Editor’s Note: As journalists, we spend a lot of time talking with officials and community members and distilling it into stories that explore important issues of our time. But we realize that sometimes it is just more powerful to hear it straight from the source. This is one of those times. The essay is a special feature timed for Mother's Day and the Brown Mamas Monologues* happening May 12.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve heard on more occasions than I care to count that, as a black mother, I’ll inevitably arrive at the need for various conversations with my children that white parents will never be required to have with theirs.
As an American mother of African descent, there are multiple layers of formidable challenges that I (and my husband) are both compelled to discuss with our brown-skinned children throughout the course of their lives.
We have two boys — 2 ½ years and 10 months — and heavy conversations already await my toddler.
I’ve had a few conversations with a friend and fellow stay-at-home mom around the racial elements that greet my toddler during our public play dates. She’s adamant that we should preserve the innocence of our children; she feels that we need to shield and redirect them away from the racial nonsense, ignorance and insensitivity for as long as possible.
I completely understand her position and, to a point, I absolutely agree. But I also believe that it’s imperative that my husband and I are deliberate in capturing the landscape of life in America as people of African descent, so that we can effectively impart the wisdom and tools that will prepare our children for life within this American society. We want to equip them so they can maneuver through an incredibly self-deceived society regarding equality, race, white privilege and systematic oppression.
I’ve come to embrace the fact that I exist within an “Us versus Them” reality on a day-to-day basis. This reality injects itself into my life as well as the lives of my husband and our sons. Without our permission.
I would love to preserve the innocence of my children and I intend to, but I am forced to do so within the confines of balancing our reality as a black family. The odds have always and continue to be stacked against families like mine, despite our advances in human and civil rights. So it behooves me as a brown mom to prepare my children by providing them with an accurate perspective as it relates to life in the country we live in. It is our responsibility to make sure we, as best as we can, help them to readily identify the things they will encounter and help them to process and work through the thoughts and feelings they will likely experience.
I have a growing list within my Simplenote app of the various conversations we intend to have with our children over the years. Here’s a glimpse:
- I have to cultivate an unwavering confidence and an impenetrable pride in their brown skin. I want to ensure that they have an unapologetic acceptance for their own skin tone and shades common among African and African-American people. In no way am I demeaning or criticizing white or fair skin, but I desire for my children to see their skin tone (on themselves and others) and automatically feel and extend a genuine acceptance and great sense of pride. I imagine most are aware of the history of brown children who despise their own skin tone while believing white and fair skin to be more attractive, desirable and preferred.
I’m currently laying the foundation for this self-esteem by limiting what my toddler is exposed to when it comes to what he consumes in books, streamed programs and television. It’s imperative that my children are not inundated with books and programs that have a cast of characters that are 90 percent white; seeing “themselves” on a regular basis is critical.
- A difficult and complex series of conversations we will have is that despite how well we, as their parents, will do in advancing them in life, there are brown people who still live in poor and impoverished conditions because of the color of their skin.
Still? Yes! How so? I’ll call it the residual effect of systematic racism and oppression that their family has yet to overcome. There are still deeply impoverished, predominantly black neighborhoods across the country and there are specific reasons for this. Unpacking it all is daunting, but my children have to know that the idea of “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps” is highly noble and it’s 100 percent possible…when you are aware of and have true access to the resources necessary to be able to do so.
What will greatly assist the previous series of conversations is sharing and teaching them an accurate history and accounting of black and brown people in America (and Africa) – the mind-blowingly good, the bad and the ugliest of the ugly. These are conversations and teachings we can’t afford to leave up to the formal school system (whether public or private).
- Unless we are around predominantly brown-skinned people, our natural state will hardly ever be seen as normal, let alone beautiful. Blackness in our natural state is usually looked upon as unfavorably different by non-black people, particularly as it relates to our hair (beards, afros, dreadlocks, etc.). A solid foundation of appreciation and love for our natural, unaltered state is imperative.
- It’s inevitable that, on occasion, our children will be the only brown kids at a playgroup activity, in a classroom or when participating in extracurricular activities. As adults, they will also at various times experience being the only brown-skinned person at their job, in meetings, at career-building and networking events, etc. These instances are usually awkward and they’ll either feel alienated or tempted to assimilate, so they will need to find a comfortable balance.
Ideally, the extent of my children’s experiences would be different, but they will be prepared either way.
Delmesha Richards is a proud wife and stay-at-home mom, entrepreneur, family vlogger and aspiring author. You can follow her on Facebook @TheRichardsRevealed or reach her by email at iamDelmesha@gmail.com.
* The Brown Mama Monologues provides space for Black mothers to share their unique, vast and inspiring stories about motherhood. The Brown Mama Monologues will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the Carnegie Library Theater in Homewood. To learn more, follow this link.