‘Blackish’: Teaching Black Children To Embrace ALL Of Us
Tonight’s premiere episode of the new ABC sitcom, Blackish, has me thinking a lot about my girlpies and the very first time I contemplated, after years of proclaiming loudly and often how down I am, whether I’m just some bougie chick raising future snobs. Of course, I never pegged myself as such: I’m a Black mom from a religious, working class family who scratched and survived and works hard for the money, loves her people with abandon and wants her kids to be better than her while being comfortable living and loving in a diverse world. But one summer, I found myself rethinking all of that.
The setting: an expensive summer art camp in Stone Mountain, GA. The scene: a class full of wild, loud, obnoxious Black kids, tossing chairs, refusing to listen and wreaking general havoc in a classroom that contained one Mari Chiles. The plot: my then-8-year-old daughter, the product of a small, predominantly white private Montessori school where teachers and students learned together in gentle harmony, gets scared crapless by the raucous lawlessness of her fellow students, all Black, and the screaming teachers’ responses to it, and cowers in the corner, waiting for the clock to strike 3 p.m. so that she can proclaim to her mother she is never—never ever—going back there.
The scenario and our daughter’s pronouncement introduced a heated debate between me and Nick—not just about how we’d handle that camp going forward or how we’d allay our daughter’s fear, but also whether the decision we made would set up our child for a lifetime of being uncomfortable around her people. Nick wanted her to buck up. “She needs to be okay around Black people, even the ones who don’t have the same background, money and upbringing she does.” I wanted to pull her from that ghetto ass camp and get my $275 back. “I’m not raising daughters who would ever have to live, work or play in a place where they’d have to fear for their safety or lower their standards or expectations.”
And thus was our “Blackish” moment. Many more have come since then. And we are surrounded by families who are having the sometimes hard, always fascinating discussion about what, exactly, it means to be solidly middle class Black folk raising kids who spend much more time in an insulated existence that is colored quite differently from that of their peers with less money, education, access and diversity.
We don’t have the answers, Sway. But after years of living with, loving and raising our babies, we have come to a mutual understanding about this one true thing: we are working overtime to make sure that no matter what our daughters’ station in life, they leave our house with a few things, namely empathy, a love and respect for our people, and the ability to move amongst us—all of us—without hesitation or fear.
This is no easy proposition, mind you. In the circles in which we move, it is all-too-easy for our babies to develop a sense of superiority, a bit of entitlement and, good God, a wholly unnatural love for Taylor Swift. Our job, then, is to find ways to help them feel comfortable in communities, circles and situations that stretch outside their easily-insulated world—spaces that encourage them to embrace the beauty of Blackness. Of who they are. We are, after all, a gifted people—intelligent, passionate, creative, and funny as hell, with an undeniable swag that incubates on the front stoops of our communities before becoming the cultural capital on which the entire world trades. To wit: who would Kim Kardashian be had she not bedded all those Black stallions and accentuated all that ass? If not for T.I., who would know Iggy Azalea’s name? How else would Jimmy Iovine have successfully negotiated that billion dollar deal with Apple, had he not brought Dr. Dre and all his swagger into the board meetings?
I could go on, but the simple point is this: I want my daughters to be proud of who they are. And that can’t happen if they’re running from their own people. So we run toward us. To the pews of Black churches. To art shows and theatrical and concert performances that introduce our daughters to the breadth of our creativity. To cultural festivals where they can rub shoulders and break bread with a myriad of our skinfolk—thugs, Black nationals, Buppies and Flower Children and Average Joes alike. To history books and fiction about Black heroes and lives. To sports leagues, clubs and activities that are overwhelmingly Black. Even to lessons on Black English and code-switching.
Sometimes, the introductions can be a bit clunky. A tad comical, for sure. No doubt, this is what we’ll see tonight on “Blackish,” when Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Lawrence Fishburne show us in word and deed how to walk the line. I look forward to the discourse. Certainly the commiseration. And a laugh and high-five on every page. This is us, y’all. Thank you, show creator Kenya Barris, for seeing us.
“Blackish” premieres Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 9:30 p.m. EST/8:30 p.m. Central on ABC.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.
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Great points; I nodded my head in agreement the entire time while reading. It’s definitely a challenging task to expose our children to certain aspects of the “realness” of our culture all while ensuring the spirit of excellence, love, humility, and respect for others and God are being put into the mix. I’ve experienced multiple occasions, especially when our family leaves the comfort of our home in the Carolinas and journeys back to where it all began, the suburbs of Jersey for me and the hard core streets of New York for my husband. My little lady absolutely cracks me up as she loves visiting the Trip-State area for family, shopping, and food (she has developed a love for BBQ’s & loves Times Square) but around Day 4 the “when are we going home” chorus begins. The exposure to all aspects is a beautiful thing to some degree but I’ve also been realistic to begin asking the tough questions of “Why?”. Specifically why some still make the conscious decision of settling and not striving for excellence, even in their own children’s behavior. I’m aware that an illness, layoff, unexpected turn of events can result in a total shift of a lifestyle, however but there is an alarming concern that some while in these situations still have very misguided priorities. Take a peek at handbags, apparel, nails, weaves, or even vehicle choices. Am I suggesting a vow of poverty? Absolutely not, but we all know the definition of insanity. For now, it’s definitely a balancing act all while creating new experiences. I’m excited to tune in tonight!!!!
This is definitely our life, and I look forward to watching the show. I’m with you and your husband both – on one hand I don’t want my boys fearing the day-to-day life at school. But at the same time, I don’t want them fearing their people, either. Taking a few cues from you here Denene and we’ll have more activities where we rub shoulders with our folks who don’t live in the ‘burbs with us.