Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sometimes You Just Have To Have Imani.....Faith

dedicated to my newest ancestor, Dr. Edward Hale. Thank you, Uncle Ed!

I just watched a documentary about Black female identity and choosing dolls. It was sad - to say the least. It was enraging. It made me want to take some of my brethren and sistren around the waist, shake them and shout, “Wake up! Wake up, you stupid fuck!”

It’s only a 7 minute video made by a teen. You can find it here:
or here:

But, it jogged me back to a somewhat embarrassing six months of our lives.

As most of you know, my firstborn, Imani is very fair with steel blue eyes and lovely chestnut ringlets. In other words, she can “pass.” During those early years, I had instilled in her a very strong sense of identity. (In spite of my mother always sniping things like, “Why are you teaching that Black pride stuff to a child who will grow up to pass?”

In addition, we were surrounded by a diverse Black community. Many of the elders were as fair as she was. In addition - back in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s - they made a clear choice not to “pass.” They had enough fortitude, pride of family, culture and identity to take what would have been the “hardest road” and they didn’t. And they triumphed over racism and segregation to become community leaders, civil rights activists and professionals. I remember making this a big issue with her.

I was eternally pointing out that “Aunt So-and-So” or “Uncle That Guy” was “Black” like she was. I was tedious.

And I was probably very trying. We had a lot of Black dolls. We also had a lot of “Latina” dolls. My opinion on “Dolls of European Descent” was clear. Okay - I was a bit of a benign segregationist. She could have and play with as many Blonde babies and Barbies as she wanted herself or with her friends. But, I couldn’t be bothered. Friends go home. Mom is around all of the time and Mom will always play with you....sort of....when it suits her opinion of how you ‘ought to be developing.”

Call me wrong. I certainly questioned myself at the time. In fact - I wrote elaborate essays about my daughter’s dolls. (Too bad they are all pre-internet age, they were pretty funny. At that point, I was hand-sewing Barbie clothes. The different ethic dolls had very stereotypical measurements. Yes! The Barbies had different measurements. And I raged and wrote about it. )

Any way, one day, I remember her looking up at me when she was around 6 or 7. She looked into my eyes and said, "I know I'm African-American. Why doesn't anyone else?"

And I said something stupid like, “You know who you are.” or “Don’t worry about anyone other than yourself. You be you.”

It was shortly after this point, we went through the “embarrassing phase.” We would be somewhere - the grocery store, an elevator in the library, on the street. Inevitably, there would be an African-American person. The “nod of the head” would happen. Everyone would go back to sharing public space, such as: studying carrots, examining elevator buttons, or diligently observing traffic. Imani always noticed this “nod of the head” which often happens when Black folks share space.

She’d pipe up, “Say hello to me too. I’m African-American.”

This would invariably halt people in their tracks. Often they’d just look at her. Then, they’d look at me - surely I was the nanny.

And I’d shrug, smile and say, “That’s my daughter. Demanding unity where ever she goes.” Or some such nonsense cobbled together on the spot. And I’d chuckle.

They’d back step a second. Smile at her and nod their head or say hello or do whatever to validate her sense of belonging.

I often felt like shushing her. But, in hindsight, I realise that I was correct not to “shush” her or ask her “to behave.” In fact, sometimes - especially in African-American environments - I encourage her.

She still isn’t “passing.” She still has a strong sense of identity. She has chosen different battles than my great grandmother, grandmother, mother and I have chosen to fight. But, her battles reflect the times in which she is living and a profound fire at the her core being. In fact, she’s the coolest, most politically aware, culturally sensitive 20 year old I know, which is not my humble opinion, it is a fact.

P.S. Can you tell I’m chuffed she’ll be “home” with us for a whole year in just 4 weeks?

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