My daughter has a beautiful café au lait complexion. I have more of a ruddy au lait complexion. Twenty-five years or so ago, people found this curious and would stare at us for a while. I discovered that I had a timer in my head for what was an appropriate span of time for the curious stare. People, generally managed to stay within their acceptable limit.The acceptable limit is hard to describe as it consists of factors besides time – primarily the crinkles at the corners of eyes and mouth. These crinkles are very telling and cannot be trained to be false, like a smile.
Were these crinkles warm and accepting, curious and confused, snarly and disapproving or any of the myriad of levels in between? Once the crinkle expression is defined with micro-second speed, an appropriate time can be assigned.It’s an awesome responsibility, setting this time. If people are genuinely warm and accepting, that must be embraced and welcomed with responding warm crinkles of the eye and mouth corners. If they’re curious and confused, they get a little time to see normalcy and then move on. If they’re snarly and disapproving, that’s when they get the identical eye expression of a lioness protecting her cubs.
My daughter would notice these stares and ask, “Mom, why are they staring at us?”
I’d reply, “Honey, they just haven’t seen two such beautiful women in the same place at the same time.”
To which she’d reply, “Moooooom!” – end of discussion.
Living in Chicago, there were certain neighborhoods where we’d draw fewer stares than others. A good Puerto Rican neighborhood was the best place for no stares. Mostly because my daughter and I were the same complexions as those in many Puerto Rican families.
We also liked it because people were friendly, a hardy “Good Morning” was required when passing a neighbor, very family-oriented with solid respect for elders, good food and outstanding music. Generally, folks in the neighborhood seemed humble and gracious. A comfortable place for my beautiful daughter and I.
One evening, we’re in our local grocery store trying to figure out dinner. I spot this handsome, red headed, well dressed white guy. My first thought is, “What the heck is he doing here?” Not typical of our neighborhood – at all. I steal a few curious glances, but I’m not going to stare. This is a no-stare neighborhood and I’m not going to violate that.Then it happens – he’s staring at my daughter. He has literally stopped what he was doing and is staring at my child. I’m trying my best to read his crinkles but they’re unfamiliar to me.
Hey buster, you best know when to look away. Time’s up and he’s still staring, okay bud, looks like you need some educating and I’m just the Mom to do it. Get ready, here I come, you’re going to get it now!
As my fiery 5’2” frame charges toward his well-groomed 6’2” self, he suddenly looks at me, smiles and says, “You know, your daughter looks just like my daughter. Here let me show you her picture.” Well, shut me up! (Not easily done.) I get a whole new category of crinkles to consider. So, who’s the bigot now?