The Headshake

I’m over it. I really am… but when it happened yesterday I wasn’t okay. At first my feelings were hurt… After about an hour of that, I got angry. I’m slowly letting that go today – but I dislike that a 10 second interaction I didn’t ask for can waste my time and energy in this way.

It’s happened before – the headshake. (I wonder if other interracial couples have encountered it?)

What is “The Headshake?” – It is, in my own experience, something older white males do when they see a white woman with a non-white man.

Carlos has never seen the headshake. The headshake is always targeted at me, as if older white males have the right, the authority, or even the duty, to let me know that they disapprove of my relationship. Funny, they don’t have the cojones to let Carlos know they disapprove. They may be ignorant but they aren’t stupid. Apparently they don’t want to get their ass kicked.

This is how it happens. Carlos and I will be in a public place – usually shopping. We’re holding hands. An older white male will make eye contact with me, and I will feel cold all of a sudden, because this isn’t the kind of eye contact that precedes a smile, nor is it a simple curious glance from a fellow human being. The stare is one that makes me feel immediately ill because the negative energy is palpable. And then, keeping eye contact, the man will shake his head as if chastising a naughty child.

Carlos will turn to see what I’m looking at – the man will look away … usually even walk away – disappearing within seconds. Again, where are your cojones? If you’ve got something to say, say it to my husband’s face… In fact, say it to my face because though I usually would promote a non-violent solution, if you catch me on the wrong day, I have no qualms about setting things straight if needs be.

So here is my question – If you’re an intercultural, interracial, or an otherwise “non-traditional” couple, have you ever experienced “The Headshake?” If you have, how did you respond? Do you think such an individual should be confronted or ignored?


  1. WOW! I have tons of interracial couple friends and they have encountered everything from “headshakes” to arguments, sometimes even violence. But now most of them are over it, they don’t really care what other people say or think anymore. Don’t let them get to you Tracy!!

    • It doesn’t happen often and I usually shake it off, but I guess this time I was caught feeling vulnerable. Talking about it has been helpful though – especially these comments from you and others. Thanks.

  2. Hola Tracy. My sister and brother live in South Carolina. My brother is married to a Filipino woman & has an African American son. My sis is married to a white man. And when I visit with my family, we all go out to eat at a local place ( this is country on the Georgia line, south of Clemson). We get more than the headshake, they practically want to hang us. The year we went with an Obama bumper sticker, we had to hide the car so no damage would be done to it.

    • That sounds like a really scary situation. I had issues with Obama signs I put up and stickers on my vehicle during the election as well… He’s announced his bid for re-election by the way. Get ready for the racist nuts to come out of the woodwork again.

  3. Ah! I am sorry this happened. I hope it did not ruin your fin de semana! I forget that I am in an interracial relationship. Heh! Is that weird? I look at my husband and children and simply adore them. It is only when we are out ‘in’ public that I am reminded that my Mr and I “look” different. Lately it has been children that have made comments which I have mixed feelings about. A little girl ‘in’ target asked her mother, ” why is she white and he is black mama?” it took me a second to realize she was referring to us!!
    In the end, for me…(once I have calmed down a bit) I feel for those other people, they live in a world I just don’t understand. A small, sheltered difficult world filled with judgement.

    • It didn’t ruin my fin de semana, Tiffany – thanks. Carlos talked me down and helped me let go of it. When you allow someone to hurt you that way, you’re giving them power. Today, that guy is going about his business and not thinking about me at all, yet here I am thinking about him when he doesn’t deserve my time or energy.

      I do feel bad for the man that gave me the headshake. It must be miserable to live one’s life so closed-minded and offended by the world around you.

  4. I feel your pain. I’m chilanga but “ethnically ambiguous”, people guess i’m puerto rican, or spanish, persian, italian etc. My boyfriend is 6’7″, thin and black, from the DR. It is impossible for anyone to not notice us, especially because i’m tiny and he’s huge, and we often speak spanish in public.
    People will give both of us “the look”, he’ll get it from black people, I get it from white people and latinos, as well as the occasional arab. Which is funny, cause we’re both latino, just different shades.
    Since he is more outspoken than me, he has started asking people: “Can we help you?” or “Is there something you’d like to ask us, or are you just planning to stare at us all night?”
    This usually shuts people up, or they get more annoying and ask “did you come to America to play basketball?”
    Because tall black men all play basketball, right? I love to watch the disbelief on people’s faces when he tells them he’s a financial advisor.
    If you can’t ignore it, find a way in which you are comfortable deflecting this negative interest. Decent people will be embarrased when you call them out on their latent racism. And culeros will continue to be pinche culeros, but at least you can feel like you tried.

    • Please give your boyfriend a high-five from me. I like his style. I like the “Can we help you?” line – you’re confronting them without being rude or obviously defensive. It puts the ball back in their court and I can imagine many people have no idea how to respond to that. That is what I want – to put the discomfort back in THEIR lap. Really awesome.

    • Por desgracia, sí existen gente así. Yo diría que la generación más vieja tienen la mente cerrada – no todos, por supuesto – pero en mi experiencia, la mayoria de gente racistas y ignorantes que he encontrado no son de mi generacion. Son los mismos viejos controlando el gobierno y haciendo leyes injustos – como las leyes contra los inmigrantes.

      Esperemos que cuando mueren la generacion vieja, nuestra sociedad será mejor. Ojalá.

  5. I have to say, I haven’t really ever noticed any obvious public reaction to me and my hubby being together. I am a white American, he is Korean. I think that racial prejudice affects certain types more than others, and Asians tend to be portrayed in pop culture as hard workers and/or geniuses. So…while hubby gets a weird question now and then (“Are you from the East?”), I’ve never really felt targeted for having an interracial marriage. We both speak Spanish, though, which has brought strange looks since neither of us “looks” like we should. ;)

    • It is strange how racism is so selective – how people pick and choose what offends them and what doesn’t. Nevertheless, I’m glad this hasn’t been a major issue for you and your husband.

  6. What the hell business is it of anyone’s who other people are with?! I’d pull the guys eyes back to me and SMILE BIG at him.
    This kind of goes along with my latest post. Don’t let the haters get you down Tracy, keep being you.

  7. I agree with Tiffany…I forget that we are a mixed couple too. I don’t usually notice headshakes either, but I guess when I am so enamored with my husband and daughter, I don’t have time to worry about insensitive people. Sometimes people don’t know my husband, and meet my daughter. My daughter doesn’t look hispanic to me, but I have heard a few times when people see her later with Daddy, they say “Now I get it” and they are referring to her beautiful dark brown eyes. ;) Certainly they don’t come from green eyed blonde gringa! Mixing our beautiful races together creates even more beauty in this world. How boring it would be if we all looked alike.

  8. Don’t let it get to you, THEIR the ones with the problem, not you. Don’t give it power by taking it on yourself.

    Easy for me to say… right?

    I have experienced the headshake, but not about my husband. I get it over the behaviour of my oldest son. He has a mild disability that makes him seem unruly, loud or just weird to anyone that doesn’t knows it’s normal – for him. Right from the beginning he would usually be screaming when he was awake as a baby. It made public outings like banking and grocery stores my own personal kind of hell.
    He was not in pain, he wasn’t in need of anything, he was just VERY vocal in an angry sounding way.
    Most men looked annoyed, most women did the “headshake” and the occassional know-it-all would have the gaul to tell me they were better at parenting because THEIR babies never cried. My doctor said he was just a “high needs” baby. That didn’t help.

    It took me 13 years to get to the point where I can say “fine, I know the truth. I am a good parent and my son is a good boy…. I know it, he knows it and it doesn’t matter how it looks to the ignorant stranger.”

    • Pol, you’re so right! Special needs are looked at in the same way! I have 3 nephews with special needs and people, even other parents are completely unaware of what that means….so frustrating to hear people tell you how to raise your kids when they have absolutely NO CLUE!

  9. I may have shared this with you before, but once when I was 19 I was wandering around a religious convention and struck up conversation with a 24 year old swedish guy about faith and we ended up just wandering the convention center talking, grabbing lunch and I noticed that people would stop and just stare at us. It was unsettling. Always men. Stopping and just glaring. “Why” I asked him. He said because I was their race and he was white and they saw him as taking one of their own and it pissed them off. Its sad but inter-racial issues are something that span cultures and boundaries. I’m sorry you had to deal with that- but I’m so glad that we live in a country where the headshaking is all they have. Once upon a time, not so long ago, there were laws to back up head-shakers. Thank God those days are behind us.

  10. Traixy, let them keep shaking their head. As long as you and Carlos are happy, and I know you are, keep on holding each other’s hands que alcabo como bien dicen: el que se enoja, tiene dos trabajos, enojarse y despues contentarse ellos mismos. As you mentioned in one of my posts before, it’s not worth the time and energy… but if it comes down to it, you know we’ve got your back!

  11. I live in Alabama and I’m white and my Hubby is Mexican we never really have any problems out in public. I think because its becoming “normal” to see mixed couples here now. Although I have to tell you that one time a Mexican girl I knew told me that she can’t stand to see a white girl with a Mexican. I was thinking did you really just say that!?! So I tried to calm down and asked her why? She said they are taking all of our men. I told her well you can have them all for yourself. I never talked her again and after what my husband told me years later I’m glad I never have seem her anymore cause she might just get hurt. He said that one day she saw him and said I was not good for him. That she is mexican and could take care of him better. She also told him she was going to tie him up and not let him go home and lots of other things I rather not even repeat. I know that not everyone is as dumb as her and I hope that by the time our kids are adults the world will be alittle more open to interracial relationships.

  12. I am so sorry this happened to you and Carlo :( Back in the 60s or 70s, most would frown on mixed marriages/couples but now being more cosmopolitan now, it seems normal.

    Still, I must admit I gave ‘headshakes’ to people who yells/shouts at service staff at fastfood places or restaurant just because their orders are not met. I have witnessed so many times but sorry I digress.

  13. I’m kind of a racial chameleon (“Are you Native American? Latina? Asian? A white girl? What ARE you?”), my Latino husband and I don’t ever get the headshake. That said, it is pretty sad that I remember being a child in the 80s and seeing my parents get the headshake (Filipina Mom, White Dad). It took me years to finally “get it”. It made me mad then, and it still makes me mad when I hear stories like yours now, in this day and age! I really do think it’s “those people’s” loss though because they clearly don’t understand (or potentially know) what true, unconditional, color-blind love looks or feels like. You two are a beautiful couple and your boys are guapos. YOU are the family of the present, AND the future! xo

  14. we’ve gotten the head shake and i guess i get off on pissing people off, because when we do get a head shake, i’ll grab my hubby tighter, hold him closer, give him a big kiss or hug then wink at the person or smile and wave. It usually does the trick and then i’m laughing usually on the in and outside!!!!!!! Jajajajaaaaa

    I forget we are a mixed couple and feel bad for the people who tend to think “we” are any less than “they” due to race……… WHAT EVA!!! =)

  15. Ay, Tracy! Ignore it…it’s not worth your energy because they won’t stop doing it to the next couple anyway.

    We get it sometimes. Actually, I get the stares of disbelief and mostly from black women. Because I guess they can’t believe I was able too snatch up a good looking black man. It usually starts with them looking at him and you can see they think he’s attractive. Then they look my way and see he’s got his hand on my back or otherwise making contact. And that’s when they stare me in the eye. Then usually they’ll turn to the friend they’re with and whisper.

    Ignore it!

    • Thanks Mel, (and everyone else here that I didn’t personally thank. Your support is overwhelming and incredibly appreciated!)

      I wish I would have opened up about this issue years ago to others because you guys have really helped me out. I can’t imagine at this point that it will bother me when it happens again. All of you gave me such great perspective and ways to deal with it.


  16. Hello Tracy,

    I’ve been following your blog for quite awhile, and what I like the most is how you have a different view about subjects like this. I mean, being a white woman and still experiencing racism from ignorant people. I am in a “traditional” Latino-Latino relationship, however, I’ve noticed how when I meet certain people and they ask where is my husband from they tend to be at ease when I say he is from the Dominican Republic, like me. It is as if they “approve” that I made the right decision of marrying my own kind. In this case, is not a negative reaction they have, on the contrary, it is a positive one. However, it bothers me that anybody will have something to say about who should I be married to. My sister is married to a white man and her kids are white, blond hair and colored eyes and when we go to the store with them we can feel how everybody is looking at us.
    I understand how you feel, even if you don’t care about what others think, it still bothers that some ppl feel they are entitled to an opinion.

    • Thanks for your comment and kind words.

      I’ve heard stories from some mothers of children in the same situation as your sister. Some people have even approached them on the playground and asked them how much they charge the current family they work for because they’re looking for a new nanny – just ignorantly assuming she is not the mother of the children she’s caring for. I can’t imagine how hurtful that is or what kind of self restraint it would take to remain calm when faced with something like that.

      I understand what you’re talking about with people’s reactions of “approval” … This has happened when in-laws or family friends (Latina/o) find out my youngest son turned out to be light skinned. They are thrilled that he’s light skinned and that makes me really uncomfortable. So much self hatred! … Then they usually make the comment, “Too bad he didn’t get your blue eyes” – as if there’s something wrong with their beautiful brown eyes.

  17. I know exactly what you are talking about. Even though I am Latina and am often recognized as such I tend to date men that have much darker skin than me. It doesn’t matter if we are both latino if one of us is white and one is brown. It sucks.

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