“He’s mine, too.” A Reminder of Race While Grabbing In-Store Freebies

It’s 10:50 AM on Sunday at Costco.

Our shopping trip is over.

The cart is filled with all the massive-sized necessities we need, but we’re forced to kill ten minutes mulling around the store.

Why?

Because, where we live, there are no alcohol sales before 11 am and the large bottle of $8 Pinot seemed to be a worthwhile trade-off.

Lucky for us, though, there are some early samples that occupied my kids’ attention – the first of which was organic salsa served with tortilla chips.

My four youngest children swarmed the elderly, salsa sample lady – reaching for the paper cups simultaneously before she gently reminded them, “No-no.  Where are your parents?”

“They are mine.  So sorry.”

I, of course, was trailing behind but understood the no permission, no sampling protocol.

My kids grabbed their sample cup and thanked the nice lady as I crouched down about three feet from the display to help my little ones.  I hadn’t even noticed that my oldest son, Yosef, was reaching to grab his own snack.

Again, the nice lady asked, “Where are your parents?”

“Sorry, he’s mine, too.”  I piped up as I tried to shield my 20 month-old from the jagged-edged tortilla chips.

“Oh.  Oh, great.”  The lady stammered nervously, “Just making sure – with allergies and everything, you know.”

My son quickly moved from the table, salsa in hand, as I glanced back up at the sample lady.

“I get it.”  I said with an awkward nod.

I’m white, my son is black – and, these interactions remind me.

(L to R): My sons; Lynden and Yosef before a flag football game (March 2015)

Although innocent, these encounters confirm what I often forget – that the world sees my son, first, as black and, next, tries to figure out how I work into his life.

I can see this thought process going on during interactions like this one at Costco.  They are usually made obvious by a delayed, or stuttered response followed by an uncomfortably odd silence and me letting them off the hook.

When my son was little, I’d laugh off the awkwardness with a funny line and wide smile.  I’d assure the person that didn’t connect my son with me by saying, “It’s okay, it happens all the time!”

My son is 11 now and starting middle school in the fall.  He’s changing – and quickly.

I may need to amend my future reactions – at a minimum, because his response to such situations is also starting to change.

As 11 am approached, Yosef never asked for another sample that morning – not even the strawberry pie that his 4 year-old brother, Everett, claimed was the “best thing ever!”

“I’m full,”  he quietly replied when I tried to urge him forward.

I could see him subconsciously deciding that he’d rather not ask for a sample than to, again, explain that the short white guy surrounded by all the white kids was indeed his dad.

Maybe I’m over thinking it – maybe Yosef was simply full.

Maybe he just wished for apple pie.

Or, maybe, he was out of energy for being our black son this morning.

I don’t blame him.

To use my own words, “I get it.”

But, do I?

Do I really?

Most of the time, my kids may as well be stick figures – I parent them the same whether boy or girl, black or white.

But, the eyes of the world are more focused and quicker to judge.

It’s time that my parenting should be more focused too – because of allergies, you know.

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