TODAY’s Craig Melvin knows his kids are great, but he said the constant commentary from strangers about their great behavior has felt racially charged and has become a sticking point for him.
Craig hosted an NBC News virtual conversation Monday night, discussing “Growing Up Black” with other Black parents. In one segment, he opened up about how it makes him feel when people refer to his two kids, Delano, 6, and Sybil, 3, as “well-behaved.”
“They either look Black or they’re racially ambiguous and I’m always struck when someone, a stranger will say to me, ‘Oh your kids are so well-behaved,’” he said. “And you know that they probably wouldn’t say that if there were two white kids sitting there who are the same age. It’s like, did you not expect my kids to be well-behaved?”
Another dad in the segment, Tennessee father Kimree Gautier, agreed.
“We always joke with our friends about that. We’d go to store like Target or a restaurant or something like that and we’ll get that a lot. People will be like ‘Oh my God, your kids are so well-behaved, they’re so well-spoken,’” Gautier explained. “And I’ll be like, ‘Well yeah, they’re not doing anything crazy, they’re not out here like building a small model plane in the middle of the store, they’re not solving world peace in the middle of the store, they’re just being well-behaved kids.’”
“And you’re like look man, I get it, our kids are cute but it’s OK!” his wife, Jessica, chimed in.
“And I do feel a lot of it comes from not expecting Black kids to be behaved like that,” Kimree said. “Because they get a stigma of being loud and ignorant and over the top and just bad in general.”
The characterization of Black people as being “well-spoken” has been denounced as patronizing and offensive in recent years, perhaps most memorably during the 2008 election when former President Barack Obama entered the national stage.
More recently, in 2019, former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg was criticized on the campaign trail for referring to Sen. Cory Booker as “well-spoken.”
Booker responded, adding it was “sort of stunning at times that we are still revisiting these sort of tired, you know, tropes or the language we have out there that folks, I don't think understand — the fact that they don't understand is problematic.”
Craig has opened up before about raising biracial kids, saying it’s been a unique experience for him and his wife, Lindsay Czarniak, who had always “lived lives that we like to think we don’t see race first.”
“We're acutely aware of it, but we've tried to live these lives where we're not consumed by it," he said. "But since we've been married, we have become more aware of it than we were before we were married. Since we've had children we've become even more aware of it, and we've talked about how do you rear biracial children in an environment like this?"
Craig said it has been a challenge for them to talk their kids about race, but a necessary conversation.
"We like to think that we live in some sort of post-racial America, and the reality is we are reminded time and time again that we do not," Craig said earlier this month. "I think we like to celebrate more than anything racial ambiguity. I think a lot of people have convinced themselves that we are a lot farther along."