Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Beautiful Black, Black All Around"

Today is the first day of spring. This morning before daycare/work I was reading books to the boys. Braydon had left for work already, the sun was streaming in the windows, the house was completely quiet. Both boys were on my lap, both were sucking their thumbs, and both were enthralled in the moment. At first they had me read The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear (click here for link) four times in a row. Then it was finally time for a new book. Kyle looked through all the books until he found the one he wanted: Black All Around!. He brought it to me, and we read it. This is one of my favorite books. Although I've probably read it to the boys over a hundred times, this one just never gets old. If you have black kids and you don't have this book, I highly recommend you get it (click here for link).

The first page opens with:
"Look high,
look low,
look everywhere...
The wonderful color black is there!
Sleek and jazzy,
warm and cozy.
Beautiful black,
black all around..."
As I held my boys tight on my lap and read Black All Around! to them in the first-day-of-spring-sunlight I couldn't help noticing their little black hands juxtaposed with my white ones, turning the pages of this poignant book. In that moment I found myself doing what I find myself doing so often -- trying with all of me to pour self-confidence into my beautiful black boys' souls; trying with all of me to infuse their little hearts and minds with a deep dark bottomless beautiful black self-esteem; trying with all of me to will it to be so; saying it calmly but firmly, trying with all of me to have it flow as a steady sturdy stream of blackness into their little brown ears -- "beautiful black, black all around..."

When the book was done it was quiet. I kissed their beautiful black cheeks and told each one of them, like I do every day, that they are a "beautiful, beautiful boy."

And then I drove them to daycare, and dropped them off, to face the world.

As I was driving out of the daycare parking lot my mind wandered to last night. Last night before we went to bed ourselves Braydon and I checked in on the boys sleeping in their beds, like we do every night. Since January the boys have been sleeping with their baby dolls (click here to read the post about Kyle's "Donald" and Owen's "Douglas James"). Kyle's Sheep and Honey Bunny, and Owen's Lovey Lion and paci are still their main loves (and "fish" from Beth is a permanent fixture for Owen as well), but the dolls are always in bed with them now too.

Kyle's Donald, Honey Bunny, Sheep

Owen's Douglas James, Lovey Lion, Paci, Fish
Last night, as we peeked in on Owen, the little sweetie pie was curled up in his bed peacefully sleeping with both of his arms wrapped tightly around his doll. He was hugging it in his sleep. He had this beautiful black baby doll just wrapped so snug into his arms and his whole body was embracing it. Braydon and I stood there watching him sleep like this, and I had all I could do to not started crying -- crying a mixture of love, adoration, joy, pride, empathy, compassion, concern, fear, angst.
As I was standing there looking at Owen--- I was thinking about the video "A Girl Like Me" that the high school student made (click here for link). The video shows several young black children strongly rejecting black dolls and choosing white ones instead, saying that the black dolls are "bad" and "ugly" and "not nice," etc. As I stood there with Braydon watching Owen embrace his black baby with his whole self this is what I was thinking: "Thank you God for my beautiful black baby boys -- Thank you God that my babies are still embracing these black dolls -- Thank you God that they are almost three but they still embrace their blackness with all their heart and soul -- Thank you God that so far their self-confidence is fully in tact and their self-esteem is solid to the core."
We do everything we can think of to convey to Kyle and Owen that they are loved, that they are smart, and that they are beautiful. These are things that we desperately want them to know. Things we desperately want them to know deep down inside in the darkest core crevices of their souls. In the places that are so deep and so dark and so black that no one (not even Kyle and Owen) can see them.
I'm sure some people think we are "excessive" in our attempts to instill a 'Black is Beautiful' sense of pride in our children. Do we go overboard? Probably yes. Would I be parenting the same way if I had a biological child? Probably not. Are we spoiling them? Maybe. Am I willing to take the risk for the sake of their own black pride? Absolutely yes. Is all of this different when you're raising black kids? Heck yeah -- especially when those black kids' parents are white. It is one of those things: until you've tried to do it, you really can't know anything about it.
Frankly, it is easy to buy books and toys for Kyle and Owen that are meant to instill black pride. It is easy to buy artwork for our walls and music for our stereos that is meant to convey an appreciation of Afro-Caribbean culture. It is easy to tell my sons that they are loved (they are!), that they are smart (they are!), that they are beautiful (they are!). The hard part is knowing what they are up against... knowing that even if everything goes as well as possibly possible, down the road they will each need to tap deep into this beautiful black pride for all the wrong reasons.
So for now we pour the pages of books like Beautiful Black, Black All Around! into their souls, desperately wanting them to know the beauty of their blackness. Because us knowing it is minuscule in comparison to the importance of them knowing it.
The book ends like this:
"The cozy night
when there is no light,
when the dark breathes deep
and you drift to sleep...

dreaming your dream
of beautiful black,
black all around."


Hope said...

Those dolls are beautiful. Can you advise where they were bought?

Thank you

Bek said...

I adore those books. Off to Amazon RIGHT NOW....

P.S. Can I have a friend e mail you about adoption from Haiti? Her dad is doing a documentary about it (we got funding today!!! ) and they are thinking about it. ALso, my charity is going to start sponsoring an orphanage..... :-)

amir said...

Oh my gosh. I have to get this book. I don't have a small child myself, but it would make a great gift.

Also, it's very wise of you to instill Black pride in your boys. I don't think you can overdo it. Most people will try to deny it, but the images, perceptions, and sometimes treatment of Black men in society is horrible. You have to really build your up boys so that will not only survive out in the world but thrive. Kudos to the two of you. I believe that with parents like you Kyle and Owne will be fine.

Heather said...

Thank you Amir for your comment -- it is much, much appreciated. Hope, we bought the dolls at a Toys R Us in Montgomeryville Pennsylvania (just north of Philadelphia).