This is the last post on my current musings on love.
I thought before I step off the subject I should underline one last thing about the significance of love in our lives as desirable, beautiful African boys and girls. There may not be many initiatives such as this which used this picture of poor, black and undesirable Negro children, but the imperative of love remains if we are to realise the genius of being young, gifted and black, as Donny Hathaway sang it.
Here goes: In spite of the important and rapid steps toward better race relations in the larger society, the African parent is still faced with the responsibility of providing his children with basic foundations of a healthy personality. It is difficult for these children to feel that they are of value unless they are given such indications within the intimate family unit. African children need special assurance that their parents love them and want them. These children need to know that this love is unconditional – that they are loved because they are human beings worthy of love and respect from other human beings. Paradoxically, the social forces that necessitate this relationship in the African family may interfere with the ability of these parents, particularly of the working classes, to express warmth, love, and acceptance for their children – for the African parent is himself the product of racial pressures and frustrations. It is imperative, however, that this cycle be broken. Because it cannot be broken by the child, it must be broken by parents and by larger society.
This encapuslates some of my thought and feeling on the subject as they have to do with love while being black and raising children. In my view this is one of the best statements of how one learns to love as an African person. It may be true for persons of other races, nationalities and colours too, I don’t know. The paragraph is not mine though. I have taken it word for word from Kenneth Clarke’s ‘From Prejudice and Your Child’. The book was published in 1955. All I have done, with apologies to Clarke and his followers, is substitute African for Negro. To be sure, not knowing the politics of African American self-identities from inside, I have always been attracted to the sound of the word Negro. Negro! It has such power and sass. But you have to learn to feel Negroes before you love the word Negro. That sounds like corner-shop sophistry: feel Negroes before love Negro. I mean you have to learn what it means to be black before you understand the power and intimacy attached to words like Negro, black, African. I find that whenever I am assured of and comfortable with another person’s politics and closeness to me, I once in a while call him or her ‘Negro’ (never Negress). ‘Negro, that’s beautiful’, I might say. One person is growing up knowing himself called Negro is a certain 4-year old who will soon ask me, ‘Daddy, what does Negro mean?’ It will be soon, because I think the time is near to let him know why he is black.
Actually, the boy has mentioned at least three times already that he is black while his friend is white. He also says while he and his father are black – ‘look at our arms’ – his mother is white. She is not happy about being called white. This started a few months before he turned 4. I had been waiting. I know from research on racial identity development that race, colour or ethnic consciousness develops as early as age 3. I had prepared and asked friends living in formerly whites-only neighbourhoods and who had children attending previously whites-only schools when they had decided to tell their kids they were black. I received some very interesting answer. The best was from a close friend who said. ‘I didn’t. Whites let her know.’
But my son seems to use the word in a strange way. It doesn’t seem to have content. Yet I am fascinated by the fact that he chooses the word black over brown, for instance. No matter. That may be reason to let him in on the feared and unknown beauty of black boys and girls like him. For, as for love, I feel we are doing alright. The boy seems to like himself, all of himself, including what he calls his ‘superman cape’, quite a bit. Maybe, if it’s possible for parents to love too much, we are overcooking the Negro. Then again, here, in his family, is his best chance to learn to love. Truth is, we too are relearning something about love.