My daughter’s first birthday party was lively, with folks excited to usher in young Skylar’s one, big, milestone-packed year of life. Between the scampering and scurrying of little people under three feet tall, I managed to pin her down to perform the ceremonial opening of gifts. About three or four presents in, we cooperatively unfurled a pink box which I promptly flipped over to show little miss toddler. My mom, never one to let her private thoughts stay that way, mumbled “oh Lord” before I even had a chance to look, probably because she anticipated the fallout in advance. Staring back at us was a White doll. Blonde synthentic strands, painted blue eyes, high rosy cheeks, alabaster-colored skin.
I plastered a smile as fake as the Barbie’s across my face, thanked the guest who’d brought it—a cousin who was hovering at a convenient distance by the snack table—and kept the party moving.
But not far under my surface, I was irked and agitated. Of course, at the tender age of uno, my child was none the wiser about the offensiveness of her new toy. She thought it was just another doll. Truth be told, the gift giver probably did too. But because all kinds of studies have proven how deeply self-hatred and low self-esteem are engrained into the collective subconscious of little Black girls like my daughter, I made a very conscious effort to surround my daughter with the beauty of Blackness—not just from year one, but from day one. And until I felt like she was old enough to have a solid understanding of her greatness as a woman of African descent, that meant being careful about what she played with, what she read (whenever she did, in fact, start reading) and what she watched on TV.
So there were no Disney flicks in our house. Snow White? Out. Cinderella? Nope. Certainly Beauty and the Beast was a no-go. I mean, the chick’s name says it all: Beauty. It doesn’t get much more in-your-face than that. If there weren’t Black dolls at the store, Skylar just didn’t get a new doll. We made art projects with brown paper people, shaded the characters brown in her favorite coloring books, and designed collages on the refrigerator door with faces that looked like hers. Every school she’s gone to has been all-Black. The churches we’ve attended: Black. My friends and her friends: Black. Our neighborhood in DC, which isn’t nicknamed “Chocolate City” for naught: yeah, that’s Black too.
I don’t deny that I’m vehemently passionate about my people. It’s the basis of my major in graduate school, it’s what I learned as a student at the first HBCU (cough, cough, shameless plug for Lincoln University), it’s something I picked up and ran with from my mother who, when I was a kid, would not hesitate to whip out a brown marker so she could give the angels on our Christmas tree or the figurines on our salt and pepper shakers some soulful color.
Let me be clear, though, because there always seems to be confusion when it comes to Black folks who immerse themselves in Them-ness: just because I have an unshakeable pride in my heritage doesn’t mean I can’t, don’t, or won’t find the beauty in other peoples, too. That seems to be a running misconception that gets pinned on Black enthusiasts. Just about every major city has a Little Italy, a Chinatown, a Greek or Mexican haven. But when one stays immersed in the Black community one gets saddled with a tag of anti-socialism. Hmph. I digress.
Back over in my camp, baby Skylar has grown up into 12-year-old Skylar with the audacity to be as tall as her disbelieving mama. She’s got a head full of gorgeous brown dreadlocks that we started growing when she was in the fourth grade because she wanted them, not because I forced them on her. She’s having a love affair with her natural hair—really, her whole Black self—and I’m loving watching it from the sidelines. For that reason, I feel comfortable entertaining her interest in going to a diverse, mixed-culture high school when I reluctantly, kicking-and-screechingly let her become a freshman.
She’s got a strong sense of who she is and I’m not worried that she’ll be influenced by the all-American standard that long, straight hair or a waif thin body frame is the only acceptable version of beauty. On the flip, I pray that that same upbringing instilled in her the knowledge that being a proud Black woman is so much more than flaunting her ample hips, her hearty bust, or her apple bottom. She got smarts like Mae Jemison, Donna Brazile, and her idol KeKe Palmer, and she’s expected to show those off instead of her donk.
Lord knows I don’t have even half of the answers I need for parenting. In fact, I could use a “Mom of a Tween Girl” support group to get through some of these other childrearing issues. But I believe with the all the fire in my spirit (and trust—that’s a lot) that there’s no such thing as giving our kids too much Black culture. I believe that children who are reared to be proud of who they are and where they came from are able to shake off more of the can’t-dos that society inevitably throws at them. I believe that a strong knowledge of their ancestry, from Kemet to Compton, gives them a foundation that helps them to go out and better appreciate other folks.
A good dose of Black power at home—not just in a “stand proud, child, you’re a Johnson” kind of way, but “hold your head high, you come from African greatness”—becomes the reference point for their walk through the real world. So how could there ever be such a thing as too Black, too strong?