I have two daughters.
My youngest was born on Inauguration Day 2017. She’s named after Harriet Tubman. Her first name means Liberator. A good friend calls her Princess New Hope Redemption because she was born on what many consider a bleak day.
My oldest is named after a biblical figure that brought freedom to their people. Her middle name means justice. When I picked her name, it was with the hope that she would fight for justice and righteousness. When she was four months old, I held her and cried as we watched Ferguson burn on CNN.
I’ve always been outspoken about justice and racial issues, but after Ferguson, I felt a marked shift in my spirit. In those initial hours of the uprising, I could see the wellsprings of a new civil rights movement. I knew my response in that moment was important. I decided I couldn’t tell my daughter or my grandchildren that I sat back and did nothing as black bodies lay in the street. So I wrote. I wept. I spoke. I did something.
As my youngest burst into the world at 6:07pm on Inauguration Day, I knew she was birthed into a different world than her sister was. Her short life has seen all of the upheaval this presidency has brought to our nation, and yet she remains oblivious. Her world is our family.
I’m not a helicopter parent. I don’t believe in placing kids in bubble wrap. I’m about being honest and explaining things at an age-appropriate level because secrets and lies have more power to harm than the truth.
But the day after Election Day, I wept in the bathroom and prayed that Daniel Tiger would be enough of a distraction so my oldest wouldn’t see me so sad and angry. I put on my best happy face when curiosity led her to see what all the fuss was. More recently, I turned off the TV and hid my phone as Charlottesville unraveled live on TV and social media.
I’m not proud of those things and I know hard conversations about race will come sooner than later. At this stage, I want to get my kids so hype about being black that they will think racists are crazy. I can’t do anything about what the world thinks about them or how they’re treated, but I can cultivate a strong sense of identity in them.
I want my girls to love their blackness. I buy them books with black children in them. I ensure they have dolls that represent them. I often show my oldest pictures of black women and their hairstyles and she wants me to style her hair like theirs. We talk about my beautiful “pointy” hair. We talk about our beautiful brown skin.
We listen to “The Wiz Live” cast album, Hamilton, Sho, and John P. Kee. I sing spirituals and “Lift E’vry Voice and Sing”. We march in the annual MLK Day parade, and when they’re old enough, they’ll go to the NAACP Youth Organization and the Black History Summer Academy.
I never want them to be ashamed of who they are. As biracial girls growing up in the Midwest, it’s important they have a strong sense of identity lest they falter under the weight of assimilation. They will each cultivate their own identities when they’re older, but I feel it’s my responsibility to give them the cultural and spiritual tools to navigate their reality. Their dad and I have agreed it is important to emphasize their blackness to them because it is this facet of their identity that is most often denigrated.
As their mother, it’s important to me that my daughters feel strong and confident. As a black mother raising daughters in this sociopolitical climate, it is imperative my girls understand they are God’s workmanship, created in his image (Eph. 2:10, Gen. 1:27).
White supremacy seeks to snuff out this sense of identity in people of color. By boldly teaching my girls about their black identity (and also sharing the knowledge of their father’s immigrant heritage), we are “telling the truth and shaming the devil” by rejecting white supremacy. We are rejecting the lie that black people loving themselves means that they hate other people.
A Lesson from Israel
When I was a kid, I never understood why my mom insisted I read books about black people, watch black shows, and know Black History. As an adult, I can see now that loving myself and my blackness served as armor for when I encountered the small-mindedness of many in the small Missouri town where I grew up, and the small-mindedness of ‘big city’ people when I went to college.
I’m thankful my mom taught me about the richness and beauty of black people and black culture. It didn’t prevent or lessen the impact of racism, but it helped me feel strong and confident. I want my girls to have a similar outlook because there is so much out there to make them feel weak and ashamed.
The way my mom instilled a strong sense of cultural identity in me makes me think of Isaiah 43:1, which says: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
In this scripture, the Lord reminds Israel of who they are and of what he called them to be. I believe there is something in that for the Black Community. I don’t believe that it was ever God’s intent for us to experience the oppression and gross injustice that has been inflicted upon us, but the culture and identity that we have forged despite our oppression are precious jewels that the Lord has given us. This verse reminds me that every part of who I am has been redeemed and called by God.
As I raise my children, I wonder if I will be successful at cultivating a sense of identity in them. I wonder what indignities and issues I will have to help them walk through. I wonder who will feel emboldened by this political climate and what effect it may have on my girls.
I wonder how old they will be the first time someone calls them a racial slur. I wonder if there will be cancelled play dates when a parent realizes my girls are black. How old will they will be the first time I have to explain why people ask if they’re my daughters and why it hurts my feelings?
As I drive to preschool and swimming lessons, I wonder if the car seats in the back of my minivan will be enough to keep me from becoming Sandra Bland. I pray if I’m ever the victim of racial violence, my girls aren’t there to see or hear anything.
I wonder when the appropriate age is to explain that we can’t stop every time they need to pee because there are some towns where our presence isn’t welcome. Or if we should just continue to do the thing where I try to act invisible while their dad goes inside with them.
Most black families don’t get to pick and choose who they can send into potentially dangerous situations. Even as an interracial family, it’s often a calculated risk because so-called ‘race mixing’ can be a trigger for harmful people. As a mother, my main concern with making a pitstop should be whether or not the bathrooms are clean and not, “Will we die today?”
It’s likely I would still think all of these things even if Trump weren’t the president. That’s not the point. The issue is that I even have to think of these things at all.
How has our current cultural climate shaped or altered your parenting?