I’ll get right down to it. I asked several people the following question: What does it mean to raise a Black child in the 21st century? And here are their answers.
F. (36, female, nurse): “It’s about instilling values of integrity, pride, hard work. You have to show your kids that being Black isn’t about what the TV or the radio says it is. It’s about teaching them how their grandparents and great-grandparents really went through it so that they can have a better life.”
S. (28, male, cook): “You have to get them off this slave mentality s#!t. If it weren’t for slavery and colonization, Black folks wouldn’t even be Christian. Everybody wants to hold on to it so tightly, but I feel it’s one of the barriers that have been holding us back. Teach your kids about African religions; the stuff we were doing way before slavery. Teach them an African language. Our kids don’t have to be African-American, or Black. Let them be Africans in America. Let then know they have a real home.”
D. (62, male, retired soldier): “Blackness is not important. Raise good and grounded children. If they know love and have a solid family foundation, being Black, White, Indian, or what have you won’t matter a bit.
“Racism? Damn racism. If your kids have that family foundation, they will rise and thrive above it. We spend so much time worrying about how White folks will act towards us that we forget that we can do what they do: not even have them as a factor in our lives. Racists are out there. So what? Don’t give them the power to fool with you. Teach your kids how to build community. Teach them how to build stuff—make some type of business for themselves. Teach them to build infrastructure.”
K. (42, female, professor): “A ‘Black’ child? Blackness from which stream? Northern or southern Blackness? East coast? West coast? Geography and migration patterns have folks performing wildly different forms of blackness. And keep in mind, it is a performance. Take it a step further: American Blacks need to stop believing that our blackness is the only authentic one. Let’s be real: we’re new to being Black.
“Teach your kids that being Black is a worldwide thing. It isn’t centered or fixed in any one locale. We are everywhere. We may look alike, but we do this whole blackness thing in so many different ways. Why are you asking me about post-blackness? ‘Post’ means beyond or after. Blackness is about as now as you can get. It ain’t going nowhere. It will only get bigger and more complex.”
T. (37, gender-fluid, student): “Ain’t that kind of an oxymoron? Blackness and the 21st century? I swear, so many of us seem to be stuck in some long time ago. Teach your babies that being Black should be something they can take comfort in. It should be something that lifts them up and affirms their existence, not makes them feel like they don’t belong in their own skin or culture. Make them future-forward where being Black is about being welcoming, not some kind of exclusive club.”
O. (19, male, student): “It means teaching them not to fall for it. This society don’t care about us. We gotta let our kids know this and teach them to spot it when they try to trick us. Everybody was all happy about Obama, and dude hasn’t done nothing for us. Nothing. Raising a Black child should be about teaching them how to stay true while swimming through all the lies.”
B. (40, male, social worker): “I don’t think I like the question. My kids are mixed. My cousins, aunts and uncles say they act Black ‘despite having a White mom.’ What does that even mean? Maybe we need to leave this whole ‘being Black’ thing alone until we can have some agreement about what it actually is.”
Z. (33, female, healer): “Raising a Black child means being prepared to deal with double and triple consciousness. You have to understand, our children are smarter than we are. But things are moving so quickly that their social and spiritual selves are having a hard time keeping up. You have to give them God, family and friends, and you have to teach them how to put on the brakes and block out this crazy world.”
This conversation is so far from being over. More to come.
What does it mean to raise a Black child in the 21st century? Sound off below!
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.