Her Hair is a Mess!

Although I thought this was old news, there is a new picture of the Carters that apparently has some folks critiquing the parents and others, including this well written article, chastising those who are talking crazy about Blue Ivy’s hair. If you didn’t know, Blue Ivy is the daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z, and her hair is a natural mess.

And I think that’s a good thing.

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All Black Everything

Uh, and I know it’s just a fantasy
I cordially invite you to ask why can’t it be

Now we can do nothing bout the past
But we can do something about the future that we have
We can make it fast or we can make it last
Every woman queen and every man a king and
When those color lines come we can’t see between

We just close our eyes till its all black everything

Last weekend, I found out that I can’t move to Oakland when I finish my degrees. This was huge news for me; I’ve been at Stanford, in Palo Alto, for the last seven years. I’ve brought two children into the world here, and placed my firstborn in schools here. I have a love-hate relationship with Palo Alto. For for all its suburban beauty and safety, I feel like I am missing something. A piece of who I am. I hate the looks I get. I feel like an alien in this community. The peninsula doesn’t have a lot of us. 

See, I grew up in Philly. I lived around all black folks. I went to school with all black folks in elementary and went to an integrated high school where everyone was “gifted.” I have always knew I was black without anyone having to tell me. I’ve never felt any shame about being black. LaToya was smart, and funny, and cute, and black. None of those things felt like a contradiction in terms.

My kids don’t have that. “Mommy, why am I the only black boy in my class?” I hate to tell him he’s the only black boy in his GRADE. “Mommy, I think my white dolls are cuter than my black dolls.” “But you’re beautiful. You look like me!”

So, for them, I desperately wanted to get out. But, I soon found out, race is not the only thing that matters. So does money.

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“Beautiful.” The Single Best Word My Daughter Said Last Night.

Lupita. Lupita. Lupita.

We can’t stop saying her name. Can’t stop commenting on how gorgeous she is. Can’t stop focusing on how glamourous she is. Can’t stop raving about her every fashionchoice. I love her. I can’t find any reason to not think she’s as fabulous as she seems.

We can’t stop saying her name. You get the feeling that a lot of time was put into news broadcasters and red-carpet-watchers practicing Nyong’o. (If you don’t know, you can hear her say it here.) After last year’s catastrophe over Quvenzhane’s, it would have been a crying shame for anyone to have gotten it wrong.

But one thing I haven’t heard people talking about is her acting, at least not as much as they talk about her looks.

Continue reading ““Beautiful.” The Single Best Word My Daughter Said Last Night.”

Black Girls and the American Girl Doll Dillemma

Today a few friends and I took a field trip to the local mall. Our destination? The new American Girl store, two stories of little girl heaven. We planned to get there early on a weekday in order to avoid the lines that are common in the evenings and on weekends. Since we are all students, ten a.m. worked well.

I bought along the American Girl doll my daughter received for Christmas. Yes, we, her parents, were the folks who bought it for her. It wasn’t an easy purchase, mainly due to the price. For the doll, a stand, and a brush, the total came to about $160. That was the only gift she received for Christmas from us.

I never had an American Girl doll growing up. Honestly, I had no idea what they were until about a year ago when my little girl started talking about them. After doing a little research, I see they were big in the 1990s, but perhaps I was a little too old for them by then. In any case, I was totally in the dark about the dolls and likely when I was a preteen I wouldn’t of even shaped my mouth to ask for such a thing. Not at $100.

But I did it for my little girl. Living where we live, and where a lot of black girls live, there are no positive images of little black girls. No book series for the young reader. No engineering sets. A whole lot of nothing. And her talk about her white dolls being more adorable than her blacks ones was breaking my heart (I’d never bought her a white doll, but other people had.) And many of her friends already had at least one of the dolls. I’m not usually one to do what everyone else does, but I recognized the cultural capital inherent in the dolls. Just like Bey Blades and Pokemon are today’s popular toys for the kids in my son’s circle, American Girl is the “it” toy for my girl and her friends. And given it was her only Christmas grift due to the cost, I didn’t feel like I was spoiling her.

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Political Parenting

Yesterday, my daughter told me she wanted to celebrate Kwanzaa. I immediately felt bad; she certainly hadn’t gotten the idea about celebrating Kwanzaa from my husband or myself, and we live in an overwhelmingly white suburb of Northern California. When I asked her where she learned about Kwanzaa, she said, “school.” Which floored me because this school is no where near a bastion of intercultural understanding or learning.

In any case – I told her we would need to get a kinara, to which she informed me it was called a menorah. I laughed, and then told her she was confusing Hanukkah with Kwanzaa, with the former being a Jewish tradition and the latter a Black tradition. She didn’t really care too much, but just wanted to implement something she’d learned about in school.

So I said, yes, we can celebrate, but in my post-Christmas shopping yesterday, I forgot to pick up a kinara, and similarly today got away from me. My husband came up with the brilliant plan to find a Kwanzaa app for the iPad, and alas, I found one! So we’ll be lighting virtual candles and discussing the seven principles.

***

In the last week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about my approach to parenting, especially given the response to last week’s post. In writing about what I am keeping away from my daughter (and my sons), I came to a better understanding of why I parent the way that I do. Why am I celebrating Kwanzaa when it something I’ve never celebrated in the past? Because I want to encourage curiosity and exploration. Because I don’t want my child to believe as I do simply because I’m her mother. So I want to engage in celebration of what is a new cultural tradition because my children are not robots or mini-mes. They have their own thoughts, and sometimes they need me to bring those thoughts to fruition. It’s not just about them; it’s about the kind of people I want them to be – loving, generous, thoughtful, engaged.

In a conversation on Facebook, a friend pointed out the obvious, but the rarely articulated: “All parenting is political.”

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Why My Daughter Will Not Be Listening to “Beyonce.” Or Why I’m Going To Need the New Generation of Black Feminists Who Are Riding Hard for “Beyonce” to Have Several Seats

I’m not a cultural critic. My expertise lies not in culture as conceived by many cultural critics – pop culture – but in culture as conceived by sociologists and legal scholars. My expertise lies in how individuals live their culture in their every day lives.

More importantly to what I’m going to speak on here, however, is that I am a mother. Of a daughter. A black mother of a black daughter. That’s really all the expertise that matters.

But in case you’re wondering, I am a black feminist. A young, married, heterosexual, highly- and elitely-educated, black, middle-class mother feminist. I own all of that. Please do not get that twisted as you read what comes next.

Continue reading “Why My Daughter Will Not Be Listening to “Beyonce.” Or Why I’m Going To Need the New Generation of Black Feminists Who Are Riding Hard for “Beyonce” to Have Several Seats”

Why I Find It Hard to “Celebrate” Roe v. Wade

Reblogging, January 22, 2014

January 23, 2013

I am many things. I am a woman. I am a mother. I am black woman and mother to black kids. I am a Christian. I am a liberal. I am a feminist.

I am pro-choice.

I am pro-life.

I am anti-abortion….for me.

I am pro-Roe v. Wade.

2012 Commemoration of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court
2012 Commemoration of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court

Roe v. Wade…abortion…life…choice… these words mean so much. And we talk about them as if they are opposites, as if life and choice and abortion cannot coexist. And I’m not sure that they can. But one thing I do know — the right to abortion cannot be disconnected from the cultural context in which it exists.

I don’t think it makes much sense to argue about when life begins. Any woman who has experienced the loss of a miscarriage – whether it happened at 8 weeks or 8 months – will tell you that the life lost began as soon as she knew the life existed. Other women will tell you that the life did not feel “real” until that child actually appeared out of the vagina. But I don’t think that really matters.

For the right to an abortion is not about the abortion at all. It’s about self-determination in a world that hates to let women have a say and hates to make sure children have a life worth living.

As much as I know in my heart that I will never have an abortion (hence my “anti-abortion”), I also know that the right to have one is a pivotal right for every woman to hold in the world in which we live. This is a world that throws food away while people – including children – starve. This is a world that does not guarantee each person clean water and fresh food and preventative health care. This is a world that uses the education system to perpetuate and exacerbate racial and class inequality. This is a world were women are blamed for sexual violence. This is a world were many women cannot earn enough to support the children they have. This is a world where our kids can’t even be safe in school.

This is a world where no one is assured a life worth living – especially if you are female and/or a child.

No woman should be forced to bring a life into this world.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t value life. Because I do. My children are the most precious thing in the world to me. They give me three reasons to live each and every day. I think I was destined, by God, to be a mother. It’s the most important thing I do. If I were to have another pregnancy, unexpected, I would birth that baby. No doubt in my mind. But I would do it because I wanted to. Not because God told me to. Not because anyone else wanted me to. Because I wanted to.

I would likely not feel that way if I didn’t have a choice.

Which also means that if the world were perfect (not sure what that would look like), I would still be pro-Roe v. Wade. Because as distasteful as abortion is to me (and to most people – I don’t think anyone takes pleasure in the loss of life), the moment we start policing how and whether and when women bring life into the world we have made life less perfect, made life less equal for some of us. As soon as we start telling women that their bodies no longer belong to them to do with them as they please in pursuit of their liberty and happiness they no longer have liberty and they are forced into someone else’s conception of happiness.

I’d rather have free, happy women than constrained, oppressed women. I’d rather trust that the person who will be responsible for nurturing that life growing inside of her as to whether she can or is willing to do that responsibly.

I think there can still be restrictions, because I still think that abortion is the taking of a life. Freedom does not mean carte blanch. But I think that should be left to a truly democratically-elected legislature, and not a court of nine individuals who are not elected. Because it is that democratically-elected legislature who determines whether an unemployed mother will be able to rely on the social safety net to feed her children. They are the ones who decide how much money we put into educating children. They are the ones who decide who is worthy of health care. And who is not. The same people who want to force women to have babies should be the same people who will make sure those babies have healthy, happy lives.

So I support Roe v. Wade, but I don’t “celebrate” it. Abortion is not a cause for celebration. But I understand that choosing to end a life often means choosing to lead a life worth living. Who is to say – other than the person making the decision and living the life – which is more important?

Where are their comfort dogs?

At first, I thought that comparing the experiences of the slain children in Newtown to the slain black and brown children across this country was insensitive. I thought that it just wasn’t the time to point out the inconsistent treatment of dead children due to gun violence. I thought that no matter the color of the child, the pain to that parent is the same. And I still think all these things.

But as I’ve taken in the media coverage in the past 4 days, I’ve started to get a little annoyed. Angry even. And ultimately unbearably sad. And perhaps that’s my fault for watching the news, and their macabre fascination with death and tragedy. It seems that CNN simply cannot get enough footage to capitalize on the pain and sadness of others. Their camping out in front of churches where children are being buried despite the families’ requests for privacy? I almost want to throw my shoe at the TV. But instead, I just change the channel.

But not before I saw the comfort dogs.

comfortdog

The beautiful golden retrievers dispatched to Newtown to bring some joy to the children of the community. The dogs trained to be gentle with even the most aggressive child. The dogs putting their nose to a 4-year-old’s nose. A shiny golden coat gentle rubbed beside a rosy cheek.

 

And while my heart broke with the memory of the pain, it also broke at the injustice of the disparity. At the fact that it seems that some kids’ deaths mean more than other children’s deaths.

For where were the comfort dogs to heal the children living in the Florida community of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, children likely traumatized that they could be shot down under the Stand Your Ground laws?

Where were the comfort dogs to heal the children living in Chicago when 7-year-old Heaven Sutton was shot in the back after running from her mother’s candy stand when she heard gunshots?

Where were the comfort dogs to heal the children living in Camden, NJ when a 6-year-old first grader was murdered trying to protect his 12-year-old sister from rape?

Where are the comfort dogs for the millions of children in Philly, Detroit, Chicago and other urban areas who are suffering from PTSD from the DAILY threat of gun violence and death?

 

I want the children of Newtown to receive all the good things this world has to offer. I want all the well-wishers to send teddy bears, cards, and care packages. I want the knitters to send their handmade monsters to every single child at Sandy Hook Elementary School so that they know we love them.

But I also want the Camden first-graders to get comfort dogs. I also want Heaven’s classmates to get handknit monsters. I want a CNN special for every child who has ever died due to gun violence. I want their names and faces plastered on TV with words about their favorite book and how their smile brought their families joy. I want news vans to stay on the scene for days talking about the senselessness of every child’s death.

 

Not just for the children who go to school in a “bucolic” New England town.

Not just for the children who go to school in a place that had not seen more than one homicide in the last ten years.

Not just for the children who go to school where the vast majority of them are white.

 

Please understand me – when I see the face of each and every 6 and 7 year-old who died in Newtown, I see my own almost-7-year-old first grader. I hold nothing against those children or their parents or their community. I just want equity. I just want EVERY child to be remembered. I just want the same outpouring of grief for EVERY child who dies of gun violence. They may not have died en masse, in one classroom, in one community, but they are dying nevertheless. Their parents are hurting nevertheless. Their classmates are traumatized nevertheless.

I want the sports teams and day time TV hosts and churches all over the country to observe moments of silence EACH time ANY child dies from a gun’s bullets. I just want to feel some sense that if my cousin’s children, who still live in Philadelphia, are murdered by gun violence that the nation will mourn for them. I want some sense that if the children who play at the Boys and Girl’s Club in East Palo Alto were gunned down that the nation will mourn for them. I want some sense that black and brown little children matter too.

But I won’t hold my breath.

 

In memoriam: Remember their names

First graders. Teachers. Principal. Psychologist.

Charlotte Bacon, 6,

Daniel Barden, 7,

Olivia Engel, 6,

Josephine Gay, 7,

Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6,

Dylan Hockley, 6,

Madeleine F. Hsu, 6,

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6,

Chase Kowalski, 7,

Jesse Lewis, 6,

James Mattioli, 6,

Grace McDonnell, 7,

Emilie Parker, 6,

Jack Pinto, 6,

Noah Pozner, 6,

Caroline Previdi, 6,

Jessica Rekos, 6,

Avielle Richman, 6,

Benjamin Wheeler, 6,

Allison N. Wyatt, 6,

Rachel Davino, 29,

Dawn Hochsprung, 47,

Anne Marie Murphy, 52,

Lauren Rousseau, 30,

Mary Sherlach, 56,

Victoria Soto, 27.

 

Do not let their deaths be in vain. Remember them. Work to make things better in their honor. If we fail, their blood is on all of our hands.