There are so many things that come along with being the only black stay at-home mother in the suburbs. One has to deal with the occasional Trump bumper sticker sighting, the comments about your daughters “crazy”hair, or the weird looks you may get when people see your family actually has a father attached to it. I’m joking…kind of, but there are little things that happen and sometimes you have to make the decision to either react or be quiet. Fortunately, I have a few friends that are in the same boat as me and we bounce things off of each other to see if we should react or just let it go. Most of the time, we just need a sounding board or a place where we can be comfortable to ask the hard questions that deal with race.
Insert my good friend who lives in a very small town in Massachusetts. I’m living in urban luxury compared to her. While my little city is about 4% Black, her city is 1 percent Black. Basically, she is the Black population. For the most part, she has been able to maneuver quite well. The town is friendly. She is involved in the PTO, local church, and community. She has made friends and race had not been an issue until a few days ago. Her daughter was assigned a heritage project for school and was instructed to pick a country of origin to research. I should point out that my good friend is married to a very nice White man and decided that this would be a great assignment to highlight both parts of her daughter’s background. Here comes the problem.
My friend’s family, like mine, is from New Orleans, LA. Everyone knows that New Orleans and the whole damn state of Louisiana is bursting at the seams with culture. When my friend pointed out that they would be doing their assignment on France (her husband’s family) and Louisiana Creoles (her family), the teacher suggested that they only do her husband’s side of the family since there was an actual foreign country to pick. The teacher then proceeded to tell her that “Louisiana Creole” was not a particular heritage, but instead a language or dialect.
First, let me point out how insensitive it is to discount what one may think is their heritage. Next, African Americans (Black people) typically don’t have a country of origin. Africa is a very large continent and we cannot pick one particular country because we do not know where our families were stolen from. What we do know, is that we come from very strong blood lines because we are still here and that alone is something to be proud of. For one second, imagine all that those Africans who first came here went thru, then those who survived slavery, then those who survived the Civil War and Reconstruction, then those who survived Jim Crow or the Great Migration, then the Civil Rights Movement and up until now. There is so much to be proud of. We also know that we had a hand in building this country, so we have a right to use this country as our origin and whatever subculture our ancestors may be a part of. It is incredibly insensitive to demand that one pick a foreign country, when there is no country to pick.
While listening to my very good friend tell me this story, I heard the hurt in her voice. She was less angry about the whole country insistence and more angry about her children having to choose between their two backgrounds. Because I am not in an interracial marriage, she pointed out a few things that I didn’t realize. I did not realize how often people try to put her and her family in a box according to their comfort. I also did not realize how people often lessen her value in their marriage. She is perceived as this poor black women without culture who lucked up and found this white man. Perception dictates that she has somehow been saved from the depths of the ghetto and she should welcome leaving that all behind. I almost questioned the validity of that last statement until she pointed out to me that my family would not have been asked to simply leave out one members background. I firmly believe the teacher would have handled a family like mine much differently and that makes me sad and more aware.
After letting her vent, I took the time to be a friend and tell her that in this country people simply don’t know. Ignorance is one of the many cancers of society and instead of getting angry, she should educate the teacher about her background. I doubt a number of people outside of Louisiana know about Louisiana Creoles. There are so many good lessons to be learned from this situation. The assignment teaches her daughter about her culture as it relates to her father and mother. The children and teacher will learn about something that is never taught in textbooks. The whole situation teaches my friend to always stand up for what she believes in and that is the most important lesson for her and her children.
Overall, the lesson is to be open. People are going to be ignorant. Most of the time it isn’t because they are mean, it is simply because they don’t know. When we close ourselves off from people because they don’t understand us, there will be no progress. Likewise, when we are insensitive, dismissive, or unwilling to learn about our differences, there will be no progress. As a people and simply as human beings we should always strive to move forward.
Be open to dialogue. Don’t shy away from conversations about race. Be kind.
Love and light y’all.