We have big dreams for our children, and I’ve even started rehearsing the celebratory dance that will one day embarrass mine. But I know those future successes are also dependent upon me teaching solid lessons on self-awareness.
Black History Month is an excellent chance to re-evaluate the decisions I’ve made so far as a parent. It’s also an opportunity to develop age-appropriate messages for tomorrow.
I’m also aware of the ways black people have been falsely taught that their blackness limits the chances that those visions will become reality. It’s true that black individuals often must take the scenic route to success. However, it’s systemic racism, not blackness, that is the problem. This is evident in the countless black figures who have achieved what was once unthinkable.
In addition to the "typical" lessons passed on by parents, as a black mother I must prepare adjacent, culturally relevant schooling. In the past, these lessons focused on limiting children’s expressions of blackness in order to survive. Today, parents seek a more authentic presentation for their children. We know they deserve holistic joy. Thankfully, there are many figures in recent years that illustrate how to live unapologetically as a black American.
This Black History Month, I’ve narrowed my parenting goals down to three concepts I hope to teach over the next few years. Each of these aims to set a foundation for self-care and/or awareness. I’ve also selected an accompanying current figure that illustrates what this looks like.
Prioritize your peace
The fight for equality has cost us many of our leaders. In my own life, the fight has led to anxiety, depression, and many sleepless nights. This nation will suck you dry if you allow it to.
I don’t want my children to sacrifice themselves for the fight, like prior generations had to. History is filled with too many accounts of black folks who were robbed of joy, starting from childhood. I’m determined to teach mine to know when to take a step back.
Prioritizing one’s peace looks different for everyone. But as long as my children apply a metric of preservation to every area of their existence—including relationships, work, and justice—I have no doubt that they will be able to live fulfilling lives.
Why it’s important:
Racism impacts the black community in a variety of ways, and the resulting stress will kill you if you allow it to. Knowing when to rest and reset is vital for avoiding the mental and physical consequences of racism. As our children learn to prioritize themselves, they acknowledge that the struggles (economic and social) will always be there, and shouldn’t cost them their peace of mind.
Example: Michelle Obama
Despite constant scrutiny and numerous attacks, our former FLOTUS often refrained from responding, in order to preserve her mental health. She knew the importance of taking on responsibilities at a pace that was comfortable. And for eight long years, she refused to entertain nonsense. Afterward, when she was ready, she wrote a book about everything she’d experienced.
Don't be afraid to be yourself
Growing up, I felt pressure to conform to a concept of professionalism, but I didn’t realize that it would cost me everything I loved about myself. In the workplace, I was expected to change my hair and alter the way I spoke. I felt targeted by biased dress code regulations. Years of hearing “Your Afro isn’t professional” left me terrified to wear natural hairstyles in life, and had me feeling powerless against the pressure to conform.
It’s all too common for people of color to adapt a façade of whiteness in order to survive and to avoid appearing “too ethnic.” I never want my daughter to feel the pressure to run out and buy a straight wig in hopes it will improve how she is perceived at a job interview.
Why it’s important:
Decades of uplifting whiteness as the standard of beauty and professionalism has damaged black children’s self-image. In the 1940s, the infamous “doll test” showed that black and white children have been socialized to associate whiteness with good, and blackness with bad. It’s been nearly 80 years, and anti-black bias is still present in our society.
Young black children need to know that there is nothing wrong with presenting as your authentic self. Your qualifications and willingness to do a good job should be more important than folks not understanding your hair. If a job is making you feel unworthy due to your culture, there should be consequences for that employer.
This perspective should extend past work and into our personal relationships. Relationships that discourage because of the way you communicate, how you style your hair, or where you come from require re-evaluation.
Example: Chastity Jones
When Chastity Jones lost a job offer due to her dreadlocks, she fought hard seeking justice. The Supreme Court chose not to address her case. But stories like hers opened the door for legislation such as New York City’s new policy that bans hair discrimination.
See no limits in the world, but understand the barriers
The most important thing that I can teach my children is not to see limits in the world. A lot of people hear me talk about our black identity and misperceive that as a cultural crutch. However, that belief cannot be further from the truth. The barriers we face are undeniable, but so is our potential.
I emphasize my black identity because I have seen the ways we’ve reached incredible heights in spite of the barriers that we face. Although racial and social barriers shouldn't exist, I believe being aware of them can fuel my children’s determination.
Why it’s important:
Self-awareness is the middle ground between a realistic understanding of the existing barriers and a hopeful view of one’s potential. Finding that middle ground will help reinforce the importance of critical thinking in my children's decision-making process.
Example: Marsai Martin
At just 14 years old, black-ish star Marsai Martin has starred in and executive produced her own film, in addition to having recently signed a new “first look” deal with Universal Pictures! If that doesn’t prove there’s no age limit to success, what does?
My children are still quite young, and there are plenty of lessons they won’t understand this early. But it’s never too soon to set the foundation for the tough topics. I’m a firm believer in the power of intention. With these concepts guiding my long-term parenting strategies, I’ll be embarrassing them by cheering loudly at their successes in no time.