Mommies in Black and White

Two Moms. Two cultures. Lots of Laughs. Join Us!

Month: September 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

Everything I needed to learn, I learned from my Liberian Family

Our Liberian Wedding Reception

I’m  blessed to have been born into such an amazingly huge Liberian family. I joke with people and say my family is not just any family, we’re a network. There are relatives I’ve never met, but I know they exist and they know I exist. Their role is to look out for me if I needed anything without hesitation and vice versa. This is why my husband is always on his best behavior.

I  make a point to connect frequently with as many of my relatives as possible. A simple phone call goes a long way and I am often blessed with life lessons or survival tips.

Here’s what they’ve shared:

  • Never leave your house without your earrings. (thanks mom)
  • Vaseline is a Liberian Woman’s beauty secret.
  • Never argue with a fool in public. All you have from the outside, are people watching two fools and they don’t know who’s in the right.
  • You’re born black, you will die black, it’s up to you to make the most out of yourself.
  • Whatever you do in the bush, don’t bring it to town (translation-don’t put all your business out there for ones to judge).
  • You marry for companionship and not support.
  • Wear your gold to get your man, and your diamonds to keep him.
  • Education is the foundation of all things.
  • Never ask a Liberian woman exactly how many children she has. It’s bad luck. She’ll always smile and respond, “I have enough.”
  • When you educate a man you educate an individual, but when you educate a woman, you educate a whole community.(thanks Grandpa A.K)
  • Always put God first.
  • Tell your children, “no matter what, tell me (the mother) first.”
  • During the Civil War: Even if we have nothing, we have each other and that is everything.

I’ve grown so much from each and every one of them and I’m constantly doing my best to make them proud. My mother always said that, “Jebeh knows her people.” It’s true. I left Liberia at such a young age but I never left my people behind.

Jeb

“She looks Mexican, mommy”

We were out to dinner to celebrate my husband’s birthday. In the middle of ordering my four year old turned to me and said, “mom, I like her. She looks Mexican.”

I shushed her! Grrr…. It’s still my gut reaction. After all this time, thought, and effort to bring awareness and validation to how kids (and adults) see and make sense of the world.

I followed the shush by saying, “yes, she’s very beautiful.” I placed our order and offered a friendly smile to the server. Maybe she didn’t hear? I thought (hoped). I think part of the reason I shushed was because I didn’t want the server to get drawn into a conversation that would require something more than she might be willing to give.

Let’s unpack this. The server left and I asked, “why do you think that?”

Campbell: “Because she has dark skin like the Mexican girls that we saw in Cabo.”

Me: “Well, that makes sense. ”

We followed with a conversation about how people are all unique and skin color doesn’t dictate where you are from or where you can live. But, sometimes, asking questions can reveal unique things about another person’s culture and life that we might find interesting or exciting.

This is another excellent example of how children learn about their world. They observe and file. When needed they reach in and pull out those file folders to make sense of what they are seeing. Campbell accessed her file folder from our trip to Cabo, Mexico to make sense of the beautiful, darker (than her) skinned young women who came to take our order.

I don’t know if this was a fail or a success. Maybe just a salvage effort?

The Danger of a Single Story

 

As I watched this, I felt like she was speaking my truth. Stories are powerful tools that cultivate our minds and our understanding of the world around us.  World-renowned novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, sheds light on how literature can have a mass impact on how we view ourselves and the world around us.

Adichie explains that the Igbo word ‘nkali’ (a noun) losely translates to mean ‘to be greater than another.’ This concept and associated power has a profound impact on stories of the world. She explains that human beings have the power to decide how stories are written and told, how frequently, and how many.

A few years ago, I did a cultural presentation with a first-grade class. A  little boy looked at me in fear and said, “You’re brown, my mother told me to never trust a brown person.” This was his dangerous single story. As I watched his embarrassed teacher leave the classroom expecting me to handle the situation on my own, I smiled and asked him a couple of questions.

Could I have a handshake? Yes (he shook my hand).

Did that feel scary? No.

If you got hurt do you think I would try to help you? Yes.

If I got hurt do you think you would try to help me? Yes.

I smiled and said, “See, I’m a nice teacher who does have brown skin and I promise you that my job is to make sure that you feel safe.” I thought to myself, I can’t wait to meet your mother someday.

Think about the dangerous single stories that you’ve been told, read, or taught. How have they affected your true self or perspective on the world or a group of people? How are you sharing your stories with your children? We all have ‘nkali.’ It is up to all of us to use it for positive change.

 

Fighting Gremlins

I think part of the reason we don’t want to talk about diversity, race, racism, and our thoughts, confusion, and questions about it is because it comes with a level of shame. We are shamed by what we don’t know, by the privileges we recognize (or refuse to recognize), by our (sometimes discriminatory or angry) thoughts and by our confusion about how to handle situations with grace.

I recently read a book called “Daring Greatly” by Brene’ Brown – which many of you have probably read. If you haven’t, you should. She wrote a passage that resonated with me:

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. … If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it” (p. 58).

I hope this space (blog) can be a platform for all of us to fight our gremlins – by asking, reflecting and laughing. I’ve fought a lot of gremlins over the years and faced a lot of fears – mostly by admitting what I don’t know and letting go of the shame I carried for not knowing. We must be willing to be vulnerable.

I’ve learned to combat shame with an open heart, a focus on seeing from anothers perspective, and a willingness to listen, learn, and be vulnerable. I’m convinced that by sharing our stories and having (sometimes difficult) conversations we all grow a little stronger.

 

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