As the non-Black people of this country grapple with the fact that we haven’t been doing enough to fight racism, some of the conversation has turned to the less overt ways that people reveal their prejudices. Even people who don’t think they’re racist can say things that are downright hurtful. During the NBC News special Growing Up Black: Families Contronting Racism on Monday night, Today co-host Craig Melvin revealed one microaggression that really bothers him as a father.
“I’m always struck when someone, a stranger will say to me, ‘Oh your kids are so well-behaved,’” said Melvin, who has two biracial children, Delano, 6, and Sybil, 3, with his wife, Fox Sports anchor Lindsay Czarniak. “And you know that they probably wouldn’t say that if there were two white kids sitting there who are the same age. It’s like, did you not expect my kids to be well-behaved?”
It really is as if these observers are complimenting him on having children who aren’t like all those other Black children.
Two other parents on the show, Kimree and Jessica Gautier, said they’ve heard the same thing when they go out with their two children, ages 9 and 7, in predominantly white neighborhoods in Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s something their white friends had never noticed.
“We’d go to a store like Target or a restaurant or something like that, and we’ll get that, ‘Oh my God, your kids are so well-behaved; they’re so well-spoken,’” Kimree said. “And I’ll be like, ‘Well, yeah, they’re not doing anything crazy, they’re not out here like building a small model plane in the middle of the store. They’re not solving world peace in the middle of the store. They’re just being well-behaved kids.’
“And I do feel a lot of it comes from not expecting Black kids to be behaved like that,” he continued. “Because they get a stigma of being loud and ignorant and over the top and just bad in general.”
This type of microaggression, and the feeling like they were “unicorns” on display all the time, led the Gautiers to move to a more racially mixed town. We get it, because feeling constantly on guard, knowing other parents are expecting you to act like a negative stereotype, sounds exhausting. They should be able to allow their Black kids to act like kids.
So, please, white readers: Take this information in, and realize that it’s our problem, not theirs. This is not about just saying the right thing or being politically correct. It’s about going deeper and confronting your own prejudices long before you open your mouth.