I imagine that being an engaged parent is a challenge for anyone. But there are some of us for whom this most sacred of callings poses some particular challenges. By adding “My Black Perspective” to the title, I am inviting the reader to understand that, while some of the history that informs some of my statements may be shared by millions of Black people, each of us can potentially have a different perspective on that shared history. So, I am only speaking for me.
This is more than a blog post…
What’s below is meant to serve as a mini-course in deconstructing the programs that are running underneath some of our awareness when it comes to parenting. Regardless of race, there will be some basic relatable themes such as the impulse to keep our children alive and how that affects how some of us present the world to them.
If you proceed through all of the content below, you will be accepting an invitation to explore these impulses. Additionally, you will be invited to suspend judgment of those some of us might consider to be struggling as parents—even if that happens to be yourself. But, to suspend judgment does not mean to make excuses. Rather, it is to practice humility by acknowledging that all parenting occurs in a systemic context. That means that none of us can take all of the credit and none of us can take all of the blame. But we can all seek to take appropriate responsibility as we gain greater awareness and become more conscious of the roots of our own behavior. For more information on what informs my opinion on how we operate in systems, visit this post entitled, “I Does Not Exist – The Power and Peril of Family Systems“.
I’m Black and I’ve been parented and am a parent. But beyond that, I’ve paid attention. And, before I ever had children, I dedicated my mental energy to getting to the root of my essential being, so that when I did have children, I would see as clearly as possible what was influencing me in how I engaged them. The poem below is an expression of that intent.
To My Unborn Baby
Before I ever met you
I knew I’d never forget you
I spend everyday of my life
Thinking of ways that I could protect you
That’s probably why you aren’t here yet
This world is nowhere near yet
I’m still trying to make it safe
So that you will never have to fear that
You could be abandoned
In this place that you have landed
I want to give you a better world
Than the one that I was handed
I never want to hurt you
That’s why I intend to nurture
All your hopes and dreams
Just so you can learn to
Be your own man
Or be your own woman
Just don’t let up on this world
Always keep it coming
Show them what you stand for
Tell them you demand more
Just in case I don’t finish
It is you that I made this plan for
This is just contingent
If I can’t do all that I mention
You will know that I was trying
And that I had the best intentions
But this world is full of doubters
Who have a tendency to cry louder
So yell at the top of your lungs
If they can’t see that you have power
This is also your planet
You should share, but don’t just hand it
Give as well as receive
So that you can achieve balance
Learn from my mistakes
So that you won’t have to make them
If you’re offered a lot of promises
Learn when and when not to take them
If you find yourself in error
Learn and keep on moving
Never pretend to be winning
For it is then that you are losing
Your friends are your reflection
They’re here for your protection
But they will become a part of you
So be wise in your connections
Remember that we are precious
People may get jealous
But they really just want to live like us
Although they may never tell us
So stay confident in what you’re doing
Live the dreams that you’re pursuing
And do them honestly
So you will never see them ruined
Well these are just some words from a Dad
That you may or may never have
Who before he ever met you
Saw you as the greatest gift he ever had
If you’re reading this and you identify as Black…
There is a chance that some of what is shared here may trigger you. Some of it may inspire you. And, for some people who talk about generational trauma, shame arises. I honor you for engaging this at all. I also am aware that some people may feel like some of what I am sharing is airing our dirty laundry. I apologize in advance for this. And yet, some of our dirty laundry comes from fighting in the mud with some of the people who judge us for having dirty laundry in the first place. This has to be faced. And FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, this has to be faced out in the open. So I invite you to connect with the strength of your ancestors who survived so that you could be here. The baton is in our hands now. Let’s take it as far as we can. That means engaging some painful things about how we may have been parented and how we might have been parenting. And for some, it means connecting with some unconscious influences like Post-Traumatic Slavery Syndrome and our own sense of worth in a system that devalues us.
If you’re reading this and you identify with White…
Please respect the tenderness of this sharing. I’m not sharing it for people to be racial voyeurs. Race-based constructs, especially in America, are something that none of us can escape. It doesn’t matter if your family has been here for generations or just showed up, you are part of this. But you are not central to this particular discussion. But that doesn’t mean you are not a part of it. Part of the path of Black parents who struggle with generational trauma is working on how we interact with Whiteness. Every Black person with a history in this country or who has come here and learned about the history has had to, in some way, teach their children to survive Whiteness. Whether it is parents giving their children “the Talk” about police, or Black parents trying to teach their children to minimize their Blackness, or the lies of Colorism, it is all because they are trying to keep their children alive in a world that sees Blackness as an inherent threat and Whiteness as a virtue. I am not asking you to take full responsibility for this. But engaging this material is asking you to pay attention to this.
If you’re reading this and identify as something other than Black or White…
You are a part of this too because parenting in a system that sees Blackness as an inherent threat and Whiteness as a virtue means that you are navigating a spectrum. And depending on where you locate yourself on the spectrum determines the degree to which you seek benefit from you distance from or proximity to these false extremes. Consider that right now, there is a movement to Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate (AAPI) because since Covid, there has been an increase in racist acts against the AAPI Community.
I acknowledge that like all hate, this is wrong. But, systemically, as a Black parent who has a degree in Chinese Area studies, was highly proficient in Mandarin, worked in “The Office of China and Korea”, and was in a relationship with two people with AAPI backgrounds, not to mention sold cars to Chinese people in Atlanta, I feel qualified and obligated to say that I know firsthand from candid discussions with many non-Black minorities that many of you leverage your distance from Blackness and proximity to Whiteness for personal benefit (just as some lighter Blacks do), thereby willingly and unwillingly contributing the collective anxiety that Black parents carry. So if you fall in this category, I invite you to also consider the larger context if you go further down this road. Of course, I am not blaming you. But I want you to consider taking appropriate responsibility for the fact that the same system that creates the idea of the “model minority” is the same one that has turned on AAPI folks and has criminalized and weaponized Black people as well as traitor-ized White abolitionists who are putting themselves on the line by making outward and lifelong commitments to equity.
Parenting in the System to buck the System
That entire introduction was written to acknowledge the depth of consciousness, I personally feel is required to parent in the modern world. We have left future generations with a lot to fix. The damage that we’ve done to the planet and her people is incalculable and it seems that every generation stops at some point and says that tired line about how it is up to the next generation. Personally, I think that is all wrong. If you thought the thought that something needs to be done, then it is up to you.
My oldest daughter just turned 13. It was a hallmark moment. For years, I held off having children because I could feel that I had more work to do on myself. I felt I needed to transmute the trauma I inherited before I passed it on to my children. I refused to say that “future generations” line because I knew how it affected me. To me that meant that if I never had children, at least as far as I was concerned, I had done my part to hold back the tide of systemic issues I was told was my destiny.
Once I hit 30, and had no prospects of becoming a father, I thought my parenting days were going to pass me by. But, as they say, “God had other plans.”So when I found out I was about to be a father, I was both excited and terrified. Had I done enough work on myself? Would I mess the child up with my issues? On and on… But once she arrived, I knew that I was going to do everything I could to take the baton as far as I could before I had to hand it to her and now her little sister that came when I was over 40. At this rate, my next child will arrive when I’m in my 50s. And my hope is that each of them will come toward this world with their heads up knowing their worth and never feeling like they are indebted to me for loving them with all of my heart, mind, and strength as I am called to love God and myself.
Below is part of a message I made for my daughter for her birthday. When I made it, I did so as if she might be looking at it in the future when I may not be here. As I spoke to her, it felt like I was communicating from the past, present, and future meeting her consciousness in each of those dimensions of time. As her father, I hope to give her wisdom as her primary inheritance, realizing that most of the people I know still struggle with their relationship or the lack of relationship with their parents. So to the degree I can, I want her to know that I will give her everything I can. But at the end of the day, her worth was established by her Creator before either of us was formed in our mother’s wombs. In my opinion, the greatest gift my parents ever gave me was the awareness that they were imperfect people with incomplete knowledge. They never admitted it. But, I learned it nonetheless. So I am taking some pressure off my children by letting them know that I am just a man on a journey doing the best I can and striving to do better day by day. I think this is something parents owe to their children.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance,Ecclesiastes 7:11,12
And profitable to those who see the sun.
For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense,
But the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it.
Do children owe their parents anything?
This is a question that was raised in a Black parenting group that I’m a part of. When I thought about the question, I recalled this scene from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner I saw when I was a child that changed my perspective on the parent/child relationship. The parent I lived with constantly reminded me that I owed them. And the one I didn’t live with had some of that same mentality. But no one questioned where that notion came from.
A Legacy of pain
I’m not trying to break hearts, but after reading some slave narratives like Frederick Douglass’ and the one by Olaudah Equiano, I realized how much some of our parenting styles are throwbacks from slavery passed down. I literally had a stepparent beat me in a way that almost matched that scene from Glory when Denzel got whipped and that one tear dropped for a nothing of an offense. I literally came in the house 1 minute late. Some time after the abuse, he told me he did it to protect me. Can you imagine that? I bet some parents who read this can.
That happened in 1988 before the movie came out. I carried that in my body with no understanding of where it came from. But when I saw that scene and flashed back to that whipping, it clicked for me that every parent I knew was putting some slavery pain that they received back on their kids. And that it had been happening for generations. It had happened to him and then he handed it to me. And on and on it went.
Once I saw that, I realized that the same thing was happening in many churches and other organizations. There was this undercurrent of unworthiness and unhealthy debt that was crippling people’s consciousness in an misguided effort to protect us on the part of some Black folks and distance themselves from responsibility on the parts of White folks. Once I realized this, I decided that if I couldn’t do anything more for my future children than not pass that pain on to them it was enough. I’d rather die trying to wake up from the lies than keep feeding the System. Because the way I saw it was, if I didn’t do what I could to wake up and stay awake, I was justifying everything that I was witnessing by my willful ignorance.
So who’s to blame
Now do I blame my parents, grandparents, and ancestors for not breaking the cycle? No. One of the driving impulses for parents is to do their best to keep their children alive at all costs. Sometimes the best way they can think of to do it is to instill fear which sometimes gets confused with respect. My mother used to tell me that she wanted me to be more afraid of her than I would be of the police or people in the streets. Since I’m here to tell the story, I accept that there was at least some redeemable elements to that theory. And yet, embedded in that perspective were elements that I still wrestle with in order to show up in the world as a Black man in this System.
And I’m sure that if you go back generations, with the threats to Black bodies increasing exponentially, the parents felt concerned to an even greater degree. They’d rather beat their children themselves than have the overseer do it. They’d rather hold the children back and impress limits on their dreams than have them hang from a tree or be dismembered. So, no, I don’t blame them. But I do believe that when someone wakes up to the generational trauma that’s running programs underneath the surface of their awareness, they owe it first to themselves to get at the root. And then, they owe to their children to pass that awareness on to them. Because the inheritance of consciousness is more valuable than any material thing money can buy.
So do I think my children owe me anything?
My children don’t owe me. But they do owe themselves. I made the choices I made because my eyes had been opened. As their father, I do everything I can to encourage them to keep theirs open as well. In my readings as a younger person, I read about W.E.B. DuBois’ theory on the “double- consciousness” of Black folks in this society. He said:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa; he does not wish to bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he believes—foolishly, perhaps, but fervently—that Negro blood has yet a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without losing the opportunity of self-development.W.E.B. DuBois, author of The Souls of Black Folk
My work is to overcome my two-ness first for myself and then for others starting with my children so that they can get closer to living from the true Oneness of Being that is their Divine Inheritance. For me, this also means doing my part to foster consciousness raising in my communities and cultivating non-anxious presence within myself and inviting others to join me. In so doing, I incorporate the prime directive of creating a world where my children can not only survive but, also thrive. And this is something, I hope everyone whose journeyed with me on this post will consider.
Like everything in life, parenting is a journey. With the baton metaphor, I tried to convey that it is very much like a relay as well. No parent, who is engaged, will end up where they started. And, where they are when they hand the baton to their children or others over whom they have some influence, will be either their contribution or their detriment to the System.
If participating in the writing has brought up anything for you, I invite you to keep the conversation going with either someone you trust or a therapist or counselor. By way of books you can read that focus on Black embodiment, I recommend:
- Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X
- Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength by Chanequa Walker-Barnes
- The Writings of Maya Angelou
- Any slave narrative you can get your hands on
Lastly, to express the responsibility that comes with consciousness, I want to share these words I came across from Suzy Kassem
“COMING FORTH INTO THE LIGHT
I was born the day
I was transformed the day
My ego shattered,
And all the superficial, material
Things that mattered
To me before,
I really came into being
The day I no longer cared about
What the world thought of me,
Only on my thoughts for
Changing the world.”
― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.Romans 13:8-10
Can you relate to the material presented here as someone who identifies as Black? White? non-Black?
What elements did you most relate to?
Prior to this reading, have you done any work on yourself to examine your consciousness as it pertains to parenting?
Was there anything presented that you felt was inappropriate?
Do you intend to go deeper with this conversation? If yes, with whom and why them? If not, what’s holding you back?