How Much Does Race Play Into The Question Of Whether Or Not To Pierce A Baby’s Ears?

June 26, 2013  |  

Apparently, white people don’t pierce the ears of their babies. And to think that I thought I knew everything there was to know about white folk’s behavior…

From Yahoo:

When should I get my infant foster daughter’s ears pierced? It was the furthest thing on my mind until case workers, friends, and strangers who identify as black began asking me about it daily. That is, they were asking me about my black foster daughter’s ears, but made no mention toward my similarly-aged, white-looking (she’s 1/2 Jewish and 1/2 Hispanic) foster daughter.

In talking with friends, I expressed that I do want to get my 7-month-old black foster daughter’s ears pierced now (with her mom’s consent), but not my lighter-skinned 3-month-old daughter. Why is that? I started to ask around amongst my white friends who echoed my involuntary, visceral response to the topic. Earrings on a black baby are adorable, but on a white baby they look was described as “cheap” or “trashy.” These descriptions are always whispered in shame. Where do these stereotypes arise? How do these biases come about? And do we need to talk about it in order to undo them? 

First off, I love how Rebecca, the author of this piece, emphasizes that her black friends were in fact only “identified with as black.” As if she had her suspicions, however, was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But that’s colorblindness for you; it’s only temporary – as demonstrated by the next paragraph where she gets all accidental racist about her “involuntary” yet “visceral” desire to pierce the ears of her easily-identifiable black foster daughter and not her lighter-skinned biological child. Nevertheless, I have to agree with her too about never giving second thought to baby ear piercing. In my community, more specifically among my family, friends, and network, who all identify as black (as well as having Cherokee in the family), baby ear piercing is a pretty popular, if not common practice. In fact, the only people who were not getting their ears pierced where I’m from were those with allergic reactions and Seventh Day Adventists.

And yet Rebecca’s own unofficial poll suggests that for African Americans, a child was ripe enough between the ages of four to six months; Hispanics believed right after birth; poor whites thought toddler age; while more affluent whites thought that the ages between seven and 10 were more appropriate  for a child to have his/her ears pierced. I guess for some white folks, ear piercing is a big deal.

A big enough deal to cause a controversy years ago after reports surfaced that international footballer David Beckham and his former Spice Girl wife Victoria had pierced the ears of their 2-year old son Romeo (because any kid named Romeo should have at least one ear pierced). Even as many non-European cultures from Africa to Asia to the Middle East and South America have been adorning children with ear jewelry and piercings throughout history, some white parents, particularly mothers, see the act of baby piercing as barbaric and inhumane, including the writer of the admittedly snobby parenting blog, Alpha Parent, who writes:

The continued and widespread piercing of babies and young children is evidence that Britain continues to ignore the rights of children despite ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child back in 1991. Article Three of the Convention stipulates that the best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. If a baby were able to be asked whether it wanted ear piercings, it would most definitely say NO. Ear piercing does not enhance babies’ quality of life. Rather, it causes unnecessary pain and the potential for long term discomfort. No baby would want to be put through it, and as adults’ role is to protect and care for their offspring, pro-piercing parents are abusing their baby’s trust. I believe that we do not own our children’s bodies and thus we should not have the right to make this sort of decision for them. There would be uproar if someone pierced a baby that ‘belonged’ to someone else, but its okay to do it to a baby one ‘owns’”


I’m all for children’s rights and for not wanting babies to suffer. I bet if a baby were able to be asked whether or not they wanted to go to bed at that moment or eat jarred carrots in funny-smelling Gerber juices or get stuck with a vaccination needle, that baby would likely babble out something to the effect of, “Hell No, get them nasty jar-carrots out my face and get me some real veggies, that right boobie and a sandwich, woman!” – because in my mental imagery, all babies sound like Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners. So I’m sure they’d have something to babble about someone putting a piercing gun next to their tiny ears. Yet and still, we make decisions all the time for babies. I get cultural differences; what I don’t get is the need to denounce or dehumanize cultural differences because you don’t get it.

With that said, with every cultural generalization there are exceptions. And I know some of you out there have your own personal feelings about baby-piercing. So to pierce or not to pierce, that is the question?

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