Raising children to be submissive members of the lower caste

written by Tami; originally published at What Tami Said

The arbitrary nature of grown people’s wrath gave colored children practice for life in the caste system, which is why parents, forced to train their children in the ways of subservience, treated their children as the white people running things treated them. It was preparation for the lower-caste role children were expected to have mastered by puberty.

–”The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson

That’s it. That’s my dirty little secret. I’m a black mother who doesn’t spank her kids.

But don’t you understand? For as long as black folks have been in this country, we have had to keep our kids in line, by any means necessary. For us, it was a matter of life and death.
“Was” being the operative word here. Gone are the days when whining and complaining or disobedience could get a child’s entire escaping family captured, sent back to the plantation, whipped, hobbled, or killed. Gone are the days when whistling at a white woman (or even being falsely accused of it) would get a 14-year-old black boy lynched and his unrepentant murderers found not guilty, and then bragging about the crime in a national magazine. (See Till, Emmett.)

Now you’ll never hear me say that black folks have completely overcome. Racism and discrimination may no longer wear white sheets, or wield fire hoses and dogs, but they are still alive and kicking. But in 2006, I’ll be damned if “know your place,” and “don’t piss off white folks” are among the life lessons I instill in my daughters, much less spank them to drive the message home.

–Deesha Philyaw, “The Girl is Mine: Sparing the Rod” on Love Isn’t Enough

I’m tired of getting the “Good Luck With That” eye roll from other black people when I tell them I don’t beat my sons.

I’m tired of white women confusedly asking, “So you don’t spank?” — the unsaid comment being, “But, but, I thought all black moms spank!”

I’m tired of being told, “That must be the white side in you coming out because we all know white moms don’t beat their kids.

–Liz Dwyer, “Not all black mothers abuse their kids” on Love Isn’t Enough

In an interview with Closer Magazine, Jada [Pinkett Smith] dished about her parenting style and why she allows her children to embrace what their mama (and daddy) gave them.

“I see my children as little people, not necessarily people to control. You’ve got to help them develop and become individuals. You have to find out who they are but enforce boundaries to keep them safe.”

When asked whether or not Willow was a bit too manish, Jada countered, “She’s simply being creative. I’m not worried about her growing up too soon.”

I wonder how many Black children are given the space and room to thrive creatively. Perhaps if more were allowed to express their individuality in a loving and supportive environment—like Willow and Jaden—we wouldn’t see so many get caught up in the system.

– Britni Danielle, “Jada Pinkett Smith Tells Critics Her Kids Are Not ‘Too Grown‘” at Clutch Magazine

Now, I will admit to giving Willow Smith’s interview with Oprah Winfrey a bit of side eye. A child calling a grown woman “girl,” “honey” and “baby” is disrespectful in my book. But on the whole, Willow seems like a smart, adventurous, articulate and extroverted little girl, with the poise of someone used to being in the spotlight. She also seems to possess the confidence of a child  whose individuality is nurtured, who hasn’t had to narrow who she is to conform to expectations. I will chalk that up to Willow having good parents and also to her being the daughter of wealth and privilege.

Something about this chaps folks’ hides. They call the little girl ”arrogant” and tsk tsk at Will Smith and Jada Pinkett for their poor parenting. For the certainty that Willow and her brother, Jaden, are on the wrong path, you’d think they’d been caught knocking off banks like their mama in “Set it Off.”

Reading the above passage from “Warmth of Other Suns” in the context of prevailing stereotypes about black parenting (particularly mothering) and the heat black children (and their parents) receive when they dare to be individuals, I wonder are black parents still expected to raise their children to be good submissive members of the lower caste?

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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