Good Fortune and Good Luck

Although “Mazel Tov,” a Hebrew phrase, translates literally as “good luck,” the expression really means “good fortune has occurred,” hence its use as a term of congratulations.  I had a baby girl 8 months ago: Mazel Tov to me! I have been lucky enough to be able to stay home with her since her birth, and with the exception of the nine hours a week that I teach and hold office hours, I will continue to be her primary caregiver until she is at least 15 months old.  At that point, I will need to take more hours out of the day for work.

I had it all planned out: at 15 months we would enroll her in the on-campus day care program, a mere 5-minute walk from my office. We live near campus, so there would be no commute; only a leisurely stroll across well-manicured lawns to her classroom.  I could stop by to have lunch with her, or stop by, just because.  She would never be too far away, and she would never have to stay longer than necessary.  At the end of the day, we’d walk back across lush campus greens together.

Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans.  The on-campus daycare has elected not to renew its NAEYC certification (the gold-standard for child care facilities), it is losing its manager of over 20 years due to retirement, and faculty are starting to pull their children out, citing a decrease in the quality of care, insufficient “free-play” for the children, and an environment that is not as warm or nurturing as other day care facilities in the area.  I am no longer mapping out our walk to school together in the mornings.  Instead, I am now considering one of the best Jewish day-school infant programs in the city.  Although the program is described as secular, a non-Jewish colleague who enrolled her child fondly recalled that her child grew up singing “cute Jewish nursery rhymes.”  I now envision my daughter doing the same, using Hebrew words to tell me about body parts and manners.

I’m worried.

Jewish religion and culture are as beautiful and relevant as any other religion and culture, and have impacted my own life in both significant and superficial ways.  The problem is what consideration of a Jewish day care program has forced me to confront: I do not have access to a “Haitian” day care program; there is no “black” day care facility.  For much, if not all, of my daughter’s education, she will engage with a curriculum that will, at best, ignore her experience as a person of color, and at worst, focus only on the oppression of people of color in this country. As if to signal things to come, there is not one picture of a black child in the day care program’s brochures.

Raising a black child is not for the faint of heart.  A mere 8 months into her life, my husband and I regularly question the choices we make regarding the formation of her identity: is she playing enough with other children of color?; should we only hire black babysitters?; Spanish is nice, but maybe we should expose her to French or Kreyol…; does she see enough women of color?…does she meet enough women who look like me?  We are committed to creating an environment that will affirm the color of her skin, the shape of her lips, the texture of her hair: the artwork on our walls intentionally feature black women; her bookshelf is filled with stories about children of color; we will not be bringing the March 2010 issue of Vanity Fair into our home.

And now, we must start thinking about the educational environment that is best for her.  What does “best” mean?  Surely, it must mean a day care that meets the highest child-care standards.  It must also mean a day care that gives her a couple of minutes to stack the darned blocks whichever way she wants.  But does it also mean a day care that will celebrate the beauty and worth of her cultural background?  I am under no illusion that the on-campus facility would have taught her songs about Haitian independence, the words to “Frere Jacques,” or the accomplishments of black women in the Americas.  It is one thing, however, to be one of several black children in a mainstream day care program; it is quite another to be the only black child in a Jewish day care program.  Can I enroll her in this program without somehow undermining the sense of pride we are trying to instill in her regarding her own racial and ethnic identity?

We have officially entered the morass of steering a child of color through the American education system.  Good fortune has certainly occurred, but moving forward, I now need wishes of good luck.

39 thoughts on “Good Fortune and Good Luck

  1. This is a beautifully-written piece, ORJ! I continue to be impressed by the conscious thought and deliberation that all the mothers on this blog put into raising children who will be confident and self-loving people of color. It is very heartening to know that I am not the only woman of color out there who thinks about such issues as providing an environment where my future children will learn to appreciate their culture(s) and grow to view themselves as the standard.

    In response to some of the questions you raise ORJ: Ultimately, I think it is okay (for the first few years of her life at least) that she goes a Jewish day care. Now, I don’t have a child of my own, so I have no direct experience with this, but my younger siblings where born in this country and my mother confronted issues similar to those you mention. From what I can see of my younger siblings, who spent time in mostly white day care and schools, they understand our language (and even at times attempt to speak it) and they are appreciative of our culture. Of course, it didn’t come automatically. I remember weekends of my mother driving us, for sometimes an hour or two, to some party or gathering to make sure we got the opportunity to socialize with kids from our culture, and we also held similar gatherings at our house. And then, there were the uncles and aunts, who kept in touch, spoke to us in our language, and constantly reminded us not to forget who we were and where we came from.

    Of course, there were some “incidencies.” But you deal with them as they arise. Once, my little sister bemoaned her hair. She wished out loud like she had hair like that of her best friend, a Mexican/White girl. I took her aside, and I talked to her, I told her that Black people are unique, in the our hair texture is much unlike anyone else in the world, I told her of all the many hair-styles she could do with her, and, I told her that she was beautiful. I never heard her lament her lack of straight hair after that.

    As they say, “charity starts at home.” Ultimately, what you teach your child will be more important than anything she will imbibe outside of the home. No matter what type of day care your child attends, if she is coming home to an environment where her beauty is affirmed, where she sees positive role models that share her physical attributes, that will be enough.


    1. Thanks, I.Y.A. I think I remember from one of your previous posts that you are either first-generation, or that you came to the US in your early formative years. Is that so? I’m 1st generation, and I think my parents took the attitude that your mother did–sort of un-phased by the immersion of their children in white culture. Yes, there were some hiccups, but in general, my parents didn’t feel the need to “protect” my identity; it went without saying that I was Haitian, and Nigerian. Those cultures were celebrated in our every day life, through food, music, and family. But the strong influence of ethnic identity waters down with each generation if you don’t maintain it. I don’t cook my parents food; I don’t speak the language in the house. I feel like I have no “culture” to give, and so worry that my daughter’s racial and ethnic identity will be the worse for it.

      Though not directly related, I have a colleague who has written about legacy Blacks, and the debate surrounding whether affirmative action should benefit 1st generation blacks, in addition to legacy Blacks. She suggests that to the extent that there are “benefits” to being a black immigrant or 1st generation (reinforced identity, and maybe even the advantage that employers might extend to those employees based on myths regarding work ethic, etc), those advantages diminish with each generation born in the US. I guess that’s sort of how I feel; I’m definitely more worried about her racial identity than I was about my own.


      1. All of this is not to say that just because you don’t have a foreign ancestry, you have no culture to pass on to your children. I don’t believe that at all. I just feel like I have something I wanted to pass on to her, but struggle with how to do that effectively. And regardless of which ethnic identity I want to pass on, at the end of the day, I want her to be a proud black woman, period. And I worry that that might be undermined as a result of some of the educational choices we make for her.


  2. When we came out here, having Ahmir and the new baby (who is now two, Amina) taken care of by black folks was a high priority for me. My child had never been in a center; he was taken care of by his grandmothers. But of course, we got out here and we didn’t have that anymore. But I wanted them to have at least what I thought of as the really good parts of my childhood – I grew up in a black community, and went to school until the 6th grade with black kids. I didn’t have any sense of being lesser or even different because of my race – and I am really grateful for that. I do think that racial notions about one’s self grow early, and living in a city where only 2% of the population is black did not suggest to me that positive identifications would be made. I also felt like, for good or for bad, having black caregivers was more like family. We communicated on a similar wavelength, we understood some of the cultural backdrops to our parenting. My former and current caregivers are like aunties to me – they give me so much advice on my parenting because they’ve been where I am, and it’s just like they understand what its like to be a black mother.

    But in the beginning, I had to go out of my way. I drove everyday to the neighboring town, which is where the majority of the black folk live, 15-20 minutes each way. That town is not as safe as somewhere on campus would be, nor was the “quality” of care as good, as judged by NAECY accreditation. It was a small family day care, in a woman’s renovated garage, with five other kids who looked like my kids. But I always knew that my children were loved, that they got positive messages about themselves and were around black people for the majority of their day.

    Now, we have a similar situation. Another black woman, a mother of a friend with school aged kids, takes care of my kids during the day. And she’s just like their grandmother. Amina now has never, except at children’s church, been in the care of someone who is not black. Ahmir does go to a preschool a coupla days a week, where he is in the minority, and it makes me anxious everyday. But living where we live, and now that he’s 4 and needs more stimulation and to be around kids his own age, it’s just an inevitable situation. The great thing about this day care, though, unlike all others on campus, is that it’s not first come first serve. Its associated with the psychology department, and diversity means something. It’s not just him and all white kids – it’s him and 3 other black kids and Asian kids and Jewish kids and white kids, equal mix boy and girl, 36 kids, huge space, 6 teachers (none of whom are black.)

    And maybe because most of my friends, close friends, are black, and they see that. And they are in a playgroup that meets every week of mostly black kids, so maybe these first few years of black-immersion in everyday child care don’t matter as much. And next year, unless by some miracle, they will both be in a center, surrounded by white kids, where they are in the minority, based on what we can afford. But I’ll find a way to make sure they stay in the really diverse program, even if it makes me broke to do it cause I’ll be paying for 2 places at the same time (thank god for financial aid.) But I’m hoping that having this solid foundation of being with black people, surrounded by them really, will instill in them this sense of “culture” that I think black people do have even if we can’t always put our finger right on it. I want it to be a part of their personality, from the music they like to the food they eat to being able to understand black english and just a deep understanding of being black and associating it with the love of their caregivers.


    1. Ooooh, the commute! I loathe a long car ride (especially with a child in the back!), and think having no commute is almost as important as making sure she’s around other black kids! LOL! I’m nervous about leaving her with relatives; I wouldn’t be able to handle being that far away. In any event, the nearest “black community” is North of the city; between the drive (I-95) and the safety issues, it ain’t happenin’.

      I know about your experiences with this pre-school (for Ahmir); it sounds really great, a few hiccups notwithstanding. I wish I could find something like that. We belong to a play group too (I’m pretty sure I stole the name of your playgroup for our–Hullabaloo, right????), but I’m one of only 3 mothers of color in the group, and 1 of us went back to work, so she no longer regularly attends (we meet on Friday afternoons). My other friends of color here don’t have young children.

      I’m not sure I agree that I would automatically feel like I was on the same wavelength re: childcare with other black women. I think I prefer a black caregiver, but I also think I’d do a lot of monitoring; just as much as I would do with a white caregiver.

      Your reference to black culture is interesting; do you really think it’s sort ephemeral? I think it’s tangible; as distinctive as any other culture. So many ways to be black; my knowledge of black American music was seriously lacking before I joined Inspiration, I am more likely to use AAVE to be silly than really express something, and I’m ambivalent about many black American dishes; but I’m stick black! 🙂


  3. So my wish for Kisaye is for her to have the confidence of her mother, the heart of her grandmother and the open-ness of her Tatie Michou…..and all those things will be given to her by the constant attention and the diverse experince we will all create for her. So it’s a Jewish daycare? Cool! Let her go, learn about the culture and when she comes home compare notes….she will know nursery rhymes in 2 languages!…Three if you count English! How nice! Think of the conversation pieces. Both of us have close friends growing up that are Jewish (Anat and Rachel) and what enrichment our lives have had by celebrating and engaging with their families…..we have NEVER forgotten who we are and we have come to appreciate other people and cultures in a ways that many black people do not. There will be many years of reinforcing our culture with Kis….many years….a couple in Jewish daycare is a good thing…espically if she is well cared for which is the most important thing…..
    Growing up we were not always surrounded by people who looked like us…and i think in the teen years we battled with the “am i pretty enough” convo in our heads like all teenagers…..but the diversity of our world and sometimes being the only black person around is what i think make us super strong, well adjusted and able to excel in ANY situation…Let Kis learn the same lessons…

    Great Blog sister…once again!


    1. Thanks, Mich! Do you think it’s possible that our positive experiences with being “the only one” in middle and high school were made possible by the fact that we were so culturally affirmed at home? Our two major caretakers (aside from our parents) were Haitian, lived with us, and loved us like we were their own. We never did daycare, and when we started school, we came home each day to a Haitian meal, Haitian language, and Haitian values. Before moving to Deer Park, we attended a black Catholic elementary school. I think that having this support, especially in our early formative years, was actually what gave us the strength to not only endure being the only ones, but to appreciate other cultures…what do you think?


  4. I was ADAMANT about my son’s early caregivers being people of color. Initially, he was going to stay with an Indo-Trinidadian woman in my building, but because she was full, she recommended a colleague who was an older Black woman, a few buildings away. G was with her from age 4 months until December of last year. Before I got my new job, we decided to have him stay with his Abuela (his father’s stepmother) to save money. She would watch him for free since she is now retired, saving us $600 a month. Then, I got my new job, so we agreed to look for a pre-school, since he is smart and in need of more stimulation. However, we have been struggling finding a place that is convenient and of the quality I require. So now he is staying with his Abuela, learning Spanish, visiting extended family, occasionally going to the gym, and I think this is best for right now. Being that he is in the midst of adjusting to his parents separating, I think it is nice that he has family support during the process.

    As we seek a pre-school, the presence of Black and other ethnic minorities is important to me for the reasons listed above. I think it is important for children of color to start their lives immersed in their home culture, garnering a strong sense of cultural identity, before they begin to interact with the dominant group. Some children cannot help that because they are born into situations where they are the stark minority. But for those of us who can, I think it is certainly our responsibility to ensure that sense of self.


  5. You know, I’m rethinking my knee-jerk conclusion that a caregiver of color is the best. Everybody, except for Michelle and I.Y.A. think a person of color is best, but why? What are the specific reasons we feel this way? And at what point is this preference for a black caregiver subordinate to quality? What happens if the black caregiver will love your child, but your child then starts schools with less vocab words than the other kids? What happens when the identity you carefully constructed for your child starts to unravel when they realize they’re behind? We seem to think black is better, but what about that person’s values and worldview? The expectations they have for your child; thoughts about discipline and structure? I know that black cultural beliefs about the place of a child (better to be seen than heard; no talk-back or sassing) can put a child at a distinct verbal disadvantage; does any of that matter?

    I’ve been re-reading Ferguson’s “Can Schools Narrow the Black-White Test Score Gap,” and thinking about his conclusion that black teachers, particularly high-SES black teachers, are NOT necessarily best for producing gains in verbal or math scores for black students (average for verbal; below average for math). Does data like this suggest we need to reconsider our intuition regarding who cares for, and teaches, our children?


    1. I don’t think that having a Black caregiver gives way to quality. I think we can have both, well, many of us can. I would never sacrifice quality of care simply for race, but there are some things, some nuances about Black people, that I want my son exposed to. With that said, I wouldn’t just put him with any ole Black person. I wanted to put him with a person or people who would hold similar values and world views as I do. I’m rather afro-centric, so it is important TO ME that he be exposed to and cared for by a Black person whose Black experiences mirrored my own and/or what I want imparted upon him in his early development.

      If i had two equally qualified care providers, in licensure, experience, and references, and one was Black and one was White, I’m pretty certain I would choose the Black person. Why? Because I’m Black and considering this person is now responsible as much as, if not more than, I am for raising my child, I want someone as close to me in appearance and style of caregiving as possible.

      Not every Black caregiver has values and views negatively associated with so-called Black child-rearing. Especially those working with agencies. They have protocol and curriculum they are required to adhere to as part of working with the agency. They have rules on discipline, nutrition, teaching, etc. It is also our responsibility as parents to have a close relationship with the caregivers to insure they are providing the type of care we would provide were we caring for our chldren ourselves.

      I wanted my son’s earliest influences to be people of color. Period. I wanted him to have positive exposure to Black family life, traditions, etc. All of my early caregivers were Black and I turned out rather brilliantly, so there are exceptions to all of that data. It was my parental influences and the choices they made for me that led me to where I am today.


  6. ORJ, I think these are really good questions you are asking yourself. To all that has chimed in on this post, I am really glad to have the opportunity for these kinds of conversations with all of you very thoughtful women.

    I have to say that I whole-heartedly agree with the comments made by Michelle. On the other hand, ORJ, I also understand your very legitimate concerns and your wish not to raise your child in an environment where she will be the perpetual “other” and always feel outside of the norm. I also understand your very human desire to pass along your culture (whatever you define it to be) to your child. Therefore, I don’t necessarily think that a black caregiver is “not an ideal choice.”

    To answer some of your questions: I am a recent immigrant (I came to the U.S. at age 14) and until then, all my caregivers, teachers, mentors, etc, had been black (although I didn’t necessarily think of them as “black” at the time). It was great growing up in a homogeneous community where I was “the majority,” I had (and still try to retain) the luxury of thinking of myself as a “human being” first and my “color” as inconsequential to my abilities and aspirations. I also know that some of my uncles and aunts who immigrated to the U.S. for schooling, later went back to our home country, precisely because they wanted to raise their children within the same culture and to give them that same luxury of growing up unhampered by any racial limitations that might be imposed upon them by the nature of racial classification in the U.S. As I come to what I consider to be child-bearing age, I have also begun to ask myself if I must make the same choice. I am still unsure of the answer to that.

    However, I will tell you this. Even when I lived in my home country, my parents didn’t let me run around with just anybody (albeit that everyone was “black”), I was allowed to have friends, but I also spent A LOT of time with my extended family…for example, I owe the fact that I speak and write our native language, not to my private school (where the primary language of instruction was English and we learned our native language as a “foreign language”) but to my grandmother who spent hours teaching it to me. I knew many of my classmates (and some cousins) who can neither read or write our language as a result of private schooling and parents who felt that it would be better to have children who spoke English only (and supposedly without an accent).

    Also, if I am successful in my professional life, it is because my family impressed upon me from an early age that I am “capable.” Since I have been in the U.S., each time I start doubting myself, or start to see myself according to the “lowered expectations” of majority thinking, I remember my grandfather’s high expectations of me. I remember that my grandmother said, “Always do your best.” My firm belief is that whether someone is Legacy black or first generation, negative racial stereotypes only really start to take hold when there aren’t positive affirmations and examples to combat them. Such positive affirmations and building of self-esteem can only primarily come from the family support system, and not any extrinsic institution. There are things you can do to imbue your child with self-confidence: You can buy black dolls for your child, you can read books about extraordinary black people to your daughter, you can discredit the racist stereotypes she might encounter on television, and you can simply tell your child “you are capable” and continue to do so each time she doubts herself. However, you and your husband are the most important living examples for her. Not that I am saying that having a black caregiver would hurt, however.

    Another point: you have to define for yourself what a “proud black woman” means. Is a proud black woman someone that speaks “black English? What is black English? Is Ebonics “more black” than Jamaican patois? Is it “more black” than the “pidgin English” of Nigeria? Are Afro-Costa Ricans or Afro-Cubans not black because some don’t even speak English, but consider Spanish their mother tongue? Is a “proud black person” someone who has “only black friends, eats only “black food” and does only stereotypically-black activities? Don’t get me wrong, I think there are certainly distinct aspects of “black culture” (and I include the whole black diaspora from Africa, to the U.S., to the Caribbeans) but I think we run the risk of limiting ourselves as human beings when we force ourselves to constantly chose what is “black enough.” I, for one, felt very sad for Obama during the primaries when he had to prove his “blackness” before the nation.

    Although life in the U.S. has at times been very difficult for me (“alienating,” “lonely,” and even “dehumanizing” are some words that come to mind), I also feel that it has been a gift to be able to live here and interact and learn from so many other different cultures. Because I was both comfortable in my own skin AND have also learned to be comfortable around people that don’t look like me, I have been able to travel and live in both Europe and Asia without major problems. This is the gift you will give your daughter by exposing her to multi-cultural children, WHILE also affirming her “blackness” and individuality at home. See, the fact is, all cultures have positive and negative facets, and I feel that being exposed to different cultures, I am able to be both more appreciative and critical of my own culture. I can feel proud to continue to indulge in what I realize are very positive aspects of my culture and I can also feel free to reject portions of my culture that I have come to feel are not beneficial to my well-being…thus avoiding stagnation and enabling myself and, hopefully by extension, my culture to grow.

    The Jewish people have something called a “birthright.” I understand that this is controversial because it might imply that the Israeli state belongs to Jews alone to the exclusion of Palestinians…). In any case, the concept is that anyone of Jewish ancestry (there are guidelines) is able to take a free trip to visit the “homeland” (Israel) through the work of various Jewish organizations and donations from Jewish people all over the world. As controversial as this endeavor might seem, I had Jewish friends in college who participated in this and they felt that it really gave them “a sense of self” and of “belonging” to a larger Jewish community that spans the whole world.

    Here comes my controversial idea (a la Marcus Garvey): I think black people of the diaspora could benefit from such a program. I think it would be great to have in place a system and program through which African-Americans, Afro-Latinos, and other blacks scattered around the world, can visit Africa. Africa isn’t perfect, in fact it has A LOT of problems, most of which stem from tribal rivalries and corruption that was exacerbated by colonialism, but I think it has a lot to offer a black person of the diaspora in terms of seeing the many many diverse ways of being “black,” and just the freedom to not be so “self-conscious” of one’s race. I have heard African-Americans like Professor Henry Louis Gates, Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle talk about the “healing” they experienced in Africa, and I am saddened that this seems to be only available to the rich and famous. I really hope this doesn’t come across as “paternalistic” or “condescending”…it is just a thought that came into my head at the moment…I am very open to hearing arguments as to whether this would be a good idea or a bad idea…

    P.S.: I have some more thoughts about Legacy Black versus First Generation Blacks…but that would be too long a comment! 🙂


  7. I think that some of our children are too young to have to deal with being the “other”. Having been the “other” in my mid teens attending a predominantly White boarding school after having attended a predominantly Black and Latino private middle school, I can say I was probably better prepared to deal with the contrasts and the awkwardness as a teen that I probably would have as a pre- or grade-schooler. Some things young children simply don’t understand and when we heap those things onto them so young, we begin to structure their identity around it. It could be good it could be bad. No one can say our children will absolutely feel direct prejudice or bigotry. But that feeling of being different… and the “other” DOES impact them and their development of their sense of self. I felt I was better prepared to deal with the ignorant questions and comments because I’d developed a strong sense of my cultural self and was better prepared to learn more about people from other races/cultures without those experiences being a detriment to my own understanding and appreciation of my heritage.

    I think almost all of us can easily identify the Black kids who were not raised around other Black people. I met many in high school and college and the biggest culture shock for them was being around their own people. There were experiences they didnt have that alienated them from the larger Black community. Those “in the know” often ridiculed them or ostracied them until they found ways to connect or learn more about their history, their cultural traditions, etc. Black does not = ghetto or poor or stupid. I’m in no way saying that and this idea that being Black enough means claiming negative traits. But we cannot deny that there ARE many traditions, values, nuances that are commonly share by Black Americans.

    And there’s the rub.

    We still live in a country rooted in racism, whose branches and leaves are sprung out of that evil. This definitely leads to the discussion of generational Black Americans versus recent immigrants from countries where racism might not have been as much an issues as maybe classism, for example. The experience of Black American slave descendants is vastly different from those first-generation Blacks. Values, traditions, belief systems… all tend to vary. I learned that in college too lol Race doesnt seem to be as big an issue for immigrants, especially those who came to America to improve their lives and those of their children. They don’t readily identify with America’s racist past so maybe they don’t share the passion and convicton that those are us descendants do. Maybe to them having children raised up in strong supportive Black enclaves is not as important and making sure they are being set up for success in education and career in this country.

    Ok I’m done lol


  8. I agree with Benee, which I guess is obvious given what I’ve done with my children. Like Benee, I wouldn’t put my kids with just anyone, regardless of color. But we know that culture has a large impact on young children’s lives. I like that my kids are so culturally affirmed in a city that’s only 2% black. I see how these black kids at this majority white school are faring, and I knew that this is not a place that will affirm them if I don’t make conscious choices about having them surrounded by black folk. And I think we all make decisions for our kids at least partially based on what we had as children. And I also can think of the black people I met in college who didn’t have that experience, and goodness the black folk here at law school – my kids will not be one of them. Because I do think that having those cultural competencies are just as important as having the mainstream competencies. The boost in self-esteem also has an effect on school performance.

    And maybe because I’m into the arts and stuff – I couldn’t imagine my kids not listening to my kind of music or loving the books I love or understanding instinctively how to code switch. And those things can’t be “taught” – they have to be lived. Learning them later in life will always be somewhat forced, not natural.

    If Ahmir starts going to the neighborhood school, and he’s the only black kid in his class…that’s just not an experience I want my five year old to have. At his school now, he still primarily plays with the black kids – they have a natural affinity for each other, just like the asian kids and indian kids. Kids are drawn to each other, and that need doesn’t go away when you put them in a space where they are the only one. At five – no, it’s not something I want to see happen. I’ve thought about moving to Oakland in the last years of my program so I have more options.

    I realize that they will need to be around others, non-black folk, and they get a lot of that. But I think my choices are also reflective of the fact that I hate where I live now, and will never again live in a place like this. Cultural affirmation is very important to me, for my own soul. I feel like it takes my soul on a daily basis to be this much in the minority, to be this much of an other. There is no way I want my kids to go through that.

    They won’t know less vocabulary – you read to them every night. You talk to them, like people, and Ahmir asks me everyday to tell him what something means or what something says. We go to museums and discovery zones on the weekend, or to the beach and aquarium when it gets warm out. They have games and puzzles and make pretend toys to feed their creative sides. We’ve cut down on TV time (just starting this week – it’s been hard on me!) They still have me and their dad. They aren’t missing anything. Just getting a whole lotta cultural blackness everyday….

    Oh and yes, you did steal Hullabaloo! And even those folks we have – very middle, upper-middle class black folk, just so the kids get more than one sense of what “black” means. But I just can’t agree with Benee more – the racism is insidious. I want my children to be successful, but how I define that has a lot more to do with their self-image and self-concept than if they go to the best schools or have the greatest vocabulary.


  9. Whew! Lots to talk about! To be clear, I was not suggesting that having a black caregiver necessarily means a decrease in quality; that would be an absurd assumption. I was asking, however, what the limits were. Assuming you could not find the level of educational quality you wanted, how much would you be willing to give up if it meant that your child had black caregivers?

    I was also trying to get us to be more explicit about what we think black caregivers are giving our children. I agree with I.Y.A. and LaToya that we (parents, and family) are going to be the primary source of affirmations for our children. That being said, what is it SPECIFICALLY that you think a black caregiver is providing, that a white caregiver is not? I’m hearing it’s important for a child to see someone who looks like them (or us, the parents); maybe receive love from another person of color. I’m hearing we don’t want our child to be “the only one,” which is more about daycare, and less about the particular caregiver. Okay; what else? Are these caregivers saying, “you’re black, and you’re wonderful”? Are these caregivers really introducing our children to black music, or teaching them how to code switch? (I, for one, prefer that they NOT be teaching any code-switching. That’s for social interactions; not for educational ones). It’s not that I don’t share the same intuition that you all feel about black caregivers. But I do want to make this plain. What is it, exactly, we’re looking for? If we can’t name it, how can we find it? Are we really even looking for it, or are we assuming things just based on a caregiver’s skin color? Feel free to list it–the 10 things your black caregiver is doing that a white caregiver could not.

    Black folks don’t have the monopoly on loving black folks; in fact, we’ve got all sorts of issues within our own communities about loving ourselves. What happens if your black caregiver happens to prefer the black child with lighter skin and straighter hair? My suggestion is NOT that this is what automatically happens. My question is, though, whether we’re even looking for that. How many hours are we spending with these caregivers? How do we know?

    @Benee, and Toya: who are these people we’re dismissing for not being in touch with their “blackness”? What does that mean? And if they’re culturally out of touch with whatever it is we define to be black, but they’re okay with who they are, isn’t it more our problem than theirs? It might be sort of liberating to be oblivious… 😉

    All this talk of “cultural competencies,” and first generation v. legacies–it makes it clear that there is no one way to be black, and that what we’re talking about is culture, not race. And so, my task isn’t to find a black caregiver; it’s to find a Haitian or Nigerian one. And somebody else’s task is to find a Black Southern caregiver; and the list goes on, and on. As I.Y.A. pointed out, It’s just too simplistic to suggest that a black caregiver is what we want.

    Now that I’m faced with the very distinct possibility of placing my kid in a day care where she will be one of a few (or the only one), I’m thinking of these things very, very hard. Maybe it’s time to find a nanny…


    1. ORJ, my response came about as it did because your initial post about rethinking your stance was loaded with a lot of questions that seemed to cast doubt on a Black provider’s ability to do as good a job in nurturing our children as maybe others. At least it kinda read that way. And IYA’s response also seemed to lean towards viewing it that way.

      You ask what do they have that White providers dont. They are BLACK. And for me, BLACKNESS, in its many manifestations, is very important.

      Yes, he was exposed to Black music… his caregiver was big on gospel and old soul music. I believe, truly, that is a huge part of why my son is such a singer. As you can see in the videos I have posted, he is very into music, singing, his instruments, etc. Granted, his father and I are heavily into music, he spent 10 hours a day with her. Her influence helped.

      Yes, he was exposed to traditional foods that we consume. She was a southern woman who moved up north and my son was able to eat foods that I think represent a large faction of our community.

      Yes, he was exposed to spirituality in the Black tradition. To deny most Black folks experience religion differently than Whites is naive. There was something in her approach and sharing that reminded ME of my days growing up in Black churches; it was warm, exciting, and made my son interested in things like praying before he ate, which I loved. And, he developed a healthy appreciation for gospel music which is essential for me.

      Yes, he was exposed to the celebrations of our traditions. She celebrated Kwanzaa, Juneteenth, and took them to cultural events in the neighborhood. He saw her as another grandmother and called her that. That kinship, the village connectivity, is important to me. The same way I dress him up in outfits made of fabrics and designs from Africa for his birthdays, she kept those kids connected in her own ways.

      “(I, for one, prefer that they NOT be teaching any code-switching. That’s for social interactions; not for educational ones). ”

      ORJ, I have to say, these early years are more about amassing and developing tools for social interaction than academic. Honestly, I think some parents put too much emphasis on academic education rather than social education, which in my opinion and those of many experts, is far more critical at this 0-5 age. The “book learning” will come, but the socialization skills they will need to be successful not only in the school environment, but in life, are developed from 0-5. Kids this age need to learn, from the people they are exposed to the most throughout the day IMO, how to interact with others, manners, appropriate ways to speak and what to say, etc. The verbal and math skills will come, but a kid going into kindergarten who hasnt learned how to share his toys, say “Excuse me” before interrupting an adult, or how to raise his hand to ask to go to the bathroom is all but doomed.

      My son could count to 50, knew the entire alphabet forward (and almost backwards), could spell his first name, could say hello and introduce himself in 3 languages, knew all his colors, even obscure ones, all by 18-24 months. Why? He was born to smart parents, but he also had a caregiver who includes ALL the children, from infants to pre-schoolers, in her lessons. And her lessons were good, given in the comfort of a home with a picture of a Black Jesus on the wall. He formed an attachment to her because she reminded him of his family members, and that bond made him more attentive to what she was teaching. Her recommendations for how I could potty train him, how to cure his gas, aid his toothaches, etc all very old school Black southern grandma stuff that all worked!

      We’re often tempted to be swayed by all of the new statistics and data that come out telling us we should do this, do that, etc. But guess what? We managed to turn out just fine, right? 15 years ago, putting a kid on his back was considered a death sentence. Stomach sleeping was the best thing. 10 years ago, stomach sleeping was the worst and babies should be tucked on their sides. Now, back sleeping is the only recommended way. What? So confusing. Instincts are important, and I trust them. My instincts told me to find a caregiver who most closely mimicked me and thats what I did.

      I’m not worried about his intelligence. Not to toot his horn, but my kids is freaking brilliant. No “my baby can read” mess. No Dr Spock. No data about how putting my son in pink socks is going to confuse his sense of gender identification. Nada.


      1. Thank you!; this is a great list of the things your black provider gave to your child–things, I assume, you don’t believe a white provider could give him. So, my guess is that if a black provider had a picture of a white Jesus up on her wall, only listened to LiteFM, and favored a Mediterranean diet, you wouldn’t have picked them? My guess is also, however, that if you found a Kente-cloth wearin’, Gospel music listenin’, Kwanzaa celebratin’, dozens playin’ white provider, you might still prefer the black provider over the white one. Is that true? If so, can I conclude that at the end of the day, it’s paramount that your caregivers also LOOK like your son? If so, I can understand that. As I mentioned myself, we only hang-up pictures of black people on our walls.

        At the same time, I think your response confirms my sense that we’re talking about culture, and that it really isn’t about “blackness in all its manifestations.” If that were the truth, then the Blacks who perform their race in ways you found distasteful in college would be good enough providers, but they’re not. It’s certainly not my truth; I don’t think I would pick your provider. I’m not really into Gospel music, nor do I expect my provider to instill an understanding of black spirituality in my child. If by traditional foods, you mean soul food, I wouldn’t want my child being fed soul food during the day (I’m a real stickler for food content); I’m more likely to pack her lunch for her. And as for music, I think children are exposed to music with “adult” themes way too early; I prefer nursery rhymes and kid sing-a-longs.

        I don’t disagree that at this age, learning how to socialize is paramount; that is a large part of the education (I do note, however, that you take great pride in all the academic things your child could do by 18-24 months, thanks to his provider!). But I don’t see what that has to do with code-switching. Learning to say “please,” “excuse-me,” and “thank-you” have nothing to do with AAVE. If you can’t speak standard English to my child, you’re not spending 6-8 hours a day with her (let the accusations of elitism begin! LOL!); and I don’t expect a provider to switch back and forth during the day with her either. An interesting twist here, however, is that I would probably not have a problem with a provider speaking to her in Haitian Kreyol. But again, this goes back to culture. Kreyol reflects a part of Haitian culture, so I’m more inclined to pass it along, even if it’s not standard French. We all have to determine which aspects of our culture we want passed to our kids.

        Now, excuse me, but I have to go begin my search for a Kente-cloth wearin,’ Kreyol-speakin,’ LiteFM listenin’ day care provider who will not only limit music to Wee-sing songs, but who is also good enough to teach my child the alphabet…backwards. 😉


  10. Well-said, ORJ!

    Benee, I don’t think anyone here believes that black equals ghetto or poor or stupid.

    While all the moms present would agree that placing your child with a caregiver who looks like you and who espouses your values is IDEAL, Speaking for myself, and I think ORJ would also agree, the important thing is to surround your child with the right people (i.e., people who share your cultural values, belief system and child-rearing vision), regardless of what their skin color might be. As ORJ has pointed out, placing your child with a black caregiver who might have “colorist issues” or “straight hair” issues is WORSE, than placing your child with someone of another color who might nonetheless be able to affirm your child’s blackness and the values you want your child to imbibe.

    I agree with you Benee that it can be traumatic for children to be placed in a situation where they become an “other” very early in life. I had the benefit of growing up with only black caregivers until I was 14, and I can very much understand why a black person (including myself) would want a similar situation for their child.

    However, when such a situation is highly impracticable (i.e., you find yourself leaving in a majority white country or area), there are OTHER ways (as I mentioned in my previous comment) that you can still affirm your child’s “blackness” and ensure that you are able to impart your culture to your child.

    That being said, as ORJ has noted, we have to respect that there are many different ways of being “black.” No one, and no one country has a monopoly on “blackness” (albeit that black people came out of Africa, they can be found in all the countries of the world). As for someone being ridiculed or ostracized for not being “black enough,” children are resilient; if you imbue your child with the self-esteem to stare down any sort of discrimination whether without or within the black community, he or she will still thrive. However, note that most educated, successful, and proud black people do not buy into this “black enough” business. My sister and I attended a predominantly white high school and college before she went on to medical school at an HBC. She was neither ostracized nor ridiculed, in fact she absolutely loved her medical school experience. Within the diversity of black people present there, she was able to find like-minded individuals who became like a second family to her during the stressful years of medical school.

    LaToya, I feel that when you talk about “code-switching” you mean it to only be when someone can switch from “standard” American English to Ebonics. However, there are other kinds of “code-switching,” like switching from Kreyol to English, or switching from a polite but firm manner when dealing with white bureaucracy to a respectful and soft one when dealing with elders in our community.

    LaToya, as your own research suggests, and as other studies have revealed, excellence can be a powerful deterrent to racism. As such, as you remarked, Benee, immigrant families should rightfully place an emphasis on academic/professional achievement. On my first day of law school, one of my professors (a black man), shared with us how he made it as a very poor black boy from Alabama to a professor in California. He gave all credit to his mother, who BELIEVED in him and told him he could excel despite the fact that he was faced with horrible institutional racism. He told us that his mother was the kind of person who if he told her “Mom, I’m planning on climbing Mt. Everest tomorrow.” She would say, “Ok, dear. Please take a sweater.” Note that she didn’t say “Black people don’t climb mountains.”

    Further, there is no reason that academic or professional excellence should come at an expense to your culture or “blackness.” The black-white educational gap that ORJ talked about is very real. Sadly, some researchers have attributed the achievement gap to such phenomenon as “stereotype threat” (Black students who don’t do well on academic tests because they buy into or let themselves be bogged down by stereotypes of the intellectual capability of black people) to “acting white,” black students who suffer from “academic disambuguity or disidentification” (learning not to value education) because they are in an environment where they are being fed messages that to do well in school is to “act white.” These studies show that the most successful students are the ones who are able to maintain a “racial/ethnic identity” without subscribing to any of the “limiting” values that their commnunity or the institution would seek to place upon them. Of course, there are other studies that also seek to disprove the above-named phenomena, but there is concrete evidence (see the work of Claude Steele, Joshua Aronson, Brenda Major, Jennifer Crocker) that they exist.

    I agree with you ORJ that your task is to find a caregiver that espouses your cultural values, child-rearing beliefs, and the vision of the world you want to impart to your child (for example: do you want your child to live in an “enclave” or a multi-cultural space?) And it might be that for you to accomplish your task, you have to find a caregiver that is Nigerian or Haitian.

    In terms of finding a nanny, do you still have relatives that live in Haiti or Nigeria? One method might be sponsor one of them for a green card to come to the U.S. You assume financial responsibility for them in exchange for them providing care for your child at home. Of course, you would still have to vet the person as you would any nanny to make sure they conform with your ideas etc. Other than sponsoring a relative, there are also other ways you can employ a Haitian or Nigerian nanny. For example, some immigrant families have grandmas who are retired but who are still active and who would enjoy caring for a child. Good luck, ORJ! 🙂


    1. “the important thing is to surround your child with the right people (i.e., people who share your cultural values, belief system and child-rearing vision), regardless of what their skin color might be.”

      I agree and I believe there aren’t many non-Black or Afro-Latino people alive who fit these criteria.

      “However, when such a situation is highly impracticable (i.e., you find yourself leaving in a majority white country or area), there are OTHER ways (as I mentioned in my previous comment) that you can still affirm your child’s “blackness” and ensure that you are able to impart your culture to your child. ”

      I agree with your last statement here, definitely. I just want to say, I’d never have my child in a majority White area. Again, these are MY values and its important that my child(ren) be raised where they are part of the majority. It’s the choice I made before becoming a parent, so I know I wont find myself in that situation. I am doing my part to prevent this from even being an issue.

      “LaToya, I feel that when you talk about “code-switching” you mean it to only be when someone can switch from “standard” American English to Ebonics.”

      I dont think what she meant was as simple as this. Let me say, the earlier talk of Ebonics is what led me to bring up the Black = ghetto thing. “Ebonics” or this idea of it, is the most ridiculous bullsh*t I’ve encountered as related to labeling the behavior of Black folks. So when people talk about it, I get rubbed the wrong way. I own that lol

      Code switching goes WAY beyond the words people say. It is about how we carry ourselves when we are in close, intimate, familiar company, versus how we carry ourselves in the world. For some, there is no difference. But for most, there is and when you add things like race and sex into the mix, things change a LOT. We know how conversations in barbershops dont take place in boardrooms. We know how conversations after church service in the fellowship hall do not take place on campus. We learn to navigate the social circles we are in based on the comfortable things that connect us to those circles.

      There is a sense that certain discussions and topics should be or will be discussed more candidly “in house”. I want my son to know what that means. I want him to know that he can’t leave his house without his ID because of the racist cops that patrol our neighborhoods but at the same time I want him to respect the authority of police. Talk about a difficult lesson…


  11. “So, my guess is that if a black provider had a picture of a white Jesus up on her wall, only listened to LiteFM, and favored a Mediterranean diet, you wouldn’t have picked them?”

    Nope. But I spoke on that earlier. That its not just the Blackness, but the Blackness that mostly closely alligned with mine. I wanted his experience to be connected between me and her, more similar than dissimilar.

    “My guess is also, however, that if you found a Kente-cloth wearin’, Gospel music listenin’, Kwanzaa celebratin’, dozens playin’ white provider, you might still prefer the black provider over the white one.”

    Yes because I wouldnt believe in its authenticity and Im leery of White people who present in such ways. In my opinion, there is a mockery or imitation, maybe ingraind or subconsciously, of Blackness. I like my White people to be White lol And, again, the connection to ME is important. Its also why I chose a female instead of a male.

    “If that were the truth, then the Blacks who perform their race in ways you found distasteful in college would be good enough providers, but they’re not”

    Not sure whom you are referring to. I mentioned Black folks who one could tell were not raised around other Black people, but I stated no opinion about them. I merely said they were easily identifiable.

    “If by traditional foods, you mean soul food, I wouldn’t want my child being fed soul food during the day (I’m a real stickler for food content). And as for music, I think children are exposed to music with “adult” themes way too early; I prefer nursery rhymes and kid sing-a-longs. ”

    The beauty of this is that you are allowed to do what you want with your child, as is each of us. We each have to decide whats most important for our children and go with it. My son is being raised on Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Rakim, Wu Tang Clan and others. That’s “classical” music to us. He also is addicted to the Noggin channel, so he gets his kiddie thing in too. As far as the foods, call it soul food if you like, but she cooked healthy meals (according to the Food Program that dictated what she needed to serve and what quantities), but it had “flava” to it. She cooked like I cook.And my baby is healthy (albeit a little underweight) and happy.

    So what you will have to do is decide whats important TO YOU and go with it. You can try to deconstruct what I, or others, might prefer for our children until the cows come home, but in the end, its not about what we do with our kids. Everyone’s style an ideas will be different. Some folks breastfeed, some bottle feed. Some vaccinate, some don’t. Some put babies on their stomachs, some put them on their backs. And, you’ll find, sometimes people wont have reasons or explanations for what they do that will satisfy you. in fact, they may make you think “I would NEVER do that with my kid”. But, it makes for diverse children and experiences as Cocoamamas.


    1. Music is such a big deal…I owe my children’s knowledge of Michael to my current caregiver! Never would of got that from a white person I just know it in my bones…..


      1. Music is essential!!! Garvey has his favorite songs:

        “Sunkin about a baybay” = In The Closet by MJ
        “Coffe” = Starfish and Coffee by Prince
        Remember the Time by MJ
        “Guitar” = Black or White by MJ
        “Drum Song” = Here I Come by The Roots
        “The One Song” = Kiss The Ring by Wu Tang

        And he must play along (unless we are in the car), so he plays his drums, keyboard, harmonic, guitar, or pics up an imaginary microphone and sings. And I couldnt ask for anything more. Maybe he’ll grow up and be a great musician or performer. Who knows? I’m just enjoying watching him, without pushing him too hard, yanno?

        I’m ecclectic in my music choices (I have a huge catalog of music by non-Black performers) but I zero in on R&B and Hip-hop because of the syncopation in the drum beats, which have been proven to improve math skills. The patterns, the rhythms, get children used to operating as such and we all know grade school is nothing but repeating patterns and getting into rhythms. The kiddie songs are cool too, especially groups like The Fresh Beats. But some of those old nursery rhymes have ugly histories to them.


  12. I disagree that this is more about “culture” in the anthropological sense than race. The importance of my kids being around primarily black folk in these early years is directly tied to blackness as lower status on the racial hierarchy – but having a strong sense of who they are and where they come from, both culturally and racially, they will be better able to withstand the constraints of the dominant racial ideology.

    I never wanted them to be in this majority white area. As I said before, I hate it with a extremely strong passion. I’ve never lived in a place like this. And I never will again. Here, I’m looked at as an other. I notice it at the airport, how people spend more time looking at me, like I’m an alien. Contrast when I touch down in Philly, and I’m just another black girl. That feeling of otherness, of difference, is not neutral, its not simply you are not one of us as a neutral idea. Instead its value laden – because you are different, you are less than. I’m constantly being questioned, examined and evaluated. If this is happening to me, having this effect on me, a grown-ass woman, what might this be like for my children? What is it like for the little 5 year old girls I know who ask why am I brown? Again, not in a neutral way, simply acknowledging their difference, but with the value attached to it, like why am I brown…and not white, like everyone else?

    I will never live in a place like this again. Ever. Like Benee, it’s just one of my values. Some people don’t get it, they look at me like I’m crazy, like it’s not that deep. But it is that deep for me. I’m willing to go back to the cold of the East Coast to get out of this lily-whiteness. I go days without seeing black folk. Never again.

    Part of this debate, if I can venture a guess about why we might be thinking differently about this, is due to our immigrant v. slave-descent status, but maybe also just how we see the state of race and racism in America. I think we live in an extremely racist society. I think race is the central organizing principal of our country, of our world. I think we need to do everything in our power to make our children aware of the racial hierarchy, but then give them the tools to not internalize it, but to actively resist it. I think mass incarceration is just 21st century slavery. I think the black middle class is fooling itself into thinking its better off than the rest of black folk. I think it’s chasing after the white Jones but its really just on a hampster’s wheel.

    I didn’t always believe it, but the more research I do into the state of black America and the attitudes and beliefs of white America, the more convinced I become. When I sit in law classes and hear what comes out of these supposed liberal mouths, I know. When I read books like NurtureShock and Race on the Schoolyard and The First R, I know that white kids are getting a message about their race, and that message is that white is right. Who do we think they are getting that message from? Even if its unconscious, just a byproduct of the reality of the racial hierarchy – and I’m going to put MY kids with a white caregiver?

    But yet they do need to know how to interact, they do need to know how to get along in the world, so the exposure is selective. Code switching is about much more than language – it’s a way of being, holding oneself – how Obama can go to the courts in the hood and hold a meeting in the Oval Office, moving between multiple worlds. Being able to do that well, and do it consciously and expertly I think requires a facility that is learned in childhood. People who attempt to learn it at a later age can do it, but it never acquires the natural feel of those who have lived that way since they were kids. And I think it’s a crucial skill for us to get into positions of power and change the world. One of the reasons I think I am able to be as successful as I am despite my myriad of personal failings and flaws is my ability to fit wherever I go.

    And as a last thought – I absolutely agree with Benee – parents of young children are putting way too much emphasis on all the academic stuff. Give your child room to play and they will learn so much. Read to them. Let them watch a little Nick Jr. Play music and watch videos. Sing to them. Allow them to color and paint. Get creative toys where they can make pretend. We don’t do anything “special” except for Ahmir does preschool 2 afternoons a week. And there he plays outside the whole 3 hours, getting dirty. I’ve thought about some extra stuff – piano lessons, gymnastics, etc. But I don’t have the time or money for that. And besides, there is time for all of that.

    Other than that, they play, and read, and create with the space we give them for that. The day is up to them. Ahmir already knows the sounds all the letters make. Why? Cause we read a lot of books every day. And Amina knows all her colors. Why? Cause she colors a lot on white paper and plays with playdoh. But neither of their caregivers went to college. They read to them and play with them and talk to them they way their grandmother would. They speak the way they speak, which is not always standard English, which is heavily accented from Ghana for their first caregiver and from Texas for the second. When Ahmir’s talkng with her, he’s talking one way. When he’s with me, I’ll correct him. He’s learning codeswitching. When he’s old enough, I want him to understand that one way is not more “right” than another, but just one has been deemed more right by the powers that be.


    1. “I’ve thought about some extra stuff – piano lessons, gymnastics, etc. But I don’t have the time or money for that. And besides, there is time for all of that.”

      There is. The main reason I enrolled G was because I wanted him to have exposure to different people. I realized he had not had any significant contact with non-Black or Latino people. All of his friends and family are Black and Latino. I wanted him to step out of his comfort zone and mingle with other people, without feeling pressure that might come with the school setting, for example. The gymnastics class, and now his sports training class, were the perfect places for that. Luckily it is affordable and accessible. He has a White coach who shows him a positive example of the good people in the world. I’m glad he is being exposed to that and that was me taking a responsible approach to not totally segregate my son. I did so because I challenged other White parents to do it, so I couldnt be a hypocrite.

      As a boy, he also has a ridiculous amount of energy and I needed to find him an outlet.


  13. The funny thing about using Obama as an example of code-switching is that he was raised by 3 white people, in Hawaii! To the extent that he authentically switches, his story about his own life suggests this was learned later in life. Moreover, as I.Y.A. mentioned, his authenticity as a black man was questioned by some within our own community; so much for being able to code-switch expertly.

    I completely agree that education at the early stages IS about free play; arts and music, running around, reading, etc. You can all stop worrying; nobody over here is drilling the baby on her multiplication tables. I do draw the line, however, at videos and TV. I don’t think young children should watch it, whether it’s on Noggin or not. Music is also more complicated than I suggested in my earlier post. I remember listening to the Jackson 5 as a child; it was one of my earliest memories of music (that, and The Sound of Music, both on old school albums! LOL!). We spend a lot of time screening; we no longer play music in the house that uses languages or themes we don’t think is appropriate for children, and that doesn’t necessarily mean cuss words; I think it’s unhealthy for kids to always be singing about impossible and unrealistic visions of love. But I don’t have a problem with Bob Marley, with Tracy Chapman, with Talib Kweli, with John Mayer, even though they tackle adults themes, and use the occasional “bad word.” We’re always screening it; always thinking about it. Like Benee said, we all make different choices for our kids.

    I think we have to be careful about the amount of hostility we develop towards Whites. I agree with LaToya; it’s a racist society; the very success of the United States is based on subordination of people of color. I agree white kids are getting messages of dominance from the very start, and it affects them (and us) for the rest of their (our) lives; indeed, I think that was the best argument presented since this conversation started about not putting our children in the hands of a white caregivers. But I can’t internalize all the s#!t that’s put on me. It’ll make me angry; it’ll make me sick; it’ll make me die. How unfortunate to make snap judgements based on color, the way Whites do about me. Do you really feel it “in your bones” that a white caregiver couldn’t appreciate Michael Jackson? Really? Or that a white person couldn’t sincerely appreciate black culture–even consider it their culture if they were raised around black people? I’m not gonna become my oppressor, and I’m not gonna walk around suspicious all of the time. I know Whites are indoctrinated with racist ideology, even when they try and reject it. But I’m not gonna let myself be indoctrinated by it, too. I try to see everyone as who they are; human beings with flaws, living in the same crazy world that I am.

    Finally, I’m not sure what you mean, Toya, when you say that middle-class folks are fooling themselves. Like it or not, there are privileges with having attained “middle-class” status, even as people of color. It would be offensive to people who are really struggling if I weren’t willing to acknowledge some of the privilege I’ve been afforded as a person benefitting from being middle class–in terms of both finances, and cultural capital. Struggling is not getting the time to blog about how racist the world is; it’s not having so much choice that hand-wringing over caregivers is even possible; it’s not having the option of eventually leaving an area you find distasteful because of the lack of diversity. Struggling is not experiencing lean years while pursuing our degrees, guaranteed to be able to use those degrees to afford our families a minimum level of comfort and opportunity later. Yes, I’m black; yes, my daughter is black; yes, that fact makes life difficult in ways that it shouldn’t. But we are not fooling ourselves to acknowledge that even that difficulty pales in comparison to what people of color without any choices, many of them poor, are dealing with.


    1. I dont think its a hostility for me, but rather a preference.

      Truth of the matter is, I dont think about White people (as a group) a whole lot. Maybe because I’m so focused on raising a proud, beautiful Black child, that I dont have the time to be angry or hostile towards them. I’ll speak on matters like this in forums like this, but thats about it lol I’m spending too much time being loving and supportive of him. And in the love and support that I think is fundamental for his early development, it is important that he be primarily surrounded by positive Black and afro-Latino influences, so he grows up believing in the positivity of his people and has many role models and sources of support within his community, his heritage, etc.


    2. Okay, this is my last post for the day…no, really! (I think I’ve posted during every one of the baby’s naps!). It occurs to me that if we believe so strongly in a dominant racial ideology, why are we assuming that we (as people of color) are necessarily immune to it? This goes back to my comment earlier about a black caregiver preferring lighter-skinned children. What are the ways in which we insulate ourselves from this damaging ideology? CAN we insulate ourselves if we choose to live in this country? And is it smart to conclude that black caregivers will generally be more immune to it than white caregivers?


      1. Not it is not smart. It DOES happen. But remember, a person being Black, for me, is important, but it doesnt end there. Again, I say, their Blackness has to be similar to mine. As with all research we do to find caregivers, we gave to think about that. It is somewhat of a baseline. Then I have to investigate everything else.


  14. A couple of things –

    I’m not hostile towards whites, but I am very hostile towards racism. And I’m pretty hostile towards classism. I don’t think a white person could not appreciate Micheal Jackson, but I don’t think they would have exposed my children to his music the way my black caregiver did. For her, it was natural to play his music while she washed the dishes. I don’t think it would have been the same for a white caregiver.

    I do think one needs to be careful about the racism that permeates us all. It’s weird because my children are lightskinned and have what we call “good” hair, so I admit that we are on the privileged side of colorism. I make sure I buy black dolls that are darker than my kids so they don’t develop a superiority complex about their color; Amina constantly tells me how pretty my dreadlocked hair is. But I would be careful about a black caregiver that expressed a preference for lightskinned children or spoke about “good” hair. Indeed, I would not have them around my children.

    I agree that Obama is not universally thought to be a good code-switcher, but I think he’s a pro and despite the critique, his position is a bit of evidence of his ability to fit where he goes. He was raised by 3 white people, but he was also in Hawaii and Indonesia, around people of color, going in and out of brown and white worlds, different worlds.

    I think middle class blacks are fooling themselves in thinking that things are all good in the age of Obama, the age of so-called colorblindness. I meet so many middle class blacks who truly believe that the world is their child’s oyster, that race is no longer an issue, that their children no longer even need to know they are black, that’s how colorblind the world has become as evidenced by Obama’s presidency. That’s why I think many middle class blacks are fooling themselves into thinking we’ve entered a racial utopia.


  15. LaToya, I commend you on the proactive steps you have taken to ensure that your children do not develop “colorist” or “good hair” issues which are really just offshoots of racism planted in the black community via slavery and colonialism.

    I think it is important, however, that you do not overgeneralize about middle-class black people (or even first generation black immigrants as some other comments have). I don’t think that all black middle-class people are so naive as to believe that we have entered a color-blind utopia. While there are some black people (as well as some white people) who would chose to espouse this belief, in my experience, most middle-class black people (and progressive white people) are fully aware of the racist history of the U.S. and its still-prevalent legacies. However, as ORJ has noted, there is a very significant difference between being cognizant of racism and being consumed by it.

    While the system might try to force us to live in black and white worlds, I think (and as ORJ has mentioned) it is important that we recognize that there are also many shades of gray. For example, the Civil Rights movement was spear-headed by many middle-class black people such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Sparks; and they were also joined by some middle-class white and Jewish people. Latoya, as a JD/PhD candidate at an eminent university, I would consider you a middle-class black person, yet I think you would argue that you have neither lost your “blackness” nor are you now oblivious to racism. I think we have to be very careful not to assume that the acquisition of any sort of privilege by minorities necessarily means the abuse of said privilege or the loss of identity.

    LaToya, I’m a little puzzled by the way you explain away the Obama conundrum (as I and ORJ both pointed out). You seem to claim that Obama is an excellent “code-switcher” because he moved in and out of two worlds; specifically brown and white worlds. There aren’t many black people in either Hawaii or Indonesia. Doesn’t that belie yours and Benee’s arguments that you have to constantly put your child in “black only” environments for them to be “black enough?” or to be able to “code-switch?” Also, you mention that this discussion has to more to do with race than with culture. However, while you note that you would feel comfortable in Philadelphia as “just another black girl,” would you feel as equally comfortable in Accra, Ghana, where you would also be just another black girl?

    I will posit that the fact that Obama is a great “code switcher” has more to do with culture than with race. I believe that Obama learned his “code-switching” at Columbia and Harvard. When you are dealing with people in positions of power, you necessarily have to learn their language; which is a language of privilege and class. However, this did not mean that Obama abandoned his working class or middle class roots, as a result of how he grew up and his education, he is able to talk to all kinds of people. Michelle Obama came from working class origins but by virtue of her education at both Princeton and Harvard she is now firmly in the middle-class bracket. However, she is using her privilege to help; currently she is targeting childhood obesity, a disease that arguably disproportionately affects the working class and the poor who do not have access to expensive organic or healthy foods.

    In terms of first generation black immigrants, I understand that we do not carry with us the same legacy of slavery and the many generations of brutality and discrimination (we had colonialism which pales in comparison), however, this does not make us oblivious or immune to racism.

    Just last night, I went to a movie theatre where you can pick your seating from a computer screen. I chose a seat with an empty seat to the left of it because I do not like to sit next to strangers in the dark. I was seated with my friend when a white woman came in with her husband looking for her seat. She found it, and when she saw me, her face changed. She looked at me like I was a fly in her drink. Albeit that an empty seat separated us, she was now no longer happy with her choice of seating. Now, of course I can’t tell for sure that this was racism, maybe she was having a bad day, maybe she thought she had picked a better seat than she actually got, I don’t know. All I know was that she looked at me in a way that I think no human being should ever be looked at.

    Now, as victimized, as psychically assaulted as her look made me feel, I still had the power to decide how I was going to react to it. I could have said something nasty or smart, in fact a sarcastic remark was just on the tip of my tongue, but I chose not to. Assuming this was racial, by expressing any hostility towards her, I would only have been confirming any stereotypes she had about black people. Note that I also realize that this might have been more difficult for a younger black person to do or that someone who experiences something like this on a frequent basis might not be able to turn the other cheek forever.

    Benee, I don’t think there is anything wrong with you preferring the company of people who are “black like you.” However, the hostility towards white people (and also first generation black immigrants) that ORJ spoke about does happen in our community. As a law student, I witnessed an immigrant black African woman be subtly ostracized by the black American student group; somehow her name was never added onto the mailing list (although she inquired several times) and I had to tell her when the meetings were being held as she never got the messages. I realize that this a legacy of slavery, a direct result of the colonization of Africa and the forced degradation/denial of African pride and the greater African community that occurred when black Americans were taken out of Africa as slaves.

    There was another incident that played out on the bus which saddens me till today. I like to sit in the front of the bus so I can read (I get car-sick if I sit anywhere else). I was seated next to a black woman and an Asian girl. I am immersed in my book when I hear someone yell “Sit Down!” “Don’t you give up your seat for her!” I look up and I realize that an elderly white woman had come on to the bus and the Asian girl to my right had attempted to give up her seat for her. The Asian girl had turned completely red, and the whole bus was quietly listening as the elderly black woman went into a tirade against white people. Now, this was a moment laden with history. Even as a non-legacy black person, I understood what was happening here. The black woman might have been old enough to live through the days when black people were forced to sit in the back of the bus; she might have witnessed or heard stories of relatives being humiliated by being forced to give up their seats to white people. I might not have experienced her pain, but I did understand it. I felt for her, and I wanted to reach out to her but I did not know how. I also realized that at that moment, because of trauma and pain was manifesting itself as hostility, many people on the bus were seeing her as the “bad person.”

    Please note that none of these examples are meant to discredit the very real institutionalized racism that black Americans face every day and have faced for many generations. Nor would I deny that there are first generation immigrant blacks who are prejudiced against black Americans. It is merely meant to illustrate that “ALL” of us do need to be conscious of and actively combat the racism that permeates us.


  16. Yes, IYA,I do realize the shades of gray, and do know that many middle class black do not see a racial utopia. I interview them and many of them are my friends, and we talk about race all the time! I was speaking in too much of a generalization earlier.

    The Obama thing is also more complicated. I think that code-switching is not possible unless one has a solid base from which to switch. That’s my point. The literature shows that having a personality that is able to codeswitch is most naturally learned in childhood, not in college or later in life. So I disagree that the Obamas learned it in college or later in life.

    I also don’t think I said that becoming middle class meant a loss of self. I also don’t believe that becoming middle class is simply due to degrees or even income. That is part of it, but not all of it. I study culture from a sociological standpoint, and much of class as I see it is about lifestyle, about worldview, about rituals of daily life, about intangibles that cannot be ascertained simply through what degrees one has or how much money one makes. I also believe that how one grows up shapes how one lives as an adult, even if one moves to the middle class by virtue of education, income and occupation. So yes, while we are on our way, I hold many working class attributes that don’t go away. Also, as a grad student, I surely don’t have working class money, which constrains many of the things that we would be able to do if we were “really” middle class.

    I also agree that we shouldn’t allow racism to consume us. But I study it, and my goal is to understand it. I suppose that as a scholar, that is what I do, and the risk that I take. Sometimes I get too angry, which is problematic because I can’t fight violence with violence – that is counterproductive. But I am consumed with racism, but I don’t consider that to be a bad thing. It’s what I study, its what I find fascinating, its what I’m basing my career on. And not only do I study race, I study race and parenting! And racism and parenting. So while it may seem that I am consumed by something that is unhealthy, my goal is really understanding and analysis, for both my own good and the good of others. I recognize that racism is the same evil of ego that has permeated this world forever. And I try to take my ego out of it as often as I can. Sometimes I am successful, most times I am not. But I’m aware.


    1. I’m curious; when I think about your lifestyle, your worldview, your rituals of daily life, and even your experiences growing up (those that I know about, anyway), I consider you squarely middle-class. What working class attributes would you say you have?


  17. Hmm…well I was definitely raised working class. Neither of my parents had degrees when I was growing up not owned their home and had both had working class occupations (machinest and home day care.) Using what Lareau identifies in Unequal Childhoods, my parents raised us according to principles of Natural Development. We were not involved in many activitea, but rather played in the driveway with the neighborhood kids. My parents deferred to the educational system to do what it was supposed to do, and rarely intervened in it on our behalf. If a teacher said we did wrong, that was accepted, no matter what our side of the story was. I remember my brother getting suspended from school for fighting, but I knew the fight wasn’t his fault from what I heard at school. But my parents didn’t care; all that mattered was the suspension. We were beaten with belts as punishment.

    Some of these things I’ve carried with me into my parenting. I don’t beat my kids with belts, never ever will, but I do have a wooden spoon that I use on their hands occaisionally. I am more of a natural developer than concerted cultivator; my children engage in a lot of play rather than organized activities and I plan to keep it that way. I do believe that schhols should do their jobs, which is to educate children. I don’t think that parents should have to be super involved in their kids schooling for kids to do well; that is just ridiculous in my view.

    But of course due to my education, there are things I’ve changed from working class to middle class. My eating habits. I know that I can’t leave everything up to the school or else I run the risk of looking like a parent that doesn’t care and that may put my kids at risk. I don’t beat my kids in the traditional way. I encourage them to challenge me and we talk through disagreements a lot more than I did with my parents when I was a child. That probably reflects the fact that I felt silenced as a kid and it drove me crazy and I don’t want my kids to fell that way. In many ways then, I fell like a hybrid, rather than completely one class or the other. Somethings fell more natural than others. Physical punishment actual feels natural, but the extent of belts does not. Talking through disagreement feels natural, but doing a lot of activities does not.


    1. Now, this is really interesting, because you have some of the markers, but not really all the way. Your parents weren’t college educated, but if I remember correctly, one of your parents was academically prepared to go, and intended on going, until life threw a curveball, right? And you didn’t own the home, but you lived IN a home, which, if I remember correctly, was completely owned by your grandmother, no? Those things signal middle-class cultural capital, if not middle-class finances. I haven’t read Lareau, but the factors he uses don’t seem all that convincing. My mother enrolled us in things like tap, ballet, and twirling, but because she wanted to give us an opportunity to express ourselves in ways that she wasn’t allowed to growing up. And despite those activities, a lot of our play time was spent playing together in the house, or on the block with other kids. And my parents were fairly deferential to school authorities; they both grew up in cultures where you were not expected to EVER misbehave in school. As far as talking back or talking through disagreements, there was none of that until we were really much older. But it would be completely disingenuous to suggest that we were working class. Hmmmm….I don’t know LaToya; I think you might have to hand in your working-class membership card. LOL!


  18. Outside of parenting, you’ve seen my horrible actions with money; I generally live paycheck to paycheck. Even when I was making over $100,000 a year in NYC, I couldn’t delay my gratification and had a hard time making ends meet. It’s only been recently that I’ve had a major shift in thinking about money, and that shift hasn’t even been about delayed gratification as much as it’s been about my lack of need for material things. My musical tastes are pretty base; I was allowed to listen to popular radio and I still do. I find my head nodding to the worse stuff, things that my more middle class counterparts seem to find vulgar and wrong. I watch an insane amount of tv, and my kids too; my middle class parent friends are mortified. I grew up with tvs in all rooms, including bedrooms. We just recently put a tv in our bedromm and I love it.

    As much as I hate to admit it for other reasons, the reason I think I’m here is that I am naturally brighter, smarter than other folk. I was labeled mentally gifted at 5, skipped a grade at six, placed in a mixed grade classroom for second grade and have always been in advanced classes even at my advanced school. But I generally don’t have to work hard to do well. So my working class habits don’t hurt me. I am an anamoly in my family. Many things I have reproduced, like being pregnant before getting married or owning a home. My intelligence and luck of having somebody recognize it has “saved” me and led to social mobility.


    1. LOL at your television comments, LaToya. It reminds me of the website profile of a sociology professor that I was recently reading (Shamus Khan). I was raised with only one television in the house but I don’t think that was a middle class marker where I grew up. There were only two stations to watch…so television wasn’t really a big draw, except for on Sunday when there were American movies on (I watched “My Fair Lady” and “Gigi” more times than I care to remember). In fact, it was the truly rich/upper class who watched the most television, as they could afford to install a satellite dish to receive many channels.

      My boyfriend and I have already started having conversations about the fact that I only want one (hidden) television in the house. My desire doesn’t stem from any kind of class snobbery, but from the fact that I am appalled by some of the things I have seen on television. I currently do not own a television, and while I will watch some shows online, I feel (as a benefit of my education)that I am able to sociologically dissect the shows before I digest them. I don’t know that a child is able to do that. And sadly, there are many racist, sexist, and other undesirable messages that are being fed us through the television.

      As for your use of corporal punishment, I think that is “cultural” rather than a class thing. I plan to incorporate some form of corporal punishment (in addition to a rewards system and reasoning) in my future child’s upbringing because I believe that it is important for children to understand that there are negative consequences for misbehavior. I don’t think a 3 or 4 year old is able to understand this concept through “reasoning” or “time-outs” alone.

      I also don’t think your “horrible actions” with money take you out of the middle class…you aren’t bankrupt from credit card debt, which unfortunately, is a problem that afflicts much of the American middle class…

      And ORJ, don’t get me started on “the passes!”…perhaps one of you needs to write a blog post about that?


  19. I am not a mother, but in the end I realize that your child (as we all did) will learn to navigate the world as a racial subject. For example, for all the beautiful women of color in my preschool (Black, Asian, Latina), I learned the words ‘chink’ and ‘monkey’ from a White relative in our home.

    Whether preschool or middle school, your child will see through these experiences because you will give her a base upon which to build. No matter what they are exposed to in “their” schools when “our” schools are not always available to us…your home is always a school. While my mother was never well-verses in the political history that I can today give youth, she raised me to think I was beautiful. I truly believe that self-love underlied all things and helped me navigate White supremacist society…

    Granted she also taught me certain histories, cultural knowledge, and then eventually moved me to the Philippines because she wanted me to know where I cam from…hmm.


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