our mind. If we don't do it, then our mind doesn't create the synapses forming connections that this is normal. The more our brain sees it, the stronger the connection and the less odd it becomes cognitively. I never minded the "question" and I never experienced overt racism with my children. Perhaps they did, but as a whole, people let us be.

Conversation starters should not be personal. You don't ask questions of total strangers simply to satisfy your curiosity. Have you been introduced to them? Then leave them alone.

If you have been "introduced" under the concept of being "under the same roof" (you're all at the playground, or the grocery store, or on the same streetcorner), then you restrict your topic of conversation to the "roof."

And staring is rude--I thought that was one of those classic etiquette rules.


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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #19 on: May 04, 2013, 11:36:02 AM »
I got the vibe that she's offended not because people don't recognize that her children look like her, but because people are assuming she's a nanny and, in her area, nannies are looked down upon.

If they're asking so they know where to place her on the social scale that is offensive. They could just, oh I don't know, speak to her as a human being until they figured out her relationship to the kids. If they aren't interested in knowing anything about her other than her roll in the neighborhood as compared to theirs then they are being nosy and rude.

I can relate because although I always physically looked like I could be the mother of the kids I nannied, I was young. I absolutely had people openly judging me as they asked if the child in my care was mine, then the relief that crossed their faces when I said no, I'm his/her nanny, was offensive. How is it anyone's business if I had a baby when I was 14 or 15? What is it they think that says about me and what do they intend to do with the information? Maybe the question itself isn't rude but the intent behind it (am I justified in the assumptions I've made here?) certainly can be.


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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #20 on: May 04, 2013, 12:22:17 PM »
If you want to ask, I would do it indirectly.  I would comment as, "Oh the children are beautiful!" Or "He is so well behaved." etc.  If they feel like it, they can tell in their thanks.  If they don't mention it, I wouldn't.  At least to a stranger in passing.  If you are friends or at a playgroup that is recurring and would like to get to know her more, then I would ask if my indirect approach didn't work.

I can understand the writer though, it must be frustrating to think they are the hired help when in fact they are the mom.  But I too don't see why she is being asked all the time, in the picture they are close in skin color and look very similar.  I am in a biracial marriage and my late MIL was a lot darker than my kids.  She got a lot of looks/comments when she would take them out as the differences were striking.  And she wasn't bothered by the polite ones.   


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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #21 on: May 04, 2013, 12:37:32 PM »
My mind, on reading "are they yours" goes directly to the 'adoption' question--which would leave me peeved.
Because my child is my child, whether I gave birth to her, adopted her, or she spran fully formed from my head.
I think, as someone said above, the complexity of racial relations makes it a more volatile question than people realize.

 (and, when talking to kids, I know the situation can get squirmy awfully fast--step parents, mom's or dad's boyfriend, foster care, grandparents who are guardians, etc.  So when I deal w/ kids, and I need them to point me out their parent, I just ask who their 'grown-up' is.  Saves some aggravation and "uh, that's Cindy, she's the nanny" embarrassment that kids sometimes have)


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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #22 on: May 04, 2013, 01:20:16 PM »
My sister has dark reddish blond hair and blue eyes with pale skin.   Her spouse is of Japanese descent.  Their children look like their Dad.  When they were little, she was asked multiple times by total strangers if the boys were hers.

When she answered yes, generally the next question was "where did you get them?"

She would respond that they were her and her spouse's kids and at least 50% of the time, the person who was questioning her would, really, where did you get them from?

She found the entire line of questions to be rude, especially since these were total strangers. She finally reached the point where she would just not respond when they asked her twice where she "got them from" as she didn't feel that it was any of their business.

And at least around here, the question was racially motivated, as we live in a 99% white community.

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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #23 on: May 04, 2013, 05:17:37 PM »
"Why?  Did you lose one?"  "Why?  Do you want one?"   "These are mine.  You can find more at Target."

Being a smart Alec seems to work to shut this down.  We are also a racially mixed family, and, yes, my husband particularly (majority ethnicity) found that question highly offensive, and got it more often than I (minority ethnicity) did.


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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #24 on: May 04, 2013, 05:47:08 PM »
I remember mentioning to a single mother that her daughter looked a lot like she must have at the same age.....only to find that the child was adopted at birth - any resemblance was pure coincidence.

I also got a rather sharp stare from her.....I was not assuming anything (she could have been widowed, chose artificial insemination, adopted an orphaned relative, or any of a number of other ways of ending up with a child and no partner of any kind) - and really, the hair, skin, eyes, build, and face shape were astonishingly alike - although the laugh COULD have been learned behavior...

I also have an aunt who has biracial children and an adopted daughter from her first marriage of American Indian heritage (as was her first husband) - she is also one of those people who assumes that any & all comments are derogatory, for some reason.  Her adult personality is a lot more prickly than when I first remember her when I was five....

I don't understand the prickliness about "are they yours"?  But after having a twelve year old daughter accused of being a teenaged mother to her baby brother and a few other "interesting assumptions" made by the mean-spirited & nosey - I can kind of understand when someone starts getting a bit defensive after a hundred or more nasty comments......
« Last Edit: May 04, 2013, 05:48:51 PM by VorFemme »
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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #25 on: May 04, 2013, 05:52:38 PM »
I think it's very personal. She gets it enough that it evidently isn't about trying to help someone on the playground or other situations that we've discussed. My husband is Japanese and I'm brown-haired and pale. I was asked by people (when in the US) if DS was adopted. Either 'yes' or 'no' started the discussion in ever more personal directions (after more personal questions followed 'no' I tried 'yes' once. That didn't work to keep the conversation impersonal either).

'I didn't know that someone who could look like you could give birth to a Japanese baby'
'Aren't you sad that he doesn't look more like you?'

After exchanges like this I don't really have a favorable view of this question, either. There don't seem to be many good motives for asking someone out of the blue in a restaurant, waiting at a red light, in a department store. Why do they want to know?


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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #26 on: May 04, 2013, 05:56:19 PM »
I think the response to that sort of question from a mostly total stranger is to say, "Do I know you?"

And if they say, "Oh, no, I was just curious," then say, "You'll have to forgive me for not indulging your curiosity. Excuse me--we'd like to be undisturbed."


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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #27 on: May 04, 2013, 05:56:42 PM »
A friend just posted on FB of an experience she had when out ith her much younger brother.  Is is about 20, but very young looking.  A random man commented that she should have kept her legs closed and not bring shame to her family.

Clearly the rudeness there was in every word that rude man said, but my point is that making assumptions either way is fraught with danger.


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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #28 on: May 04, 2013, 06:03:32 PM »
I suppose that what she's reacting to is a consistent pattern of people acting as if they can't believe a white woman could really be the mother of a non-white child. That may not be what most of the individual questioners mean, but I can imagine there may be enough who ask the question maliciously to give her a jaundiced view.
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Re: Are they yours? Don't understand the offense
« Reply #29 on: May 04, 2013, 06:46:22 PM »
I think this question is the type of oddly personal question that doesn't get asked unless people are strangers. If you think about it, a conversation with an adult at a playground with children is very likely to include the phrase "my daughter" or "mama" or some such indicator of relationship within a pretty short period of time. If two adults are chatting at the swings, they will likely know pretty quickly how the children are related to the other adult without having to ask.

If there is a legitimate reason to need to ask that question (like a child who is hurt and an unrelated adult is looking for a parent or caretaker), it's not offensive. There is a reason to ask it, and no reason to assume that the stranger would have any way to know the answer.

At the very least, this type of question shouldn't be a conversation opener. The people who start off with this question often do so because they either don't think you are the parent, or don't think you should be. Your race is too different, you're too young, you're too poor...whatever. It communicates a value judgment more than it communicates genuine interest in the answer.

And while I don't think a stranger can be expected to see that the writer is treating her children as a mother would after just a few minutes observation, I do think it's entirely reasonable to expect someone who has been standing around talking with her for a few minutes to see it. And to expect someone just observing her to keep their questions and their opinions to themselves so she doesn't have to deal with them.

Ultimately, I don't think anyone should be expected to satisfy another person's idle curiosity. If I strike up a conversation with a woman at a playground while we push our children on swings, it doesn't particularly matter whether the children are biologically related to her or not, because I'm likely only ever going to see her when we are both at the playground. If the relationship changes to one that is less superficial, a) I probably wouldn't need to ask if the children in question were hers (because I'd probably have figured out the relationship), and b) if for some reason I did have to ask if the children were hers, it would be far more clear that it wasn't just idle curiosity, and was instead genuine interest in her life.