Raising Black and Brown Babies

As much as I love the exchange of information and communities that can form online I have to say that there are areas where I feel it’s very limited. No matter who we are and how open minded we see ourselves the fact is we bring our lens to how we interpret information. In the US, our race, class and gender greatly inform our views even down to the politics of how we parent our children. In the past 24 hours I have read two pieces and the resulting comments that really bring home the point for me as a Black woman raising brown kids that no matter what parenting philosophy I choose my experiences as a Black woman in America shape my views. In this first piece we have Erica Jong discussing the parenting style known as attachment parenting and in this second piece we have a great blogger who happens to be Black dealing with her brown boy asking for a white doll. I realize they are both lengthy but I encourage you to read them.

I not going to get into specifics but I will say that what I was struck by in reading these pieces was how much as a Black woman that shapes how I raise my kids. To be honest I feel I live (and most Black/Brown folks) in a world that requires no matter how progressive I am as a parent that I instill in my kids some things that white folks will never have to worry about when it comes to raising their kids. In order to do that I must start early in childhood, I believe I have moved far away from the harsh manner in which my parents raised me. I don’t spank, I don’t yell, I allow my kids a voice but at the same time I understand that black and brown children if they are caught out in the world expressing themselves no matter how cute and articulate that as they grow older the stakes get higher. What am I trying to say? Well as the mother of an 18 year old brown boy, I will always worry will my son become a victim of police brutality? I can’t imagine my white friends have that worry but I know that every Black and Brown mother I know raising boys has that fear. All it takes is a simple traffic stop for my son’s life to end.

This reality was brought home recently when speaking to my former mother in law who happen to be an attorney and she was telling me about this story. Apparently I missed it in the news but you have a young Black man whose life was ended too early. Sadly these things are all too common in Black and brown communities. My former mother in law was talking about how this story made her fear for my son, her only grandchild. I almost laughed but simply said I understand. See, since my son hit that stage at about 14 or so when his height exceeded mine and he looked less like a boy and more like a man, I have feared for his life. Oh, I know he is a level headed kid who while he will make mistakes often will try to do the right thing but may fall short. We all do, no one is perfect. Problem is we live in a world that does not give black and brown bodies the benefit of the doubt.

I fear that my son could at any minute become a victim of someone else’s stupidity. I fear that as my girl grows up she will internalize the images that say black and brown are not beautiful yet she will be a prime candidate for the boys and men that will be eager to use and abuse her.

I realize some might say gee…you live a grim existence. Nope, I live the life the cards dealt and understand in ways my parents never did when they tried to raise me in a color blind (to some degree hippy fashion) that the world is not kind to black and brown bodies. I understand that as a Black woman, shit happens to brown and black bodies at a greater rate than it happen to white bodies. I understand that sadly the political is not just a discussion I have online but my reality. Black and brown bodies in this society break down faster than white bodies; we are bombarded by stresses on every side…as bell hooks said in Sisters of the Yam “Life threatening stress has become the normal psychological state for many black women (and men). Much of the stress black people experience is directly related to the way in which systems of domination-racism, sexism, and capitalism in particular disrupt out capabilities to fully exercise self determination.” It’s why as a Black woman raising brown kids, my children know how to breathe deeply and my son started taking yoga. It’s probably why whenever I go to the doctor they seem amazed that my blood pressure is good, it pisses me off yet I know I am the same age my mother was when she had to start taking the blood pressure medicine. It’s why in the late 30’s Black and Brown bodies slowly start breaking down almost certainly insuring we will leave this planet earlier than our white counterparts.

I share this all to say that if we as a culture want to have a true discussion on parenting and motherhood in this society that first thing we must be willing to look at is the differences that impact us as mothers. Yes, we all want the same thing for our babies but the means by which we get there may different. It’s why in Black and Brown communities the need for a village from my perspective is stronger than in the white community. I know I cannot parent alone, I have tried. Yet for my white sisters many are okay without that village yet they often have greater supports, partners who often can earn enough to provide. While my white sisters also deal with the fact that as women in this society they are still not valued as much as men the fact is with whiteness comes a level of privilege that is harder to access if you are Black or Brown.  While most certainly lower income whites face many of the same struggles that low income and even middle class Blacks face the fact is whiteness is at times less stressful.

To come together as mothers concerned about the world and raising kids, I need my white sisters to understand that while my methods of raising kids may differ from you, it’s only because our reality is different.  Once there is that acknowledgment then I think as women and mothers we can come together to address the inequities that face us all.

6 thoughts on “Raising Black and Brown Babies

  1. Shay, what baffles me is the hegemonic nature of these discussions–as is attachment parenting were some new phenomena. Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Africa have been doing this for YEARS. The message is the same: middle-class white women know what’s best for all mothers. And when a mother of color tries to give her perspective (as Robyn did), she is ignored and told, “Well this is how I do it.” *smh* (It’s not the first time this has happened, though, so I shouldn’t be surprised.) Or, even worse, we are called child-haters–even though we have given examples of how we have grown up in such contexts WITH discipline.

    I am not a mother. But as a woman of color who grew up in an attachment parenting environment–before white middle class psychologists even coined the phrase–I can say that there as POSITIVE and NEGATIVE aspects of this. On the positive side, I had so many people involved in my child-rearing that I can honestly say it made me into a strong woman. On the negative side, I feel like I experienced a level of overprotectiveness that did not aid in my transition to adulthood decision-making. (Though, many of my Latina and Black friends who are currently practice attachment parenting seem to have mastered this great divide, which is cool to see. They have involved relatives they can trust. On the other hand, they’ve also abandoned the “old ways” of regimented discipline.)

    Any type of black and white–“this is how it is” (child hater vs. child lover)–discussions are bound to fail.

  2. I’ve watched my sweet nephews grow up and now they look like men. I want to tell them crazy things like, “Don’t travel more than 1 or 2 deep” for fear of them looking threatening and like “gang members”. These are the sweetest boys you’d ever want to know but I still worry like mad. Then I start thinking about my own two boys . . . it’s really difficult.

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head for me as AA mother raising my boys in the USA. I will print this out and place it in my journal as a reminder of why I do what I need to do for my family- in raising them to be productive members of society. My husband and I have been bless to have children and it’s our duty to prepare them. Thank you for this post.

  4. “…I allow my kids a voice but at the same time I understand that black and brown children if they are caught out in the world expressing themselves no matter how cute and articulate that as they grow older the stakes get higher.”

    Spankings stopped some time ago although but I still yell to get my point across, if need be. I struggle with them having a voice more than anything so I relate so much with this line. Often I think it is powerful that they can speak for themselves, will voice their opinion, and even correct me if I am wrong about something. Others do not see it that way or like it.

    Awesome post!

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