|Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Weldon Johnson.|
"How can you know where you're going
when you don't know where you've been?"
when you don't know where you've been?"
|This mama was very proud.|
Warning: I'm in the mood to unpack some thoughts here. . . .
Okay. First, this. As promised, I've uploaded the clips of Zachary and Isaiah from their black history month presentations last week. This was a part of the "Living Black History Museum" that the kids participated in as a part of the Atlanta Chapter of Jack and Jill of America. It was seriously one of the coolest things ever, man.
Confession: This might have been one of the proudest days I've had in a very long time. Therefore I should give the disclaimer that while it may not seem earth-shattering to you, the mama in me was over the moon.
Over. The. Moon.
Let me tell you why:
See. . . . it's really important to me that my children are comfortable in their skin. I want them to be accepting and welcoming to all people regardless of their ethnicity, orientation, or socioeconomic status. But I also want them to be equally as accepting of who THEY are. I think it's possible to create a space for everyone without divorcing yourself from who YOU are. Or at least where your people have been and what it took to get you where you are.
|Jackie Robinson and W.E.B. Dubois|
You know? Sometimes minority kids fight so hard to assimilate with the mainstream that they look exhausted. Like really, truly exhausted. Then there are some others that don't seem exhausted with assimilation at all. Starting from the earliest age they morph so beautifully into the majority that every trace of their cultural heritage becomes invisible. And then habitually ignoring who they are culturally to fit in becomes the default.
This is common, too. And while it may not be really egregious and is more pervasive, it happens a lot. So if no one is reminding them about the "where they've beens" then it eventually disappears. Again, in subtle ways. Like drifting so far away that your eyes can't see someone like your mother or your grandmother as the beauty standard. Or reaching a point of feeling paradoxically uncomfortable in situations where you aren't the minority.
It doesn't have to be that way. It doesn't. But stand by idly and it will.
I feel so fortunate to have been exposed to things growing up that didn't put me in that camp. I know it makes me a better doctor at Grady and a kick ass liaison for those cultural nuances unique to the patients I care for with our residents and medical students. If I wasn't okay with the similarities I share with my patients, imagine the teachable moments I'd miss! The Grady elders and their Jim Crow struggles are my uncles and aunties. The woman talking on the phone in the hallway was one of the girls I double-dutched with until the street lights came on. And the music rattling the speakers of the hooptie driving by the front of the hospital? That was from the block on which I grew up. So no. None of that is foreign to me at all. And it sure as hell doesn't make me feel uncomfortable. I thank my parents for helping me with that. Helping me to be alright with me and the "where I'm from" as well as the "where we've been."
Look--I'm all ears when you start telling me your story, too. I want to know all about the state your parents came from in India. I am interested in the stories your grandmother told you of her time escaping persecution as a person of Jewish faith in Europe. Tell me all about your celebration that you'll be having at the end of Ramadan and describe what it means to eat halal meat. Oh, and please, my African sister--don't hesitate to explain the differences between what it means to be Igbo or Yoruba. Break it down for me how even though you are Nigerian, that those distinctions still matter to you because that better describes who you and your family are. And you know? Even if you think your background is more American vanilla than ethnic sprinkles and you can't think of any unique features culturally--know that I still want to hear about it. Talk all about the pies your mama made on the weekends or better yet, the TV dinners you had instead. Whatever it is, I want to know. Because all of us have culture and things that make us who we are. And all of us should be able to hold on to a piece of that without hiding it behind the shadows of what seems standard.
So share it and I will listen. I will.
But please. Sit at the same rapt attention as I speak of my people in months beyond February. Welcome my children to embrace you and yours but offer them plenty of room to stand tall in their heritage, too. Their rich heritage. I never want them to shrink. Or know more about Miley Cyrus than they do about the Middle Passage. Or even worse, just become completely indifferent altogether to all things that aren't culturally nondescript.
|Dominique Dawes, gymnast|
I don't want that. I really, really don't. And no, this doesn't mean that I take issue with families filled with mixed heritages or that I'll shun a future girlfriend who doesn't look like me. Actually, quite the contrary. But that said. . . .I just don't want my boys to grow up counting their own people out. Looking through certain girls because that's not a part of their "beautiful" definition. And that happens--it does--so, so much with some of our beautiful brown boys. It's like. . .I don't know. . .they don't even see the girls that look like their sister as viable options. And I'm not making a sweeping statement about ALL brown boys in primarily majority settings, but I am saying that it's not too unusual for that to happen. I guess I just want my kids to grow up seeing everyone--and counting themselves in that number of who they see. I mean, why shouldn't someone like your own mother have a fighting chance at being seen as your ideal?
Anyways. I guess I just think the world is so much more interesting when people celebrate their differences instead of hiding them. Or worse--just ignoring them to the point that they have no idea how to even begin to celebrate them.
See? This is some complicated shit. And since we are all thinkers here, I think it's a good dialogue. It kind of brings me back to "The Nod." I guess I'm just hoping my boys grow up instinctively giving it.
Wow I'm rambling. And majorly unpacking.
Man. Sorry about that. But what better time than February, right?
Okay. Let me get off of that soapbox and onto my proud mama soapbox instead. I was so, so proud. My Isaiah can get nervous speaking in front of crowds. So for him to choose Martin Luther King, Jr. and then knowingly put himself in a position to have to talk to person after person like that was a huge deal.
And as for Zachary? He wanted to learn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" so that he could sing it to his class and during this presentation. That was his idea. And you know? It's one thing to sing it once for your first grade class--which still took a hell of a lot of courage--but it's an entirely different thing to stand next to a presentation board and sing it over and over again to all who came to visit your station. Not just adults either. Kids, too. And we all know how kids can be. He must have sung that song fifteen to twenty times. And each time, he sang it like he meant it, just like his Grandpa told him he should.
He messes up a few prepositions. But otherwise? It was perfect. A perfect way to honor the "where we've been." Isaiah stood right by encouraging him each time he had to sing. Giving him thumbs up and smiling. You can even catch it in the video if you pay attention. And Isaiah did that each time. (Unless, of course, somebody was looking for their old friend Martin.)
So here are the clips which I assure you are short. I'm glad I uploaded them because they will remind me of a promise I made to myself today. It's my goal to try to keep my sons so aware of the "where they've beens" that it never even occurs to them to ignore or forget it.
Or allow anyone else to make that part of them so invisible that they start believing that they should too.
Zachary's Lift Every Voice and Sing from Kimberly Manning on Vimeo.
Isaiah as MLK Jr from Kimberly Manning on Vimeo.
And this, for those who are so young that they don't get the references to "my old friend Martin." Or to the reference in the title. This is my favorite version.
This version is for Sister Moon. It's my second favorite.
BOB DYLAN - Abraham, Martin And John (1980) by giemmevu