How Do I Free My Daughter from the Culture Matrix?

M.O.M. Squad – dear, dear cabal of friends and strangers – I’m flabberwhelmed. (And, yes, that’s a real word. Because Jayden Smith.) I am literally spinning in cyclone of confusion. I don’t know what to do about my sweet Black baby girl; and wonder if I should do anything at all.

Over the years, when pop culture hasn’t dominated the talking points, we’ve talked about the challenges of raising children of different races and abilities. You guys who still have yet to raise children of your own have been gracious enough to chime in with your unique perceptions, observations and suggestions. Every parent does and will struggle with some aspect of their child(ren)’s personality, quirks and capabilities. I have had the honor of adopting a number of ‘nieces’ and ‘nephews’ born to women I have yet to meet in person, but who I consider friends. Some of our kids have delayed speech or are non-verbal altogether. Some of them are exceptional students but struggle with social interaction. Some don’t try hard enough at school. Each of us has our own weighty cross to bear, but for the most part, we would all consider ourselves lucky to be parents.

My cross is my daughter Aya. Not Aya specifically, of course. Anyone who knows her is aware of how thoughtful and kind she is. The weight of my concern for her is attributed to the lack of confidence she has in herself, or in her blackness, to be precise. She lacks confidence in the abilities of Black girls.

Ebei. Raising a Black child in these United States is not easy o! Where do I even begin?

denciaWe’ve all read about/talked about/raged about the dominant European standards of beauty and how they affect the self-esteem women and girls around the globe. Anyone who had has ever had an opinion on this has taken a different approach to addressing this “problem” as it affects them personally or as it affects their child. Some women have gone so far as to bleach ALL of the black out of their skin or perm the kinks out of their 4 month old baby’s hair. On the other side of the pendulum, some people of color won’t let heat or a comb anywhere near their roots or the follicles of their children. As far as aesthetics are concerned, I believe we have come to some definite conclusions about how to deal with our perceptions of blackness and what Black beauty ought to look like. But how much time has been invested in developing the Black mind, or what it means to change the dynamics of what it means to think Black?

Earlier in the year some time in the spring, I wrote on my Facebook page about taking Nadjah and Aya to the salon here in Roswell. When we approached the building, the marquee had a picture of a green eyed woman with dark, tousled hair. I had already called ahead, and the owner assured me they styled “ethnic hair”, but even I was hesitant to enter the building with its rocking chairs on the front porch and Vogue-esque model welcoming us at the door. Nadjah scampered up the steps ahead of Aya and I and urged us to hurry up. Aya was frozen in her tracks, however.

“Mommy? Is this a place for brown people? Can we go inside?”

Before I could answer, Nadjah grabbed her sister by the hand and boomed “We can go anywhere we want! Segregation is over!”

That settled it. We went inside, they got a wash, blow dry and some cornrows, and everyone went home happy. Everyone except me, that is. What kind of messaging was my daughter receiving to make her think that she did not have the right to enter an establishment as innocuous as a salon?

I have done my best to direct my children towards critical thinking (although I often believe I am failing) and to have faith not only in God, but in their God-given talents and abilities as human beings. Nadjah thinks she’s invincible, so somehow the messaging has worked for her. But in Aya’s case, she doubts herself because she is Black. Hear me again: her self-doubt isn’t because she doesn’t go to a good school or have a great teacher – it’s because she thinks she’s only capable of achieving *this* much because she is BLACK.

Sally in the airWhen I wrote Sally and the Butterfly, I had Aya and kids like her in mind and was very deliberate about making sure that there were clues in the book about Salimah’s life that pointed to her being an 8 year old brown-skinned heroine. Mrs. Greenwood, her temporary caretaker cornrows her hair for her. When she is nervous, Salimah plays with her braids. Heck, I named the child Salimah so that there would be no confusing this child for anything other than a kid who had a fair amount of melanin in her skin. But when Aya scanned through the book and saw Sally outrunning ostriches, using tactical methods to outwit Orbeasts and navigating her way through an enchanted realm, my sweet baby girl looked up at me and asked: “Mommy? Is Sally brown?”

She was doubtful; doubtful that a little brown girl could do any of these things. If it were not, Sally’s race would never come into question. If Sally were blond with cream colored skin, we could read through her adventure and her race would never come up. I know this because we read lots of books with pretty white girls doing amazing things, and race has never come up once. But it did with Sally.

When I simply replied “Yes. She’s brown”, and left it there, Aya beamed and continued reading. But again, I was struck by how much this innocent question revealed so much uncertainty in my daughter.

I often hear/read people in the mainstream talk about how sick they are of hearing people of color – or Black people, to be blunt – kvetch about why we create web shows, magazines, etc. that focus on our blackness because we grew up looking at images that looked nothing like us.

“I’m a 300 lbs white man on crutches. I’ve never seen anyone in the media look like me!” I recall one Yahoo user snarling in retort to such an article.

Fair enough. But this man probably has a white steel worker, a hacker, a cook, a banker or what have you in his family, and these folks often get complex and interesting story lines on soap operas and Netflix originals that folk that look like Aya don’t regularly get! He at least has the benefit of relating to these characters…even if they don’t “look like” him.

I know that race and perceptions about intelligence matter to my daughter, but I just don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know what to give her. In her whole existence, she has only had one Black instructor – her current third grade teacher. It didn’t strike me as an issue until Aya mentioned this as we were eating popcorn one day.

“I like being in Ms. McNeil’s class, because she’s brown like me and she’s smart,” she said.

Ms. McNeils are in the minority in classrooms around the nation. I don’t know when Aya will encounter another brown face in education that doesn’t work as a custodian or lunch lady (and God bless them for their service!). I literally don’t know how to rip her out of this matrix.

Help?

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10 thoughts on “How Do I Free My Daughter from the Culture Matrix?

  1. AM

    Awwwww Aya!

    I think it is tough raising black children in America, especially given the racial climate-currently and historically. In regards to you thinking you are failing in direction them towards critical thinking, well Najdah’s very firm ‘Segragation is over’ statement is a testament of your directionship-thanks Jayden.

    As for Aya, I think you should be highly proactive (not to say you haven’t) in getting her engaged in after school activities in which she interacts with other brown skinned girls her age. Be it in sports, educational activities-that way her self of steam-again, thanks Jayden, is built up and she is able to see the many opportunities that exist for her, not only as a brown skinned girl, but as a human period. Also, you should keep reiterating the fact that the color of her skin is not a limitation, regardless of how the media portrays it. Great example, that Q-girl (cannot for the life of me spell her name, nor find he energy to utilize google to help me, because…laziness) despite being a brownie she is making headway with her acting dreams. Hollywood’s skewed color spectrum has not stopped her, so why should Aya, limit herself? Or feel less than.

    I am not a parent and perhaps I’m just blabbering on, but that’s my 2 cents.

    Ps:// I see your ‘last’ post was not really your last.

    1. Malaka Post author

      Ahhh, you see? Because D’Angelo ooo. I tried! And then this my child came to worry my head…
      I cant spell Quevachiné either (I just threw some vowels together to spell the baby’s name), but we’ll be going to see Annie this week as well. I appreciate you chiming in!

  2. Yirenkyiwa

    I shared this post with my sister (who has a biracial daughter) and she said, “I sometimes worry about Anke too. Growing up in this racist society. We as adults don’t have it easy and she’ll have to experience it from now. It scares me but eventually, it falls on me to make her a strong woman who won’t question her roots and can stand against racism. ”
    With Nadjah’s statement, I believe you and Malcolm are doing something right, that’s a strong woman there. Aya will come around. I’m pretty sure she only needs a bit of reassurance now and again that yes, she can do whatever others of a different race do and she’ll be just fine even if she’ll be the only brown person.
    She’ll be fine, with y’all around her.

  3. Ashley

    Not to mention the colorism within the black community. Find ways to help boost her confidence, simply as a human being. With great confidence one is not able to feel ‘less than’ because of their skin, or let any other outside forces bring them down. I’m an eighteen year old college freshman, and I definitely feel the effects of all the chaotic issues occurring within the black community. I grew up in a Jamaican household, so racism wasn’t a big issue. But growing up I have realized that within the African-American community there is much importance placed on skin color. There are definitely socially constructed limitations based on skin pigment.

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