Growing up I never really had much and what I did have needed to be divided amongst several other of my brothers and sisters. My mother did the best she could with what she had but it was clear that despite her efforts, living at home would offer me little stability and so I asked my bougie older cousin if I could live with her. She was much older than me at the time and had already raised 1 kid who was already an adult now.
I was curious if she would do the same for me and to my surprise, she did. I had only wanted it to last for 1 year but the situation at home got worst and when she began talking about next school year with me, I realized that I’d be with her for a little while longer. With her, I had seen another side of life I hadn’t even known existed. I spent much of my formative years under her care and it changed me.
I went from willing to eat whatever was put in front of me to wondering about the nutritional value, labor, and chemicals that went into the finished product. I wanted better quality clothes which meant I had fewer dress items sometimes, but they lasted longer. I became more deliberate in who and what I gave my time to. I began to desire better over more and my cousin took notice. So did other people too. I was only behaving like everyone around me. I thought that by mimicking the actions of those I had deemed were “doing life right” I would be setting myself up for success. However, something curious happened when I began wanting better for myself. I became known as “ungrateful.”
A similar thing happened when I went on a trip abroad with some family of mine. Initially when my cousin’s mother had asked me to go abroad with her daughter, I turned them down and asked if they had other plans. But She kept talking about all the different ways that I could make it work and was even willing to offer me support in a few areas, so I thought I’d be going abroad in safe hands. I hadn’t seen my cousin in years but family was family right? It was just my younger (by 1 ½ years) cousin and me going on the trip. I had been abroad by myself before and on my own dime before, but this would be the longest trip abroad that I’d ever take. Due to me being more experienced with travel I knew that I’d be looking after my cousin who had never been abroad by herself before, but I thought we’d more-so be looking after each other.
She knew the local language better than me after all. I envisioned a trip where her and I got to bond with each other and make some fun memories while we both used the money we had each saved up on our owns and I just had this idea that we’d be on such similar pages but boy was I wrong. I quickly learned that I was only asked to come along so that I could be a babysitter and maid to the true definition of an ungrateful and unruly child. And that she hadn’t saved up much money at all and would be out here entirely on her parent’s dimes. Her being out there on her parent’s dime was no issue to me at all. If I had a kid I would more than likely give her the same security. However, they treated me like I was some tag-along nanny-bum instead of their blood relative.
While I had to take care of my own day-to-day living expenses, food, and transportation, I didn’t have to worry about a few other big-ticket living expenses. That was all taken care of by my cousin’s parents and I was more than appreciative, in fact a little too appreciative because they began trying to lord over me the fact that they were helping me out when I began to complain about how childish, rude, and inconsiderate her daughter was behaving towards everyone around her while abroad. Her behavior even got us kicked out of our first living arrangement.
Her parents felt like I couldn’t complain about a thing while abroad because they were the ones paying for almost everything (just flights and housing). I reminded them that not only had I turned down their initial offer and that they were the ones who had ultimately pushed me into going but that if they felt I was being a problem then they could just send me home. I had done so much to try and keep their daughter out of trouble that I was shocked that they would try to make me out to be the troublesome one in this situation. They weren’t talking to their daughter the way they were talking to me. Maybe if they had she wouldn’t have been behaving as she did. She had nearly burned down the apartment we were staying in twice, allowed her dog to chew up the furniture, left messes everywhere and was disrespectful to the locals. I had to on multiple occasions mediate between my cousin and the locals who wanted to send deportation after her. And despite all of this her parents were viewing me as “ungrateful.”
Even the family we wound up staying with after my cousin got us kicked out of our first living arrangement, wound up treating me poorly. The family knew that I was out there on my own dimes rather than with mommy and daddy’s money, and that completely changed how everyone treated me. I needed to be a bit more frugal and was excited to have a job teaching English while abroad. I saw nothing wrong with working while out there. But due to my needing to work while abroad and being more careful with my money while they saw my cousin just flash some cash and disappear here and there, the people we shared a home with began to view me as her maid of sorts; wanting me to clean up after her and being rude to me.
I told them off after the difference in treatment became more noticeable. Her acting like an unruly wild child with no home training made others view her in a higher light than my more demure and capable appearance. I was dumbfounded. Here I was being a good natured girl who kept a clean space and who spoke with them regularly and they treated me like crap because of it. I gave a few choice words to everyone and when I began acting like the “ungrateful” and entitled woman everyone kept thinking I was is when treatment towards me became better, funny enough.
What’s interesting is that my older cousin, the family we stayed with while abroad, and even my cousin’s mother were all people who grew up with less than what they have now. They all came from more humble beginnings and yet here these people were shaming me and berating me for expecting even basic human decency. It’s an unfortunate reality but in many families, parents/ legal guardians will often times view your growth and maturing as a threat.
The idea that you could ever want more than what you’ve grown up around is to them a sign of insolence that must be stamped out. Even if they’re enjoying finer things in life themselves, the idea of you wanting to be anything like them is seen as stepping out of place. What’s most unfortunate is when you have family that will treat their kids like they can do no wrong but you, as just a relative, will be treated significantly different.
Due to having my family constantly knocking me down for having higher aspirations, my self-esteem and self-worth took deep dips. They were constantly reminding me that I can just as easily be sent back to the crumbling home they picked me up from if I so much as voiced an opinion opposing to their own or began leading my life in a manor that they disagreed with and this continued even after I reached adulthood. Due to the poor treatment I received from my own blood I couldn’t help but think that the basic kindness I received from strangers or romantic partners was someone going out of their way to be kind to me.
I treated every gift, kind word, or favor as this big ordeal that could only be paid off with my loyalty or some other grand gesture and so I stopped asking for help or accepting favors. I felt like I was indebted to anyone who was a basic and kind human being. I became more withdrawn from my caregivers because I didn’t want to add on to the “dept” I didn’t know I was undertaking when as a 14 year old I had asked to live with my older cousin. But after the incident abroad I had a wake up call and I’m here to tell other black women who have humble beginnings that it’s ok to want more. In fact, please continue to aspire to more.
Your family is supposed to be a support system but often times their support can feel as restricting as a straight jacket and distort your relationships with others outside of your family. This act of generational sabotage takes place in many families but it happens just as often outside the home. This world isn’t kind to a dark-skinned black woman who walks with her head high. Around every corner, on every blog, and between familiar lips, are black women met with so much vitriol for asking permission to just exist as everyone else does.
The world will never take kindly to your presence and you are expected to be happy with whatever scraps are given. Truth is, people will always have something to say about a dark-skinned black woman with standards and boundaries. In the end, that is what everyone has an issue with. In their eyes, someone like you shouldn’t ever develop past the meager spaces they’ve carved out for you in their minds. Boundaries and standards are healthy and necessary for every kind of relationship including the ones you have with family.
I also began noticing just how opposed people were to black women wanting more when the femininity movement in the black community began picking up steam. Despite the fact that hypergamy is common practice globally by women of all groups and despite the fact that everyone practices hypergamy in some way (men date up in terms of looks, women date up in terms of resources) there were so many think pieces and posts, and videos shooting down this idea of black women desiring more stable partners. Despite the fact that the marry for love, and enjoy the struggle narratives surrounding romance in the black community are common place and have proven to do more harm for our communities by normalizing broken homes, there is still so much push back towards this idea of black women wanting more from their partners.
What’s worse is that I listen to so many black woman describe what they would like in a man and their idea of a guy with money is just some guy with a car and his own place that can afford to get her nails done every few weeks. So many black woman (and i’m assuming they’re young) have this idea that your average fully functioning adult is this ideal guy and people are still telling black woman that we want too much. Black women just want a man with his shit together and they’re still seen as asking for too much. The idea of dark-skinned black women wanting “more” makes so many people uncomfortable, and this includes a large portion of those who self-proclaim themselves as champions for black women, But if no one’s told you yet I’m here to tell you to stop asking for permission to exist as everyone else, and that it’s ok to want more for yourself black girl.
Lilith is a blogger with an emphasis in writing and reflecting upon social agendas that effect black women. When not at her computer writing she is more than likely still at her computer, programming. On the rare occasion that Lilith isn’t at her laptop you can attempt to find her exploring the Chicago food scene or attending workshops in creative writing.