To all the parents raising Black kids – this one is for you.
The “Raising Confident Kinky/Coily/Curly Haired Black Kids” event at the end of last year was a huge success—and we have YOU to thank for that. The community really came out to support and learn why we need to protect our children’s self esteem. One thing I realized then and in the weeks that followed was this:
It’s hard out here for a Black parent raising Black kids.
We have to protect our kids from all of the usual dangers that other parents are concerned about. But we have the added task of protecting Black kids from internalizing the onslaught of messages that tells them that they are not good enough, too violent, not smart enough, not pretty enough or simply not as valuable as other kids. Just because they are Black.
One of the areas in which we see this most powerfully is in the realm of skin color and hair texture. As I’ve said before:
How do you make the pain go away when your daughter is crying because she hates her hair? How do you ease the hurt when your son is teased for having a certain shade of dark brown skin? How do we raise confident kinky, coily and curly haired Black children in a world that tells them their hair and skin color are ugly, unacceptable and otherwise undesirable?
Addressing this reality was one of the main goals of the event. I was grateful to collaborate with Ama Yawson, author of Sunne’s Gift and to see that there are so many parents who are searching for answers on how to raise Black kids and teach them how to love themselves.
How Bad Is It?
In the weeks that followed the program, I had several jaw dropping conversations with friends and family who were battling these issues.
One friend’s 6-year-old daughter began verbalizing a desire for straight hair and blonde dolls.
Another friend’s 4-year-old daughter began begging for dolls with straight “yellow” hair.
One family friend told us that she and her husband were speechless when their 4-year-old said she wanted a White cartoon character to beat a Black cartoon character in a race—because the Black character was too dark.
A family member’s son told his parents that his skin was too “black”.
One of my son’s friends used the phrase “good hair” to describe my daughter’s baby hair.
A 9-year-old little girl told me her brother wasn’t cute because he was too dark.
To make things worse, while attending a speech by Dr. Joy DeGruy (author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome) who was speaking about the destructive nature of the color complex, a grown woman told my husband that our daughter “has good hair” and “hopefully she’ll keep it.”
At the Raising Confident Kinky/Coily/Curly Haired Black Kids event a lot of us realized that one thing is key: it is very difficult to teach our children to love their hair, skin, features and history—if we as their parents have not really dealt with these issues ourselves. And even if we as adults when through our own “self love” moment, teaching a 4-year-old that she doesn’t need straight “yellow” hair can be one of the most challenging conversations we can have with our kids.
As Black parents, chances are we are aware of racism…but rarely do we have the space or the language to really analyze the realities of racism in a way that is empowering…especially when we are trying to empower a kindergartner.
And as one mom noted:
“How can I teach my daughter to love her hair when mine used to be permed and now is always under a weave?”
Indeed. How can we possibly teach our children to love their history, when many of us only remember what we were taught during the one Black history month program we might have attended each year in our K-12 education?
How do we convince our kids that their stories matter when they spend 8 hours a day in an education system that rarely teaches them anything positive about their own history? How do we remind them that their history did not start in slavery when their schools only teach them the five-minute version of Black history?
Where Do We Go From Here?
After the event many of you contacted me to find out what additional resources you can use to help your children navigate these issues. We mentioned several at the program but there are many other books and resources out there.
One of the key things you should know as the parent of a Black child is that teaching our children to love who they are as Black people is not an extra curricular thing. This is not something we can afford to do once a year.
The message machine that programs our kids to value White skin and straight hair over their own is running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
We cannot pretend that taking our kids to a yearly Black history event is enough. We cannot trust a school system, which has yet to prove its ability to properly meet the specific needs of Black and other non-White children, to properly educate them about who they are and their value to society.
Is This Really A Big Deal?
And lest you think that I’m just making mountains out of molehills, consider this:
There is a plethora of research that demonstrates that “culturally responsive pedagogy and positive racial identity promote academic achievement and resilience.” This means that for little Black girls [and boys], it is imperative that they have access to educational environments that support their specific needs as Black kids and validates their culture.
You should also know this:
As reported over at Clutch Magazine, a new study out of Harvard & University of Pittsburgh found that “racial socialization”—teaching kids about their culture and involving them in activities that promote racial pride and connection [you know like learning to love and embrace the hair that grows out of your head]—helps to offset the discrimination and racial prejudices children face by the outside world.
And consider this, one of the researchers in that study stated
“When African American parents instill a proud, informed, and sober perspective of race in their sons and daughters, these children are more likely to experience increased academic success… Our study provides empirical evidence that the longstanding practice in the African American community of cultivating racial pride and preparing children to face racial bias in society should be considered among appropriate and beneficial practices in parenting Black children.”
So…yeah. In the words of Vice President Biden,
“this is a big [effin] deal.”
One key resource that I want to mention here is the SETCLAE curriculum and workbook series. SETCLAE stands for Self Esteem Through Culture Leads to Academic Excellence. We use this curriculum in my non-profit’s (shout out to Sankofa Community Empowerment, Inc.) Saturday School Program. It is a dynamic K-12 program that comes complete with workbooks and it is:
a model curriculum that provides a mechanism through which educators, youth workers, and parents can teach their children the positive aspects of their cultural heritage and simultaneously increase their self-esteem and their desire to excel.
We’ve successfully used this curriculum in our Saturday School programs for years. Kids, who start the program not wanting anything to do with Africa, leave the program with a sense of pride and with demonstrated improvements in their overall academic programs. Most importantly, after exposure to a positive, healthy culturally responsive program, our students begin speaking about a love for themselves, for their hair, skin and features (I’m going to explore this type of education more in a few weeks.). Not to mention the fact that they begin to increase their believe in their own capacity to become leaders and to make positive changes in our community.
But SETCLAE is only one of many resources that parents can use to help their Black children.
For folks looking for additional books you can use, I encourage you to join the mailing list below. The next Afro State of Mind Newsletter will contain a more comprehensive book and resource list. That newsletter will go out at the end of next week so sign up now to make sure you get the info.
So long story short—this is an on-going, protracted struggle. Yes, there has been an increased acceptance for natural hair in some (small) parts of the world. But we are a long way from the days when our kids (grandkids?) will receive messages about Blackness that are more positive than negative.
But by being proactive in our commitment to protect and properly nurture our children—we can make that a reality sooner rather than later.
Here’s to positive Black parenting.
Looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind? Check out my book Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available on Amazon.com in paper back or e-book! And if you want to stay connected follow me on Twitter, “like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on my latest youtube videos! Don’t forget to check out Afro State of Mind Radio, Sunday mornings at 10 am on iArtistRadio.com – this week we continue our month long spotlight on Black health. Enjoy!