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The Importance of Teaching Black Identity in the Home: A Kid’s Perspective

As a young African American girl, I often struggled with loving myself and my appearance because I grew up when Black people were not widely portrayed on national television and in beauty and fashion magazines. Although two major magazines, Jet and Ebony, promoted awareness of Black beauty and identity, the continual programming of European beauty standards and intellect was far too great. To make matters worse, my family moved from a Black neighborhood to a predominantly White area when I was three years old. In our newly purchased home, I would often sit in front of the large kitchen bay window admiring the wind-blown golden locks of the young White girls who lived across the street as they rode by on their bicycles. Seeing the wind blow through their long silky golden locks inspired me to petition my mother to use a hot comb to straighten my medium-length curly plaits. When she finally relented, I was delighted because I always wanted long straight black hair that blew in the wind like all the White girls who attended my school and the many tall, stately White models seen on television.

The frustrations of straightening my naturally curly hair

Straightening my hair was very disappointing. Each time I got my hair straightened, I had hoped that it would be different, but inevitably my hair would swell like a loaf of bread rising in a hot oven, and the wind would only make my shrinking hair even bushier. My experiences of having straight hair were nothing like what I saw on television or when my neighbors rode their bicycles in front of our kitchen bay window. My mother saw the pain and anguish I felt each time this happened, and she began to make a conscientious effort to highlight the beauty of Black women when featured in television commercials or magazines. However, the public school system’s chronic efforts to reinforce White intellectual superiority and beauty overshadowed my mother’s loving actions to show me Black greatness. Scores from standardized tests taken at the elementary school level, which have since been proven biased, only reinforced low self-esteem, self-hate, and insecurity. Not realizing the incredible amount of creative intelligence I possessed caused me to struggle consistently with self-worth at a very young age. Feelings of unworthiness encouraged me to develop friendships with self-serving individuals deemed more popular and intelligent than I was, hoping to raise my level of dignity.

Difficult times and the protection of our children

I hope that sharing my story will encourage the parents of children of color to become more resolute in teaching their children about the greatness they possess regarding their beauty and intellect. Parents of children of color should not overly rely on teachers or other persons or institutions outside of the home to boost self-esteem and instill self-worth in their children. The times we live in can be very difficult for children of color. The ongoing overt and covert racism in the US and other countries has given birth to normalized hate speech, the rise of police brutality, which has sometimes resulted in the arrest and traumatization of school-aged children of color, and the prohibition of teaching the truth about African history in learning institutions across Africa and its Diaspora.

Honoring Black excellence

Honoring Black excellence and the creation of safe spaces that empower children of African descent and other children of color not only involves celebrating their intellect, hair, and shades of brown skin but educating them about their ancestral heritage. The spiritually rich ancestors that preceded them from faraway lands endowed with much mineral wealth profoundly impacted humanity and world civilizations. Teaching your children about themselves and the people from which they descend is highly recommended during these turbulent times. Take time out each day to remind your children and other children of color that they are intelligent and beautiful, both inside and outside. Showcase the power and greatness that they possess by engaging in the following activities:

  • Consistently remind them of their beauty, talents, skills, and abilities.

  • Read stories highlighting the accomplishments of African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, Native Americans, Africans, and other peoples of color.

  • Seek out various in-person or virtual programs that emphasize the contributions of indigenous people.

  • Look for teachable moments that highlight the achievements of such groups.

Engaging in the previously mentioned bulleted activities provides a pathway for your child and other children of color to experience mental wellness and a brighter future. Consistently reminding young children that they are endowed with many gifts and talents and educating them about their ancestors’ accomplishments and the achievements of others who look like them will fortify their understanding of self. A child with a grounded understanding of self will establish a strong sense of racial and ethnic pride and self-worth.

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Kimberly Starks
Kimberly Starks
Apr 06, 2023

So important to be intentional about building up and encouraging our children when they receive so many negative messages from other sources!

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