Written by new CocoaMamas contributor Mikila. Welcome her to CocoaMamas!
I recently read an entry regarding children of privilege. The writer discussed an issue one of her friends was having with her daughter’s growing attitude toward clothing and items of luxury. The mother of this entry felt her daughter had an unhealthy reaction to her parent’s ability to buy her things. I too am concerned about my children but I worry about the opposite effect of mine and my husband’s success.
Both my husband and I grew up in very humble beginnings, and worked extremely hard to have a better life than our mothers.’ I constantly wonder that if I over indulge my children will they become selfish and self-centered individuals, or will they reject their comfortable lives altogether out of guilt like some my college classmates did.
Years ago, there a was a Cosby Show episode where Vanessa (played by actress Tempest Bledsoe) was embarrassed that she was rich, all to be informed by her dad Cliff that she need not worry. He sternly informed her that she wasn’t rich, but that he and her mother were. I remember watching that episode and thinking, “Is this a joke, I wish my parents were professionals like Claire and Cliff.”
I grew up in the Hamptons on Long Island, NY and was often embarrassed that my mother was on Section 8, while my friends drove themselves to school (many in BMWs and Land Rovers). I used to wonder what it would be like to live in house where bills were paid, and I didn’t have to work to make extra money to help my mother buy food. It wasn’t until I went to college that I met people who lived on the other side wishing they were me. I am sure many of you think this is silly and most wealthy black kids don’t wish they were poor, but I have met many who acted exactly like Vanessa Huxtable for the entire 4 years that I knew them.
When I was in undergrad, I remember a lot of my black classmates trying very hard to act like they were poor kids from the ghetto, when in reality they were the children of wealthy professionals. They entered school one way and left pretending to be another. These children of privilege denied their lives in an effort to embrace some fantasy world of black poverty they somehow deified. As the daughter of a mother who worked 2 sometimes 3 jobs, while trying to get 1 degree I loathed the acts of disgrace my peers displayed for 4 years. Their parents had studied and worked hard to create this life that they pretended never existed. I often watched on the sidelines wondering what they saw that was so great. I wished to be in their shoes, and they were pretending to be in mine.
What is it about pretending we enjoy so much? Why is it that other ethnic groups strive for success and often “fake it till they make it,” while black children of wealth try to pretend to come from less out of some false guilt that they cannot not save all the black kids from the ghetto. I’ve spent my whole life creating what I believe is a life of comfort, and now I toil over how to raise well balanced children who contribute to society. They are not pretending just yet, but in time they will encounter people who will either try to make being poor cool, or make them feel guilty about their parent’s status. These kids will not even realize they are offending the very people they long to imitate.
Thinking back to my years in undergrad, I realize what may have been missing with some of those kids. I realize most of them were never exposed to the “poor” children from the projects and felt pretending to be them would connect them to roots they feel were ripped away from them with their parent’s success. Somehow in an effort to protect them, their parents had completely removed them from a society that lacked money, but many times had wealth of culture.
I now strive to expose my children to many different cultures and ethnic groups, while letting them embrace their Caribbean-American heritage. I want them to be down to earth individuals who are thankful, yet kind to others no matter where they are from. I also hope they don’t wish they are someone else, and just try to be the best of themselves that they can be.
Mikila is a 35 year-old mother of 2 beautiful children: an 8 year old son, and a 4 year old daughter. She graduated from college in 1998, and will be attending Law School August 2011 to study Child and Education Advocacy. She is very passionate about helping parents of special needs children, as she is learning more about how to help her own daughter navigate this world. She has a super supportive husband who is a very active participant in their children’s upbringing. Mikila is also a partner in a debt management consulting firm. A born-again Christian, Mikila also enjoys volunteer work, music, and helping her children grow into the people they are destined to become.