Racist? Or am I being over-sensitive?

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This is a record of something that happened to me shortly after my first child was born in 2011.  It is something that has bothered me intermittently since it happened as it is one of those events that I wish I could go back to and change how I reacted.

I am of mixed ethnicity.  I was born in Kent and speak with a London accent (this is merely to give you a background).  I have brown skin, and I possibly look Indian or mixed with some Indian influences.  I don’t really know – I get asked all sorts of questions about the whereabouts of my origins.  But that is another bugbear I may share with you some other time.

My husband has white skin, and our first son was born with a similar complexion to my husband’s.  He still remains very pale, but takes a tan well in the summer.

That’s the background.  So a couple of weeks after our eldest was born, I needed to get some prescription medications from the local pharmacy.  I had been to my GP with my husband and new baby.  It was a very new experience being out and about as a brand new family, and I felt so proud strolling around our town with my handsome husband and beautiful child in tow.  After leaving the GP surgery, we headed for the pharmacy.  We all walked in, baby snuggled in his buggy fast asleep.  I approached the lady behind the counter and greeted her politely.  I explained that I had been prescribed some medications, as you do.

You probably already know that if you have a baby, you are entitled to free prescriptions for the duration of your pregnancy and for a year after your due date.  Naturally, this applied to me.  As proof of this, women are issued with a maternity exemption certificate (in the form of a card) to produce, if asked, in instances such as this.  A week or so before this, I had needed to collect some medications from the same pharmacy.  At the time, a different woman was there and didn’t ask for my exemption card, and merely stated that the ‘contents of my buggy was proof enough’.

This time there was a different woman, and after I explained that the prescription was for me, I said that I have my exemption card, and gladly offered to show it to her.  My husband was standing away from the counter with our newborn in his buggy, the buggy facing away from the counter.  And instead of the woman accepting to view my card, she walked over to our buggy to look at our newborn son.  Now, she wasn’t going over to coo at and admire him.  She wanted to see what he looked like.  After silently and seriously viewing him, she returned to the counter and told me she would now like to view my card.  I half-jokingly responded by asking her if she didn’t believe that he was my child, to which I was met with silence.  Flabbergasted by her reaction, I awkwardly showed her my card, and she continued with her business of ordering my prescription.  We waited a few minutes, she produced my medications, and we left.

And I was furious.  I was furious at her for being so incredibly racist.  Yes racist.  Not to mention stupid.  But, I was even more furious at myself for letting this happen, and not challenging it appropriately at the time.  Ordinarily, I would have been the first person to stand up and say something.  But maybe in the haze of recent childbirth, new sleepless nights and crazy hormones, I just wasn’t myself.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was not angry at her for wanting to see my card.  She was, of course, within her rights to ask me for proof of maternity exemption.  But she should have just asked for it when I produced my prescription.  What on earth was she thinking when she approached my buggy to view my baby?  And what did his appearance tell her?  That he didn’t look adequately enough like me that he could possibly be mine?  If this is the case, then is it her job to judge this?  No, of course it isn’t.  As I said, she should have just asked to see my card from the outset.  And if she had decided that she doubted he was my son, what on earth was she thinking?  That I had borrowed a man with a newborn baby in order to fraudulently acquire a free prescription?  Who does this?!

All of this bothered me immensely.  I wanted to walk back in and angrily challenge her on all of this.  Indeed, I wish I had done so at the time.  I wish I could have walked back in and asked her why she was looking at my baby.  Hell, I wish I could have stopped her from going over to look at my baby.  I wish I could have given her a venomous, fiery retaliation that would have put her firmly in her place, and made her question every further idiotic, ignorant thought that ever entered into her tiny little mind.  But it was too late.  We were walking home, feeling deflated and I was sounding off to my husband, who doesn’t really understand a lot of the ethnicity-based arguments that I make in the first instance.

I said before that I believe this woman was being racist.  I stand by this.  Maybe there are people who do not connect with me on this, and that is fine.  My husband doesn’t really connect with me on my feelings about this.  I know that in the future our children will probably change him.  The reason I believe this woman was being racist in her actions is because I very much doubt that she routinely views other couples’ babies.  Having said that, why on earth wouldn’t she believe that we were a couple?  Or did she sneak a peek at our son on the way in and decide that he was too fair to possibly be mine?  I don’t know.  The more I think about this, the more angry and confused I get about it.

We live in a supposedly multicultural society, my town is no exception.  Yet, these little things continue to happen.  And these little comments, little actions, little faux pas can have such deep effects on fellow human beings.  The comments and actions of this woman will certainly stay with me forever.  Maybe I should have written a letter of complaint.  Maybe I should have returned to complain.  But the damage was done, and she will never be made aware of her errors that day.  Hopefully the next time something similar happens to me, I will be sufficiently on the ball to respond appropriately. Even better, here’s hoping that I never have to!

I would be so interested to hear what you think on this matter.

Till next time.

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4 thoughts on “Racist? Or am I being over-sensitive?

  1. Yes, I would have been livid as well but probably too shocked in the moment to have said anything. Like you were. It was possibly her attitude and the way she delivered her actions as well. This person is clearly lacking in the tact department not to mention how rude she was. So sorry that happened to you. I’ve never been in a similar situation because my kids look exactly like me but my husband was once asked why there was a picture of a Chinese baby on his phone. He’s British, white and as you probably know, I’m not! Our children are mixed race. So that is shocking as well!! You are not alone and unfortunately we will come across stupid people and we can’t really do much about it. Our children will too and we can only prepare them the best we can.

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  2. Thanks for reading and for your comment. Wow, that is shocking that somebody said that to your husband in response to pictures of your children. Before my kids were born, I assumed that this sort of situation would happen to my husband, as I figured our kids would look more mixed than they do. But it happens to me more often. I get far too many people stopping me to ask me if they are my kids. I’m sure anyone with kids that looked like them wouldn’t be asked this on a regular basis. I still sometimes question whether I’m being paranoid, but really, I don’t think I am. As you say, our children will be likely to come across hurtful comments when they’re older, and it does concern me. Indeed, we can only prepare them as best we can.

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  3. Free Range Chick (like that, by the way): Just found your postings, and you’ve probably examined this topic quite a bit as it sounds as if you now have at least one more child. I would suppose your skin is a little tougher, and your radar a little more at the ready.

    My now 12-year-old baby boy, with his flounce of bouncy curls atop a head of blonde silk, did not start out looking anything like me. He is clearly caucasian, and to most he is exclusively caucasian. But this year he has grown to nearly my height, and so many people have commented at how much he looks like me. You can see the staring and the double takes that people do, and some people are left nearly paralyzed as we walk by, but thank goodness no one has fallen out. When they recover, sometimes they share their musings with me, and I listen, and smile.
    “It’s his bone structure,” older women say. “He has your bone structure.”

    I think it takes a big, brave Mommy heart to realize that other people only see with their eyes.

    People like the woman you encountered at the pharmacy, and the professional staff I have encountered at the doctor’s office (“clearly those kids are not genetically related”), as well as the outlandish senior citizen who inquired of me as to whose child it was that I sat nursing, offend us when we are the most open, the most vulnerable, and most simply mothering our children in the middle of ordinary days. And we are deflated in one instant. (Believe it or not, it goes away, and I recall these things merely to share with you.)

    May your family enjoy the journey forward.

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    1. Hi there, and thank you for the name compliment – I couldn’t resist.

      It is a shame when people make silly judgements and assumptions about things that have nothing to do with them. People do not know how hurtful their comments are. Unfortunately, the beliefs that people have tend to run deeply and it takes a lot for them to change their perspective.

      I hope that you encounter fewer experiences like this in the future.

      Thanks again for your sweet comment (o:

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