We’re “Black in America”…& We’re Okay.

Mother / December 7, 2012

photo 1“I wanted to raise my hand and say that ‘you should love your hair’ and ‘you shouldn’t care what everybody likes or says, all that matters is if you like it’.”

My seven-year-old daughter, Arionna, said that to me as we departed Temple’s campus from the “Wannabe vs Jiggaboo” event hosted by the Temple Association of Black Journalist, B.A.N.T.U and HER Campus Temple student organizations.

In the past week or so, this event and the “Who is Black In America?” panel hosted by Soledad O’Brien at Drexel University, served as a sign that our family discussions are on the right track.

Here’s why:

Since Arionna was about 4 years-old she began realizing that her little sister wasphoto 1 lighter skinned with “different” hair and hazel eyes–similar to Gigi’s father and I. Arionna takes after her father with her dark facial features, thick, luscious hair and walnut colored skin. Honestly, to see my girls walking down the street you might not think them sisters–but they are. Often times, this has led to people stopping on the street to admire Gigi’s “beautiful eyes” and failing to make mention of Arionna until after they praise her sister.

As a mother, this is extremely frustrating.

img_1530This is in part because growing up, both my sister and I were generally around the same complexion, although I always got extremely dark in the summer season–like Arionna. We both, however, inherited our “pretty eyes” from our mother’s side of the family and our hair was very close in texture (although mine was thicker); therefore, there was never any real sibling rivalry that developed.

It’s hard to come from that background and be faced with the reality of my children.

It’s taken many years to get Arionna to understand, embrace and be proud of her beauty and her hair texture–especially in the face of her little sister. For a while, Ari thought that I loved her sister more and it took constant reiteration on my part to make it clear that I loved them equally and uniquely as required for their individual needs. One way that I was able to get her to understand this was by pointing out some differences in their personalities and highlighting how that translates into the type of loving that they both need. This not only helped her with understanding the way that I love them as a unit (my children) and individually, but also understanding the difference in her developmental stage and Gigi’s.

One major turning point of her self-love was the first time she wore her hair blownphoto out in an afro to the Odunde African American Heritage Festival. She kept remarking how much she loved her hair and she received so many compliments on it at the festival–especially when they referred to her hair as her “crown”. I was so happy that we attended because for the first time, I watched my daughter truly embrace everything about herself.

My gratitude for that festival was beyond words.

Days after, when Arionna wore the style to school, students teased her and she came home requesting that we change her style.

“But you love your afro. Why change it?” I asked concerned. I know how cruel kids can be.

“Everyone made fun of me at school today because of my hair. It’s not worth it,” she replied.

We had a long discussion about who she wears her hair for: them or her?

photo 3We end up exploring the importance of maintaining a sense of self so that you protect your individuality (yes, I discussed that with her). As time went on, I watched her care a little less about what people had to say.

Today, at seven-years-old I make sure to always–and randomly–ask Arionna what she loves about herself, both physical and non-physical. At first, she’d pause and have to think about things, and with time, she began running off things left and right.

Teaching a child of color self-love—especially in America–has got to be one of the most daunting and rewarding tasks that exists as a parent. I remember how much I struggled with my self-esteem and how ugly I thought I was. My mother and family were always there to fight back against the internal infliction that my negative thoughts caused. As a result, at 24 years-old I’ve grown to love and accept myself in ways I didn’t imagine possible.


My “village”…

So when I have days where I worry about what’s to come next in Ari’s journey through her self-image, and eventually self-love, I remind myself of my job as a mother. As long as I remain consistent in reminding her of her beauty and intelligence; in reminding of her of how strong and independent she is; in reminding her of how proud I am of her; and continuing to ensure that not only am I an example of a strong woman who’s in love with herself, but to also ensure that I place people like that around her, she will be just fine.

America can continue to fight the race and self-image battle. I won’t say it’s not my problem because in a sense it is, BUT it’s not my fight.

My fight…my duty…is in my home. I can’t fight the war in the world if I’m not winning the battle in my home.

The solution to many of our problems, start in our homes. It’s going to take years more of working to change the world’s problems, but the best place to start is with what you can control and directly influence. If you’re a parent and your issue is with the images that your child sees on TV, before you write a letter to the creators, cut the damn thing off (or limit their TV time) and tend to your child.

photo 2You’re Black/African-American/Whatever you refer to yourself as, etc. and you dislike racism?

Fine. Me too.

Just make sure your actions aren’t teaching your children to hate or dislike white people–because that damn sure won’t help our issues with race.

You don’t like discrimination?

Well don’t discriminate when it comes to your child’s dolls/toys; buy dolls of all colors so that your child is use to seeing multiple races interact and can take pride in seeing themselves represented among the many others.

It starts in the home, people.

All of it.

I walked away from “Wannabe vs. Jiggaboo” and “Who’s Black in America?” with aphoto sense of thanks. One, because my daughters’ response to the first nearly brought tears to my eyes and reaffirmed that she had absorbed all that I’ve worked to instill in her regarding hair and self-esteem. Two, because as a mother, I could find peace in knowing that I was raising a child who at seven has the ability to think for herself and to have examples of strong women–of all colors–readily in her sight and reach. Three, because my mother and family had done what the world seems to argue is impossible or make a never-ending conversation. As a result, not only have they made me stronger and given me the support needed to love myself, but they’ve also equipped me to be able to pass it on to others.

It takes a village and again, it starts in our homes.

photo 2Take it back to Ghandi and be the change that you wish to see.

I’m thankful that we have another installment of Black in America airing this Sunday, Dec. 9th at 8 p.m. on CNN {plug}. 😉

I’m thankful that the national media is attempting to spark discussion and analysis into race issues & the black experience.

However, I’d also like to see more documentaries and discussion about the people who have overcome these race issues, how they did so and what organizations or individuals are working to help others do the same?

Can we actively move forward in that sense?

I’m just saying.

I’m no expert and I’m sure I’ll hear quite an earful from plenty of people about this post.

Thankfully though…

This is America.

– Sincerely Syreeta

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December 7, 2012