“Teach the Babies”
Mike Brown and countless other black boys, girls, men and women have been snuffed out of this world at the hands of injustice. The devaluing of black lives has been made precedent over and over and over again. It’s the world we live in, unfortunately. I have come to terms with this and I move around this world accordingly. But I worry about our children, and ultimately, the children I plan to bring into this world someday.
The sad reality of all this is the fact that we have to teach our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and little cousins how to navigate within this oppressive society. And this very teaching tends to be oppressive within itself. In the most horrific way, oppression becomes a way of dying…and a way of living. Some children are taught to get home before dark, or to not hang with a large group of boys, or to not dress in clothes that are perceived as too baggy, in fear of police persecution. Others are taught to limit their aspirations and their dreams in order to fit what parents deem a safe and secure mold.
The answer to oppression is not oppression, but at the same time, keeping our children completely in the dark about the world can lead to some grim consequences. As we fight the good fight, pushing for the valuation of black bodies, we must also find a way to fight for our children – not just following atrocities like the Mike Brown verdict or in the midst of protests and rallies – but also, daily, in our everyday lives.
One can never be too educated. We gotta make sure the babies know this. Although many social circles may try to make education uncool, we must praise it, glorify it and promote. Read as much as you can and pass this knowledge to your family, your peers and the babies. It’s as simple as sharing an article on Facebook, telling your cousin about a great book you read or filling in the little boy around the way on an issue in the news. As minorities in this society, it’s on us to educate our children on black leaders and causes – from leaders in our neighborhood to people and events from hundreds of years ago. We have to educate our children so that when they face injustice, they know it for what it’s worth. We have to educate our children so they can attempt to use the same institutions intended to stifle us as pedestal for success. Education is power.
We live in a world that values black culture, but that doesn’t mean it values being black. Everyone wants fuller lips and t-shirts adorning their favorite black rappers, but black skin and black life isn’t exactly all the rage. Dr. Kenneth Clark’s famous Doll Test confirmed this notion in 1939 (most black children were found to associate themselves with negative traits in relation to baby dolls– and the results of the replication of this test in the present day assure us that similar attitudes still exist. Forget helping kids to like being black, they must love it. When I was little, I didn’t like the texture of my hair for a very short time. I looked through magazines with Caucasian women with straight hair and asked my mother to make my hair look like that. My mom told me that my hair wasn’t meant to do that, and that my hair was beautiful because I had hair like Jesus – as thick as lamb’s wool. When friends told me that I should try to look for light-skinned guys so that one day, I could have a light-skinned baby, I ignored it because I knew better, and grew up to date men not based on complexion, because all black is good black. Black is black, and black is beautiful. The sooner we own it, the sooner the babies will follow suit.
This world can be quite uninviting, and to facilitate living within this unfortunate circumstance, there is code. Whether it’s working on a job with discriminatory policies, or encountering a racist store employee, code helps us all to most effectively address and circumnavigate particular bumps in the road on our journey. In a store where anger is provoked, even if we want to cuss, holler and punch, it may be more beneficial to tell off the aggressor and report him or her to his supervisor (making sure our grievances are made clear). When a bulwark impedes on an opportunity, we should either find another way to get to that opportunity (all while staying true to ourselves) or use the impediment as motivation for bigger and better. The later has happened to me a plethora of times, but a high school memory stands out. About 10 others students and I were pulled from an English class in high school – we were told that according to our grades, we qualified to test out of AP English for the following year. It was a huge opportunity and it also meant credits toward a college degree. A few days later I went to my teacher about it. After seeing who I was and confirming that I was on the list for the AP Test, she quickly came up with a reason for me not to test out – my spelling, although I had an A in the class and may have gotten a B on a spelling test maybe once. I knew what time it was and so did my family. I took a mental note of this teacher’s character and I used the experience as fodder for getting into my dream school (which I ultimately ended up attending and graduating from). The code is the map on the path of life – and the way we set up this road map for the babies sets them up for life.
Sticking together is like the icing on top of a cake – it’s sweet, savory and needed for a complete product. Solidarity means education. Solidarity means pride. Solidarity is in the code. We need to buy from each other’s businesses, support each other’s art, be each other’s listening ears and shoulders to lean on. A win for one should be considered a win for all, just as a loss for one should be a shared loss. Stand together or fall apart. Mike Brown’s parents have asked us all respectably to seize from violence and looting – the fact that we are ignoring the wishes of this deceased baby’s parents rips my heart apart, while it has the perpetrators of our oppressive system rejoicing and basking in a mislead sense of self-righteousness – the same ugliness that keeps the status quo, the status quo. The kids must listen, love and learn from their brothers and sisters, and the only way we can instill such solidarity is to lead by example our own selves.
I must warn you. This is no fool-proof method. We live in a country where walking home with candy and a sweet tea can bring you to your demise. Being a child and playing with a toy can cost you a bullet. And in Mike Brown’s case, being black, college-bound, a loving brother and son, and an active member of the church on the wrong day can not only send you to your death, but it could also mean your lifeless body lying in the heat for not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 and a half hours, like road kill.
When the world gets too cold, too unbearably cold, don’t let their spirits become numb. Don’t let them oppress themselves. Teach the babies to love all, but most importantly, teach the babies to love themselves, for one day, it may be all that they have.
“It will be hard…but you come from sturdy peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads and in the teeth of the most terrifying odds achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity.” – James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
(For more pieces like this, check out the “Let’s Talk” section of the blog)