Picture this: you're walking down the street, and you spot a middle-aged white man strolling down the sidewalk. Beside him is a black girl, about 5 years old, bouncing and chattering on as 5-year-olds do. Now for the pop quiz portion of our day: would you A) smile and keep walking, or B) call the cops?
Unfortunately for Scott Henson, a blogger from Austin, Texas, people in his 'hood believe "B" is the proper response. For the second time in five years, the grandpa was recently detained by police for doing what grandfathers do: hanging out with his granddaughter Ty. So much for progress, huh, America?
As it goes national, the story of little Ty insisting Henson was her Grandpa, only to watch police take him away in handcuffs (he was later released when they realized their racial profiling was ridiculous), is being treated as one that aptly illustrates the racial divide that remains in America, even in a post-Obama world. It certainly does; the racial issues cannot be ignored here.
But I'm going to take it one step further. This isn't simply a story of race. It's a story of gender too.
Because Henson isn't simply a white person with a black child. He was a white male with a small girl, in a world where anyone with a penis is still treated as an inherent threat to anyone under the age of majority. And before you protest, allow me to proffer a few examples.
The Free-Range Kids blog recently unearthed a little gem from a parenting advice column wherein parents expressed abject terror over having to send their child to a sleepover where, gasp, the only responsible adult on the premises was a divorced DAD! Oh my horrors, an involved parent trying to let his kid actually have a normal social life!
And did you know that men only account for 16 percent of the ranks of elementary school teachers in America? Perhaps it's because of attitudes like the one I noted on a parenting message board recently, where moms were gathering their pitchforks to support a fellow mom who was angry that her school district would not allow her to have her child's kindergarten assignment changed from the male teacher to a female.
Something as simple as hiring a male babysitter can get the pearls a clanking in the mommy circles as they all clutch them to their chests and cluck at you. Forget that he's the kid's uncle and would throw himself in front of a bus to protect her, he's not to be trusted because he's got a dangler between those legs!
The problem with any of these assumptions based solely on gender is that they don't take into account character. A divorced mom could be a chain smoking floozy parading men in and out while your kid is chilling at her brothel, er, house. A female teacher could be a raging bi-otch. A girl babysitter could lock your kid in a closet. But hey, you just assumed she was the better choice because she was ... a SHE.
What about all the wonderful dads, uncles, cousins, sons, nephews, and grandfathers out there? Guys like Scott Henson, like my dad, who actually enjoy hanging out with their granddaughters so their daughter and son-in-law can have a night off, are one of the world's great gifts to kids. But they're lost in a society that has abandoned reason in favor of fear.
As much as the race issue seems to have played a role in the Henson case in Austin, I can't help but wonder if someone had stepped back and looked at him and his granddaughter simply as people -- not black and white, not male and female -- what they would have seen. An adult with a child? A person responsible enough to grab the child's hand when they crossed the street and a child who was on top of the world to have the sole attention of said adult?
Who's the man in your life who has given so much to your child?
Image via Pink Moose/Flickr