Friday, September 16, 2011

Responding to Rudeness--What's Up With That?

I spent this morning at my daughter's nine-month check-up. It, for some unknown reason, took three hours. By the end, she barely even registered the shot because she was screaming so much out of boredom and frustration. I felt a little like screaming, too, and there was a part of the whole interaction that didn't sit well with me.

The doc came in for a brief moment to ask if it would be okay for her med student to do the pre-exam questions. I said sure, she left, and in steps a young, friendly, well-dressed med student. He asks how she's doing, if she's hitting milestones, etc. He asked what she was eating, and I gave him a list of some of the many table foods she eats (a list that included avocados, sweet potatoes, spinach, nectarines, bananas, and apples). He switched to a patronizing tone and told me, "Now, really, we suggest that you stick to mostly veggies because when they get a taste of those sweet things like cake, ice cream, and nectarines, they really don't want to eat the vegetables." Cake. Ice cream. Nectarines. One of these things is not like the others. But I just smiled and nodded, ensuring him that she ate plenty of veggies.

Then, he checked her grip and said something that confused me: "Is she adopted or what's up with that . . . (without pausing for my reply, he looks up, sees my face, which I suspected was somewhere between amusement and anger and stumbles on awkwardly). . . and, um, and you said she was in daycare, right?"

"No. She's not adopted."

"Oh. Okay. And, um, she babbling and responding to her name?"

I didn't press any further, mainly because he seemed to at least realize that the question was awkward and inappropriate. I tried to just shake it off, but the "what's up with that" really stuck with me. What did the "that" refer to? My daughter's curly hair? Her dark complexion? Her brown eyes?

I never know how to respond to these things. My husband and I usually grocery shop and run errands together, but when I am out alone with my daughter, I seem to get comments and odd looks that throw me off guard. Once, in Walmart, a woman walked up to me and said, "Oh my gosh! She's so adorable! What's she mixed with?" "Labrador," I wanted to respond.

See, when it's out and out malevolent racism, I know how to respond. But when it's cluelessness and seemingly well-meaning comments with a smattering of racist insensitivity, I don't know what to do--but I need to figure out a good way to handle it before my daughter gets old enough to understand the conversations.

Update: I did end up confronting the med student. You can read about it here.


  1. My daughter is Australian Aboriginal (as is my husband). I am Caucasian Australian. My daughter has fair skin, dirty blond hair and blue eyes. I have to argue with people to get her marked as Aboriginal (ie at the hospital etc). I have got to the point where I will put in a complaint if someone dares to sit there and tell me my daughter 'Doesn't look Aboriginal'. Racial insensitivity is just a nice way of saying racism as far as I am concerned. They may not be intending to be racist but they are. I won't make excuses for those people any more, they need to lift their game.

  2. Good point, just because they're not screaming slurs doesn't mean they aren't participating in racism. I'm sorry you have to deal with that reaction to your daughter.

  3. Ugh. I totally agree with Bri - no excuses should be made for this behaviour. Could you send your doctor some feedback? This guys is a med student after all and is presumably there to learn.

  4. You're right. After feedback and reflection, I wrote the doctor today. This young student needs to learn how to navigate a diverse world better if he is to be a caring doctor.

  5. Good for you Jane. I'm sorry if I sounded terse in my comment (reading it back now I think I might have sounded a bit abrupt) I have just had a rough week with people who think fighthing for change is a waste of time or too hard and my frustration came out in my comment to you.