My daughter is five. She’s a bright, inquisitive and observant child, which sometimes leaves my husband and me at a loss for words.
Which is why this mother daughter conversation was a bitch.
It was the afternoon of November 9, 2016 and I was picking my kids up from my mom’s house after a long day at work. They were ready to go home and I was ready to be home, but I stopped in to say hello to my parents and thank them for their help.
When I went to greet my mother, we went through the regular niceties then she told me about a conversation she had with my daughter. Now, my mom is extremely proud of my baby girl. She recognizes her “genius” and always tells me stories from the home front. This time was different.
The TV was on and of course the news was streaming that a new person had been elected President. My children were familiar with and emotional about what was happening.
Now, before you shut down or leave because you think you know where this is going, give me a moment, it’s not going where you may think…
My mom said that she asked my daughter if she knew what was happening. My daughter answered yes.
Grandma: Do you know we have a new president?
Grandma: Do you know who it is?
Granddaughter: Yes, Donald Trump.
Grandma: What do you think about that?
Granddaughter: I don’t like him.
Grandma: Why not?
Granddaughter: He’s not nice, he says mean things, he’s black.
Grandma: Oh, you don’t like black?
Grandma: You know that your mom is black. I’m black & Papa is black?
Granddaughter: No you’re not, you’re like me.
My mom, needless to say, was concerned over this exchange. This is a smart girl and she doesn’t know that her mom and family members are black? She doesn’t know that the newly elected President is not black? Say it ain’t so…
After getting that information on what had already been a trying day, I didn’t have the presence of mind to give a good response to my mom. I also didn’t have the thoughts or words to bring this forth with my daughter. But, it was there, in the background like a song that you really wish you’d never heard, nagging at me.
Forward a few weeks and my daughter and I are in the bathroom styling her hair for school. This was my chance. I was going to explain to my five year old that we’re black and that she should know this for future reference. She needed to know this information because, so many people that made up her genetic code were black. It was my job as her mother and as a black woman to make sure she knew she was black.
So in I went.
Mom: Baby, you know that mommy is black?
Mom: Yes, and Grandma and Papa too?
Daughter: Am I black?
Mom: Yes, you’re my daughter so you’re black.
Daughter: Mommy, what is black?
At that moment I had no answers. At that moment I realized there was something bigger here. At that moment I realized that my daughter was right, in her understanding and programming of what black is, about Donald Trump. He is black.
In her mind black wasn’t about race, it was about character. In her five year old mind, she doesn’t look at, shy away from or love people because of race but because of character. So when my mom had that conversation with her, they were speaking two different languages.
When I had my conversation with her, we were speaking two different languages. Somehow, in her five years, the subliminal societal messages had gotten through that “black” = “bad”. It would be up to her, and those of us who love her, to then counter those messages with “black is beautiful”.
But here’s my question…what is black? When did we decide we were black? Did we decide we were black or was the “label” thrust upon us?
Was the label black placed on us because the world had already started using “black” for “bad” things and since our brown skin was closer to black, and we were “different = bad” we were called black?
It’s one of those random questions that comes up when talking to a five year old and not having the faintest idea of what the answer is. There are a few things I did learn with this conversation: 1) The messages that are getting through are not “favorable” toward black; 2) We spend a lot of our black lives countering the messages that get through early on.
The conversation with my daughter (and son) is beginning, am I ready? Am I ready to not explain the “black race” but to work on fostering the “black pride” the “black strength” that I’ve learned to embrace over the years?
If I’m not, I’ll make myself ready because my five year old thinks a person of flawed character is “black”. When it’s time to reconcile in her mind that she’s black, I’m hoping her 5 year old ideas of black will have been completely overshadowed by the truth.