Just An Innocent Question

I was born and raised in America, have a college degree and English is my first language. My 3rd grade educated grandfather felt that grammar and enunciation were important so I am, in fact, articulate. Thanks to a flat iron my natural hair is often straight and when it isn’t my fro earns me the exotic label more often than not. Perhaps the straightness of my nose contributes to that characterization; I guess I owe that and my love of a good drink to my Scottish heritage.

Why is origin of my genes a pressing concern in 2011? Why is the “Mixed” question asked with a tinge of hopefulness, as if a certain combination of racial pieces will somehow unlock a treasure trove of American post-racial goodies? It is so tiring to hear people run down the list of bits and pieces that comprise a broken whole. We are all brown Americans at varying levels of consciousness (or lack thereof). Investigating my ancestry in an attempt to reconcile my face with your perception of beauty makes me feel tired and sad for your limited vision. Maybe it’s just innocent curiosity, and you are a student of faces, an artist. It’s just that I’ve been a Black woman in America for decades so I’m skeptical/jaded/over it.

I’ll answer the question though…
 
I’m mixed with
Angst & fury
Melanin & moxie
Tenderness & tenacity
Hardheaded sensibility and cool logic
Fiery passions and childlike wonder
By turns memorable and able to move without being seen
All of these traits and the unspeakable longing of my ancestors
Combine in the greatest chemistry experiment ever.
 
Explosions
                Fusion
                                Synthesis
                                                Transformation of the highest order has taken place…
 
Every time I do not respond to provocation.
             Each tear that I hold back when I witness a hungry child.
             As I stifle screams, knowing that Black men are jailed for profit
             When I don’t give in to the lightheadedness that washes over me when I hear a mother’s screams, her child a victim of circumstance.
 
The fact that I am able to sit still and appreciate the color variations of a flower’s petals
Experience it with all my senses, and pick up on music playing softly in the background
 
…while Rome, in the form of my community, burns to a crisp
 
Is a testament to the perfection that is possibility
 
And what is a remix but a combination of possibilities?
 
So yeah, I’m mixed…

Dude, You’re a Fag*

This week, the fifth teenager committed suicide after being taunted, harassed, and bullied because he was gay. I watched the parents of the fourth child, only 13 years old, as they explained how their son was endlessly psychologically tortured because of his sexual orientation. The mother broke down in tears, and the father gripped her body to steel himself and hold in his emotions on national TV.

One of the teenagers that killed himself this week was a college student. His roommate recorded his sexual contact with another man on a webcam, of course without the young man’s permission. Twice he did this, sending it out to his friends, and inviting people to watch live. He tweets to his followers: “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay” and “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again”. This teenager was not “out.” He was outed, by his freshman roommate, just as school was beginning, and he responded by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

I’m angry.

I’m angry at the bullies themselves, of course. Certainly in this last case, these “children,” while still in their teens, are college students. The two students accused of the invasion of privacy are 18, and in our society, that’s the age of majority – no longer a minor. It’s arbitrary, of course, but the fawn must become a buck at some point. In some of the other cases, the bullies are 13, 14, 15. Certainly not adults. And so my anger also reaches the school who lacks a no tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, the teachers who didn’t pay attention, and of course the parents who don’t know that their kids are bullies.

But do you know who I really think is to blame?

YOU. US.

Why me, you say? Because you continue to allow people to say “faggot” around you without correcting them, or allowing them to think it’s okay ‘cuz they’re “just playin’.” Because you voted “yes” on Prop 8 denying folks the right to get married. Because you still look twice (or three or four times) when you see a same sex couple holding hands walking down the street, sometimes shaking your head. Because you say things like, “Well, if that’s what they want to do….”, making this big distinction between “them” and “us.” Because you don’t teach your kids that families come in all different types of packages and some kids have two mommies or two daddies and that’s okay. Because you are still trying to fit your kids into tight gender roles and won’t buy your son a Dora water bottle if he wants one or make a pink crown for his birthday if that’s what he wants because you are afraid of either “making” him gay or “encouraging” his gay “tendencies.” Because you still put your son in the Boy Scouts. Because YOU support candidates for governor who says things like:

I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t.

Because YOU, America, are still a highly anti-gay country that refuses to agitate to get Congress to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; because in most of YOUR states, America, gay people can’t marry the people they love; because in many places, America, people can’t be WHO THEY ARE because they fear persecution.

And even if YOU think you’re being progressive by saying, “well, there’s nothing wrong with being gay, so when my kid says it to another kid, it’s not really a slur…” YOU know that’s bullshit. YOU know when a kid is trying to hurt another kid. It’s like when a black child says to another dark-skinned black child, “Ohh, you BLACK” or “Ohh, you DARK.” Saying, “that’s so gay,” is a taunt. There’s nothing nice about it.

And don’t even get me STARTED about Black YOU. Because where would I begin? Prior to this rash of young white men taking their lives, last year 2 eleven year old black boys took their lives due to being taunted about being gay. This beautiful chocolate child hung himself with an extension cord…aren’t we losing enough of our black boys to prison? Are we so dimwitted as a community that we’d have our sons DIE or be imprisoned in the name of their masculinity rather than be the people they are? How dumb does that sound?

Our children reflect US. Not just us, as in US as parents, but US as a community, US as a society, U.S. as a country. It is not shocking at all that children are being bullied because they are gay; being gay is not something that we, as a country, embrace as “normal.” And when you are not normal, in school, you will be bullied. What is shocking is the extreme response to the bullying – instead of fighting back, these children are taking their own lives, letting the bullies win.

So what then do we do? A relative of a teen who committed suicide after being bullied said this in a recent People story: “You can’t make someone be nice…You have to help the person who’s being bullied get stronger.” I tell my children now: If someone hits you once, you tell the teacher. But if they hit you again – you hit them back as hard as you possibly can and KNOCK THEM DOWN. Bullies prey on the weak.

Fortify your child. Let him or her know that you love them unconditionally, and make sure you explain what that word means. Allow them to be who they are, pink Dora cups and all. As they get older, let them know why “faggot” is a word you never want to hear them say and why they should not allow it to be said in their presence. Ask them about who they are attracted to, and be positive as they question how they feel. When you ask your child what happened at school, and they say, “nothing,” don’t let that be the end of the conversation.  Talk about bullies and bullying and what they should do if someone does something to them that they don’t like. Role play and act it out if you need to. If a bully needs to be knocked the eff out, tell the teacher Mama said to do it.

Those suicides happened on all of our watches. They belong to all of U.S.

*Dude You’re A Fag is the title of a book by C.J. Pascoe about Masculinity and Sexuality in American High Schools. I highly recommend it.

Beef

Ok. The straw has broken the proverbial camel’s back.

I’ve sat in on one to many conversations with mothers going on and on about their child’s over the top behavior. As has been the case lately, I’m the lone Black mother in the room, conscious that  my words, tone, and facial expressions will probably be misconstrued… Yes, I am all too aware of the Sapphiric machinations that non-Black folk tend to expect from Black women.  One example that comes to mind- I expressed my frustration about another teacher, telling two White colleagues that I needed to go and have a talk with the woman. My male colleague says “Uh-oh, it’s about to be on up in here!”, with what HE intended to be Black girl affectations…

My liberated self (ego) won’t allow me to code switch when in mixed social company. Soooo, when I found myself a part of a recent discussion about parenting with a small group of White women, I couldn’t do anything but be who I am. When asked “what do you think?” about an idea, I gave an answer contrary to what was expected, and dare I say appropriate. Silence followed my response. One woman then offered a “compliment”, “I love that you keep it real. That’s so great!”

Later in the conversation,  another parent described a situation with her daughter, a precocious toddler who I’d say has some serious behavior issues. The mother went on laughing, describing how her “sweetie” doesn’t like her preschool teacher, and made a public announcement. Her “sweetie” doesn’t like to eat vegetables. Her “sweetie” doesn’t take naps because she doesn’t want to. And the piece de resistance: one day her little angel was very angry because she didn’t want to put something away and so when mommy took it, mommy got pimp slapped. Ok, maybe not pimp slapped, but you get the picture: the little girl hit the mommy multiple times, yelling and screaming.   Now up until this point, I held my tongue, and kept my facial composure.  But I couldn’t contain myself, I interjected- something akin to the “need to physically exorcise a demon out of your spawn”.    Dead. Silence.  The women were absolutely MORTIFIED that I would suggest such a thing. They each went on to explain why any sort of physical aggression toward a child was unacceptable.

I couldn’t help but feel alien…I suddenly wished for the community of my Sister friends.  They would understand. None of us are big on spanking our children…I didn’t mean it literally, but I didn’t want to have to explain to these women. They just didn’t get it, the unspoken understanding that certain things are unacceptable. Of course I don’t mean brutalize your child –  but I KNOW that in a circle of my Sisters, there would have been the chorus of “girrrrl” and talk about “breaking them off something” and “oh no! it ain’t goin’ down like that!” – and then laughter, and the…solidarity and understanding…

Black Weblog Awards

It’s that time of year again!

Nominations are being accepted for the Black Weblog Awards!!

While Cocoa Mamas is a fairly new blog, we’d like to think we offer insightful, intelligent, and relatable commentary on raising brown children in this world. We would love to get the word out about our blog and what better way than winning a Weblog award?

So, readers, subscribers, contibutors, pelase take a moment to go to Black Weblog Awards and nominate us in a few categories, namely Best Parenting Blog, Best New Blog, Best Group Blog, and Best Blog people don’t know about

Thanks,

Cocoa Mama Benee 🙂

Chasing the Jones

This week, the NYTimes published an op-ed referencing a famous report: The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. In this 1965 report, Moynihan, the Asst. Sec’t of Labor, declares the deterioration of the black family as the main reason why blacks were and would perpetually be at the bottom of the indices for well-being in the country. What Moynihan most considered pathological is that

In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is to out of line with the rest of the American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro women as well.

This report angered many, and continues to anger. Pathology is a deviation or difference from some “normal” condition, and this report made it quite clear that what is normal is what white folks do.

The report itself does contain some references saying that the differences in the black community are pathological because they differ from the white community, not because the practices themselves are inherently bad. Like in Chapter IV:

There is, presumably, no special reason why a society in which males are dominant in family relationships is to be preferred to a matriarchal arrangement. However, it is clearly a disadvantage for a minority group to be operating on one principle, while the great majority of the population, and the one with the most advantages to begin with, is operating on another. This is the present situation of the Negro. Ours is a society which presumes male leadership in private and public affairs. The arrangements of society facilitate such leadership and reward it. A subculture, such as that of the Negro American, in which this is not the pattern, is placed at a distinct disadvantage.

Of course, that is not the dominant narrative of the report, which then goes forth and gives all the testimonies of the black leaders of the time that spouts thinly veiled black female hating nonsense, such as:

Whitney Young:

“Historically, in the matriarchal Negro society, mothers made sure that if one of their children had a chance for higher education the daughter was the one to pursue it.”32

“The effect on family functioning and role performance of this historical experience [economic deprivation] is what you might predict. Both as a husband and as a father the Negro male is made to feel inadequate, not because he is unlovable or unaffectionate, lacks intelligence or even a gray flannel suit. But in a society that measures a man by the size of his pay check, he doesn’t stand very tall in a comparison with his white counterpart. To this situation he may react with withdrawal, bitterness toward society, aggression both within the family and racial group, self-hatred, or crime. Or he may escape through a number of avenues that help him to lose himself in fantasy or to compensate for his low status through a variety of exploits.”33

The report is pretty clear that it believes that these “pathologies” began due to the three centuries of injustice and oppression, but that going forward, the burden is on the nation to strengthen black families. After it does that, blacks are on their own:

In a word, a national effort towards the problems of Negro Americans must be directed towards the question of family structure. The object should be to strengthen the Negro family so as to enable it to raise and support its members as do other families. After that, how this group of Americans chooses to run its affairs, take advantage of its opportunities, or fail to do so, is none of the nation’s business.

The report is fascinating in that it both “blames the victim” and properly roots the problem in history at the same time. In 20 pages, the report gives an overview of American slavery, the failure of Reconstruction and urbanization, and shows how it has contributed to the “pathologies” it identifies. It recognizes the horrors inflicted on Black people, but consistently downplays that racism still existed in 1965 or that racism or bias has any effect on family structure, test scores, education, or crime and delinquency.

In recalling the report in the op-ed, the author of the NYTimes op-ed interestingly ends with a call to provide for the safety and well-being of children, citing some of Moynihan’s predictions about out-of wedlock births and fatherless homes. While I obviously agree with the sentiment, these days family structure is not the primary reason for why children are unprotected. A single mother could do a damn good job raising her children if she had a job that could adequately provide for them. If the criminal justice system did not disenfranchise felons, making them ineligible to live in public housing or receive student loans, then perhaps more fathers could live with their children, or get educations.

If we continue to base what’s “normal” on what white folks do, we will continue to miss what the real problems are, and continue to believe the lie that there is something “wrong” with us. There is nothing wrong with us. There is something wrong with the world we live in.

For the Children

“Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.”

http://abovethelaw.com/2010/04/hls-3ls-racist-email-goes-national/

This statement comes from a minor controversy that was brewing among law students (and perhaps others) about two weeks ago. As a law and sociology student, of course I saw all the flaws in the thinking, and crafted what I thought to be a perfectly rational response, aided by some other perfectly rational people, and we sent something to our law students that amounted to a big debunking of her incorrect thoughts on race, biology, and intelligence.

But when I was thinking about what I was going to write for my post here tonight, I really started thinking about the little excerpt above, and it made me feel something different than the outrage that I felt two weeks ago. I felt something different than indignant, or embarrassed that a fellow law student didn’t know how ignorant she sounded.

I feel sad.

I feel sad that there continues to be people out there that will look at my little boy and my little girl and really believe that just because his and her skin is a different color that that fact has anything to do with their intelligence. I feel sad that there are people who are so simple minded that they really believe that it would be “settled” if they could just take 100 white babies and 100 black babies and raise them on an island and then “test” to see if they are equal. I feel so sad that even with Barack Obama in the White House, a man we all know has a “white” mother yet we still call him “black,” meaning that we all do have some sense that race is socially determined, not biologically determined, we fail to apply that knowledge to our children, who deserve the benefit of that knowledge the most. I feel so sad that a woman like the one who wrote the little thought experiment above might be an important cog in the wheel of deciding the law in one of the most influential courts in this country.

It just reminds me that we have to keep fighting the good fight, wherever and whenever it comes our way. We do it for ourselves. We do it for our children.