Knowing your Great-Great Grandfather was born a slave changes the way you view your own strength. Deep inside you know that it is a miracle that your two feet are touching the earth. You imagine the slave ships carrying your ancestors and that they were sick, starving and forced to watch others tossed into the ocean. You feel them pushing their beliefs and culture deep inside of themselves to be lost forever. As a mother, your chest aches for the many women who watched their babies sold or beaten like cattle.
I am here and my family survived all that slavery had to dish out.
In January, with Black History Month quickly approaching, I gathered all of our books about African American culture and placed them in a basket in our living room. We started our Black History “Month” on Martin Luther Kind Day. I pulled out my book of Civil Rights martyrs and began to tell my children about all of the freedoms we would not have if we were living 50 years ago. This is where the trouble began.
I sat there with all of my pride and told my children that 50 years ago they would not have been able to go to school, swim in the same pool or even drink from the same water fountain as most of their friends. I told them our family could not have existed in peace. I showed them pictures of the marches, the signs that read “whites only” and burning churches. All of the historical details that made me so proud of my heritage.
Isaiah chimed in to say, “But I am not Black.”
“Honey, your Mommy is and that’s all that would have mattered.”
“But I am not Black”
“If you have one drop of black blood in you then you are Black.”
“My blood’s not black!”
Uh oh. I was shocked. Had I not told him? How could he not know? How could he not want to partake in all of my ancestral pride?
I had always intended to teach my son culture and not race. I recognize that we are a biracial family and that we have a lot of history to claim but isn’t mine the most interesting? Look at how great we were as a people to overcome such discrimination, such violence. Oh crap, my kid thinks he’s white!
Later on that month, I went to the Capital Area District Library to hear Tukufu Zuberi from the History Detectives speak about the Civil War. I went because I am in love with my culture and because I was seeking relevance for my children. I am also an extreme history dork and I was thrilled to meet the star of one of my favorite shows. Brad Pitt, eat your heart out! How is their heritage relevant to them if they don’t identify with the Civil Right’s Movement!?
Yeah, I was freaking out…
Here is the answer I found. The United States of America, after throwing off the unfair taxation without representation of the British, established a Democratic Government. Then they went down to the Black Continent and got themselves some slaves to build it. They were hypocrites. Freedom is not freedom unless it is for everyone.
The White men and women who took part of the Civil Right’s Movement understood that. The German’s hiding Jew’s during the Holocaust understood that. My friends from the Michigan Darfur Coalition understand that principle. The Somaly Mam Foundation understands, that if even a few children are forced into sexual slavery in the human trafficking industry, then none of our children are safe. Unfortunately it’s more than just a few.
My children do not have to view themselves as members of the Black race to understand that freedom is not freedom unless it is for everyone. I do not have to force the love of my culture upon them until they are pumping their fists like mini Black Panthers and claiming Africa as their homeland. It is imperative that they understand that injustice, no matter where it is or whom it affects, is injustice for us all and we are all responsible for fighting it.
So my kid thinks he’s white. You know what else he said when I described all of the inequalities suffered by Black people in the 50’s?
“Why Mom? Who cares if they drink from the same water fountain as me? That’s not a big deal.”
Isaiah knows that we are all equal and he spends time with me trying to save the world.
Thank God. I would be an idiot without him.
Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson
Kente Colors by Debbi Chocolate (no really, that’s the authors name)
Henry’s Freedom Box; A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
This Little Light of Mine Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Seven Spools of Thread; A Kwanzaa Story.