Doc McStuffins Isn’t Enough

Doc McStuffins, Disney’s black doctor character, is a “crossover hit.” Sales of Doc McStuffins character products are evenly distributed by race and even gender, prompting a popular refrain about the virtues of colorblindness, as reported by the New York Times:

“‘The kids who are of color see her as an African-American girl, and that’s really big for them,’ said Chris Nee, the creator of Doc McStuffins. ‘And I think a lot of other kids don’t see her color, and that’s wonderful as well.'”

If only that were true.

People want to believe that young children do not see color. It seemingly provides us with the opportunity to intervene on young minds before racial stereotypes take hold. If young children do not see color, then we can provide multi-cultural materials to promote diversity, even when our personal lives — where we live, the conversations in which we participate, with whom we educate our kids — fail to reflect the racial equality and diversity we say we value.

What is true is that kids do “see” color because it is embedded into the very fabric of who we are as a nation. But kids, especially white children, are taught to ignore what they see, which is very different than not seeing color at all.

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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.

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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”

Hair Weaves For Little Girls

I don’t know if it rises to the level of an epidemic, but lately I’ve seen a number of little girls – as in, girls under the age of 12 – wearing hair weaves, wigs and lacefronts.

As black women, our hair issues begin at birth. We black mothers study our girls’ hair texture, waiting to see if those fine baby curls are going to “nap up.” Some of us start putting that baby hair into plaits, cornrows and ponytails as soon as our baby girls are able to sit up. If there’s not enough hair to comb, we brush it as best we can and put a headband on our girls’ heads, so everyone will know the baby is a girl and not a boy (strangers still get it confused, though).

I didn’t really know how to take care of a girl’s hair when my daughter was born. My mother did my hair until I graduated from high school. Although I didn’t relax my hair until law school, I wore it pressed from age 12. I had decided my girl’s hair would stay natural, but I had no idea how to style natural hair.

I was lucky to find a wonderful babysitter, a Mexican woman who taught herself how to care for my daughter’s hair. She styled my daughter’s hair in elaborate beaded cornrows and two-strand twists. Even after my daughter started school and we no longer needed her babysitting services, our former nanny still styled my daughter’s hair.

It never occurred to me to consider letting my daughter wear her hair out, loose, free. I was brought up that only white girls and girls with a certain hair texture – what we used to call “good hair” – could wear their hair out all the time. I shunned the term “good hair” but was still trapped in its mindset. I believed not combing my daughter’s hair would result in it getting tangled, matted, and eventually falling out.

I said complimentary things to my girl about her hair. I told her how wonderfully thick and curly her hair was and how much she should admire it. I bought all the right books and said all the right things to combat my girl’s jealous feelings towards classmates whose blonde and brunette locks swung down their backs. But my actions spoke to a different belief – that her hair wasn’t the right texture.

My daughter and I began having hair battles. I kept her hair washed, conditioned, combed and braided, but I could no longer fit trips to the nanny into our schedule, and I didn’t know enough cute natural hairstyles.

I gave up and took her to the African braiding shop. I thought I’d found the answer to all my prayers. Their cornrows were so perfect! Even without extension hair braided in, the style would last at least two weeks. With extension hair braided in, they would last even longer.

And so we continued down that steep, slippery slope of “your hair isn’t good enough.”

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