Recently, my son Noah has taken an interest in history, especially in historical figures. He’s become fascinated especially with US presidents, which all in all makes sense since he is learning about money and various denominations. In light of this, and in addition to my own history obsession, I have begun to collect biographies for the children as well as different encyclopedias and DVDs highlighting historical figures and events. And as I was making my way to and from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com, I knew it was time for “the talk.”
I’m not talking about that talk. I’m talking about the talk that all parents of Black children must have. The kiddos have come home and told us tidbits about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. : the forefather of modern Civil Rights as is taught in most public elementary schools. And it has become their belief that he is the be all and end all of Civil Rights. I have had my daughter begged and pleaded with me to straighten her hair, claiming that her curls are “ugly.” And with these revelations, it occurred to my husband and I that the time had indeed come
Now, if you are Black and grew up in America, odds are that your own parents have had this talk with you while you were growing up. We all heard the same thing, didn’t we? That talk when your parents were all like, “it’s not enough to be just average… you have to be twice as good as your White friends in order to even be considered equal.” “You are beautiful the way God made you… you don’t have to have straight hair or lighter skin.” “You have to constantly work hard and never give up! Never accept good enough… you have to be great!” “Regardless of what you hear or see, you will always be seen as less than, but never accept that!” What high expectations we place on our children! Such high standards! And it might even be thought that we are too hard on our children. Hell, I’ve heard it enough from my friends that perhaps I needed to ease up on them just a tad. But in the world we are living in, and with the history of my people, I ask you if that’s even an option.
The country we are living in is a racist place. I’m just going to put that out there because it’s true. The history of my people in this country is not a pretty one, and since we first landed on American soil over 400 years ago, it has been a struggle just to survive. For years, we were counted out as inferior beings which seemed enough to justify slavery, racism, hatred, and violence for many people. It justified the unjust laws and the bull shit behind “separate but equal.” Black people were made to feel inferior due to the color-ism created by the institution of slavery which is still so prevalent in the Black community today. The closer you were to Africa by way of your physical features, the less desirable you were. We saw this within slavery wherein lighter-skinned slaves were kept in “better” conditions than those were had a darker complexion. We still see it today in various media outlets wherein for years our race was represented by the lightest among us. It’s only been more recently where dark-skinned models and actresses grace the covers of magazines and grab positive starring roles in movies and television. This has perpetuated a sort of “self-hate” that some of us struggle with. Ugly stereotypes also pervaded this country for years, and still do. We are perceived as being “lazy, stupid, ugly, and needy.” It’s believed that we can never satisfied and always want to pull the race card at any chance we can get. And there are those who get frustrated with the fact that we won’t ever get over slavery. The hard part lies in fact that these attitudes are passed down from generation to generation which can’t be extinguished simply by the passing of a few laws.
I will not say that things are not better these days. They are thanks largely in part to the federal government. But there is still so much that needs fixing. In the last five years, we have seen numerous fatalities of innocent Black people and the seething hatred of our country’s first Black president, which in my opinion led to the election of our current president who has fostered the acceptance for racial intolerance and hatred to once again be poured onto the consciousness of our country. Racism has become more overt in this past year alone, and as a mother to three Black children, it scares the shit out of me.
So the time has come, and I reckon that it probably came a long time ago. But now that two of the three are school aged and are making friends, my husband and I find it imperative to talk to our children about the world in which they live and the people from whom they’ve come. It’s important that they know more about Black history than Dr. King; that they know the names of the unsung heroes like Katherine Johnson, Robert Smalls, Claudette Colvin, and Matthew Henson among others. It’s necessary that they understand why we expect so much from them. It’s critical that they know why it’s not acceptable to act out in class. It’s essential that they realize why their education is so important and why their “C” or “B” is not the same as a White student’s “C” or “B”. These things and more are the burden which all parents to Black children must bear. We have the ultimate responsibility to create a more aware and educated generation of people who will know from whence they came, be proud of who they are, and have the courage, knowledge, and strength to reach higher than the potential they are “given” at birth. They have the responsibility to be great and we have the responsibility to give them the tools to make them great. My job is to ensure that Noah, Layla, and Maya Davis know that they matter… that their lives matter. And to be prepared, and armed, to face a world that still struggles to accept them as they are: Black and beautiful.