Mommies in Black and White

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

Month: December 2015

Can I still have dessert?

Our recent struggles over getting my kids to eat holiday meals reminded me of a night in April when Jebeh invited our family over for African food. I was excited, but also a little nervous. My kids, notoriously picky eaters, are prone to outbursts of “I don’t like that” and “that looks gross.” Foods can’t be touching and for my seven year old, sauces and the smell of yogurt cause body convulsions and arm flapping accompanied by “ewe, ewe, ewe.”

So, we prepped in the car AND in the grocery store while picking out dessert. No homemade contribution from this lady – just a store bought tray of brownies. But who doesn’t love those? Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Now kids, remind me of what our expectations are when we are guests…

Kids: Kind, respectful, please and thank you

Me: That’s right, so Miss Jebeh is cooking us a special meal – it will be different than what we serve at home, but she’s working really hard on it. She’s sharing her culture and heritage with us and we need to be grateful.

Kids: What’s culture and heritage?

Me: It has to do with where your family is from and the things that people choose to celebrate and honor.

Kids: Where’s her family from?

Me: Liberia, Africa

Kid (4 year old): Yeah, like our ancestors are from Duluth…”

Close.

At Jeb’s they lasted about one minute and two tiny bites. My son stopped eating and looked around a bit panicked. My four year old spoke loudly and clearly, “I don’t like this! Can I still have dessert?”

Grrrr…fail???

Kwanzaa is Not for Every Black Person

My first Christmas in the United States 1982

My first Christmas in the United States 1982 (I’m in the pink dress with my cousin Lendeh and her grandmother)

It’s that time of year again where I’m bombarded with cheerful greetings on the street, in the store, the Post Office, by assuming strangers, “Happy Kwanzaa!” When I smile back and say  I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, the assuming strangers are generally shocked.  They ask, “Aren’t you black?”  Or, “You must not be African then?” Newsflash, many Africans in the United States and abroad don’t celebrate Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is not an African holiday. Kwanzaa is an African American holiday celebrated by some African Americans.

The first time I heard about Kwanzaa was when my white middle school teacher asked me what my family was doing for Kwanzaa that year. I never heard of Kwanzaa. I asked my parents and grandparents, they never heard of Kwanzaa either. I  went to our local library to research what this holiday meant. My grandmother told me to never spend one week a year celebrating being  Liberian.”Jeb, you are a Liberian from the day you were born until the day you die.”  Grandma was very patriotic.

Africans will tell you that we celebrate our traditions based on our religious affiliations. I grew up in an Episcopal household on both sides of my family. My paternal grandmother is Muslim. Yes, I do celebrate Christmas along with my family. My paternal grandmother celebrates her traditions based on her Islamic faith.

I understand the notion of African Americans showing pride in their cultural heritage. I get that, and the outcome is a positive one.  But don’t be surprised if I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa. I celebrate who I truly am, a Liberian-American woman every day until the end.

If you’ve never heard of Kwanzaa and would like to know more, here’s the official website created by its founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga.

The Official Kwanzaa Page

Being the “other” at Christmas

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Christmas. It’s everywhere: in the streets, the stores, on the radio and TV, in restaurants and our offices spaces. I challenge you to go through one hour of your day without interacting with a Christmas symbol.

Personally, I get great satisfaction from the symbols that identify the season as Christmas season. I’m Christian and for me the pervasiveness of Christmas symbols means many things – celebrating my faith, spending time with family, appreciating friendships, sharing and giving what has been provided to us with others. I relish the reminders of faith and the magic of traditions.

Yet, squirming inside of me is a quiet discomfort. I am aware of the fact that some of my friends and colleagues are not Christian and yet they walk down the same streets, enter the same restaurants, stores and coffee shops. Some walk through the same office doors and are greeted by a Christmas tree.

Stick with me here…

I firmly believe we all deserve the right to express, celebrate and share our culture, religion and beliefs. Because America is predominantly Christian the expression of Christmas pervades our daily experiences at this time of year.

Just for a minute, think about a time when you felt different from others, when you didn’t fit in, when you just weren’t a part of the “group.” Maybe you didn’t make a team you tried out for. Maybe you were: a woman in a board meeting full of men, overweight in an exercise class of “fit” participants, brown in a sea of white or white in a sea of brown, the new student at school, or a foreigner that didn’t speak the native language.

Reflect on what that experience felt like for you. Did you feel a little uncomfortable? A little lonely, a little anxiety, a little fear, a little self-conscious, a little frustrated? Catalogue those feelings. Now consider what a non-Christian might be feeling at this time of year. Grow in your empathy.

And by all means, don’t stifle your celebrations or your expressions of faith, but be aware that others might not be viewing them through the same lens. Recognize how you can share the compassion and positivity of the season by validating those who might be “other” in the great celebration called Christmas.

Why is my son uncomfortable with my natural hair style?

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I went through every hairstyle in the book. In middle school, I wanted to look like my white girlfriends and got a perm. I looked like a poodle with a Jerry curl. For years, I was addicted to relaxing my hair. My hair would always break. My scalp was always dry. I would cry every time it rained knowing that my hard work would get ruined. I would get so frustrated that I wore a bun.

Most of my son’s young life, he’s witnessed me buy relaxer, do it myself, wince in pain because of the burn and ultimately just damage my hair all to make it “easier” to style. Truth is it wasn’t easier. It was just a pervasive way to try to “fit” the ideal style – long, straight hair.

Two summers ago I decided to go natural. I found a stylist in town who not only knew how to work well with black hair, he helped me maintain my hair in it’s natural state.

I never felt so free. I could get my hair wet and not freak out. One day I found myself actually singing in the rain. When my son first saw me with my natural hair he asked, “Where’s your bun? I don’t like it at all.” I felt so much guilt and shame. I realized my six-year old’s sense of beauty was only what I exposed him to. So, I showed him pictures of other grown women of  color with natural hair.

He’s slowly starting to come around. Lessons about beauty take time. I continue to assure him that no matter how many times mommy changes her hairstyle, I’m still the same person and I love him more than anything in this world.

What are your kids reactions when you change your hairstyle? How do they respond to someone who’s “style” is clearly different from what they are used to?

 

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