Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Can’t Get Enough

November 16, 2010

Eve’s ability to communicate with us, both verbally and non-verbally, has exploded recently. Her spoken vocabulary includes: Yes, No, Thank you, Uh oh, Come here, and Stop it. As for non-verbal vocab, she has recently started signing Sleep, Change (as in diaper change), All done, and her super duper favorite: More.

Eve loves to have more. She asks for more while sitting in the high chair. She asks for more while running around the living room. She asks for more while nursing. She asks for more in her sleep (and if you haven’t seen my chubby-cheeked toddler mash her fists together while simultaneously making her Completely Unconscious Face* you are missing out).

Sometimes – well, okay, most times – I don’t know what she’s asking me for more of. More Cheerios? More tickling? More cuddles? I have no idea. I ask her of course, to confirm what exactly it is that she wants, but she hasn’t learned how to tell me that just yet. But it’s coming. I know that it’s coming.

This stage in her life is nothing short of amazing to me. Of course, she’s been communicating with us since the day that she was born, but the past week has found our ability to speak to each other on a completely new and exciting level. She understands far, far more than she can say with either her hands or mouth: she knows who her PopPop and Mama are (my parents), she knows who her Uncle Footrest is (my brother – his name is not actually Footrest; there’s a story behind that nickname), she knows what her shoes and socks are and that they go on her feet, she knows that her arms – and not her feet – go into the sleeves of her coat.

All very small things, of course. But I remember when she knew of nothing but milk and warmth and darkness, and the sound of my husband’s voice. I’ve been there to witness every change, every learned thing, every developmental step. Watching my child grow and change has been like watching a house be built, brick by brick, step by step, one nail after the next. I can’t help but know and love the minute details because I remember the person that she was, before those minute details started to build the person that she is.

Lately she has been testing her (and our) boundaries. She pretty much blatantly ignores us 95% of the time when we tell her not to something (which is almost always something that she has never been allowed to do and is fully aware is not something she is allowed to do – like standing on the couch or throwing her uncle’s DVDs on the floor). We’re doing our best to be calm and consistent. She’s doing her best to be…well, herself.

And I’m okay with that. I love her self.

*For some reason, her lips stick out quite profoundly while she is asleep. She already has very thick lips thanks to Marcus and me, and while she is unconscious this feature is particularly and adorably exaggerated.

Advertisements

Blech

September 27, 2010

We spent the weekend in the hospital with poor Evie, who caught some sort of bug and lost a lot of fluid from both ends. She ended up dehydrated and requiring an IV. I hope that the process of sticking her to give her the IV was more traumatic for me than it was for her. I couldn’t help but question my actions as I held down my crying (with no tears – she was too dehydrated to make tears) and screaming child while the nurses wiggled a needle around in the back of her tiny hand. The IV success rate was 20-25% – most of the attempts to get a working IV failed either entirely or shortly after taping it to her arm.

Of course we tried less invasive methods to hydrate her first, but she wasn’t interested in nursing, drinking milk from a cup, or drinking Pedialyte. We did manage to get an ounce and a half of Pedialyte into her with a syringe, which she promptly puked onto the hospital floor. All of the sticking did manage to do one thing – it eventually upset her badly enough that she nursed and nursed and nursed. She did get better after a couple of days, with the help of a little bit of saline and a lot of exclusive breastfeeding.

Everything turned out all right, and today she has been playful (although a touch clingy, which is understandable after all the stickings from strangers). But I have to wonder if I could have done something better. The nurses mentioned something about strapping her to some kind of board in order to place the IV, which is what they apparently normally do with very young children. I insisted on holding Eve myself, and even though it upset me to do it I have to hope that it was better than the alternative.

Here’s hoping that the rest of the week is significantly less shitty.

Before There Was Slavery

September 21, 2010

The title of this post is not addressing the time before humanity ever began enslaving one another (if there even is such a time), nor is it referring to the time before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. What I’ve been thinking about lately is the time before a Black American child is ever told about slavery, about Jim Crow, about the lynching parties, about the experiments on black bodies, about the complete annihilation of the cultural identities and inheritances that should have been ours by birthright.

Personally, I can’t remember a Before. By the time we discussed slavery in school, I already knew about it. I have to assume that my family told me, but I don’t even know that for sure. My education regarding slavery in school was pretty much along the lines of: “There were slaves, and then Lincoln freed the slaves because he was so kind towards black folks, and then there was Jim Crow, and then white people saw the error of their ways and ended that out of the goodness of their hearts (oh, and MLK wrote one speech, which was helpful), and now everyone is equal, yaaay!” As I mentioned in Raising a Woman of Color, Part III: History, the stuff that we DIDN’T learn about greatly outweighed the amount that we actually did learn about.

I’m thinking about Eve, and I wonder how I’m going to tell her. I don’t want her to learn the pathetic, watered-down, can’t-really-blame-nobody version that I learned in school. Leaving it up the the schools is simply not an option. But, like most parents, I also don’t want to hurt her. And how can I possibly tell her the truth without hurting her?

When it comes to sex ed, I feel very confident. There will be no singular “sex talk” with Eve; we will be talking consistently and comprehensively about her sexuality and how to keep it healthy for her entire life. I’ll introduce certain topics in a way that is appropriate for her level of understanding; I hate to call it “age-appropriate” because children vary so wildly in their development, and what is appropriate for one 7-year-old may not be for another 7-year-old. I guess the discussion will be more Eve-appropriate, since her own mental, emotional, and physical development is what will help guide us in educating her about her sexuality.

But when it comes to this, I feel a lot less confident. I want to do the same thing, to make race and racism and our cultural heritage a lifelong conversation, but I am at a loss when it comes to deciding what is Eve-appropriate and when to introduce it. Is there ever a good time to tell a child that hir foremothers were raped, beaten, mutilated, and murdered for fun and profit? That this country was built on our backs and that the whites in charge will never admit it and will never pay us for that labor? That every time someone refers to America as “a nation of immigrants” they are lying through their teeth?

I don’t know. I don’t know if Eve should hear that at age 7, when she may still be very much be focused on learning through play (and how do you learn slavery through play? On second thought, don’t answer that.). Or at 12 when she’s just starting her period for the first time and dealing with the changes that come with menarche. Or even at age 17 when she’s struggling through that eternally long in-between stage of childhood and womanhood.

I know that I said earlier that I can’t remember Before. That was true, in that I don’t remember ever being unaware that once upon a time, a long time ago, black people were forced to work for white people, which according to some whites “wasn’t that bad.” But I do remember Before I learned the full extent of the horrors that were visited upon us, Before I read about Emmett Till, Before I discovered Mississippi appendectomies, Before I learned how IQ tests were weaponized against us.

I didn’t learn about all of that until well into adulthood; and rather than feeling grateful for having been spared the knowledge as a child or teenager, I was angry. I AM angry. I spent so much of my life being so completely ignorant of what really happened, and I think of that former self – of the me that was Before – and I don’t think too kindly of her or the way that she regurgitated the racist memes that she internalized. Whether or not that’s fair is a topic for another day.

I just can’t help but feel that there is no age-appropriate or Eve-appropriate way to tell a child what has happened to us. I can’t help but feel that whether she is five or fifteen or fifty, she won’t help but feel wounded, as I did at first, and then angry, as I do now. The fact is that as a mother of color, I owe it to my child of color to educate her about her oppression and to arm her against her oppressors.

The truth will hurt her, but I owe her that pain. It belongs to her in the same way that it belongs to me.

That is our cultural inheritance now. That is our birthright. That is the mark (one of many) that slavery has left on us.

After.

Turnabout and Fair Play

September 16, 2010

I know that I’m not the only one who wishes she could respond to ignorance more quickly and with more cleverness.

All too often the only response I have to someone (this is in meat-space, mind you; I feel pretty satisfied with my online responses to jackassery) is a shocked look, a stammer, or a mumble. Despite the fact that I SHOULDN’T be surprised at someone’s rudeness, I frequently am. And it’s not because I didn’t know that people could be such jerks; it’s just that I rarely expect that level of upfront rudeness until it’s smacked me in the face. And then even after it’s happened, in the moments afterward I wonder if I could simply be taking it the wrong way. I wonder first if there’s something wrong with ME rather than THEM.

While we were on vacation last month, a strange white woman started cooing at Eve, who was toddling about in her little blue peace sign flip flops. She asked her in a high-pitched lilting voice, “Can I take you home with me?” I personally think it’s weird to ask to take home someone’s kid, even jokingly, but enough of my friends, family, coworkers, and complete strangers have done it by now that I figure it’s normal enough. So I didn’t mind that; in fact, I was smiling because Eve was smiling at the woman.

Then things got genuinely bizarre. The woman added, “You want to come home with me? Do you want to do my dishes? How about wash my laundry?” My mouth dropped open, Eve just smiled at her, and before I even had time to fully process the fact that this white woman had pretty much just asked my black child if she wanted to be her domestic servant, the woman had already turned tail and disappeared.

In mere seconds, the interaction had gone from casually friendly to racially fucked and I said nothing to defend my child. My brain was still going “Wha-?” as the woman’s back turned, and by the time she was gone, I was already questioning myself and doing whatever mental acrobatics I needed to do to convince myself that THAT HADN’T REALLY HAPPENED.

I’ve never been very good at defending myself against the microaggressions that I receive from whites. Most of the time it happens too quickly for me to process and respond, and the times that it isn’t, I’m not able to just flippantly tell the jerk about hirself. Every time it happens, I must weigh the consequences of my possible responses, because people of color do not have the option of standing up for themselves without paying a price. Sometimes I deem that it’s worth it: I won’t get fired, hauled into HR, thrown out of the organization, or blacklisted in my field for speaking up or speaking out.

Most of them time I decide that it’s not worth it. I could say something, but I don’t, because I need this job, I enjoy this organization, I really want to work with the local lactivists even though they’re overwhelmingly white and therefore bound to sideswipe me with their privilege.

I don’t think that it makes me a bad person, choosing not to fight those battles. But I do wonder if it makes me a bad mother.

I don’t actually think of myself as a bad mom, for the record. I just can’t help but wonder how many times the damage to Eve caused by my inaction outweighs the perceived benefits to myself.

Birth Day

August 17, 2010

[I originally wrote this shortly after Eve’s birth on August 17, 2009. Enjoy!]

My daughter is here. After 39 weeks of waiting, wondering, and worrying, she has finally arrived to meet us, and I could not be more happy with her.

The night that my water broke, I told our friends C and J that Marcus and I were going to try to “get this baby outta me,” which is code for “We’re gonna bone and hope that helps somehow.” The last time we’d had sex, I’d started having contractions about 30 minutes later, which lasted all night before petering out at 6:30am. Since it was several days later and my body was presumably a little more ready, I was hoping to have even better results.

The sex was fun, silly (as usual), and – as far as I could tell – not helping at all. An hour afterwards, I was only having very weak and sporadic contractions, nothing that felt like it was doing any good. I decided to go to bed, in the hopes of maybe waking up in labor. Marcus wasn’t ready for bed and so he stayed in the living room.

I’d only been lying in bed for about ten minutes when I realized that something felt strange. I felt full somehow. I shifted my weight and suddenly a rush of fluid came out of me and totally soaked the bed! I was powerless to stop the flow and after an awkward WTF moment, I called Marcus into the bedroom. He turned on the lights, saw the mess on the bed, and then things suddenly became very, very real. We were going to have a baby – and not in a month, a couple weeks, or a few days. We were going to have a baby SOON as in TODAY.

It was 2am when all this went down. I paged the midwife on call, which happened to be KT, and she assured me that we didn’t have to go to the hospital immediately if we didn’t want to. We could still follow the original rule of thumb – staying at home until my contractions came at 5 minute intervals and lasted at least 60 seconds each. The fact that my water had broken meant that we couldn’t stay home indefinitely – if I didn’t begin active labor within 12 hours, I would need to come in and there would be the possibility of induction to get the party started.

We elected to stay home. After all, if we were going to play the waiting game, why not do it in the comfort of our own place? Marcus finished packing our hospital bag while I lay on the bed with a towel between my legs, another towel under me, and a large trash bag under that towel. We then tried to go to sleep; Marcus actually managed it, but there was no way in hell I could sleep. I was still having puny sporadic contractions which I could have easily slept through, if not for the fact that I couldn’t turn my brain off. I wanted to go to the hospital, even though nothing much was going on. I just felt like I really had no idea what the fuck I was doing, and I wanted to be in a place where people DID know what they were doing.

Marcus didn’t really want to go to the hospital any earlier than necessary, but he could see that I was anxious and sometime after 5am we called my parents to have them come get us. We got the hospital bag and diaper bag, filled the cats’ food bowls, and bid them farewell for the day. We were both pretty sure that I’d be having that baby later that day and returning home from the hospital on Monday. Pfft!

We arrived to check in at the hospital around 6am. My midwife checked me and I was disappointed to learn that I was 3 cm dilated and 80% effaced – there had been no progress since my last prenatal appointment despite all the excitement. By then my contractions were still entirely sporadic in their length and frequency, but they were strong enough to make it difficult for me to speak through them. We were taken to our room, where I snacked on granola, fruit, and juice to keep my energy up for the coming ordeal. Mom and Dad just hung out for about an hour before going back home.

Throughout the morning and afternoon, my contractions began to get stronger, last longer, and come more regularly. Marcus was an incredible birth coach; he supported me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Since I wasn’t getting any drugs to help with the pain, I was not confined to the bed or catheterized, so I took advantage of the ability to change positions, walk around, bounce on the birthing ball, and shower. I probably got in the shower about 20 times, desperate for the bit of relief that the hot water gave me. Marcus was, again, a fantastic support; he allowed me to hold onto him or squeeze the crap out of his arm or even punch him if I needed to (it wasn’t angry punching, it was holy-shit-this-hurts-so-much-I-can’t-even-help-myself punching) while breathing through each contraction. He breathed with me. He sat behind me on the bed and held me, or he sat in front of me and let me hang onto him – whatever I needed. He helped walk me to the bathroom to pee and helped change the pads that I had to wear to absorb all the amniotic fluid I was losing throughout the day. He was there.

At around 4pm, I began to lose my resolve. I had been awake for 24 hours at that point (and more like 32 hours if you didn’t count the 40 minute nap I’d taken Saturday afternoon) and in labor for 14 hours. The contractions were frequently coming in clusters, meaning that I would have 2 or 3 in a row with absolutely no break in between. I was tired, I was in pain, and I started to cry. Marcus, of course, talked me through it by telling me how proud he was of me and by reassuring me that every contraction was a step closer to meeting our child. I just cried. I never did say that I wanted to give up, that I wanted to ask for the drugs – but I was thinking it and he could see that.

At 6pm my midwife KS (KT’s shift had ended only a couple hours after we arrived at the hospital) came in to check me again. I was so disappointed when she told me that I was 100% effaced and 4cm dilated – just one centimeter more than I’d been 12 hours ago! She reassured me that my body was doing exactly what it needed to be doing, but I couldn’t really hear her. I was in too much pain and I wondered again if I should just give it up. But the thought of quitting made me angry, since I’d already spent 7 hours in prelabor and another 9 hours in early labor; the thought of all that time and pain spent just going out the window didn’t appeal to me at all. I asked KS when I could get in the birthing tub and her answer disappointed me: generally not before 7cm, or else we risked slowing or stalling my labor entirely. Fucking GREAT. It took me 12 hours to dilate one centimeter, and I still had 3 more to go before I could even get in the tub???

Still I labored on. At 10pm I broke down crying again. I felt like I couldn’t do this. It hurt so badly, it was taking so long, and I was just SO TIRED. I’d only managed about ten minutes total of sleep in the time since we arrived at the hospital, in tiny micronaps between contractions. All I could think about was getting into that fucking tub, about having some RELIEF. The birthing ball only made things more intense (and it kind of was supposed to, it helps open you up and dilate even more), the showers could only do so much, and walking from just the bed to the bathroom necessitated two or three stops in which a strong contraction would wash over me. The tub was the only thing I hadn’t tried yet (besides the drugs, of course), and I was convinced that it would be amazing once I was in it.

Soon after my last crying jag I started to feel a lot of pressure, as if I really had to take a shit. I felt and knew that such an attempt would be a bad idea, so I ignored it for as long as I could. After another hour of contractions, the pressure only increased and soon I was calling the nurse and asking to see my midwife again. I told her what I was feeling, and as I expected, she told me to hold it and not attempt to poop. She paged my midwife and it seemed to take forever before we heard back from her again: KS knew what was up with me, but could not come see me yet, as she was about to deliver another baby.

I was devastated, but what could I do? I didn’t know how long this other woman would take to birth her child. I didn’t know how long I could hold on and not give into the pressure to bear down. Each contraction brought with it a breath-stopping wave of pain that ended with an unrelenting urge to start pushing. It was excruciating.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, KS came back and checked me again. I was only dilated to 6cm (FUCK! I thought), but that was apparently good enough to start filling the tub. Time again seemed to crawl by as the tub took FOREVER to fill up (the water pressure was pretty low): at least an entire twenty minutes, which in throes-of-labor time feels more like a fucking year. And even after the tub was filled, I had to wait while they checked the temperature and adjusted accordingly.

When the water was finally ready, I took off my t-shirt and panties (I’d chosen to labor in my own clothes rather than a hospital gown), and KS and Marcus helped my naked self into the water. It was warm, and comforting (although not as comforting as I’d hoped), and it was around this point that I realized – REALLY realized – that this baby was going to come out of me and that there was only one way for it to do that.

I asked KS if she was going to stay with us, and to my relief the answer was yes – she would be with us until the baby came. I continued my labor in the water, at first with the jets on, but eventually I turned them off as I found the noise irritating. I continued to claw at my poor husband’s arm as I breathed through each contraction, and KS coached me from the side, reminding me to relax, to untense, and to let the contractions do their job – to open me up, to widen me out. Now was not the time to tense, to close up.

I practically begged KS to let me start pushing – the need to bear down had only increased in the past hour. She said that I could start pushing – a LITTLE – and after a few useless and fruitless attempts on my own I realized that I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. At one point, in between yelling “Shit!” and “Oh fuck!”, I cried out, “I don’t know how to have a baby!” KS told me, “Of course you do” and guided me, told me to pull my legs towards my body with my hands and not to try to push as if I were trying to poop, but as if I were trying to pee. After a couple tries I did pee, which is how we all knew that I was doing the right thing.

Things accelerated very quickly. I went from 6cm to 8cm to 9cm in almost no time at all. Eventually I was just short of 10cm, except for a little lip in my cervix that was in the way of the baby’s head. KS kept a finger inside of my cervix, holding that lip down, while I pushed. And after several attempts she said the magic words to the nurse: “She’s at ten centimeters.”

Instead of waiting and letting my body do the work for me, I suddenly had work to do. Realizing at that moment exactly what I had to do – that I had to push this baby OUT – was fucking terrifying. I was way, way, WAY past the point of no return. I felt like very little was in my control at this point, and for a person like me, that is scary. The only thing I could do was to push or to not push – and to not push would only postpone the inevitable. It wouldn’t change a damn thing in the end.

There was a full-length mirror on the ceiling above the birthing tub. I watched myself in it as I dilated, and I watched myself as I pushed. I don’t really have the words to describe what it was like to witness my labor from that point of view, except to say that I hope fervently to be able to do the same with the rest of my children. Towards the end of my pregnancy, as my belly grew, I’d developed a habit of just looking at myself in the mirror several times a day. It was so strange to see how my body had warped and changed, it was fascinating to look at myself and see almost a stranger. Watching myself give birth was like that, only magnified a thousand times. It was like watching a stranger, and it was a struggle to reconcile the fact that the body in the mirror was actually, really mine. The person screaming and writhing in the tub was really me. What I saw in the mirror remains the most vivid memory of my labor, and it’s the one I recall most frequently.

At ten centimeters, we were down to business. Whenever a contraction came over me, it was my cue to start pushing. When they stopped, I could stop. After each push, I asked Marcus and KS what they’d seen, what had just happened. “I can see the top of your baby’s head,” KS told me. I asked her if there was any hair, and she said yes, lots of it. I smiled at Marcus and said, “Told you so.”

KS then told me, “You can reach down and feel it.” And so I did. It was a beyond strange, to feel soft, thin, silky hair where normally there was, well, my vagina. I gently touched the top of my child’s head while she was still inside of me – touched her for the first time! – and it was soon afterward that KS called the nurse into the birthing room to tell her that in a few more pushes, the baby would be here.

The last pushes were difficult. Even with KS massaging my perineum and doing what she could to stretch me open even further, it was difficult. It hurt. It burned. I could feel her head stretching me open with every push and I SCREAMED with the pain. And finally, her head was out! I looked down and could see it between my legs. KS yelled at me “Push again! NOW!” and I looked up above me, into the mirror at myself and my child, and I pushed one last time. And then she was out.

I looked down again and there was a BABY in the water with me! KS placed her in my hands while she messed with her equipment. I stared at her, shocked, as if I’d forgotten exactly what this whole pregnancy and childbirth thing had been about. The water which had only moments before been clear was full of blood and there was a dark mass on the bottom of the tub that I later found out was the baby’s first stool – she’d passed it during her birth. Marcus got to cut the cord, which spattered blood all over my neck and shoulder, but I was too flabbergasted to care.

Just minutes later, Eve was whisked away by the nurse and Marcus went with her. Her Apgar scores at one and five minutes were both 9 – almost perfect! She screamed like a banshee while the nurses weighed her and did whatever else they had to do, but she calmed down when she heard Marcus’ voice. KS helped me out of the tub and back to the bed, where she helped me deliver the placenta. I asked to see it, and got to feel the amniotic sack and poke at my placenta, which basically just felt like a big hunk of raw liver. KS then stitched me up; birthing Eve had resulted in a second-degree tear through my perineum that reached almost to my asshole. I was grateful, then, that I had forgone an episiotomy, which would have cut through my perineal muscle instead of just my skin.

Eve Marie was born underwater on August 17th at 1:47am, almost 24 hours after my water broke. With my husband’s support, I was able to have the birth that I have always wanted. Now that I’ve done it once, and know what I can expect out of the experience, I feel certain that I can do it again. One of my anxieties over the past nine months has been worrying over whether or not my birth experience would end up traumatic or even just not something I would be happy with. I feel really goddamn lucky to be able to say that the entire experience, and the end result (who is currently in her father’s arms, crying for my milk), is absolutely, undeniably, unbelievably perfect.

Locs and Babies and Consent, Oh My!

July 28, 2010

I’m still thinking about hair, but today I’m thinking more about Eve’s head rather than my own. I’ve always wanted locs for myself and my children, and have always had every intention of locking up my kids’ heads while they were very young. While browsing the natural hair boards to see when (and, most importantly, HOW) other parents started locking up their children’s hair, I found that there is a bit of a debate over whether or not one should lock a child’s hair before they are old enough to consent to it.

I was surprised, honestly, that there was even any ethical question over it. Eve’s ears are unpierced because I do not believe in permanently altering children’s bodies for non-medical reasons without their consent – and this includes routine circumcision and cosmetic genital surgery for intersex children. Several people have asked when we plan to pierce her ears, and my answer is simple: when she is old enough to ask for it, she can have them. This may be when she is four, it may be when she is seven, it may be never. But it’s her body, not ours, so it’s not a decision that we will make for her.

My opinion on hair is very different. While locs are a somewhat permanent style, they ultimately are just hair. They can be grown out, cut off, whatever. If she gets older and decides that she doesn’t want them, we can remove them. If we cut them off, she will have to learn how to style her hair as it grows from very short to whatever length she prefers, but I don’t think that learning how to manage one’s hair throughout its entire growth cycle is really a bad thing. Basically, my thoughts on hair boiled down to: it’s my kid, it’s just hair, I’ll do what I want.

However, one person on the natural hair board did say something that made me rethink my stance. Her gripe was specifically with parents who decide to loc their very young children’s hair when they do not have locs of their own (including white parents in transracial families). She brought up the point that locs are a highly politicized style whether or not one grows them for political reasons, and that there are distinct stereotypes and other misguided assumptions that one will face if you’ve chosen to wear them. While it’s one thing for a child to endure that sort of ignorance from people with the loving guidance and support of a parent who is also dealing with the same thing, it’s another situation entirely to force that child to go it alone.

That was all she needed to say to convince me. I still intend to loc Eve’s hair, but ONLY if I have locs myself. If I can stick with it, then in about two years my locs should (hopefully!) have matured, and Eve’s hair will be long enough that I can start the process on her head – if that’s still what I want to do. If I can’t hang in there, if I quit again, then Eve’s hair will stay loose for as long as she wills it.

Fair enough? I think so.

Breastfeeding Success Is A           Collective Responsibility

July 13, 2010

During class last week, the professor had us do an exercise in which we paired off with one another and had to learn about each other. We then had to address the class and tell them what we’d learned about our partner (if you’re wondering what exactly the point of the exercise was, I can assure you that it was indeed a waste of time). One of the things that I told my partner, a super shy 16-year-old who was literally quaking in her seat next to me (I know my afro has been kind of unruly, but am I really that scary?), was that I want to become a lactation consultant.

When it was our turn to share what we’d learned about each other, this is how it went:

Classmate: “She’s twenty-seven.”

Class: *eyes glaze over*

Classmate: “She’s a mother.”

Class: *eyes start to close sleepily*

Classmate: “And she wants to be a lactation consultant.”

Class: *GASP* SHOCK! HORROR!!

Honestly, you’d have thought that she’d just told them that I want to fly to the moon and open up a fucking Starbucks. The class erupted in confusion, and my professor just looked at me with her mouth hanging open and asked, “Is that what it sounds like?” I assured her that yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Cue more confused murmuring. One of my classmates piped up and said, “It’s true! I work with someone who saw a lactation consultant in the hospital.”

I started to say something about how breastfeeding is not always as straightforward as people assume it to be, and how the presence of an expert can help ensure a healthy nursing relationship, but another classmate interrupted me, saying, “Well, I guess you need someone to make sure that they don’t nurse the baby for too long.”

I looked at him and mother help me, I was about to start quite the lecture of my own, but Professor G decided that we’d wasted enough time and moved on to the next pair of students.

The whole encounter only reaffirmed the reasons that I want to go into lactation consultation in the first place: the myths surrounding the breastfeeding relationship between parent* and infant are harmful to that relationship and are by extension harmful to the communities that would benefit the most from higher rates of breastfeeding. I’m sure that my classmate – we’ll call him E – who expressed concern about parents “nursing too long” is the same guy who shames parents for nursing in public and breeds insecurity in new parents by telling them “your baby needs some ‘real’ food and you are selfish for not giving it to him.”

I wonder how long E thinks is ‘too long.’ Three months? Six months? What would he say if he knew that my 11-month-old daughter still nurses happily several times a day and once or twice overnight? The fact is that the nursing rates are entirely too short: while the World Health Organization recommends that infants be breastfed for at least two years, in 2003 only 5.7% of parents were nursing their children at 18 months old in the US.

I want to clarify that I do not believe that it is any one person’s obligation to breastfeed their child. Rather, it is our collective responsibility as a society, for the health of our children, to provide an environment in which breastfeeding is normalized, encouraged, and accommodated. We can’t keep saying “Breast is best!” and then nix legal protections for nursing in public, spread misinformation even in medical settings, fail to provide for parents who need help during the postpartum period, refuse to offer paid parental leave, deny medical coverage for pumping equipment, etc.

And we cannot shame parents who do not choose to breastfeed, whatever their reason – especially since we have set them up to fail. Even if parents were well-supported in deciding to nurse, there will always be those who choose not to or are unable to, and that is okay. Choosing to nurse or not to nurse does not make any parent better or worse than any other. We must be compassionate, supportive, and address the needs of those who will or can not nurse as well. The goal of breastfeeding advocacy is to ensure healthy nutrition for all infants, not to shame parents and tell them what to do with their bodies, when, where, and for how long.

The fact that I have been able to nurse Eve for this long is not an accomplishment on my part – it is a privilege. I was lucky to birth a baby with a good latch, lucky to have nipples and breasts that do not impede our nursing relationship, lucky to not need any medications that would have negatively affected my supply, lucky to have found the resources that I have in order to sort myth from truth, lucky to have a husband that supports my decision to breastfeed (the single most important factor in whether a parent chooses to nurse is whether they have the support of their partner), lucky to afford to take 3 full months off work in order to fully establish a nursing relationship, lucky to have a friend who was willing to give me her old breast pump… The list goes on.

My success in breastfeeding was a collective effort. I could not have done it on my own! It was the support I received from others and the privileges that I have that allowed me and Eve to start and continue our nursing relationship, in spite of the obstacles that society has placed in front of us. Our society cannot blithely say that parents have the right to choose to nurse when we have literally stacked the game against them socially, financially, and logistically. I want every parent to have the same support that I had – and more! – so that breastfeeding can be a proper choice.

—-

*There are trans men who choose to birth and nurse a child, so it would be cis-sexist for me to assume that every breastfeeding dyad consists of a woman and child.

Raising a Woman of Color, Part IV: Intelligence

June 7, 2010

Last night my family (including my brother and parents) was invited to a cookout with family friends. While we were there, we were introduced to Blokus, which turned out to be quite the addictive game. During one of the many rounds that were played, I watched as Marcus competed against my brother, my parents’ friend Mark (who was a little silly and drunk on wine, drawing many eyerolls from his wife as the night progressed), and his daughter Morgan, a young woman whose pleasant demeanour became very quiet and serious during gameplay.

Morgan and Mark played competitively against each other, with Morgan defending her corner of the board and Mark trying his best to weasel his way in any way that he could. Finally she made a bad move, effectively blocking her dad but also locking down her own corner in such a way that she could make no more moves. Everyone watching (and playing) the game winced a little when they realized what had happened. She was out of the game, and Mark teased her a little, gloating cheerfully.

I said, “Wait until she turns nine, Mark. You won’t stand a chance.” Everyone burst into laughter. My brother added, “That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?”

Morgan is seven years old, and she played the game just as competitively and confidently as any of the adults around the table. She didn’t win, but she certainly could have. “Smart” doesn’t even begin to describe this child, who started speaking in full sentences at 16 months.

Morgan receives frequent praise for her intelligence. She attended my parents’ daycare for the first 4 or 5 years of her life, and my mother brags about her almost every time she comes up in the conversation. Last night, everyone at the table (myself included) expressed their amazement at her ability to compete with the adults at least once.

So today I’m thinking about intelligence, especially in regards to children, and how we treat children that we perceive as intelligent. To do that, first I’m going to have to define intelligence. According to Wikipedia, intelligence is:

“an umbrella term describing a property of the mind including related abilities, such as the capacities for abstract thought, understanding, reasoning, planning, problem solving, communication, learning and learning from the experience”

Well, that’s a start. I consider some parts of it arguable, especially about communication, but let’s just go with it for now. The vast majority of people that I know can agree that having the abilities as outlined above is a good thing. But why is it a good thing? The answer that first comes to my mind is that intelligent children have a better chance to accomplish their goals, to have their needs met, and to find the tools that they want and need to find their own happiness. But again, I have to ask why. Why do intelligent children have these advantages?

The easy (and in my opinion, wrong) answer is, “Because they’re intelligent!” There is a common assumption that intelligence itself – and nothing else – is what allows people to succeed. I don’t think so. We, as a society, treat people that we perceive to be intelligent differently than “other” people. As kaninchenzero of Feminists with Disabilities so succinctly put it in her ableist word profile about intelligence:

“…we can’t talk about intelligence without talking about stupidity, and stupidity is all tangled up in ableism. If some people are intelligent, some people are stupid. It just falls out that way when you start sorting people on a hierarchy of value. Some are capable of more — so we allocate more resources (money, education, employment, health care) to them — and others are capable of less, so they get less. Less money, less education, worse housing, more abuse.”

There is no question that those who are deemed less intelligent or of below average intelligence are given less and abused more. For example, at least 70% of women with developmental disabilities (I’m giving FWD a lot of link love today!) are estimated to experience rape in their lifetime, a statistic that is breathtakingly horrific. Despite this reality, rape as an issue is frequently framed by mainstream feminists as being mostly the concern of temporarily abled women; the experiences of those who rank lower on the hierarchy of intelligence are rarely – if ever – mentioned at all.

So how much of an intelligent child’s ability to, as I mentioned above, accomplish their goals, to have their needs met, and to find their own happiness is a result of their own intelligence and how much is a result of the willingness of others to praise them, to give them second chances, to offer them opportunities, to push them towards success? How many children that have been deemed unintelligent are even asked about their goals, their needs, or their happiness? How many are actively discouraged from dreaming big?

Morgan was praised many times for playing a game with us, even though she made mistakes and even though she didn’t win. Would a child of “average” or “low” intelligence been praised? Would any other child even be allowed to play, let alone invited? If a child without Morgan’s level of intelligence lost the game to a table full of adults, would that be used to confirm our preconceived notions about that child’s abilities? Would I still have quipped, so quickly and without much thought, about such child’s supposed future abilities?

Children are taught early on that “smart” = “good.” When we say to a child, “You’re so smart!” we are not praising them on how hard they study, or on how willing they are to ask questions, or how graciously they accept losing or making mistakes, or anything else that is actually within that child’s control. We are praising them for being born the way that they were lucky enough to be born, and we are privileging a quality that they cannot help or change, while at the same time sending the message that those who were not lucky enough to be born that way don’t have anything to be proud of because…well, who wants to be stupid?

Intelligence (or the perception of intelligence; more on that shortly) is an unearned privilege. It opens doors to those who happened to be born that way while simultaneously shutting out many others. Children who have this privilege are nurtured, challenged, bragged about on their parents’ bumper stickers. Children who do not have this privilege are looked down upon and frequently treated as nuisances. (And while children who are privileged by their intelligence are frequently treated like adults, adults who do not have this privilege are frequently treated like children.)

Now. About the perception and measuring of intelligence. The fact is that there is no ironclad method of measuring anyone’s intelligence. IQ tests are inherently flawed; at best, they only accurately measure a person’s ability to take IQ tests. To borrow from this comment from reader Baskelia on a Racialicious article about the “theory” that black people have a lower IQ than whites:

“And even when discussing the black white IQ gap, proponents of the difference in IQ theory stay away from studies that buck their conclusions. None of them can explain the Flynn effect.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect

None of them can explain variances in IQ scores taken at different times (i.e. I have a 10-15 point variance)

None of them can explain how programs described in Arthur Whimbey’s Intelligence can be taught can take minority children from an IQ of 80 to an IQ of 115 in such a short period. Whimbey’s techniques are essentially techniques that middle and upper class individuals already use. The SAT correlates to IQ tests. If IQ was genetic, then why do people spend so much money prepping for the SATs (Kaplan etc).

None of them can explain Stereotype threat and that whites actually perform poorly on tests than blacks if they are primed with the suggestion that the test in question is one that whites normally do worse than blacks on (a message that we blacks get every day of our lives).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotype_threat

In addition to the fact that IQ tests are flawed even for those of us with typical communication styles, how accurately can a population with a certain method of communication design and administer a test for those who communicate or process information differently? What happens when a child with autism takes a test designed by and for neurotypical people? As this article notes:

“Mittler (1966) was one of the first authors to acknowledge the possible adverse affects of autistic symptomatology on intelligence testing. He noted that intelligence scores of individuals with autism may be inaccurate, especially when refused items are counted as failures, as they are on most performance scales. Mittler also stated that verbal measures of intelligence may be inappropriate because of the language deficits often present in children with autism.”

Kaninchenzero has this to say about it:

“Stupid is a perception, usually based on the perceived ability to communicate. A person with communication impairments is going to be perceived as stupid. The same word means ’stupid’ and ‘unable to speak’ for a reason…Someone with cerebral palsy who requires that the rest of us slow down and wait for xer to communicate at xer speed is going to be perceived as unintelligent. Someone who can’t speak under stress (I stammer and eventually become dysphasic on bad days) is going to be perceived as unintelligent at those times. Deaf people are perceived as unintelligent. None of these conditions have a damn thing to do with cognition and everything to do with communication.”

You don’t even have to be actually unintelligent to lose the privileges of intelligence; if people assume that you are unintelligent, based on your methods of communication or your disability or your gender or your race, then they will treat you accordingly and close off those opportunities, withhold praise, and roll their eyes when your perceived lack of intelligence inconveniences them in some way (even if that inconvenience is really only imagined on their part; the time it takes to sit down with a gifted child and teach them how to understand a concept that they are struggling with is frequently not given the same value as the time taken to sit down with a “slow” child and teach them how to understand a concept that they are struggling with).

I remember being a child in summer representation band, which was a program for the best musicians in the local Catholic schools. A few children from each school in the Archdiocese were handpicked to play a huge summer concert together. The music was significantly more challenging than anything we ever played back at school in our tiny band, where I was the only trombonist. There were about 8 trombonists in representation band; I was the only female trombonist and one of only a couple black kids in the entire band, so all of the other trombonists were white boys. During one band practice I remember the conductor going down the line to see who was playing off-key at a certain part in one song. When it was my turn, he asked me to play the note once, which I did; he then snapped at me and told me that I was to only pretend to play that measure during the actual concert, that I shouldn’t even bother trying to play it. When he got to another trombonist, he spent five minutes unsuccessfully trying to coach that boy into tune, and finally told him, “Don’t worry, we’ll work on that.”

Same measure, same note, same instrument, but we received wildly different treatment from the conductor. I was told to not even bother trying (and I was no slouch – this band was made up of the area’s best players), while another child was coached and further encouraged to work on it. Whether or not this difference in treatment was a result of sexism and/or racism is irrelevant right now; what I’m trying to illustrate is that the director’s perceived impression of my ability had a dramatic impact on the amount of help that I received (in my case, none), on the conductor’s tone and attitude, and on the promise of help in the future (which was, again, none).

Another issue I have with “intelligence” is that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on which kind of aptitudes count as intelligence (and are therefore of value) and which aren’t. In the Racialicious post I linked above, Nancy Leong asks:

“Well, first, ‘intelligence’ itself is a notoriously slippery concept. Intelligence at what? At trigonometry? At sentence diagramming? At computer programming? At analogies? What kind of intelligence matters, and how can we measure that – and nothing more or less – on a test?

…Intelligence tests don’t measure qualities like charisma, judgment, creativity, work ethic, collegiality, foresight, and drive – qualities that have far more to do with success in most fields than the skills measured on a typical so-called intelligence test.”

I can’t do even simple math in my head, but I can figure most stuff out if I write it down or use a calculator. I can dogdge a ball but I sure as hell can’t throw one. I can read faster than anyone I know, but I can’t retain much of what I read even a day or so later. I know the meanings and spellings of lots of big words but I can never remember how to pronounce many of them. I got a 1250 on my SATs but just a 14 when tested in fifth grade on the US states and their capitols (and I studied my ass off for that test). I have a talent for relating to many kinds of people but I’m absolutely lousy with plants. I can ride a unicyle but I can’t change a flat. I can read music but have absolutely no imagination for writing it. Which of these things about me are indicative of my intelligence level, and which are not? Which of these things matter and have value and say something about my value as a person, and which do not? Why do some of these things, each of which undoubtedly make up a part of who I am, count towards marking my ability to learn and understand, and others do not?

You may be wondering, after reading 2300+ words, what all of this has to do with raising a woman of color? It’s simple. Intelligence as a concept has been and continues to be weaponized against women and against POCs. A lack of intelligence is the excuse that was given for European colonialism: the natives were too stupid to use the land “properly” so whites had the right to take it forcefully, and Africans were likewise stupid and therefore needed whites to “care” for them by enslaving them. Women were too stupid to understand politics so they were withheld the right to vote, among other things. Even today there are plenty of white people arguing that black folks are genetically wired to be less intelligent than whites.

For far too many, the color of Eve’s skin is going to be a sign that she is less intelligent and therefore less deserving of resources and protection from abuse. She is going to be marked as less capable, and she is going to have to prove herself over and over again that she is indeed an equal to her white and/or male peers, not only in the capacity to learn but in every way possible. She will have to put in three times the effort to get half the recognition, and at the end of the day, she is still going to have people calling her value as a human being into question.

So why not, as both Nancy from Racialicious and kaninchenzero of FWD ask, do away with intelligence (or at least, measuring and ranking intelligence) altogether? Does the concept really have any value, especially when it is so frequently used to dehumanize people with disabilities, minorities, and women (there goes that pesky intersectionality again)? Should children who are intelligent be praised for their intelligence, or should they be praised for their actions?

Many people, my husband included, have remarked many times before and since Eve’s birth that they hope that she is smart. Most of the time I let the comment go, but sometimes I have to ask, “So what if she’s not?” Would she be any less deserving of support, of education, of encouragement?

Before she was even born, I told Marcus that I don’t care if Eve is smart or not. What I care about is her ability to find her own happiness, reach her own goals, and achieve her own success. What I care about is if she is kind, compassionate, considerate. What I care about is if she loves herself enough to be herself and to be proud of herself, regardless of what any IQ or SAT or whatever tells her. Being smart doesn’t guarantee that one will be loving or hardworking or happy, and these are the things that hold value to me and what I will encourage her to find value in as well.

On Identity and Telling the Truth

June 3, 2010

Today, thanks to a conversation with a friend, I’m thinking about lying.

Specifically, I’m thinking about being accused of lying when you are, in fact, telling the truth. I had it happen to me a few times as a child, as I’m sure everyone has at least once or twice. I remember how it felt. It was awful, I felt helpless (if the truth couldn’t save me, what could I do?), and I remember how furious my helplessness would make me.

On one occasion, as a young adult, I told my parents that I was sick and could not go to work that night. They accused me of lying and argued about it with me for over an hour until I finally, tearfully, begged for them to just let me go to bed and sleep it off. My mom took my temperature an hour later and discovered that I had a fever of 102. They did apologize, in the face of indisputable evidence, so that was something.

I lost my glasses during the second week of my freshman year of high school. I told my parents and they accused me of lying; they thought that I’d purposely thrown away my glasses in order to get a new pair, so they adamantly refused to buy me new ones. I went through my first two years of high school having to copy my friends’ notes in class because I couldn’t read the blackboard. They didn’t get them for me until I needed them for my driver’s license, at 16.

When I was 19, I was dealing with a serious bout of depression. I was suicidal. I had a huge fight with my parents and ended up leaving home. I stayed with friends for a week, and when I went back home, I tried to explain to them what was wrong with me. When I tried to tell my mother that I was depressed, she told me, “You’re full of shit.” She didn’t believe me. She thought that I was making up excuses for my behavior.

I don’t bring these things up in order to vilify my parents. It was a long time ago, and my parents were/are very young; I genuinely believe that in some things, they just didn’t know any better. They didn’t and still don’t understand much about depression. And I don’t believe that they ever said the things that they did just for shits and giggles. What I’m thinking about is how I can avoid doing the same to Eve; children are people, and people lie. Sometimes people lie for fun and sometimes they lie to cover up what they’ve done, and sometimes they tell the truth even though it hurts to admit and it can be scary. But how do you discern the difference?

This also ties into a debate that I’ve been having about trans women with some asshole on an online forum I frequent. Like most cis people, as soon as the topic of trans folks came up, he started talking about “honesty in relationships” and “I just think they should be honest” or whatever. No one was even talking about relationships; we were actually just discussing the media and LGB’s constant misgendering of Tiwonge as a gay man rather than the woman that she is. I made the point that a cis person jumping up to talk about the importance of honesty in cis-trans relationships is like a white person butting into a discussion about interracial relationships just to throw in, “And I hope the black guy knows not to steal her TV!” It’s offensive and unnecessary to question the honesty of trans folks just because they are trans.

This is not even getting into the fact that trans people are not dishonest for not disclosing their trans status unless you think that “trans” = “not really the gender I say that I am.”  A trans woman who says “I am a woman” is not a liar if she leaves out the trans qualifier; she is a woman. But trans folks who don’t disclose their status are frequently framed as being deceptive by cis folks, as if by claiming womanhood fully, a trans woman is somehow trying to sneak her way into cis lives.

Fuck, while I’m thinking of it, why don’t cis people disclose their status? Something like:

“Hi. I really like you. Before things move along any further, I just wanted to let you know that I’m cis, meaning that I was assigned the gender that I identify with at birth, and therefore I have tons of cis privilege that allows me to ignore the concerns and suffering of trans people, not to mention gives me an unearned advantage in millions of ways, one of them being that no one ever questions my gender identity and I never have to ‘prove’ my womanhood in order to ‘earn’ recognition of it. I also don’t have to worry about people murdering me because they discovered that I’m cis, and I don’t have mainstream feminists idolizing women who advocated for my genocide like Mary Daly did. I hope you don’t mind because I really like you, but I just thought I should let you know, because if you’re trans, I will probably cluelessly stomp all over you with my privileged ways of thinking.”

Yeah. That sounds good. Any cis person who does not disclose their cis status to their partner is a fucking liar.

I remember the helplessness and rage that I felt whenever my parents accused me of lying when I was telling the truth. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to have almost the whole world call me a liar just for saying, “I am a woman,” even though it’s true, and for that world to hate me just because I refuse to placate them with a lie.

Raising a Woman of Color, Part III: History

June 1, 2010

Lately all I’ve been able to think about is school. Scheduling, classes, homework, papers. I’m nervous about how I might do, even though I’ve always been a pretty good student. As a child, my strength was English; I loved it, and I always got As. My weakness? History.     

I loathed history (or social studies). I just could not understand the point of it. It felt so irrelevant to me, memorizing these dates and names and places that happened so long ago. And I could not get any higher than a C in history, and I struggled so badly to even maintain that. I spent hours studying (and I was not a child that studied for classes; history was the only subject I bothered with), doing flash cards with my mom, and still barely passed. There were a couple of semesters in all my years of grade and high school when I managed to get my history grade up to a B, but my math grade then lowered to a C. I never did manage to hold at least a B in both math and history at the same time, not until college when I got As in both.     

Today, I love history. Specifically, I love learning the truth about history. I had heard of the saying “History is written by the winners,” but I didn’t truly understand its implications until I was an adult. What started my newfound respect for history was, oddly enough, a homework assignment in a college Astronomy class. The question that my professor asked was, “Why didn’t the people of Christopher Columbus’ time want him to sail westward?”     

Now, if you got the history lessons that I did as a child, you would think that the answer was obvious. Columbus got opposition because the people of his time believed that the world was flat, and that he would sail right off the edge of the planet. Of course, they were wrong and he was right and everyone in America all lived happily ever after (Native slaughter? What native slaughter?).     

I did the research even though I was positive that I already knew the answer, and what I found shocked me. The people of Columbus’ time did not believe that the world was flat; they knew better. The disagreement between Columbus and his country folks came from exactly how large the world was; he believed that the world was much smaller than it actually is, and they were convinced that he and his crew would starve to death before reaching his destination. It was his pure luck to come across the western continents; otherwise they all would have died.     

It was at that point that the saying “History is written by the winners” really started to make sense to me.     

 

 [Description: An elderly black man wearing a Confederate uniform is sitting on a chair and looking thoughtfully at the canteen in his hands. A Confederate battle flag is draped in the background.]      

So what does all of this have to do with parenting a black child? Because of who the winners are. The winners, the people holding the power in this society, are overwhelmingly white, male, able-bodied, cis, and wealthy. The history that I learned in school was white male able-bodied cis history; everyone else was either erased from the books entirely, or had their stories twisted to conform to the view of history that made the winners look the best.     

New York, 1880

 

 [Description: A black woman poses in a sepia-toned full-length portrait wearing an elegant dress. She has a huge afro.]     

I don’t know where my family came from or how we came to live in this city. I don’t know the country, the tribe, the language, the faith, or the names that my ancestors had. I don’t know who owned us, and I don’t really have the stomach to sit down and scroll through the cattle lists to find out who bought us and where the marketplace they bought us from is located – the knowledge that my foremothers were livestock for breeding, raping, and working to death makes me nauseous, and I’m not ready to look that truth in the face just yet. All of that African history was taken from us, forcefully, so all that remains is the history of our people living within this country, the American half of our history. And that history as it is taught today is tainted, twisted.     

The Tuskegee Airmen

 

 [Description: Eight black airmen pose in front of a plane.]     

When people have their history stripped from them, they lose a kind of power. They don’t have the ability to learn from their mistakes. Groups that have been harmful to them in the past can more easily earn their trust and complicity when it is not deserved. People who don’t learn about those who came before them and did great things have trouble recognizing within themselves the ability to do great things.     

A young boy touches the president's hair to see if it is really like his own.

 

  [Description: In the Oval Office, President Obama leans over so that a small black boy can touch his head.]     

We didn’t learn about Mississippi appendectomies in my history class. We didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments. We didn’t learn about Emmet Till. Blockbusting. Audre Lorde. Malcolm X. Juneteenth. Madame CJ Walker. Kwanzaa. Redlining. HBCUs. Black Confederate soldiers. Henrietta Lacks. La Amistad. Drapetomania. We didn’t learn shit about the people, the places, and the dates that are important to the American descendants of slaves. We didn’t learn our history.     

Young Emmett Till was tortured and lynched in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman

 

 [Description: A black-and-white picture of Emmett Till, a black teenaged boy, from the shoulders up. He is smiling gently and wearing a straw hat.]     

You know what else we didn’t learn? Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was originally observed by former slaves who were freed after the Civil War. I just learned this today, the day after my 27th Memorial Day. I should have already known; the truth of that history should have already been taught to me, but it wasn’t. Black contributions have been hidden or obscured and black achievements have been discarded or co-opted.     

I’m sure you’ve heard about what’s happening in Texas, with the rewriting of history books to conform to a more conservative view of things. Among other things, they attempted to rename the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the Atlantic Triangular Trade, but relented in light of the backlash. This is part of a calculated effort to control people, to make them easier to win over, by distorting their histories. A person that doesn’t know where they came from or how they got here is just so much easier to control than one who does know. Knowledge of self is power. Knowledge of history is power.     

 

 [Description: A black-and-white photo of two older black women in a booth. The booth has a sign saying “Vote Yes on Women Suffrage Oct 19” across the top of the booth and one saying “Votes for Women” across the bottom.]     

I intend to arm my daughter with that same power, so she will have the tools she needs to fight those who attempt rewrite her origins for their own purposes. Our history is worth knowing, worth learning from, and worth sharing with others. I will not let anyone lie to her about what her people have accomplished and the reasons we’ve made it this far. I will not let anyone take that power away from her.