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Pet Sins May 2006

Black and white attitudes towards unrelated children

I had a casual conversation with a white acquaintance who happened to be a child social worker. I told her about an incident that occured over the weekend.

I was standing at a crosswalk when I heard a woman screaming. I looked up the street and saw a little boy, about 3 or 4, who had run away from his mother and was running parallel to the busy road. His mother was chasing after him but she was at least 40 feet behind him. The child was headed right in my direction. I tried to block him off but I wasn't comfortable with physically handling anyone, especially children, so I didn't get hold of him. He ran around me and fell into a ditch. This time I ran after him, got a firm grip on him and returned him to his mother. He was fortunately unhurt but I berated myself for not getting a good grip on him the first time. If I did, maybe he wouldn't have fallen into the ditch. He could easily have been injured.

The white woman said, "You didn't have to do it. It wasn't your kid."

I was disturbed when she said that. Here is a child social worker whose job is to look out for children's best interests. This little boy, running next to a busy 4 lane road, was totally oblivious to the danger around him. His mother, who was too far behind him, was in distress, as evinced by her screaming. The boy was headed right for me. It wasn't as if I had to do 4 backflips and 3 somersaults to reach him. I think it would have been TOTALLY wrong and unconscionable if I had ignored him and allowed him to go his merry way. He could have jumped into the street anytime and gotten hit.

What I didn't tell the white woman was, the woman whose child ran away from her was black. She was not angry at me for grabbing her child. In fact, she was very relieved and thanked me profusely. I had done nothing at all. Except the most convenient action for me.

I had an uncomfortable feeling about the white acquaintance after that exchange. I tried to brush it aside because otherwise she seemed a nice "sensitive" person. Later it turned out the bad vibes were right - she was a person who did not have the guts to make wrong things right or tackle difficult issues. She hid her failures and fears behind a mask of polite smiles and PC punchlines.


Comment from 'Black professional'

It is true that black people look out for other people's children more than white people do. When I was a kid growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood, I always knew my friends' parents were watching out for us. There was no way a kid could do something bad and not have neighbors tell his parents... And I think that's good.

White people get so uptight about their kids and other people. I had a friend who was white but he grew up in a mostly black area. Even so he had a different view of relating to people outside the family. I had to explain to him, "No, things do not work like that here."

Anyway how can it be right to see someone in danger and not do anything, just because it is not your kid? And she's supposed to be a social worker? Black people are not that way. I don't see the black woman getting angry with someone stopping her kid from running away. Saves her the trouble of catching him herself.