Stranger Danger

I love living in Harlem. It feels very neighborhoody. You know the guys in your corner bodega. They play peek-a-boo with the baby. We have a fantastic fruit guy with yummy bananas and lychees. We do a lot of neighborhood walking, the baby and I, so we see some of the same people many times.

On Friday, we saw this older dude near the fruit stand. Nice Interesting dude. Last week I saw him tell a little girl that if she didn’t mind her mother, that the dog on the street would “get her!” Gross. I don’t want my kid afraid of dogs. I don’t want my kid to listen to me out of fear. But, she wasn’t my kid and the mom seemed okay with the story, so I just minded my business.

On Friday, he sees us and says hello. Scooba is very friendly. He smiles at folks, laughs, waves his hands and jabbers emphatically at people. The people love him. This guy said hello and I replied. Then dude asks me if Scooba was my son.

“Yep.”

“Really?” (No, I’m lying to a stranger, but since you said ‘really’ I’m gonna come clean.)

“Yep.”

“How’d he get so bright?!!”

Really, stranger? How did my son get so bright??! My son isn’t ‘so bright’. Sure, he’s light-skinned, but, “so bright,” no. And where do you get off being so nosy. You don’t know my name, but you want to know about my son’s  genetic heritage?

“Black people come in all kinds of colors.”

“Well, now, that’s true.”

So. What do I do with this? I’m not going to lie. it really bothered me. It’s not that I don’t want people to know that Husband is white. It’s not that I am ashamed that my son is biracial. So why did his comments bother me so much? I talked to husband and he pointed out two things. One, it is extremely rude to be forward with a stranger. Two, I don’t like strangers all up in my business. We were once harassed on the street for being together and I got very upset about it. Husband just took it in stride. He felt like strangers’ opinions didn’t matter.

I get that people are curious. If you’re my friend, and you ask about my son, I’ll tell you and be fine with it. But for a stranger to ask why my son is ‘so bright’ is a judgment and he isn’t seeing my son for the whole person he is. He is more than a shade of brown. And you know what? There isn’t anything wrong with being “bright.” Dude said it with the same tone as asking, “How’d he get so ugly?”

It’s rude to ask strangers personal questions. Don’t act like my kid’s color is the only interesting thing about him. He’s smart. He’s tall. He’s a marvelous climber. I feel like I should have one of those “Ask me about…” stickers for him. Maybe the lesson for me is to worry less about what some dude on the corner has to say. He is a jerk, but it’s up to me to decide how it’s going to affect me. Boom. Got a little Dr. Phil on myself there. Nice.

Bottom Line: Don’t be a weird old guy asking rude questions of strangers on the street. It’s not a good look.