Walmart Guard: Racist or Responsible

Social media quickly lined up behind the man who says he was accused of kidnapping his own children by a police officer summoned by a Walmart security guard in Virginia.

White dad, mixed race children didn’t add up right to the security guard. They “didn’t fit,” the guard said, didn’t “match up.” So, being a guy on the lookout for the unusual, the suspicious, and, of course, the illegal, and probably itching for some excitement after a day of gathering up shopping carts and inspecting old ladies’ sales receipts, the security guard got excited by the prospect of spotting a kidnapper in action.

A Jaycee Dugard moment, for sure. Maybe he thought for a minute, second guessed himself. Maybe he thought it would look racist to go after this man and children; after all, what if they were a family? Maybe he didn’t think any of that and his sixth sense, however faulty and misshapen by too much SVU and southern bigotry, lit him up like a little law enforcement fuse. And he went off.

We don’t know. We have no way of knowing.

Me? I tend to give people who do that sort of thing the benefit of the doubt. It didn’t look right to him so he called the cops. Maybe it was wrong. It turned out to be wrong and people are certainly very annoyed. But in my book, it’s an honest mistake.

Why? Because we’re all so used to kids looking like their parents.

Many years ago, I sat in the shallow water of the Atlantic Ocean at a small park at the south end of the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. Next to me, no more than 3 feet away, my two Nicaraguan sons, very dark from days in the sun, played in the water with their inflatable dinosaur. On the beach, there was a small group of Cuban women, pointing at my boys and talking to each other, each one getting more worried looking than the other.

“Where is their mother?”

I inched closer to my kids, hoping to give off a mother vibe. My red hair and sunburn certainly no match for their black hair and brown skin.

“Where is their mother?”

I picked one up and took the other by the hand, figuring if I did that and the kids didn’t scream, the beach women would get it that I was their mother, however incongruous that would seem to them.

They did. They wandered back to their picnic tables, every now and then giving us sideways glances. They were convinced but only barely.

For a while, I was insulted by this. “I am their mother!” I wanted to say. But I realized quickly that they would have no way of knowing this. None at all. Most importantly, they were acting out of concern and out of their own experience, experience which did not include a lot of Anglo women with Latino children.

It’s a mistake to make the Walmart guard a villain. The real villain is the rarity that interracial families still are; the unusual sight of transracial adoption; the still out of the norm it is to have children and parents who don’t match in any number of ways.

We’re going to get over this and get ourselves as a country to a broader and better definition of family, of who ‘matches’. It just hasn’t happened yet.

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