I don’t think my kids could get away with that

So, I was shopping at our neighborhood Wal-Mart recently. While in the self checkout lane, I noticed a precious little vanilla bean girl (probably 2-3 years old) in a cart while her mother loaded the conveyor belt one lane over. While I continued to scan my items, I heard her yell out “Hey girl!” I must admit that I made the Scooby Doo noise and looked up. She repeated herself. I scanned the area to see who she was talking to. I noticed a lovely young woman wearing a hijab. The little girl continued yelling “Hey Girl” until she received a response. My perception was that everyone thought this was cute. But, after a connection was made between the little girl and the young woman who were separated by about 25 feet, the little vanilla bean was not satisfied with the conversation ending here. She proceeded to yell “What’s your name?” The young woman did not respond. The vanilla bean then yelled “Hey girl. Don’t you hear me? I’m talking to you. I said what’s your name.”

Okay, while that all sinks in, let’s take a moment to reflect. I must have been holding up the line at this point because I remember coming back to myself holding wheat bread with my jaw on the floor. I immediately shook my head and thought, “I don’t think my kids could get away with that.”

When I returned home and told the story to my husband, he replied by saying, “We would have never let our kids get away with that.” So, here are too issues. The vanilla beans mother didn’t say a word. She never asked the baby to stop yelling, nor did she tell her that she was being impolite. Secondly, I wondered, does race matter? Does race and gender matter? I began to wonder even if I did have an off day and allowed my child to utter those words across the room, how might others, strangers, people I don’t know reacted. Did it not matter because she was white? Would my kids have been seen as unruly? Why didn’t her vanillabeanmama say anything?

This incident made me think again about the perception of child-rearing as it relates to race. Was it a race thing? Or was Vanillabeanmama just having a tough day? Just wondering.

Annie is a CocoaMama who is married to her best friend of 15 years. They have two sons, a 6  year old and a 3 year old. She currently works at the Pennsylvania State University full time where she  is also completing her doctoral degree in higher education. She has worked and been a student for as  long as she has been a mother. So, she has had to learn how to simultaneously juggle all of her  identities. While she has not perfected this skill, she continues to assure that her family remains her  number one priority.

9 thoughts on “I don’t think my kids could get away with that

  1. Oh hell no. Vanillabeangirl would of been promptly told to hush up and not yell in the store. That’s just an issue of manners. But there probably are two issues going one: 1) the yelling, which is typical of children her age, and 2) the fact that she was yelling at somebody, who was a person of color. The general yelling, and her mother’s non-response, I can understand, because as you said, VanillabeanMama might have been having an off day. We all have those when your children are being a little out of control and you just don’t have the energy – you are just moving fast to get them out of the store. But VBMama should have noticed that her child was being incredibly rude to another person, and nipped it in the bud. The fact that the other person was brown makes it crazy suspect, and yes, I question why her daughter thought it even appropriate to speak to an adult using the term “girl.” Even a 2-3 year old knows the difference between a “girl” and an adult, if they’ve been modeled the difference. Sounds a lot like pre-Civil Rights, where Cocoa adults were routinely called by child’s nouns.

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  2. Hmmmm, don’t we think she might have called her girl because she hears black women calling each other girl all the time? It’s different from “boy” in a pre-Civil Rights context in that way.

    I’m often the mother yelling at my children for making these kinds of unruly “accidents,” I see parents sneering at me as though my boys are “just being boys.” As though I should cool out. This includes black female parents.

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  3. Annie, you’ve told a great story here: it could be about proper child behavior and precociousness. (I’ve not yet been to WalMart and avoided seeing some child yelling–perhaps even my own.) But it reminds me of Fanon on racial interpellation and Baldwin “A Stranger in the Village.” The “Look! a Negro” but the racial other in this case is a young Muslim woman.

    The idea that the white girl is always already sweet, cute and unimpeachable is suggestive. I sat behind two little white boys on an airplane who left their shoes in the aisle of the plane, kicked the seat in front of them, played their computer laptop movies without headphones, and remained unbuckled in their seats for landing. At the end of the flight, a white passenger remarked that they were “little angels.”

    So no, your kids couldn’t get away with it, my kids couldn’t get away with it, but then we probably wouldn’t allow it. But there is something else–a matter of racial privelege–at work here.

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  4. Tanji – I get that from Black mothers too – that I should chill out on my children’s behavior. I think that I am still carrying something from my childhood about how kids should act in public, which is NOT unruly. When my kids get around other folks, they are constantly telling me how well-behaved they are, while I’m thinking that they are acting like little devils. I don’t know what the balance is there.

    And you are right – I can’t be sure of the tone in which the little girl used the word “girl”. It could have been in a condescending tone, or a more familial tone. I guess you had to be there to correctly judge.

    And Lisa, don’t get me started on airplane behavior – I struggled with striking a good balance with the fact that I had a 1 year old and 3 year old on an airplane, who I could not expect to act like angels, and the rules of airplane behavior. They were kinda loud, cried a bit, listened to the computer without headphones, for a cross country flight. MY children were called monkeys and good reasons for birth control.

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    1. As a dad( CocoaDaddies anyone?) I observe this behavior from kids of all ethnicities and have come to the conclusion that children( of any age )only do what you let them get away with. Oh they will test the boundries every now and again but as long as they know that there are boundries everything is cool. Now those parents that let their 1-4 years do whatever the hell they want( he’s/she’s just a baby excuse)they need checking. My daughter who is ten now knew at a very early age that some behavior just will not be tolerated at all, would NEVER address an adult in such a fashion and knew her little bottom would get beaten if she displayed any attitude period! I believe with a lot of love and affection our children should also fear us. Not with physical punishment( but by no means is that off the table) only but fear of disappointing us. I refuse to be the parent that other parents talk about as having bad kids. My kid is now at the age that she is becoming more aware of the world and how it operates in regards to her as a female and person of color, and our jobs as parents is never over at a certain age.

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      1. Welcome Edward! And thanks for commenting (we’ll have to try to convince some of our better halves to comment so there will be more CocoaDaddies on here.) I think my hubby would feel a lot like you. He also believes in a natural amount of fear for a parent. I don’t know if I would categorize it as fear of disappointment – that sounds kind of draconian, although I admit I think my kids do fear me a bit, or at least fear the consequences that are coming their way. I instead want it to come from the inside – but when they are young, I think manners and acting right is more externally reinforced before it becomes internally driven. And then its about reminding.

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  5. Notwithstanding the racial undertones of the remark – as I do believe that LaToya was absolutely right in recognizing the tendency of black adults to be referred to by child pronouns – I am as uncomfortable when I witness any child behaving unruly as I am when I witness a child being excessively punished.

    I’m not sure either one is better…

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  6. I liked this post. One of the things people comment on about G is how well-mannered and well-behaved he is. He is polite, uses please, thank you, excuse me, etc. It’s something we drill into him until it has gotten to be just what he knows and does. He knows not to raise his voice in public spaces and he knows not to interrupt people when they are speaking, unless he begins with “Excuse me”.

    And I have to admit, I think I decided to enforce this at an early age because of how unruly I see so many young Black boys these days. Oh my goodness!! Some of them, really and truly, act like animals! And I know it has little to do with race and more to do with parenting and class, but man!! I also know how threatening Black men are perceived to be, so I am raising him to carry himself with respect and dignity and to interact with others politely with respect. I know, already, that by me being 6’0 and his father being 6’3 (not to mention my dad being 6’6), my son is going to be HUGE. That alone will make him scary. I want him to be seen as a “gentle giant” I guess.

    Sometimes I see some children, of all races and both sexes, acting a natural fool and I just look at the parents. Yes, children act out. They break down and have tantrums. But even with that, it is the parents’ responsibilities to instill certain manners and behaviors in their children.

    No, my son would have NEVER gotten away with that. He would have been quieted and reprimanded IMMEDIATELY. If that’s attributed to my being a Cocoa mama, so be it.

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  7. I don’t think this is a general vanilla parent attribute…As a vanilla lady who would NEVER let her children behave in such a way (and I don’t think I am unique in that), I’m inclined to view this as an individual with poor parenting skills.

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