Author: Adrienne Griffin

 

Becoming a mother changed everything for me. I started seeing the world in ways I never considered before having children. When you’re someone’s mother it makes you want to protect them from anything that could ever possibly hurt them. In many ways, it’s the reason my social justice passion increased to the level it is today. You see, my children are black. Raising black children in present day America brings with it unique challenges. I started realizing how difficult it is to find positive imagery, toys, television programming, movies, cartoons, super heroes, dolls, etc. that reflect what my child sees in the mirror.  I never fully understood before having my kids, that representation is a privilege.

When my oldest daughter was 3 years old, we were driving home one day, talking like we usually do, when she asked me this question: “Mommy, why are all my friends at school peach and I’m brown? I want to be peach too.” My heart sank, I felt tears filling my eyes, and I scrambled to answer this question, knowing the next few minutes were going to impact my little girl and how she views herself. I saw a tractor in the corn fields we were passing. I asked her if she thought those tractors looked at other tractors, and wanted to be red or blue, instead of green. I told her the world is full of color, if everything looked the same it would be pretty boring.

This seemed to satisfy her, but I felt broken inside. I felt like I failed her in some way. What had I done to make her feel this way. I’ve always told her how beautiful she is, praised her black features, and tried to build up her confidence as a black queen in training. But I’m just her mother. The world is a much larger influence. Take a stroll through any toy store, what do you see? Aisles and aisles devoted to whiteness. Flip through your television channels, what do you see? Token black faces, but mainly white people on every show and channel. Look at the magazines at the checkout lane, white people galore.

These messages are screaming white supremacy. Black features are often ridiculed, as messy, unprofessional, against dress codes in school, and generally stereotyped in negative ways. These same features, when appropriated by whites are lauded as “trendy” and “edgy”. Our very blackness discriminated and stolen, in repetition.  Watch what happens when a black cast dominates a show or movie. White people, who always dominate everything get really upset. When a black actor gets cast is role normally played by a white person, people get really pissed off. A fictional character must be white after all, staying true to the script is important. Yet time and time again, white actors are cast in roles for poc. See Cleopatra, Gods of Egypt. Message received.

Little white children grow up seeing themselves reflected everywhere. My little bbaby hair and afros t-shirt, happy black girllack children don’t have this privilege. It hurts. When my daughter was 5 years old, I showed her pictures of classic Disney princesses as black princesses. She didn’t like it. The conversation that followed made me sick. She basically explained to me she felt white was better than black. This wasn’t something we’d taught her. At the age of 5, the world had already gotten to my baby.

This is when I decided I needed to step my game up. I would go out of my way to even further saturate her with pro blackness. For my daughter to love her blackness, I had to ooze black love. It’s still not enough. But just as I reached the place of loving myself in spite of the hate, she would also have to go through the same painful process. A rite of passage for black children. We have to teach our kids to love themselves, despite the obvious messaging around them that screams white is best. Yes, representation is a privilege.

 

 

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