Defending Who?

I hate a lot of things about the criminal in-justice system. One of the reasons I wanted to be a lawyer was to reform the system. I don’t think I’ll ever come close to actually doing that, but if I practice law one day, it will be as a public defender. I think people should be held accountable for their crimes against others, but not treated as less than human, either in prison or out. I absolutely agree with Michelle Alexander and the premise of her book “The New Jim Crow”: the criminal justice empire is modern day American apartheid. The other day, I tweeted my support for the prisoners in Pelican Bay who are enduring a hunger strike to protest their living conditions in prison. It looked like this:

while i’m not a prison abolitionist, i am for humane treatment. indeterminate solitary confinement is cruel & unusual.
7/18/11 7:53 AM


I tweeted this on the same day that this young black man was shot to death by the San Francisco Police in the middle of the afternoon in the Bayview, a small but solid population of black folks: (WARNING: THIS IS VERY GRAPHIC – IT SHOWS A PERSON DYING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET)






The original reports were that the young man was unarmed, running from the police because he didn’t pay his $2 transfer fare on the bus. The early reports, and certainly what was believed by the people on the street at the time, was that the police shot the boy for no reason whatsoever, simply because he was running. The scene, caught of course on cell phone video, was reminiscent of the New Year’s Day killing of Oscar Grant, and brought back to memory for all black folks (and I’m sure others) of the racial tensions between Bay Area Police and a small, but present, black minority population.

Evidence quickly came to light, however, that this young man’s death – 19 year old Kenneth Harding – may not have been the work of trigger-happy racist police. A witness – a black man – came forward with a cell phone video in which a small silver gun could be seen only 25 feet from where the man lay dying after being shot by the police. The police allege that the man shot at them first as he ran, and the video appears to confirm that there was a gun at the scene. He also had gun residue on his hand. The video also shows another man picking up the gun at the scene, perhaps in an attempt to hide it. Later, however, the police recovered the small gun. Witnesses have said that they saw the young man shoot at the police from a gun he held under his arm, and technology that measures gun shots recorded, at the time of the incident, a single shot fired, followed 2 seconds later by 9 shots in rapid succession, evidence that the young man got one shot off before the police took him down.

Furthermore, reports say that the young man was wanted as a person of interest in the murder of a woman in Seattle from just the week before, giving some credence to the idea that he would have a gun, and would also run and shoot at police in an attempt to not be apprehended.

The thing is, it seems that none of this evidence against calling the police racist pigs really matters to anyone. At first, there was this outpouring of anger coming from everywhere. My twitter timeline was filled with angry tweets about how unjustified this killing was, how the police are racists pigs, how wrong it was for them to just stand by and watch the boy die. I got emails from colleagues, the whiter the more angry, who in no uncertain words expressed empathy for black communities like the Bayview, and how it was now all too clear why certain communities can’t trust public institutions like the police, or even schools. But once people got more information, instead of continuing the conversation, what did I hear instead?

Muthfvcking crickets.

This bothers me, despite my natural inclination to cast a wary eye toward the justice system. Why? One, because in my heart of hearts, I do believe that had this man been white, he would have been shot too. In my experience, living in a big city: You shoot at cops, you get shot. Period. The end. Would the cops have let him lay on the street and die? It’s hard to say, because I don’t know if the black folks in the community would have rallied around saying, “Fvck the police!!” and “Your career’s is over!” and “Where’s the gun?” Perhaps the cops would have been able to attend to him had there not been the making of a riot around his dying body. Would the mayor be forced into having a community meeting with the Bayview community about this shooting, of someone who is not even from the community, if this had been a white man where there is ample evidence that he shot at the police first? I doubt it.

And what really bothers me the most is this: Where is the outrage that this young man thought it okay to whip out a gun at 4:45 in the afternoon and start shooting in a crowded transit area? Where is the outrage that someone tried to cover up the real facts in this case, by removing the gun and shell casings, attempting to create more animosity between the people of this community and the police they desperately need to protect them against their own people who are trying to destroy them? Why are we not thanking the police department 1) for trying to keep Muni fares low by making sure everyone pays like they are supposed to and 2) for shooting a man who had no such regard for anyone else’s life as evidenced by him pulling a gun to save HIMSELF in the middle of the damn afternoon?

Why does someone have to die – and in this case, perhaps “justifiably” because police must protect themselves in order to protect us and our children – in order for us to rally and hold folks accountable, including ourselves?

While I understand the hurt and pain of the long legacy of police brutality in this country, sometimes wrong is wrong. That’s what we should be teaching our children, no matter what color they are. I was so glad my children were far away from our morning ritual of watching the news Monday morning. I couldn’t have them see Black people yelling at Black cops while a Black man lay in the middle of the street dying because he pulled out a gun and shot at police. So much is so incredibly wrong with that picture, both on the surface and below it.

You Know What?

Written by CocoaMamas contributor HarlemMommy

You know what’s dangerous? It’s dangerous to speak your mind as a Black child in an inner-city school. I’m an educator. I love (almost) all my students.  As a middle school teacher, I saw tons of kids who chose to be disrespectful, arrogant, or jerky. But except for one or two cases, I was always able to remind myself that they were children. Just kids stretching their muscles of power, testing limits and sometimes making others miserable because they themselves were miserable. As I taught in a school where the majority of students were Black or Brown, my skin color might have gained me some cred at first. Despite what other (white) teachers sometimes said, being Black wasn’t enough for a kid to respect or listen to me. They soon figured out that I liked them, cared about their futures and would do my best to help them succeed. They also soon learned that I knew my subject area and wouldn’t tolerate crap or chaos.

In Maya Angelou’s Heart of a Woman, Maya is summoned to her son’s school one day. Guy had been explaining to some white classmates on the bus about how babies were made. Well, the little white girls freaked the heck out and Guy was in trouble for using bad language in front of students, especially girls. When Maya was in the principal’s office and heard the story, she asked what her son had said about the incident. Turns out, they hadn’t even asked Guy for his side of the story. They just assumed that what the girls conveyed was true. Maya was, of course, upset and demanded to see her son. She then gives voice to how many parents of color feel: You give your child to people who often do not look like you. You have to trust that they will not mar his sense of self, and if they do, you must do your part to repair it. I’ve read this book many times, but reading it last month this part really struck me.

The success of my students was personal for me. The more Black and Brown faces without a degree meant less of those faces in power; meant more of those faces dead or in jail. I knew that my eventual child would be okay academically, but some cop or lady on the street wouldn’t necessarily distinguish between my polite, kind, hilarious kid with the high reading level from a “dangerous thug up to no good.”

I pushed my kids academically, stressed the importance of respect for each other and themselves and laughed with them. (Middle schoolers are hilarious. Especially if you find fart jokes funny. I do.)

However, there are many teachers that are not like me: teachers that call students “dirtbags” teachers that see any deviation from given instructions as dangerous, defiant and insubordinate behavior. Too many Black boys are in special education classrooms because they are “behavior issues.” We have to ask though, how much is it about the behavior and how much is it about the color of the kid? The same behavior — being wiggly in class, speaking without raising your hand, being mouthy — by a white kid in Scarsdale is seen as childish antics, but in a Black or Brown child in Harlem is seen as insolent. (Now if a parent wants to have different standards fine, but schools need to be consistent.)

The guidelines for suspension are so very subjective. Was the student was defiant or disrespectful? Defiant is suspension, disrespectful is a detention. There are shades of meaning there that are left to the beholder. Don’t have too many suspensions on your record or it will be harder to find a school that wants you in NYC. (Students must apply and matched to public high schools in New York City in a complicated system.)

I get it. It is extremely difficult to itemize what exactly is meant by defiant. There are millions of ways a kid will find to be defiant. But we have to do better. We need to somehow quantify how bad an attitude must be before a suspension. Otherwise, we just give license to suspend kids for being jerks instead of working with them through this angsty, trying period in the lives. How many of us would want to be judged for how we were at 14? Yet, by suspending kids for arguably age-appropriate behavior, and not helping them grow through or learn from the process, we are stunting their growth academically and emotionally. We need to hold them accountable for bad behavior, but still care about them as people. We must do better. If that means more time is taken to really piece out events that have occurred, so be it. Just as our justice system would rather let a guilty man go free than an innocent one imprisoned, we need to make sure suspended kids really deserve it.

Schools are supposed to be the place where it’s okay to fail sometimes. You see how far you can push and experience safe consequences. Too often, this is not how school operates for Black children. A student that feels that he is heard, respected and valued is more likely to succeed at school and at life. Teachers are not the bad guys. But I will make sure to be in my kid’s classroom when the time comes. That teacher will know that I am paying attention. I am a fierce ally for the teacher, but I am also an advocate for my son.

HarlemMommy is a breastfeeding, cloth diapering mother of one. She works with middle schools and loves to read. Her husband is very funny and they love to travel. She also writes at

Hey Michigan: These Are Children

Are you: Homeless? An ex-con? Pregnant? A single mother? BLACK? POOR? In foster care? Well, then watch out – you are a prime target for being denigrated, disrespected, and dehumanized in Michigan.

Not only are homeless women being arrested and charged with larceny for enrolling their children in the wrong school district in Connecticut, but several states away in Michigan, single, pregnant, and Black teen moms have been arrested in Detroit for staging a sit-in in their school to protest the fact that it will be shut down at the end of the school year.

Sarah Ferguson Academy is one of the only schools in the country that educates pregnant teens and teen moms. This schools raises its own money through its agriculture program – a farm, in the middle of Detroit. 90% of its students go to college – any college, somewhere, anywhere, and get money to go there. This school makes sure that these children – because they are still children – are getting an education, learning how to be parents, making a better life for themselves and their kids.

But now that Michigan state has taken over Detroit – yes, they’ve taken over the entire city – a “dictator” has decided to close a bunch of schools, including this one, unless a charter organization agrees to take it on. And the charter can do with it whatever it wants, which means either way, this school will probably close. But these girls value their education SO MUCH that over Spring Break they organized a sit-in, and occupied their school to protest the dictator’s decision.

And what does the state do? Arrest them. (Please watch the video here. Watch the police officers manhandle pregnant teens and turn on their sirens to drown out their shouts.)


It’s not only in the schools. A state senator, in order to save money, recently introduced a proposal to restrict foster children in their apparel choices. For their clothing allowances, which nationally are only about $200 a YEAR, Sen. Bruce Casswell would propose that this money could only be spent in thrift stores.

Yes, you read that correctly. Foster children would only be allowed to purchase used clothing. Apparently since this Senator never had anything new as a child, neither should children who are not living with their biological parents and are in a limbo state of extremely stressful uncertainty.


Update: After the story went viral, the good Senator amended the proposal to say that the children could buy new clothes, but wanted to make sure the gift cards they received would only be used for clothing and shoes. Because of course, foster kids can’t be trusted to only by clothes. They might spend it on candy and soda.

I’m sorry, but Michigan is coming off like a state that hates children. Poor and/or black children to be specific. And it pisses me off. What about you?

What you can do:

Donate to cover the girls’ legal fees

Contact the good senator

Past is Prologue?

Listening to talk radio today, host Warren Ballentine, made a statement that made me think, then shiver. In talking about the prison industrial complex  he mentioned that young people are allowed to drive at 16 but that they are unable to rent cars until they are 25. He cited a study done by automobile rental companies that the pre-frontal cortex (responsible for complex decision making, ability to delay gratification) is not fully mature until age 25. So in order to reduce the likelihood of damage to their fleets, most car rental companies err on the side of caution and don’t rent to those between 16 -25. Mr. Ballentine’s point was that car rental companies recognize that more mistakes are made by this group (as drivers), but that, as a society, we have decided that mistakes made at 17 or 21 should follow a person for the rest of their lives. The mistakes he was referencing in particular are non-violent felonies.

Convicted felons, in general, have a very tough time re-entering the workforce. There are certain career choices that will NEVER be open to them (lawyer, real estate agent, any position having fiduciary responsibility). This severely limits their income earning potential, and subsequently, their ability to adequately support themselves or their families. Of course this inability decreases the stability of communities that are disproportionately represented in the prison/parole system.  Which community is that? You get 1 guess.

As a mother of a teenaged boy I worry much more about him becoming involved with the legal system than drugs. We have gone over how to interact with the police should he have to (invoke his right to remain silent and then shut up. The end.). But let’s say he is convicted of having a bag of marijuana on his person (that he was *holding for a friend*) at 18. Does that conviction mean that he shouldn’t ever be able to pursue a career as a lawyer (his current aspiration)? Should checking that “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” box on a job application automatically rule him out of opportunities when he’s 30? The way the current criminal justice system works that conviction is a forever indictment of his character, potential and livelihood.

Should it be? For non-violent criminal offenders, should their records be stricken after a prescribed period – 2, 5, 10 years? How would this impact society? All I see is upside – the ability for people to support themselves, be productive members of society.

For the prison industrial complex there is incentive in maintain the incarceration status quo, and the post-jail system we have in place doesn’t discourage recidivism. Private companies that run jails need prisoners to be profitable so the trend over the past 20 years has been to increase ways become a criminal and, once identified as such, to maintain that status.

As a community I think that we should really give some serious attention and energy to how convicted felons are marginalized. Even if the kids of the CocoaMamas never set foot in jail, somebody else’s child needs us to advocate so that they can live productively after the fact.

What the Holy Hell?!

When should you “know better”? How old is too old to lose innocence? I’ve been thinking about these things and the coercion that I feel was involved with the young men who were involved with Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Mostly because I know that those four young men are not the only ones harmed in this manner on a daily basis.

The summer after my freshman year in college my mother thought it would a great idea for me to volunteer at our church, helping out in the office. Since she’d already said I would, what choice did I have? I’d pledged my sorority during the spring of that year and the Sr. Pastor was a member of our brother fraternity. He was delighted with my neophyte self! We also had two junior pastors who were pledging grad chapter of his fraternity. Rev. Sr. took great delight in having my “little brothers” greet me and do little tasks. One of them took his pledging quite seriously; let’s call him Rev. Jr. – the youth minister. He was handsome and not too much older than me, funny and liked to flirt (in a church appropriate way of course). I didn’t take it too seriously but I was flattered and assumed his attention meant he was …interested in me. As a person.

We were in an office on the 2nd floor of the church that had a long countertop with selves above it. He asked me to sit on the countertop and talk to him. So we talked about school, being in the sorority, dating. I was sitting on the counter and he stood up, right in front of me, leaning on my knees. So I sat up straighter. In the movies, this is where the guy kisses the girl. But he didn’t kiss me. He moved my knees apart and grabbed my hips, pulling me forward.

 “What if your boyfriend did this? How would you react?”

I couldn’t move because there were cabinets behind me so I was stuck between him and wooden doors. I didn’t know how to answer his question or where to put my hands. I guess he read the confusion on my face, because he laughed as he let go and took a step back.

“I’m just looking out for you, little Big Sister… letting you know what men think about when they see you. You better get back down to the office.”

And so I was dismissed. And utterly confused. After that he took every opportunity to touch me when he saw me. I tried to make sure that I wasn’t alone with him upstairs anymore but he managed a hug or a squeeze quite frequently. I‘d had one boyfriend in high school, was a nerd to my heart (with great clothes, shoutout to my shopaholic mom) so my experience with dating and men was quite limited. I read a lot into the attention that was paid to me so when he said he wanted to take me to lunch for my birthday of course I accepted.

There was a Red Lobster near the church so we decided to go there. He wanted to stop by his apartment first, to get something. I didn’t want to be trapped there (ha!) so I followed in my car. We got there, he ran in then came right back out.

“Can you come in for a  second? It’s gonna take a minute to do what I need to do but we’ll still have time for lunch”

So I followed him in. He asked me to have a seat, went down the hall and was back a few minutes later. With champagne glasses in one hand and a bottle of something. Did I mention that this was my 18th birthday?

“Surprise! I thought we’d start celebrating here, and then get something to eat later”

“Oh, well…” and I didn’t know what to say. So I reached for the glass that was being offered and got pulled into a hug.

“Happy birthday to you…happy birthday to you…Happy birthday Dear Andrea…Happy birthday to you”, as sung in my ear.

“Let me pour you some bubbly”

I guess I looked at my watch one time too many, or sat too stiffly on the couch. At some point it became apparent that I wasn’t going to lunch and he wasn’t getting what he’d anticipated either. I declined the second glass and made a hasty exit. Now my mind was occupied with going back to work (at the church!) with alcohol on my breath and whether I would still smell like it by the time I saw my mom.

So nothing terrible happened, thankfully. Just some confusion, a little anger, mixed with the hopes of an 18 year old girl thinking she’d being pursued by a handsome older man. I never told anyone about it, went back to work that day, then school later that month. I skipped church for a few years (maybe a decade, don’t judge). But imagine that my relationship had become physical. Imagine that I’d known Rev. Jr. for more than a few months, shared intimate talks of hopes and dreams, fears and wishes. Imagine that he told me how special and chosen I was, showed his concern and support by listening and buying gifts…how devastating would it have been to learn that I was disposable?

This is what I thought of when I saw the young man talking about taking showers for hours, never being able to forget the scent of Long’s cologne. How alone and confused and heartbroken he must have been. Just as I’m confident that others knew of Long’s activities, I’m sure Rev. Jr. showed his “special interest” to other girls. What do you do as a teenager or young adult, charged with making your own decisions, being mature…when those you respect and admire give you terrible choices?

I owe my Twitter BFF @aaw1976 another round of drinks for her editing help 🙂

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?


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.

A Weighty Issue

I took my kids to the pediatrician for their back-to-school checkups recently.  Health-wise, both kids checked out just fine.

But as is the case every year, my kids’ doctor pulled me to the side to mention my daughter’s weight.

“She’s gained 12 pounds,” her pediatrician mentioned in a whisper.  She showed me the height/weight charts for her age, showing her weight hovering slightly above the top line for her age group.  Oh, she said in passing, she also grew an inch.

I did my best not to Kanye shrug.  “Did she mention to you that she’s doing yoga?”  I asked.

“Yes,” the doctor said, then gave me the name of a nutritionist.  She also ordered some blood work to check my daughter’s blood sugar/insulin and cholesterol levels, among other things.

Everything came back normal, as it always does.

My daughter is a muscular girl.  She always has been.  She is as strong as an ox.  I outweigh her by a good thirty pounds, and she picks me up like it’s nothing.

She doesn’t play any sports now, but was heavily into gymnastics for about four years.  She has tried every sport from soccer to softball.  She swims, ice skates and bikes.  Last year, at 12, she did adult aerial acrobatics classes.  This year, she is taking adult yoga classes with me.

And did I mention she’s a size 6?  Hardly a size worn by the clinically obese.

Yet, ever since she was a baby, doctors have plotted her weight on a graph and told me, in hushed tones, that her weight was in the upper percentiles for children her age. 

Her plots on the height/weight graphs have remained remarkably consistent since birth.  She’s of average height and above-average weight, according to the “official” weight charts. 

For some reason I can’t fathom, her doctors have equated “above average” with “abnormal” and “weight problem.”  This infuriates me.  Humans come in a range of shapes and sizes, heights and weights.  The fact that my daughter’s weight has plotted consistently on the height/weight graphs since birth strongly indicates that this is just how she’s built, period. 

I always feel like there’s some implicit indictment of my parenting involved in these discussions.  Every year, the doctor grills me about what the kids eat.  “Do they drink soda and processed juice?  Do they drink milk?  Do they eat vegetables?  Do they eat fried foods or fast food?  Do they eat sweets and candy?”

My answers always seem to surprise her.  The kids get soda only when we go out to eat at restaurants.  The only juice I buy is orange juice, which they drink mixed with seltzer.  My daughter drinks fat-free milk, and my son prefers rice milk.  They love vegetables, especially spinach.  Fried foods are rare, and they mostly can’t stand fast food.  You’d have to force-feed them McDonald’s, which they’d promptly regurgitate.

The doctor always looks at me like she doesn’t quite trust these answers, even when the kids give consistent responses.  For many years, I was also overweight.  In these questions, I saw the assumption that here we were, this fat black family, greasing it up on Popeye’s and ribs and fries with nary a veggie in sight. 

Except the kids weren’t, and still aren’t, fat.   The reality that we have a healthy diet, that we generally don’t eat “soul food,” and that my kids are quite physically active, doesn’t jibe with the chronic-obesity-in-the-black-community stereotype.

This year, it annoyed me a bit that my daughter’s doctor hasn’t seemed to notice my own fairly dramatic weight loss.  Hey, I wanted to shout, I’ve dropped close to 70 pounds in the last two years.  Can you stop looking at us as a bunch of fat black folks now?

Apparently not.

Before we left the doctor’s office, I told my daughter, as I do every year, not to worry about the doctor’s comments about her weight and to just keep doing what she’s been doing.  

I said to her, “I know how and what you eat.  You have a very healthy diet.  You eat very little junk food, and only as an occasional treat.  You work out.  Whatever your weight, you haven’t gone up in size at all in the last two years.  Don’t worry about what they’re saying.”

I am trying to raise a teen black girl with a healthy body image.  If my daughter were in fact in danger of having a real weight problem, I would be on the case.  I struggled with my own weight for most of my life, and I feel like I have finally figured out how to maintain control.  If I were concerned about her weight, I would be working with her to count her calories, to honestly assess her food intake, and to balance it against her activity level.  She would be drinking more water and getting more daily exercise.

She’s already doing all of that.  My own weight loss efforts have provided her with good examples of how to lose weight and keep it off the right way.  Her body type is what it is.   The last thing she needs is to become insecure and anorexic because she’s not tall and thin.  She will never be tall and thin.  And that’s OK.

As long as she remains within her own range of normal, I’m not worried about her weight.  In my opinion, as long as that remains the case, her doctors shouldn’t be worried, either.

It Ain’t My Fault

  • Montana Fishburne, aka Chippy D, actor Laurence Fishburne’s daughter, getting into the pornography business.
  • Nicole Richie, singer/songwriter Lionel Richie’s daughter, circa 2003-2007, high on heroin and pain meds, arrested and jailed.
  • Maia Campbell, the late author Bebe Moore Campbell’s daughter, suffering from bipolar disorder, high on meth and allegedly prostituting herself.

We tend to believe that when a child ends up a young adult going down the wrong path, the first place to place the blame is on the parents. Chris Rock made this folk wisdom a funny platitude when he said that as a father, his only job was to “keep my daughter off the pole!” We tend to believe that who people grow up to be as adults is the direct product of the inputs of their parents. Those who turn to drugs, alcohol, prostitution, gambling and any of the other vices of the world are often thought of as children who weren’t loved enough, disciplined enough, paid attention to enough, protected enough, read to enough, sang to enough, just overall parented enough. The general idea is that lousy kids come from lousy parents.


Let’s face it: some people are going to grow up to be crackheads, meth-smokers, pimps and prostitutes no matter what kind of family they come from. Some people are going to lack self-control and self respect no matter how many times their parents told them they loved them, no matter how many times they were lovingly disciplined, no matter how many books were in their homes, no matter how organic their food was. Nasty adults come from families were the parents were the nicest people on the block, who hugged their kids all the time, limited their television watching, and didn’t allow violent video games in their homes.

The fact that you now are different from your siblings, and you grew up in the same house is evidence that parenting is not the end-all-be-all in how people turn out. There are so many other things going on, things we discuss on this blog all the time. And I’m sorry, this might make me lose cool points among you all, but I’m saying it – I’m not taking all the blame if my kids don’t turn out to be the greatest in the world. I’m doing my best, giving them most of what I’ve got. (Not all, cause we gotta save a bit for ourselves!)

I’m not saying that the Fishburnes and Richies and Campbells did all they could – I have no idea. But you probably don’t either. At the end of the day, if my kids end up as prostitutes, high on drugs, or in porn, it ain’t my fault.

What do you think? Do you blame the parents when you see young adults acting out? If your kids go down the wrong road, will you blame yourself?