Category Archives: Motherhood

Does Kwasi Enin Realize What He’s Done?

Education. 

Education, education, education!

Every African who has been fortunate to attend school at any level knows the burden of this single word. Our parents would wantonly hurl it at us like a gauntlet in the face of any infraction, whether real or perceived.

“Heh? You won’t go and sit down and learn your books eh? Don’t you value your education?”

OR

“My friend – you said you want to do what? Go to a school jam? Do you know how much money I spend on your education?”

Even the struggling groundnut seller harangues her young primary school children about their education. If they can do nothing else, they better be able to count and bring home correct change!

Ghanaians, Gambians, Nigerians, West Africans on the Continent and in the Diaspora – there is nothing we value more than education. Every West African of any class has had one thing drilled into us since we were a gleam in our Daddy’s eye: Pursue excellence, wherever that may be. I had an old man corner me one afternoon in my parking lot recently, and although he was not an African, he summed up our struggle very succinctly.

“If you gon’ be a monkey, damn it, be a gorilla!”
KwasiEverything we do as West Africans is with “vim”; That certain drive that makes us want to do everything harder and better than the next guy, even in the midst of imitating him/her. Our alcoholics are the hardest core drunkards you will encounter. Nigerians are driven to success at all cost, no matter the environment. Our crooks are the most brazen and innovative around. And now we have this Kwasi Enin unscrewing and resetting the bar for excellence in education.

Like other over-achievers before him, he has just made things harder for the rest of us. Oh, don’t worry! I will get to the part where I laud his accomplishments and even find a way to insinuate that I had some part to play in his achievement, but before I get there, I have to scold him!

You see, in gaining acceptance into ALL EIGHT Ivy League schools in this country, he has just made the existence of every Ghanaian child that much more unbearable. There is nothing that gives a Ghanaian parent more pleasure than boasting about the accomplishments of their children and secretly (never publicly) comparing those feats to those of other kids in their age range. One of my very dear friends is the eldest of four kids, all of whom has an advanced degree. The youngest of the lot is pursuing his PhD. Very frequently, his now-retired father will look at his wife and say:

“Eh? Look at your children compared to those of your friends? Can they say that their ALL of their children has a degree? They can’t!”

It is important to note that only two of these children is actually working in their field of study, and that the PhD candidate will most likely not using his letters in real world experience at all. However, that is none of his father’s concern. His job was to educate his children and get them ready should the opportunity arise. Theirs is to seek out those opportunities. He can therefore take pride in his work.

I say again: Now comes this Kwasi Enin and all his shark-brainess, gaining acceptance into Harvard and co. What are mothers like me to do when it comes time for our children to being their foray into the realm of tertiary education? He has shown that it is possible, and because it is “possible”, all children of his ilk must do it! Why do you think that every West African child born between 1962-1988 has been compelled to go to school to become a lawyer or a doctor? Because Kwasi Enin circa 1953 showed it was possible when we had no examples of that level of success before! It can be done, so it will be done. End of discussion. You will soon see hundreds of Ghanaian children applying to the all of best colleges in the world – in tandem – when one or two of such would have previously done nicely. I can hear the wailing of determined parents now:

“You said what? You only applied to three elite colleges??? Oh God. What kind of a child have I raised? My friend, go and find six others to apply to!”

You wait and see.

My daughter brought home a ‘C’ in mathematics for the quarter a week ago. I sat in bed and mourned as if she had committed the most felonious of crimes. No amount of apology could console me. And now we have the added pressure of Kwasi Enin’s accomplishments on top too? Woi! We won’t survive in the Grant house. Look at what this small boy has done to my family!

With all that said, I salute Mr. Enin. He is a fine young man, and his parents should be particularly proud. Of course, they cannot take this pride for themselves. We all want our slice. We will attribute his success to good Ghanaian upbringing, morals, and a steady diet of jollof or whatever. The family’s pastor will claim his share in the glory for praying over him, as will the immigrant cashier at his local grocery store. We will all say we “knew Kwasi when.”

Let us do what we do best and advise this young man. What advice would you offer him? Me, I would tell him to go to these campuses with caution and to remember Eric Frimpong, who was also an exceptional young man slated for glory. What the American ‘justice’ system did to that boy was unconscionable. Kwasi must remember to walk circumspectly and cautiously. The same tongues that are praising you now are the ones who will facilitate your downfall. Choose your friends carefully o!

Oh yes, and ayekoo!

 

I Dream of a Son Not Yet Born

“Before you think of adopting someone else’s child, you need to think of giving birth to your own!”
- My father, 1990-something.

There’s something in an African father who cannot abide the thought of his daughter raising another man’s child, I swear.

Adoption.

It’s a need and a passion that has lived inside of me for as long as I can remember. Maybe it started when I first saw my neighbor’s Cabbage Patch Kid doll, complete with an adoption certificate. (My parents never spent money on frivolous items like name brand playthings when we were kids. I don’t think we’d ever earned anything manufactured by Mattel.) Perhaps it was because my mother was always housing, even if it was briefly, some stray child or another in our home. A fairy could have whispered in my ear that this was my life’s destiny. I don’t know! All I do know is that my desire to adopt has never waned.
I’m usually very careful about who I discuss my adoption dreams with. At the moment, that’s all I can afford to do; dream, that is. The first question folks usually ask me is “WHY??” – and not in a kind, inquisitive way. That one word, “why”, is generally laden with incredulity and implications of madness and stupidity on my part.

Why, when you already have 4 kids?
Why, when your house is so small?
Why, when you’re already so stressed out as a mom?

I don’t know…because. Will that suffice? Obviously “because” isn’t a good enough reason to offer any reputable adoption agency or potential birth mother forced to give up her child for whatever reason, but I can tell you this: My “because” too is laden with intent, purpose and ambition.

When we speak of love in popular culture these days, we often reduce the definition to romantic love. Oftentimes it gets boiled down to meaning sex. Very seldom do we hear about the different types and ranges of love that human beings experience: the love between two friends; the love one has for God; the love between a mother/father and child. I want to adopt a son because I love him already.

I dream of my son infrequently, but recently I’ve thought of him daily. I don’t know what features he will have, but I know that he will be dark. His birth mother and father will have blessed him with skin that I do not have the genetic power to produce. He may be sweet, he may be fiery, he may end up with special needs…I don’t know. All I know is that I love him already, and that I can’t wait to meet him.

Now that I’ve taken on this job and am focused on paying off our debt, I think we are in the right place to begin to plan to bring another child into our family. The first step has been to have meaningful conversations with my husband. Adopting a child is not like bringing home a pet fish, and is not as simple as “saving some infant from a horrible life” as many in American culture tend to believe. I have spent the better part of this week poring over stories of well-intentioned, poorly equipped adults who have adopted Black children, only to return them or “re-gift” them like bad fruitcake because the child was not the suitably grateful, happy-go-luck little negro they expected. I don’t understand these folks. If you make a commitment to be that child’s parent, you have a moral obligation to see that child through whatever they are besieged with. That’s the bargain when you take on the title of “parent”. One doesn’t get the option of turning one’s biological children back into sperm and injecting them into your testes if they don’t turn out as you’d hoped…why then does re-homing abandoning an adopted child become a choice? If it sounds like I’m judging these parents, I AM.

In conversations with my husband, I see that we are not yet ready to bring our son home. There are financial burdens that we were not aware of, and legal obligations that we had not considered. We also need to be emotionally fortified before we bring our young man home. What if he doesn’t like us or our children? Will our existing family unit be supportive enough for him? Can I realistically take on the role of mom of 5 kids when the other 4 have already beaten me down and have turned my husband and I prematurely grey? We won’t know until we try, and we are certainly willing.

baby-feet-bwI have no delusions about adoption, or child rearing in general. My children have cured me of all of that. My biological children have shown me that a child needs more than just “love” to become a strong, smart, high-functioning individual. A child needs shoes, food, discipline, information, the truth, a stable home, consistency and most important, certainty. If God grants us the opportunity, it would be my privilege to show my son all these things and to raise him to be the great man I know he is already destined to be. Yes! I believe my son is destined for greatness. What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t hold this conviction prematurely?

I cannot wait to meet my son, but I know that our union will come at a cost. The only regret I have is that our coming together will mean his separation from another woman. As a mother, that breaks my heart – but I promise you sister, whoever and wherever you are: I will love our son, and do my absolute best to raise him to be the man of our dreams.

Have you ever considered adoption? What advice do you have for would-be adoptive parents? With all the horror stories in the news, is it better to abandon the whole enterprise altogether? Discuss!

My Daughter Officiated Over a Same Sex Marriage Ceremony, But Thinks Interracial Marriage is Crossing the Line

There are few things Marshall and I enjoy more than watching our little ones turn off the TV, unplug from the computer, putting down their hand held gaming devices, and picking up some dolls (or “real life action figures” in the boy’s case) in order to let their imaginations roam free. Under the right conditions – a sunny day, a constant, ready supply of liquid and some graham crackers – they can play for hours, dreaming up interesting scenarios and dialogue for their plastic cast members.

Aya has always been a Barbie devotee. From the age of two, she has consistently had one request for birthdays and Christmas: a Barbie doll.

She has a venerable cornucopia of Barbies.

Mexican Mermaid Barbie.

Regular Ol’ Blond Barbie.

Armless, legless and necked Barbie.

And Princess Tiana.

I have always insisted she have dolls of different races because that’s the world we live in. Do I endeavor to purchase more Black dolls for her? Of course I do. However every Barbie she’s ever received as a gift from someone outside of our family has been pale, blue eyed, blond and dressed in the prettiest gown a girl could hope for.

Aya’s dolls have been through all kinds of adventures. They’ve saved each other from crumbling houses, avalanches, sought after lost items in the grocery store and wondered how they would EVER make it through the next fashion show without a stylist. I usually try to observe her without her noticing my amusement and chuckle inwardly. I’ve seen and heard everything her imagination has to offer.

Or at least I thought I had.

Aya has been confined to her sick bed for the last few days with some sort of stomach bug. (I was certain it was appendicitis, but it turns out it has been an extremely severe case of constipation.) Anyhow, there she lay last night, cuddled up with Street Walker Barbie and a brush, sighing to herself with such ferocity that I was compelled to ask her what was wrong.

“I asked Daddy for a boy Barbie, but he said I could only get one…not two,” she said wistfully. She brushed her dolls hair with longing. “All I have is girl Barbies.”

Was her lip trembling? She was really affected by this. A “boy Barbie” wasn’t so difficult a request to honor. Why the need for a boy Barbie…I mean, Ken…anyway?

“Why do you need a boy Barbie, Aya?” I asked. “I’ve never heard you ask for one before.”

“I needed my doll to get married and I needed a boy,” she said matter-of-factly. “But I didn’t have a boy, so I had to use two girls to get married.”

I contained the snort that threatened to burst through my nose. Marshall’s face would have been a sight to behold had he been in the room at the moment. But he wasn’t in the room. He was on the road.

“Let’s call Daddy and ask why he didn’t get you a boy doll,” I said determinedly. “Find out what he has to say about this!”

After he denied any knowledge of this request and then finally recalling its memory, Marshall explained that he couldn’t find any Black Kens in the store and that’s why he hadn’t bought one.

“And if her dolls want to marry someone, she can marry He-Man,” he said simply. Aya was appalled by the suggestion.

“She can’t marry him! He’s too short and muscle-ly!”

“Then she can marry Winnie the Pooh.”

“No, Daddy! No! He’s too fat!”

Okay. So she objected to Barbie marrying a man because he was too short and muscular, and to the bear because he was FAT – but not because he was a bear? What were her other rules for coupling, I wondered. I asked her.

“Aya, if Black Boy Barbie – who’s name is Ken, by the way – dressed like the guys in our neighborhood with the drooping pants and oversized shirts, would you let her marry him?”

“Ewww. No. I hate the way those boys dress,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “And White Barbie can only marry White Boy Barbie. And I don’t have that many brown dolls. And white Barbie is prettier than my brown dolls. And besides, brown people need to marry brown people and white people need to marry white people.”

Well, that made sense. We do live in the South and that’s all she sees around her. But what was with the self-hating statement? Oh, Father. Here we go again. I erupted.

“Are you saying white people are prettier than brown people?!?!”

She laughed at me like I was a seal balancing a ball on its nose. I looked and sounded ridiculous.

“No! I said the dolls! Not the people, Mommy!”

Marshall was still listening to our end of the conversation and wanted to get back on the subject of marriage. “Why can’t she just wait until I buy her the appropriate Ken doll so they can get married? What’s the rush?”

“The time to marry is now, I guess.” What did I know? I wasn’t the wedding coordinator.

“Just like a woman,” Marshall muttered. “Just can’t wait for Mr. Right. The girl needs to learn to wait!”

“You’re missing the main point,” I countered. “She doesn’t have a problem with her doll marrying outside of her species as long as the specimen isn’t ‘fat’. That’s what we need to concern ourselves with…”

winnie-winnie-the-poohMOM Squad! What is the most interesting thing your kids have dreamed up while playing? I’m still trying to wrap my head around this bear thing. Do me a favor. Ask your kid if he/she would let her doll marry a bear.

 

 

So an Autistic Boy Hit My Son Yesterday…

This Sunday was unseasonably pleasant; or maybe it was seasonably pleasant. You never can tell what season we’re supposed to be in in Georgia outside of the summer months. This Sunday it was spring. On Thursday we’re going back to winter.

photo (1)The sunshine had put my kids in a particularly good mood, which was fortunate because my cousin had invited us to join her at the Georgia Aquarium. She had been gifted two extra tickets and was kind enough to share them with us. I took Stone and Liya with me since they rarely get to go anywhere these days. We ogled strange looking fish, ooo’d and aaah’d over the immense expanse of the whale shark, and squealed at the weird snake/worm things burrowing and resurfacing out of the sand in the tropical fish tank. Like any good mother, I pretended this was all new to me and let the kids explain in pre-school and toddler voices the importance of keeping Nemo in his anemone and safe from kidnapping divers.

Two hours into our excursion we decided to stop for lunch at the aquarium’s café, which as you can imagine cost me a small fortune. Thankfully, I did not have my entire brood in tow or else I might’ve been forced to convert an exhibit into my own personal sushi platter. The aquarium was packed with visitors, and it seemed as though everyone decided to eat at the same time. One of the ballrooms on the second floor was opened up to allow patrons to eat lunch, which was a fortuitous event as far as I was concerned. To my knowledge, the ballrooms are the only place to see the beluga whales, so we settled in to eat our $25.17 baked chicken and cheese pizza with minimal complaints.

As was to be expected, Stone and Liya spent the better part of the hour running between the table and the tank, taking bites of food and debating whether the large white being with half closed eyes “farting” in the water was a beluga or a dolphin. (That was my fault. Mommy lied and said it was a dolphin, just to end the incessant queries about when we were going to see the dolphins.) The afternoon was on autopilot at this point. No one could get lost, the area we were in was climate controlled, and there was enough stimulation to keep my kids occupied with minimal effort on my part. I bit into my chicken and chewed it contentedly, preparing to relax.

Then I heard someone wailing. Whose child was that? Hmmm. It sounded like mine…

I looked up and saw Stone’s face, frozen in a half heave, half scream, eyes transfixed on the fish tank in obvious distress. I rushed over to him to find out what was wrong, not so much because I was concerned that something was seriously amiss, but because I wanted to get back to my chicken as quickly as possible.

“What’s wrong buddy?”

“He hit me in the faaaace!!!” he wailed pointing at a table behind us. He sounded so forlorn, but when I saw the towheaded little cherub he was pointing at, I was convinced he was exaggerating about the extent of his supposed injury.

“That’s a baby, Stonie. He didn’t mean to hit you…”

Stone shook his head furiously. “No! Not him…HIM!”

His pudgy little finger was pointed in the direction of a massive child dressed in a white polo and khakis. He had a grin on his face and a slight bend in his wrist. It occurred to me that something was amiss with the boy, but medically I couldn’t ascertain what that was. I tried to comfort Stone, but he would not be consoled. He wanted justice. I sighed and approached who I thought might be the boy’s parents. The couple was watching me with such keen interest that I was sure it was their child.

I have a policy that only permits me one “Black Woman Freak Out” per week, and I had already redeemed my token at LA Fitness the Friday before. Unbeknownst to the frightened looking couple, they were quite safe.

“Excuse me,” I said cautiously. “Is that your son?”

“No,” said the man with the camo trucker hat and full beard. “That’s his dad.”

He nodded in the direction of a man staring down at this telephone, obviously purposefully ignoring our conversation. At a mere 10 feet away, he was within earshot but refusing to pay attention the very public scene unfolding before him. He had on a bright blue tee shirt with two words written boldly on the front: Autism Matters

I groaned inwardly, frozen and unsure what to do next. Suddenly, I had become an unwilling participant in the Disadvantaged Olympics, a case of fully functioning Black woman (but disadvantaged because, you know, I’m BLACK) against the father of an autistic child who is disadvantaged because of his disability. A swirl of media messages came at me out of nowhere. All of the stories I’d read on Facebook, Yahoo! Shine and a myriad of parenting blogs about mean people like me who discriminated against their children merely because they looked or acted different confronted me like a crack dealer looking for his due. What could I do, with my sobbing child in my hands, a boy running roughshod and blissfully nonchalant about the crime he’d recently committed and a father who didn’t even have the decency to look up from his phone to offer neither acknowledgment nor apology for the wrong meted out against my kid?

I dropped it. And I tried to explain it to Stone. I told him the kid didn’t mean it, that he didn’t understand what he’d done. How do you explain autism and disabilities to a four year old? I barely understand all there is to know myself! My son was having none of it. He began to wail anew. Finally, the man in the camo hat walked over and patted Stone’s head.

“Jeesh. I’m sorry buddy,” he said in a Southern drawl. He kept my gaze. “He’s got autism, see? He doesn’t always understand what he’s doing…”

“Yes. I saw his dad’s shirt.” I paused. “It’s okay.”

He rubbed Stone’s head gently one more time and walked back over to his wife. The 9 year old boy continued to run around the room squealing, and I stood protectively between Stone and all the other children, in case anything else untoward jumped off. In the back of my mind, I felt unsure about whether I’d handled the situation appropriately. My mother-in-law confirmed that I had NOT. An educator for 30 years, she had a completely different view of the events.

“No, Malaka,” she said firmly. “We had autistic children in our classes and we set expectations for them just like we did for the other children. They know right from wrong, and if they don’t, it’s because their parents haven’t TAUGHT them right for wrong. The only reason that boy slapped Stone is because his daddy lets him hit other kids…and one day that’s going to come back and bite him. One day, he’s going to do something worse than a slap!”

That was just BAD PARENTING, she concluded. If the man can’t control his kid, he shouldn’t have him out in public! She was livid. She was right, of course. A child with disabilities is just like any other child, with the same needs: love, care and correction. It was my prejudice that let both father and son off the hook. If I had not made assumptions about what the boy was capable of, or assumed that the dad was weary of perpetually correcting his kid, Stone would have gotten the apology he deserved.

What do you think, MOM Squad? I know a number of you have children with disabilities, so this would be a chance to discuss how you think this interaction should have played out, or better still, how you WISH parents would interact in general. Did I handle it poorly, well, or just right? People without kids, I’d like your thoughts as well. One day you may find yourself in the care of a child (yours or someone elses). Discuss!

What if Rachel Canning Had Been Born to African Parents?

rachelBy all means, you’ve heard of Rachel Canning. You may not know her name, but you certainly know her story. She is the 18 year old high school student from New Jersey who is suing her parents for failing/refusing to pay her college tuition and weekly child support. The details come right out of a local “WTF” newsletter.

As I gather, Rachel is a fairly good student and is on the cheerleading team. Her father is a police officer. Her parents have rules, some of which demand that Rachel do chores and be home by 11pm to meet her curfew. This is standard parenting procedure, because as any parent (and certainly any police officer) can tell you, nothing stays open past 11 pm besides legs, Krispy Kreme and the occasional Wal-Mart. These rules did not sit well with Rachel and she ended up moving out. She contends that her parents kicked her out; they say she moved out voluntarily.

I know Rachel. I know Rachel because I’ve BEEN Rachel. I went to school with dozens of Rachels.  You’re 18, you’re popular, you’re accomplished in your own right, and you’re pretty sure that you’re grown. Never mind that you can’t legally have a drink. You CAN vote and you’re eligible to work for most American employers, which translates into grown. The difference between this Rachel and all the other Rachels you and I have grown up with is that we are/were not stupid.

As any African, Haitian or Jamaican individual will confess, there was NEVER a time they would even fathom suing their parents for their upkeep, particularly when that individual has failed to hold up their end of the bargain in the parent-child dynamic. That dynamic is very simple: you do as I say as long as you depend on me. Sometimes, that tentacles of  that dynamic extend into adulthood, with African parents desperately trying to assert some level of control over their adult children.

“Why aren’t you married yet?”

“When will you born grandkids for me?”

“If you had been a lawyer like I told you to, you would not be suffering as you are now!”

I cannot imagine anyone from Africa or the Diaspora suing their parents for bi-weekly support or college tuition after so vagrantly disregarding the terms of an established parent-child contract. Hei! Your parents will come and catch you in your sleep should the thought ever cross your mind! Of course we have all grown up with issues with our parents, and you may have thought certain unflattering thoughts about them and their rules…but to utter them was inconceivable, let alone pursuing court action on the matter!

I asked some people from the Diaspora and at Home what would happen to Rachel if she had been born of African parents. After they stopped laughing, these were their responses:

Male from Haiti: My mother would have laughed. Then she would have punched me in my face. Then she would have called my father to come and collect me from the hospital because I was making her late for work.

Female from Georgia: Oh, God. What? No, no, no, no….

Female from Ghana: Haaaahaaahaaaa!!! Have you met my father? You lie bad!

Male from Ghana: You see, the thing is we have all grown up watching our parents struggle to pay for our education, work so hard to maintain even the most basic comforts of modern life, and boast of our accomplishments to others that we identify with the struggle. Their struggle is our struggle. We are not so far removed from what it takes to raise a child in this world. That’s why we would NEVER consider suing our parents for something like this!

Male from Ghana: Malaka. Come on. Ask me a more serious question. Sue from the where??!

 

As for this one, I blame her parents. Obviously she did this because 1) someone put her up to it and 2) She felt like she could get away with it. Of all the stupid things my friends and I cooked up together, all the inane plans and things “I woulda done if it was me”, it never crossed my mind, even briefly as an actual option. Those things were for girls far more stupid than I was. I remember I ran away from home at 18, thinking I was going to get a job at a radio station and go live in a flat in Tema or something. My parents kindly informed me that if I didn’t come home, that was the end of my college education (which I’M still paying for, mind you). After some prodding from an auntie, I was smart enough to realize in that moment that I could not make it in this world alone at 18…which is most likely the conclusion that Rachel came to. However instead of begging for her parents’ forgiveness for breaking their rules, she has mustered the gall and impudence to sue them!

 

Hmmm. Mom Squad. Mom Squad from Japan, New Zealand, Accra, Nairobi, Atlanta, Nigeria! What would YOUR parents’ reaction have been if you tried to sue them for any reason at all? Discuss! Discuss!!

It’s Never Too Early to Get Your Baby ‘Resume Ready’

It’s a joke in the Black community: giving your child a “resume acceptable” name at birth. Failure to do so will almost ensure that he or she will end up in prison, or worse, reduced to a lifelong career in field during which the highlights consist of inquiring if a patron “wants fries with that?”

I think it’s important that we pause at this juncture and lay some basic truths on the carpet. Everything we do in this world is controlled by a select group of people known as Gatekeepers. These are the people who set your salary, determine where you’ll live, determine what quality of education you’ll get (if any at all), even down to if you’re fit to shop in one establishment or another! Gatekeepers are the decision makers of our existence. They determine which of us gets access to our desired “thing”. It’s nice to think that we are all masters of our fate and captains of our destiny, but even the indomitable Oprah Winfrey was denied the opportunity to look at a hang bag by a Gatekeeper.

In short, if you give the power of decision making and gatekeeping to a power hungry douche bag, we’re all screwed and will suffer for it. However, there ARE things you can do to thwart, or at least stave off, the wily tricks of an ignorant decision maker. And these days, job seekers need as many weapons in their arsenal as possible to help distinguish them from the pack of other job hunters out there. As middle class ranks begin to swell globally, it is more and more important to find ways to adapt quickly t the needs of potential employers!

In the world of the employment search, giving your child a benign, unremarkable, culturally acceptable name like “Eric Thompkins” or “Sue Pine” will go a long way in helping them make it across a recruiter’s desk and into the candidate pipeline. (Unless you’re recruiting for IT, in which case names like Reddi Rahmahanjan and Sundhi Patel are like catnip for resume miners.) We have not yet reached the point culturally where Gatekeepers do not make assumptions about a person based on their given name. Parents can help with that. The next steps, however, require a joint effort between parent and child: i.e. building the contents of said resume.

I came across this blog post last week about Millennial Candidates, the hurdles they face in the hiring process, and why employers should not be so quick to dismiss them. It got me thinking: It truly never is too early to get your kids on the path to success. Every decision we make on a daily basis affects the next outcome for the future. Consider this scenario I found myself in over the weekend. I was out with the girls selling Girl Scout cookies at a booth at Kroger. I wanted to get a gauge for how the other moms were doing with sales, so I inquired on their progress individually.

Me: How many cookies has Isabell sold so far?

Isabell’s mom : About 600 boxes ($2,100 worth)… Almost the same as last year.”

Me (muttering): Dag. 600 boxes…

Isabell’s mom: Oh yes. I make her do her own sales and pitches. I’m part of the Whatever Important People’s Club that meets once a month. She got to stand in front of a room of 300 or so people, give her pitch and take down her orders.

Me: I see…That’s, well, that’s brilliant! Getting her acclimated to public speaking like that, I mean.

Isabell’s mom: Yes girl. She’s gonna need it.

Me: Yeah…all our girls will.

Isabell is 9, by the way. She’s been reading since she was 4 and doing public speaking since she was 5.

The conversation was brief but impacting. It is the essence of what the Millennial Hiring blog post is about. Sure a recent college grad may not have all the working world experience of a 15 year veteran, but there are still certain real world SKILLS that a recent college grad can (or should) possess that will make them successful in the market place. Getting acclimated to selling yourself, your knowledge, a physical item or an idea and then translating that into digestible fodder for a hiring manager or business partner can never come too early. As we move further into the tech era, negotiating and demonstrating these skills has become crucial if one wants any measure of reasonable success. The prophecy that the Geeks shall inherit the Earth is quickly coming to pass, if it has not already.

I have quickly come to re-realize (because I frequently forget), that most American success comes down to the proper application and implementation of keywords. The right keywords at the cash register will get you a discount. The precise keywords at the bank will get you a loan. And sometimes ONLY the exact keywords on your resume will get you a job, or at least closer to landing it than the other guy. Parenting today, just as it has in eras past, has to go through a revolution in order to prepare our kids for success in the future. With these thoughts heavy on my mind, you can therefore imagine my displeasure when Nadjah’s teacher offered her free tutoring classes (which means I no longer have to fork out $x00 for Kuman classes) and I came home from a long day at work to a weeping child at the dinner table.

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked

“She’s just mad because she has to go for extra studies.”

“Oh shut your face and quit crying, Na!” I exploded. “Stop crying because me and your Daddy are trying to make sure you don’t fail at LIFE.”

The crying immediately stopped. See? Keywords.

I firmly believe that guiding your child’s activities both academic and extracurricular is essential in ensuring their future success. Most American parents in my opinion have yet to strike a balance in this area. They either let the child have total control or impose their demands on their children’s experience. So if a kid likes to draw, encourage them to do that, but also enroll them in a camp that will show them other aspects of art, not just working with crayons. Diversity in your specialty will be key in this changing market.  This is just one of the many things I wish my parents had told me, or known to tell me. So many of us assume that college is going to teach our kids how to make it in this world. It doesn’t. All a university degree gives you is a piece of paper that says I can sit through a class and see it through to completion.

Are you a parent? Have you begun ‘templating’ your kids future? Do you ever worry that you are not doing enough to secure their success? Have you ever thought about it, or do you just pray for the best? Discuss!

 

 

Hats, Gloves and Coats off to Single Parents

I don’t know how you guys do it – you single parents out there. I’m not just referring to single moms. There are plenty of fathers who have been left in the sole care of their children for the same reasons women do, albeit less frequently. Perhaps you’ve suffered the pain of losing a spouse/partner to death. Maybe you woke up one morning and found yourself abandoned and suddenly completely responsible for raising a child or four. It could be that you fled a horrible relationship and elected to raise your children on your own, rather than be beaten, abused, or whatever. In some cases, maybe you’ve even CHOSEN this path of single parenthood.

However you got here, I salute you and where I can, I will support you.

Raising children in a two parent household isn’t easy, so I can’t imagine the pressure that comes hand-in-glove with raising a family alone. My husband and I routinely lose our children (seriously), neglect laundry, throw some frozen pizza on the table, and send our kids to school with homework barely done. There are TWO (supposedly) responsible adults in the house, and it’s still chaotic. In those moments, my mind often turns to the single moms and dad who dot my neighborhood. How do they do it? How do they manage the insanity? I suppose they do because they must – some of them with a scowl and others with a weary smile. Still, they raise their children and send them out into the world, perhaps with more worry than you or I could fathom.

batesI have confessed before that I am a constant and consistent worrier. Sometimes I worry so much and so hard about things that I find myself chained to my bed in fear, waiting for the anxiety to pass. I worry about everything: Will Mr. Bates go to jail if he’s falsely accused of murder? Did that homeless guy with the sign find shelter for his dog during the ice storm? If I eat this gallon of ice-cream, will I REALLY blow back up to my previous quarter ton weight? These things, though they may seem trivial to you (Okay, yes, they ARE trivial.) persistently occupy my mind, and I am happy to entertain them. If I make room for them, I cannot have space to allow a more sinister thought to camp out in my thoughts; that being “what would happen to my kids if I died?”

Instinctively, I know that Marshall can care for the kids and do a very good job at it. That gives me some comfort. He’s their dad, and a very good one too. But who does the single parent have to rely on? Who is their rock that they can lean on? America’s foster program is full of kids who have found themselves in the system because American families are so disjointed. Gone are the days when you knew for certain that your aunt, brother or neighbor would look after your children should harm befall you. The breakdown of the American family is not at the nuclear level alone: its disintegration extends to the extended family as well. Think about the last time you walked over to a cousin’s house – unannounced – just to say hello, or spent the afternoon with your grandmother. Have you ever even done so? Be honest!

I worry for single parents, though I know it’s not my place to. All the same, I do. This Tuesday I got a call from the kids’ school telling me to come and pick one of them up.

“Your child was hurt during PE,” the nurse said.

“What happened to her?” I asked frantically. “Hurt where?”

“Her wrist. She can’t move her hand and I have her at the front desk,” the nurse replied. She sounded irritated that I was asking her questions.

“Ah. So is her hand broken? Is she bleeding?”

Why was this woman calling me at work if my child’s hand was broken?

“I can’t tell that without an x-ray, ma’am,” she snapped.

“So you’re saying I have to come pick her up?”

“Yes.”

*Click*

Puzzled – and fuming – I sent an email to my boss, hoped into my car, and went to retrieve my child who was sitting at the front desk with ice on her hand and a grin on her face. The school “nurse” (because none of them are really trained nurses, are they?) looked at me sheepishly. I scowled at them both a wordlessly whisked my child away. After purchasing her some lunch and a math book from School Box, I dropped her off at daycare and went back to work. The entire enterprise cost me $4.65 for lunch from Chick-fil-a, $7.45 for the book from School Box and $30 for the drop in rate for daycare, not to mention the hour worth of wages I lost during my excursion. It was an irritation – yes – but I could afford to do all of it, even if it pained me to do so. I called my husband, livid.

“Humph. I was a good thing they didn’t call me,” he laughed. “I would have told them to put the ice pack on her hand and send her right back into class. If she was really hurt, she would have been screaming.”

Duh! He was so right. This particular child cannot handle true pain in any measure. The fact that she had told me, post Chick-fil-a consumption, that her hand was feeling better told me I had made the wrong choice. I should have left her there at school!

“I don’t know how single parents do it, man,” I mused. “This is ridiculous.”

I am fortunate that I have a job that allows me some modicum of flexibility, but many working women – black women in particular – are not as fortunate as I am. Had I been a single mother with limited funds, what choice would I have made then? Would I sacrifice part of our rent/grocery budget to pick up a child who wasn’t truly injured, just to keep up appearances? Would I have let her sit there and tough it out despite the possibility of others judging me as a “neglectful mother?” Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Carson Scholars FundSo hats and shirts off to you guys. All of you who do this day in and out and put the rest of us to shame. You have raised presidents, MVP basketball players and neurosurgeons. Well done!

 

Is Biracial Still ‘Black’?: Mixed in the Media

The English are fierce bulwarks when it comes to preserving the authenticity of their history, particularly when that history is portrayed on television or in film. That’s why there was such a fierce outcry when Richard Gere (an American) took on the role of Lancelot in First Knight; why the country nearly went up in flames when Kevin Costner (another American) dared to depict Robin Hood in Prince of Thieves; and explains why the proletariat stormed the BBC in protest when Russell Crowe – an Aussie! – was cast to reprise the same roll. These roles belong to the English and the English alone, they cried!

Remember that?

You shouldn’t. It never happened. But there has been plenty of noise about a more recent spate of mixed race actors taking on traditionally English (read “white”) roles. These include Angel Coulby as Guinevere in the wildly popular TV series Merlin, Freema Agyeman as Tattycoram in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, and most recently Howard Charles being cast as Porthos in The Musketeers.

Today marks the beginning of Black History month, which means a great deal of my grey matter will be devoted to ensuring my family honors all the heroes and saints that have ensured our freedom sort of thing. Black History has become more and more problematic for me. Last year I discussed my angst about how to teach the subject without imparting anger to my children. In many ways, I think I’ve failed. Their pronouncements on race are not very “inclusive”. I’m working on that.

dubois_subj_mThis year, the source of my anxiety is something very different. Today, as of writing this post, I am wondering: how much of our Black history is actually ‘BLACK’ history? For certain, there is a fair chunk of Black history that is mixed history, rather. Many of the heroes we fete in Black history were biracial, not homogenously Black as we might suppose or have previously been inclined to accept. Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington were both biracial, and WEB DuBois – founder of the NAACP – was as Marcus Garvey described him “a little Dutch, a little French, a little Negro…a mulatto.” Yet we refer to them all as “Black” leaders. Could it be that a time will come when we will have to re-write Black history, or at least redefine it in truer terms so that it includes the terms “mixed heritage”, “biracial” and so on? Only time will tell.

Why is this important? First of all, we know that history is generally poorly taught, if it is ever taught at all. History is littered with “facts” based on what is/was popular at the time. Take the assertion that Rosa Parks was the first Black woman to refuse to give up her seat on a city bus. This is untrue (and I’m using ‘untrue’ because it would be rude to say it’s a flat out lie). The first Black woman to give up her seat on a segregated bus was Claudette Covin – a 15 year old unwed mother with dark black skin. She was not an appropriate symbol for the NAACP and the Civil Rights struggle. Mrs. Parks, educated, married, and therefore respectable,  was.

Angel-CoulbyIn looking at world history and how it’s been taught today, I have concerns because I know it’s riddled with half-truths, good intentions and preference. Take England’s history, which the majority of the population (or at least the most vocal ones on the internet) believe to be completely whitewashed. Nothing could be further from the truth. There have been people of color living and working in Europe as advisers, artisans and traders – and yes, even lovers – since the mid-1400s, long before the genesis of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. However, the idea of racial superiority is predicated on the idea that Europeans took Africans by surprise, enslaved them, and the rest is “history”. Modern day Europeans (or in this case, the Brits) cannot fathom the idea that a person of color could have lived as an equal in the upper rungs of society. How could King Author (a fictional character, by the way) love a mixed race Guinevere?  And why should the impetuous Tattycoram be half black? And – oh no! – the PC police are at it again with casting a mixed race man as a Musketeer.

Would it surprise you to know that Alexandre Dumas senior, father of the author of The Three Musketeers was mixed race AND was a general in the French army? It shocked the sugar out of me! Why then would it be a leap for a biracial man to portray one of these men of (fictional) valor?

Stacy and I spent by far the most time talking on the subject of what it means to be biracial. I asked her how she felt about biracial representation in the media.

“Would it mean something to you if, for example, Halle Berry had accepted her award as the first biracial woman to win the Oscar instead of the first BLACK woman to win an Oscar?”

I waited. Stacy did not have a direct answer to that question, but she did say it would be nice to have more biracial representation on television and in film.

“I think it would help to normalize it,” she said of being mixed race. “There’s this weirdness and misunderstanding…misjudgment…because it’s like we’re undercover. In the shadows.”

She told me about friends who were not able to go out to eat with both parents because of the hostility presence of a blended family. I again thought about what she said about it being much easier to identify as “Black”, even if she didn’t completely feel that way. And then she told me about a White friend of hers from high school who refused to take her home to visit because his mom “did not like Black people”.

“And this was in the 90’s, mind you. I’m only 30.”

She left it at that, but I understood without her saying that she is just Black: she is just as much White as she is Black.

Of course we talked about Barack Obama and whether he’s the first Black president or not. I let him slide over to her team. He may have an African name, but he was raised by a White mother. That’s as mixed as you can get.

This marks the conclusion of our series on MOM. Tomorrow, if you’ll be watching the Super Bowl, you will see a follow up segment to the Cheerios commercial that had so many people spewing racist vitriol, you would swear were in the age of the phonograph and not it iPhone. Perchance you might come across the Swiffer commercial with the interracial couple (the dad is a White amputee. Let that blow your mind!) dusting the floor and their ceiling fans. And in those images, you will see images of little kids who bear traits from both their parents. My hope is that they and other people – adults and children alike – will be able to stand like my friend Chide did say “I’m mixed race/heritage and proud of it.”

…And then we can all go one discussing the merits of kidney pie.

Do you think Belle ate kidney pie? I can’t wait to add this movie to my collection. Watching women scamper about  in corsets makes me feel SO liberated!

Is Biracial Still ‘Black’?: Picking Sides

A common theme in the conversations I’ve had with my mixed race/biracial friends is the pressure they feel to “pick sides”. Some have likened it to being a child of divorce, questioning if they are being true enough to one parent, and if in doing so, is it at the expense of the heritage of the other parent. Some parents struggle to find a balance, finding barriers in something even as mundane as naming their child.

keishaYou might recall the story of Keisha, a 19 year old biracial girl from Kansas City who after years of pleading with her mother was finally allowed to change her name to ‘Kylie’. Her mother explained that she had chosen to name her daughter Keisha in honor of her “African American roots”. It was a sweet gesture, but since Keisha Austin’s mother has never had to live the life and pressures of being a Black woman in America, she could not have foreseen the type of misfortune assigning her daughter a moniker so unquestionably “black” would bring.

We middle class Black folk know that it is imperative to give our children ‘resume ready’ names if we want them to have any sort of shot at success in America. Naming your child LaQuilla or Ty’esha is something you do at your own peril. Most people of color know that the stratospheric success a man of color named ‘Barack Obama’ would enjoy is the exception, rather than the rule.  Had Alan Keyes borne the same name, he never would have made it within 5 feet of the Republican primary debates. We’ll revisit this conversation on a different date.

Stacy, my friend from San Antonio, offered this piece of advice on the subject of ‘picking sides’.

“I always tell my friends who have entered into interracial relationships and are having kids that they need to equip their children to live life as a person of mixed heritage,” she said emphatically. “My mother swears she prepared me, but really, she didn’t. If the kids is Blasian (Black and Asian), they need to understand what that means. If they are Blaxican (Black and Mexican) or any other mix for that matter, they need to understand what that means too.”

She added further insight on understanding one’s roots in America. She contends that most White Americans don’t know their roots, and Blacks certainly don’t, since that was one of the designed consequences of slavery. Most Whites just know they’re White, and Blacks know they’re Black.

“Very few Whites can point to a map and say ‘Yeah, my ancestors come from this town in Scotland’ or whatever,” she said.

“And Black Americans can’t do that at all,” I restated.

There was a time in America – and very recently – that people of mixed heritage had sides picked for them. My uncle Snipper (by marriage) is mixed race, but he identifies as Black because that it what was “picked” for him.

Uncle Snipper's mixed race father and black mother

Uncle Snipper’s mixed race father and black mother

Snipper was born in 1948 in Chillicothe, Ohio. His father was Native American and Irish but because he and his brothers were not 100% white, they were prohibited from marrying White women in their community. They were also made to feel more welcome in the Black community and as a result, Snipper and all his cousins were born to African-American women. Because his mixed race father’s accommodations were indirectly ‘picked’ for him, Snipper’s race was in turn picked for him. These patterns replicated themselves all over Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and their environs, giving rise to a new class of persons of color called “red bone.”

Black families exhibit many shades of color

Black families exhibit many shades of color

My great-aunt (again by marriage) was ‘red boned’, and people were so color struck by her that she was frequently sought after by suitors.

As we have discussed earlier, the impact and issue (or non-issue) of living a mixed existence can have a lot to do with where you live. In America and South Africa, where Jim Crow and Apartheid existed almost simultaneously, race ruled the society. It still does, to a less blatant extent. I have mused what it would be like if all the mixed race people in the world got together and formed their own “human” colony. What might that look like?

Well, one has to look no further than South Africa for the answer.

The Dutch and British invaders into the country did just that, mixing with Black Africans and creating a “Coloured” race. These Coloureds  were then segregated, given slightly better privileges than other Blacks, taught that Afrikaans (the language of the oppressor) – rather than Xhosa or Tswana – was their lingua franca, and encouraged to marry and reproduce amongst themselves exclusively. And they did and for the most part, continue to do. Whereas the mixed race person in America for the last five centuries has been forced to identify as “black”, Coloureds have their own identity and in turn, have their own pride.

Of course, pride always precedes some sort of fall. I always thought I had a good understanding of prejudice, but the Coloured/Black dynamic in SA added a whole new dimension. There is deep distrust between the two, and that’s by no accident. Their mutual suspicion for one another was socially engineered by the government. Things have gotten better in the years since Apartheid ended, but some Apartheid era lessons and perceptions still persist, affecting and infecting South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens: teenagers.

One of the teens from our church went to South Africa for a missions trip and ended up half-way dating a Coloured boy –Romeo – for the three months she was there. She’s African American. When she arrived in the country, her hair was laid. It swung when she walked. However, Black women do not have the same quality of hair care in South Africa as they do in the States, and so in order to protect her hair, she opted to get it braided.

Romeo came unglued.

For days, he begged my young friend to put her hair back the way it was. She refused, telling him this is what was best for her hair now.

“But it makes you look BLACK,” he whined.

“But Romeo,” she countered. “I AM Black.”

He explained that he couldn’t be seen dating a Black girl, and they eventually broke up. The entire ordeal baffled one of the White girls who had witnessed the course of events. Romeo had been going on about “black this” and “colored that” until Becky couldn’t take it anymore. She cornered him and called him out in front of their peers.

“Look!” she hollered. “Let me tell you something. Where I’m from, there is no ‘Coloured versus Black’. When you come to America, you’re just Black. Okay? Got it?!”

I was so busy laughing that I hadn’t paused to consider the larger questions around that one statement. Was Becky right? Is ‘Coloured’ just another shade of Black? Or was Romeo right in asserting that there is a real distinction between Black and Colored, that the two are not one and the same? And is South Africa ahead of the rest of the world with the creation of a new race and racial identity (despite its sinister and less than noble intentions)?

Is Biracial Still ‘Black’?: What Are You?

“There ain’t no black, there ain’t no black, there ain’t no black in the Union Jack!”

When Bevis first moved to England from Ghana, this is what the kids would chant at her on the school yard. Bevis, now 40, is of Irish and Ghanaian heritage and spends her time divided between England and Ghana.

“Here (England) you are definitely considered white or black and you can’t be white if you’re mixed,” she told me when I asked if she considered herself black. “People will call you black if you’re not fully white. I have always identified as black – especially [given] that where my parents live here is a village in Cambridge with not many black people. I always got called black. Now I say I’m mixed – half English, half Ghanaian.”

She points to a new addition on government forms that have given her the freedom to choose her unique racial identity. “Mixed race.”

Stacy, who is 30 years old from San Antonio, TX relates to Bevis’ quandary with racial identification. When she was 8 years old, she was asked to identify her race on an official school form. In those days, there were five options: Black/Negro/African American; White/Caucasian; Native American; Hispanic; Asian. At age 8, she had never been asked to identify herself by race. Her mother was being raised by her White mother in a predominately Latino community, and because of her creamy hue and curly hair texture, people assumed she was Hispanic. Of course, she knew she wasn’t.

“What should I check on the form?” she asked her mother.

“”Well, you’re white…because you live with me. So check ‘white’,” her mother replied.

Even at 8, Stacy knew this wasn’t completely true. There were distinct physical differences between her and her mother, and she was also very aware that her father was Black. The recent addition of Mixed Race/One or More Races (remember when they had “other” for a short while? What kind of human being is “other”?!) on official government forms has given her the freedom to acknowledge both sides of her heritage. She stresses that racial identity is much easier to negotiate with a piece of paper than in our 4D existence.

“If I were ever to walk up to a White person and say I was White, they wouldn’t accept that,” Stacy told me. “I’m only part white, which means I’m not really White. I have always found more acceptance among Black people, who might tease me (never unkindly) about being mixed, but who generally see me as Black. And really, sometimes it’s just easier to say you’re Black than to engage in the whole conversation about being mixed race.”

Are Black people really more ‘accepting’ of mixed race people? Not necessarily, according to Chide and Chinam, two sisters who are of Nigerian/Ghanaian/Dutch/English heritage. Sometimes that ‘acceptance’ depends on where you live.  Chide and Chinam are extremely fair skinned, as both of their parents of mixed race as well. Chinam has keener features than her younger sister Chinam, which make her look “whiter”. She tells me that when she was younger, she did in fact identify as white. They lived in an English town of 35,000 people that was 85% white and her dad (who is also very fair skinned) was the darkest person she knew.

“Of course in Ghana I was (and still am) called white,” said Chiman. “In the UK we don’t as far as I know, have the ‘one drop rule’. That’s more of an American thing and [being mixed race] it’s more common now, considering how many interracial relationships and marriages there are in the UK, to call oneself mixed race and it’s accepted to do so.”

Chide added that she has never considered herself “black”, because in doing so she would have to deny who grandmother who is fully English.

“I don’t consider myself black, rather mixed race. But I don’t feel offended if someone else considers me black. I imagine that most of the world does and that’s fine. On official forms I mark mixed. I feel that for me to define or describe myself as black would be denying my grandmother, whom i am close too. I consider myself to be part black I suppose. Round these parts Brown is the new black anyway.”

The women come from a family that is very diverse in its racial make-up. It is because of this Chide noted with some surprise that one of their cousins does not identify as mixed race, but rather as “black”. Her sister theorized it might have something to do with the fact that this cousin has to go further back on her family tree to identify her White ancestors, despite the fact that she is just as fair skinned as the two.

“It’s also interesting how people see me…in Ghana and Nigeria they call me ‘white’,” Chinam said, offering me this perspective.” In Zanzibar all the Masaai I met would say ‘You are part white and black. Where is the black from?’ If I tell people in Dubai (Lebanese, other Arabs, Indians for instance) that I’m black they actually say ‘No you’re not. You’re like a light brown, beige. You’re not black at all.’ So I say no my parents are from Africa and they still insist that well I can’t consider myself ‘black’ can I? Because I’m not dark skinned the way Africans are ‘supposed’ to be. Now I’m like ok, whatever…”

Chide agrees about the connection between skin color and its importance and geographic location.

“When I went to Seychelles they loved me. Almost everyone asked if I was Seychellois and said that I ‘looked like them’. Having spoken to several people they said racial identity is very, very low on their agenda – they associate more with the shared culture. So fair-skinned/ light eye’d Seychellois do not get any special treatment over the darker population.”

I asked each of the women about the question that they get asked the most, being biracial/racially ambiguous. Stacy was the most vocal of the bunch.

“I get asked ‘What are you?’ ALL of the time,” she said. She was gritting her teeth with irritation. “What kind of question is that? I’m a human being!”

For the rest of us who fit neatly in one racially category, it’s not a question we have to contend with, but for people of mixed racial heritage, identifying and embracing ones diversity is terribly important. Do you remember the afternoon in 1997 when we all sat around watching Oprah? Tiger Woods was on. Oprah asked him ‘what he was’ and he replied that he was Cablinasian – a blend of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. My reaction – as well as the majority of America’s – was “Whatever dude. You BLACK.”  What the heck was a ‘Cablinasian’? Why was Tiger forcing US to change our neatly cemented perceptions about race! How tiresome for us!

What Tiger did that day widened the door for discussion about racial identity, using media (i.e. the Oprah Show) as a vehicle. (I suspect, thanks again to Mr. Woods, we will be soon be discussing the idea that severe sex addiction is something we will have to learn to accept as a society as well. Look at Tiger, smashing to status quo wherever his Nike shod feet take him!)