Black culture has some parenting norms that have become staples in media about African American childhood. A few years ago, Denzel Washington explained to an interviewer when speaking about the “Oscars So White” movement that black culture is automatically recognizing the smell of hot combs. That’s one example. Celebrating birthday parties to the Stevie Wonder version of “Happy Birthday,” is another.
There are also some pieces of our culture that are more destructive than productive. This extends into some of the parenting norms many of us likely grew up with, but perhaps did not benefit from. They can be difficult to stare down and decide to do away with, especially as black children grow into black adults who welcome children of their own. But in order to truly effect positive change for the black community, or what’s left of it, I think there are some parenting behaviors that we should put down once and for all.
1. Stop using shame as a means for manipulating kids.
This was used on me when I was growing up, and while it certainly was an effective means for getting me to stop behaving in certain ways, it has also revealed itself to be one of the contributing factors to planting the seed for my anxiety to grow. Beratement and shaming seemed to usher in an internalization that I was somehow never going to be good enough, or that I was unloved. After all, embarrassing and shaming people in public is something people do to people they do not care for. I have also met several other black adults for whom the same was true. Consequences for poor grades, not abiding by rules, or disrespect certainly have a place, but leave shaming out of the disciplinary actions you take.
2. Refrain from comparing your children to anyone.
This is especially relevant in the colorism conversation – it is not nice to compare one child’s hair, body, or mannerisms to another. This merely encourages the thought process that our children should be aspiring toward norms that are not attainable for them. Comparisons do not need to be overt, either. They don’t just happen when you line two children up and tell one that he/she does not measure up to what the other one has. It also happens when you publicly fawn over eye colors, hair textures, or other features that your child does not have. If we want our little black girls to love their brown eyes, we have to tell them that their eyes are beautiful. If we want black boys to grow up, respect, and love other black women (regardless of whom they might choose to marry) we have to treat blackness and black femininity as something beautiful. We cannot expect our children to grow into adults who love themselves for their uniqueness if we do not celebrate their uniqueness.