By Nadirah Angail
So far, I have one child, a little brown girl (LBG). She’s only 20 months, but I’ve already started my campaign against the ugly and powerful forces that will try to convince her that the deep golden brown of her skin is too dark, that the whimsical curls of her hair are too unmanageable, and that her half-African-American-half Senegalese features are too bold (and, therefore, unattractive). That alone is a full-time job, and come some time in early April (God willing) I’ll have another baby to defend, a little brown boy (LBB).
My first thought when I found out he was a boy was, “I knew it, I knew it!” Something inside told me, even before I was pregnant, that my next child would be a boy. Mother’s intuition, I guess. My second thought was, “Aww, my husband will have a son.” My third through ninth thoughts were similar in their syrupy sweet nature, but around about thought 10, it hit me: I’m having a little brown boy, a member of the most targeted and feared demographic group in the country. That’s when the fear and worry set in.
I don’t know why it scared me so much. After all, both of my siblings were once LBBs, and they turned out beautifully. They’re both alive, can read (hey, not everyone can do that), have never been incarcerated, have no drug addictions or diseases, have nonexistent criminal records, and zero baby mamas (unless you count my older brother’s wife, who is also mother to all his children). They managed to dodge the huge targets on their backs, but only because of the amazing people we like to call Mama and Dad, who steered them through all the booby traps.
Usually, we obsess over our girls. We hold forums about premature sexualization in the media. We rally to get them into more sports and extracurricular activities, and out of music videos and the backseats of boys’ cars. We pray that they don’t get pregnant in high school and don’t become one of the girls with “a reputation.” We go hard for our girls, because we know the likely outcome if we don’t. But what about our boys? In many black communities, LBBs are expected to play the role of little brown men. In preparation for this world that has stripped many big brown men from their families, LBBs feel pressured to fill in the holes.
Perhaps that’s why LBBs are only one third as likely to graduate high school as their white male counterparts and make up a disproportionate percent of incarcerated males nationwide. I am not one to point a big accusing fingers at The Man for problems in black communities, but LBBs definitely have a unique set of circumstances that make them susceptible to the deadly call of the streets. Keeping them away is hard enough, but once they’re in, it takes arms of steel to pull them back to the light.
I remember when my brothers and I were little. My mother was quick to make an appointment with any teacher who had a problem with one of her boys. It wasn’t that she was babying them or removing accountability for their actions, but she knew how quickly some teachers are to label LBBs as “disruptive” and cart them off to remedial classes, a.k.a. the breeding ground for failure. That was NOT going to happen on my mother’s watch. My dad had a more relaxed, laid back approach, but his efforts were just as important. I remember how he made them get up and go to karate class every weekend, even after the coolness had worn off and they were starting to grow tired of it. He was determined to raise strong, disciplined sons who knew not to fight in most cases, but how to fight when necessary.
My parents made it look easy, but I know the stress they had to endure. I have cousins and uncles who were dragged down by the magnetic pull of the street life. Some of them are in jail or rehab, others are in cemeteries. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for my parents to try to ensure that their sons didn’t follow suit. I guess my real fear is that I won’t find that balance, that I’ll end up being too strict and hyper sensitive or not strict enough and dismissive. Of course, I don’t want to be that aloof mother than has no idea what her son is up to until she gets a call from the police, but I also don’t want to be that over-the-top, hard-as-nails mother that ends up pushing her sons away by squeezing so tightly. It just seems like such a daunting task. Luckily, I don’t have to do it alone. I have a wonderful husband that I’m certain will be a great role model and guide, but I still get concerned when I think about the mountain we’re about to climb. Too many of our LBBs are already on destructive paths, already convinced that their potential is weak. The stakes are so high. I can’t stand to lose
Nadirah Angail is a Kansas City-based author and blogger. She has published two books and written many articles and blogs that speak to her interpretation of the female experience. Find more information about her and her writing at www.nadirahangail.com.
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