Tuesday, September 1, 2009

For Black Moms Who’ve Considered the Cuss Out When the Playground Banter Is Much Too Much

Editor’s Note: So I was fussing around on Twitter Sunday afternoon when I came across poet and writer Bassey Ikpi’s tweets from the frontlines—er, playground. What started out as a lazy, playful afternoon for the Baltimore-based mom and her deliciously cute son, Elaiwe, quickly turned into a “get it straight” verbal smackdown when another mom questioned whether her son was “slow.” Right. In one almost hour-long twitter stream, Bassey expressed the fears, frustration, and anger black parents face when others make foul, wrong-headed assumptions about our brown babies. Here, the blow-by-blow of Bassey brilliantly breaking down why it’s just never a good idea to “innocently” verbalize said assumptions about black children to their moms, as told through Bassey’s tweets.


• At the park with Boogs. Poor thing needs some friends. He's trying to convince some big kids to let him play soccer. 1:29 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• This kid isn't afraid of anything! Where did he get that from? I long to be that free and unafraid. 1:31 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Ugh! This is why I hate hanging out with parents I don't know. Just because our kids are playing together don't mean you and I should talk. 1:39 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• E is clearly smaller than your kid. Why would you ask me if he's delayed? Do people do that? Am I wrong? 1:40 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• I was like… what? He's 2 and a half. She goes, what?? Then she wants to compare notes. He started walking when?? He says what??? 1:42 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Bitch, you started it! I wasn't trying to tell you he was a genius. I was letting him play with your barely talking yet 5 year old. 1:43 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• White people blow me with that! He can't be gifted? He has to be tiny and slow?? 1:44 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• My 2 year old is convincing your 4 year old not to be scared of the slide and you trying to say what to me? Ridiculous. 1:46 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• And yes I am tweeting in her face. 1:46 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Boogie is having fun but if this chick doesn't stop with the questions. Like I'm going to say well when his home planet was destroyed... 1:50 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• "Oh his father must be thrilled." Someone is about to be arrested. 1:52 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• I'm taking my cues from Michael. I'm a lover not a fighter. I just explained to her that her questions come off both rude and racist. 1:56 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• She apologized and said that she saw how he was behaving and assumed he was older but because he is small she thought he was autistic... 2:01 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• I'm not sure how that's better... but I asked her why she wouldn't assume that he was advanced for his age rather than slow for his size. 2:02 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Hell why not just ask me how old he is? She said she was just stunned bcuz her 4 yo 2:03 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Doesn't speak as clearly and isn't as self possessed as E is. I said that has nothing to do with me and my kid. 2:04 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Was that rude? I'm not trying to be rude but Boogie is just Boogie. I don't compare him to other kids. 2:04 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• She shouldn't compare little Dakota or Simon or whatever. No wonder he's so scared of slides. Let the boy live. 2:05 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Crap. Stupid bleeding heart. Now I feel bad.2:06 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Boogie: What happened, mama? Me: That lady is stressing me out. B: Me too! Can I have ice cream? (Love this kid) 2:13 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• E is fine for his age. He's smart but he's not Doogie. So to think he's a tiny 5 year old that's slow? What time is your plane to conclusions? 2:14 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• It was more how she asked. He started walking early. He started talking early. Yes he eats fast food. Yes he watches TV… 2:17 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• These are just facts. I'm not all hmph.. give your kid a happy meal. That's what works for ME! (Kinda) 2:18 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• I get nervous about my parenting but I know I'm doing the absolute best I can. That's it. Leave me alone random white woman! 2:19 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Oh I don't feel bad. I know Boogie is awesome. I just was annoyed by the whole conversation. I don't like talking kids with parents.

• So if I'm saying yes he knows a lot of words. Yes he's pretty fearless. Yes he's very confident. LEAVE ME ALONE. 2:23 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Ok. I'm done talking about this. You can't be mad and eat ice cream. It's like illegal in 4 countries. Thanks for listening to me! 2:24 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

About our MBB Contributor:
Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic. She’s half awesome, a quarter crazy and 1/3rd genius... the left over bit is a caramel creme center. She’s also the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi, who, as you can see in the picture above, be flyer than most, even on a sick day. Get more Bassey at basseyworld.com

If you would like to be a featured contributor on MyBrownBaby, email your essays/ideas/blog posts/rants/musings to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com.

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  1. Wow. The things that people have the nerve to ask are crazy! I deal with that with my daughter's looks. She's light-skinned with sandy brown/blonde hair. I've had people stare and ask in amazement if it's natural or highlights. Um, duh. When she was barely potty trained people thought I would actually highlight her hair? Seriously. Great post, Denene.

    Winks & Smiles,

  2. I'm surprised...but not all at the same time. Been there before. I just put on my "professional office voice" and scare the crap out of them. lol!

  3. Now THIS is how you use Twitter. LOVE it!

    "• She apologized and said that she saw how he was behaving and assumed he was older but because he is small she thought he was autistic..."

    ..just about killed me. The nerve of people! Bassey handled the situation well. Smooth as silk.

  4. Interesting Post...

    "White people blow me with that! He can't be gifted? He has to be tiny and slow??"

    I don't understand ... the way this you state this quoted tweet is that ALL white people feel this way?... possibley it was THAT white lady. Not all white people would say something so shallow. Most people know that kids develop differently.

    IDK.. makes you think..

    I have a brown baby who is surrounded by white people who love and adore her and regularly say how advanced she is... sooo. not all white people look at a brown baby and think they are autistic..

  5. People never cease to amaze me. Ignorance and rudeness is just unacceptable. I tend to get alot of comments on my choice to have a large family...of course the first questions are "do you have help?' their way of asking am I married and then followed by "do they all belong to your husband?" What???
    Usually I smile and walk away. I'm refuse to be affected by their ignorant thoughts and comments!

  6. Oh, this is bringing back bad memories for me from the park on Sunday. My son is 2 and the sweetest, most loving, affectionate little boy ever. He went up to another little white boy at the park and touched his shoes and said "Nice!" and the boy ran screaming and crying away from him, yelling, "Mommy, he touched me!" I mean, INCONSOLABLE crying because my son wanted to play with him. He was one of the few little kids there my son's size and he just wanted to have fun and run around. My son will try to play with ANYONE, even the big kids. The mom seemed to have enough sense to be embarrassed, but I had to chase my son away from her kid more than once because he just didn't get that this kid was a little a-hole. There were no other black people at the park that day and none of the parents spoke to me.
    I do agree with anonymous, though, I am used to EVERYONE loving my son. White people, hispanic, Asian, everyone loves my baby. People typically comment on how smart he is, how he is so strong & athletic and adorable. The whole experience just floored me. I am sorry you had a bad experience with your son, that woman was out of order. I hope you managed to salvage the afternoon with ice cream!

  7. I am offended at the lady and I'm pretending she's not white because, well, I don't like to go there. Black, white, whatever, that was an idiot move. Bassey, keep doing what you're doing, mama!

    Everytime someone asks how old my son is, I cringe because I think they are going to get on his size. He's in the 5th percentile for his weight, so he isn't as "fluffy" as other 16 month olds. So far everyone has been supportive...

  8. As Cicely Tyson said in Diary of A Mad Black Woman (The Movie) some people just don't have any Cooth lol.

    I would never even think to open my mouth and let those kind of thoughts or whatever they might have been come out.

    White black blue orange stupidity has no color.

  9. Get her Ms. Bassey! Nice one D. Ignorance abounds. I hate having to be in teaching-checking mode. Sometimes when I address the foolishness, I'm riled for days. And if I let it slide, I beat myself up. Its kind of like a no win situation. Glad to hear about other warrior mothers.

  10. Thank you all for your comments on my post. I'm honored that Denene thought enough of my ADD enriched twitter rant to post it on her blog. I LOVE IT HERE.

    Now to address a point about my use of "White people". I apologize if I offended any anonymous person but I stand by that usage. Here is why. I've been a parent for less than 3 years. During that time, I've had more than my fair of conversations with parents. I'm a friendly person. I am honestly open to talking to anyone at any time. It's just who I am. During those 3 years, I've seen my son (whom I consider a normal average, healthy spirited young boy) given the once over by white mothers in various settings. If not at the doctors office, then the park, then Chuck E Cheese. It's never hateful. My son is a very loving (as stated in a previous blog "huggy") little boy. He is very advanced for his age and has been through his development. It's not something I harp on but it's something that others have pointed out. However, parents of color have asked, 'How old is he?" before jumping to conclusions. White parents, IN MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, have overwhelmingly assumed my 2 1/2 year old baby boy must be some sort of delayed 4-5 year old. I've seen faces change and attitudes stiffen (intentional)when they start silently comparing their organic, no TV watching, Mozart listening child to my french fries, Noggin obsessed, knows all the words to Black Eyed Peas Boom Boom Pow baby boy.
    Do I mean all white people? no. Do I mean that white people don't love my child or say he's cute or appreciate him? not at all. Someof his best friends are white. What I do mean is that when things like the above happen or the incident in my last blog happen... the person speaking is usually a white person.

    I apologize if you were offended. it doesn't change the reality of what parents of color have to deal with.

  11. I can totally relate.

    my child is apparently tall for his age (3), and when we're at the park (or anywhere with other kids around) people assume he's older, until they ask his age. then i get the "ohhh, he's tall for 3! you've got an athlete on your hands!" ummm...that always rubs me the wrong way, are they assuming he'll be the next Shaq cuz he's a little tall or cuz he's brown? things that make you go hmmm.

    And Bassey, you know i feel you about the "white people kill me" comment. for whatever reason, it seems to be white moms who have the most to say about my son.

  12. When I became a mom, the biggest surprise was the competition between moms, especially first-time moms. It was, how old are they? Really, are you sure? They look pretty tall. Do they do X? How about Y? Wow, they're good at Z! Do they take Z classes? No? Really? And on and on and on.

    The playground comparisons were so often rude and racist, and always disheartening and stressful. But how much more stressful must it be to be the mom who is so insecure that she'll ask incredibly intrusive and rude question of a stranger so she can make that comparison?

  13. Further proof that, as my granny often says, "common sense nuh all dat common". It's amazing the things people rattle off, then feign surprise when you haul off and regulate on them for trippin'! I'm glad Bassey held it down, and I am now one centimeter happier about Twitter being invented! I felt like I was there! I would've gotten in the middle like "baddest (wo)man, hit my hand!"

  14. I follow Bassey and was closely following this conversation, as things like this happen to me all the time. To make it worse, I look around 19 [Im on the verge of 30] and have a 7 and 2 year old, so the other moms are constantly asking me what it was like being a teen mom. I always respond, 'if I run across one, I'll ask her.'

  15. Oh wow...It is popping off today. Sounds like Bassey was caught onthe wrong day with the "white woman"

    At times like those I believe it is our duty to educate instead of push off rudeness. Everyone was raised differently. Their tact is different and may come across offensive but not meant that way. Their offensiveness can be equalled to ignorance. Just plain old ignorance. Ignorance can be battled with education. Keep the fight going guys so that when your sons or daughters are taking their children to the playground one day they don't have to experience such awful situations as Bassey's.

    Oh Bassey I could feel the anger in your tweets. I hate that happened to you. Playgrounds are fun but often challenging at times, as well.

  16. Everyone pretty much said what I was thinking (cause I am so damned late commenting on this post). I find it interesting that the person sticking up for "white people" chose to remain anonymous. Are we that scary? Apparently so! I have had silly things said to me by both races but anything having to do with my child's behavior or development has always come out of a white person's mouth. Granted I realize it is really those specific people that are ignorant and no sweeping generalizations should be made. But when it happens more than once, you tend to go there...wondering does everyone think this way? Sorry. And don't even ACT like you (white people) on occasion have not done the same thing about us or other races. Just sayin'.

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  18. http://www.newsweek.com/id/214989/page/1

    interesting article that just came out on talking to kids about race at a young age. the general conclusion is that parents should, yet it seems that many white parents - like the ones bassey has described in her posts - are quite ill equipped to do so...

  19. this is hilarious...how often are you out and get flabbergasted by what some idiot is saying and you think "dang, if only Lisa was here to hear this" - I just love how she tweeted her way thru this whole scenario - and in the chick's face no doubt...

    having a genius kid: $1,000,000.00

    having to deal w/the kid's parents: $1,000.00

    having a sister tell this chick off so that she knows not to approach another mother (or another muther %@*) - and then tweeting the whole thing: P-R-I-C-E-L-E-S-S!

  20. I am a white skinned woman. I have two beautiful black children, and I have to say that I have had two encounters with ignorant people where I thought I was gonna throw down right there, and they were both with older white women. Once in the grocery store when my son was talking to me, but standing next to the her and she hadn't seen me yet, and she asked my son in a very rude way if he was talking to her, at which time I answered her that he was talking to me. The shock in her face was almost enough to make me feel better. I hope that I would be able to handle myself as cool as Bassey if it ever happens again. Maybe I should subscribe to twitter...

  21. In my personal experience, pale parents get real competitive with their kids, as some sort of extension of their own weirdness. So they HAVE to see how your kid "measures" up, it's just their thing. And I don't say that with malice, it's just my personal experience with them. And it simply never occurs to them that it's rude.


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