There’s a bit of a brouhaha brewing that involves families that don’t match, poverty, and racism. Thought you guys might want to weigh in with your thoughts.
Begging children with dirty faces and clothes approaching cars with outstretched hands is a common sight in many large Mexican cities. So common in fact, that it seldom warrants notice, much less a picture and plea for help on Facebook. But last week a Facebook user posted this photo of a begging child who approached his car in Guadalajara because he suspected she might have been kidnapped because she had blonde hair, green eyes and light skin, while “her parents are brown”. He immediately contacted the public child welfare agency and state prosecutors, and requested others on Facebook to “spread the photo around”. Officials placed the 5-year-old child in an orphanage and detained her 23-year-old mother for two days while they investigated. Although, DNA test results are pending, the grandmother of the child (who happens to also have green eyes) was able to produce a birth certificate.
While some have praised him for taking action, others have condemned his actions as racist.
“We need to see a white girl to worry about kidnapping, trafficking of children and child exploitation,” wrote human rights activist Yali Noriega. “I’ve never seen photos of Indian children or simply dark-skinned kids circulating on the Internet with people asking others to help them.”
On the surface, a man sensed something amiss (a child’s hair, eyes, and skin were different from her mother) and he raised his concern. We usually praise such action. A similar response of a California public official who sensed something “off” with the family before him resulted in the rescue of Jaycee Dugard 18 years after she was kidnapped. When you look below the surface, however, the child’s race probably played a role.
This man took special notice of this child because of her race, and then further noticed that she looked strikingly different from her mother. It is true that there is no one racial profile of a Mexican, but also true that green-eyed, blonde haired, light skinned begging children are not the norm. Families that don’t match are also not the norm, and like it or not, draw greater attention.
As the mom of a “mismatched” family (otherwise known as a transracial adoptive mom), I am more than familiar with public attention and enhanced scrutiny of my actions. I don’t always like the attention. Once I was out with my kids running errands and tried to fit one more stop into an already overstuffed afternoon. One of my kids had been in a particularly pill-ish mood all day; in fairness, at that point in the day she was also tired and was more than ready to get home. I too was tired and ready to get home, but not before I finished my ever so important to-do list.
To make a long and uncomfortable story short, she melted down in the store (which translates into throwing a major fit). A tired cranky mom and a tired cranky kid is not a good combination. Rather than scooping her up, leaving the store, and calling it a day, I got down on her level and hissed a few well-placed threats and threw in a few bribes for good measure. (I was much more in the mood that day for the “carry a big stick” approach to diplomacy, rather than the “placate them with bribes” approach.) Seconds into my own hissy fit, I became aware of what at the time seemed like a store full of judging eyes. I am sure these folks had seen stressed-out moms poorly handling screaming kids before. They might have silently judged them, but I doubt they would have given it as much attention as they gave to us. We are a conspicuous family, made all the more so by my actions that day.
I chose to become a transracial adoptive family, and most days I handle the added attention with good grace and sometimes even pride. I don’t know the details of the Mexican mom and her child–she has changed her story on who the father is, and it doesn’t really matter. She may not have chosen this, but her family stands out and will draw added attention. It is human nature to notice the unusual.
The Facebook user might well have noticed and felt bad about all the dark haired, brown eyed, dark skinned beggar children. Sadly, they are quite common. Is it fair to fault him for noticing more the one that seemed uncommon? He took action to prevent a kidnapping, not to prevent underage beggars in Mexico. I suspect that if the DNA results come back showing the child is unrelated to the “mother”, then he will be hailed as a hero. You do have to wonder however, if maybe we shouldn’t all be more concerned about poverty that results in childhood begging regardless of the skin, hair, and eye color of the child.
Add Your Comment
I’ve been to several places where, unfortunately, you often encounter small children begging strangers for money and while my heart bleeds for all children who live in poverty, I am one person who can’t fix all the world’s social ills. And I have never been anywhere that a simple call to the police because of a child begging would get them to investigate and make sure that those children really belong to the people saying they’re the child’s parents, esp if they have similar features, but a blonde child with darker complected parents? Or a black child with fair-skinned parents or any other combination that seems out of place in a situation that also is dangerous for the kids – yeah I’m gonna call the police. I would hope that the man who reported the little girl on this occasion would also do so under any other similar circumstances, regardless of the kid’s skin color. Heck, for that matter, if someone thought something was amiss with ANY kid, even if they do look like the adult they’re with, I could hardly fault them. They’re paying attention and looking out for the best interest of the child, not turning a blind eye and walking away thinking ‘that’s not my problem’.
I hadn’t seen this and it makes me so sad (as the blonde-ish white mother to a brown haired Mexicana-Americana daughter). One of these days, hopefully in my lifetime, race will not be something we judge others with — one of these days, my brown-skinned Chicana will not have to explain herself as many minorities do.
I’m not asking for folks to be color blind — FAR from it — just accepting and tolerant of each other as we journey this life together. Thanks for your thoughtful blog post — as another trans-racial adoptive momma, you so eloquently speak the voice I carry in my heart.
This may be slightly off topic, but I have noticed that 90% of all media-obsessed kidnappings have to do with white girls. It bothers me somehow that the media (most of the time) doesn’t focus on boys or children of color. I don’t know that they mean to be racist or if they are responding to what they think is a greater sympathy for this type of victim….
Yeah, these snap reactions to mixed families scare me a little. I haven’t had any issues in my cozy little liberal bubble where asian/caucasian mixed (and transracially adopted) families are not uncommon. I’m frankly a bit nervous about travelling internationally, though.
Thanks Holly. I’ll hope right along side of you.
Maybe it’s just me, but sounds to me like he did the right thing. If my Korean American children were begging, I would expect that someone would call the police eventually when they realized that they were with a white lady. It’s not like they were just walking down the street as a family or she was melting down in a store.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reporting something to the police, just in case. But, maybe I missed something….