Recently, the world celebrated the victory of Lupita Nyong’o, the stunning actress that turned in the Oscar-winning performance of “Patsey” in the film 12 Years A Slave. That was only one of a variety of accolades she earned for her performance and not only the mainstream media took notice but smaller independent media and social media sources also sang her praises.
Shortly before the Oscars, a statement by Ms. Nyong’o was released where she spoke about the fact that she struggled for self-acceptance for several years in her youth. The deep beautiful hue that drapes her frame and that many of us fawn over was once the bane of her existence. She noted, amongst other things, that she petitioned God to allow her to wake up a few shades lighter, (you can read an article on it here). Many of us were touched by her honesty and courage in admitting a problem that plagues communities of color (in one way or another) and I’m certain that there are still many who can personally relate.
Cute & Kinky® is a brand that has always striven to drive home the importance of self-acceptance and in light of that, I decided to start a series wherein I interview parents about raising daughters in a time where historical, cultural and societal practices come with an interesting mix of stigmas, stereotypes and a scramble for appropriation.
This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lorrie Irby Jackson for an informal Q&A session on her life as a mother of daughters. You may recognize her, as she is a writer for several publications and you’ve likely read several of her music reviews of top artists’ projects. She is also the founder of Mother of Color, a blog that aims to tackle issues that affect the Black community from a Black mother’s point of view. Her take on raising her daughters is a mix between traditional values and a revolutionary perspective that is sure to raise eyebrows, positively or negatively. Whatever your attitude on the issues addressed may be, Mrs. Jackson’s thoughts are sure to provoke your own examination.
C&K: How many daughters do you have and how old are they?
LIJ: Our girls are 7 yrs old and 4 yrs old, respectively.
C&K: Your blog is called Mother of Color. What does it mean to you to be a mother of color?
LIJ: I am connected to the global group of women and mothers, but because of the unique burdens that befall those who happen to be non-white, especially in America, my experiences compels me to prepare my children for what to expect in the future and I have to keep in mind those perpetuated racial issues, systemic inequities and other pressing dilemmas in mind on a daily basis as we raise those kids.
C&K: What is your general parenting style and how does that tie into what you hope to pass down to your daughters about Black womanhood?
LIJ: I consider myself authoritative, with more than a few old school touches on how children should be raised, see themselves and navigate within the community and the world. Encouraging free thought and assertiveness in my kids, for example, doesn’t mean that they have free rein to flout authority, get overly-familiar with adults and not have basic manners with each other and the community they live in. I guard their innocence as much as I possibly can, within reason, but I don’t let that youthfulness serve as an excuse to fall short or half-step, or fail to contribute to the household and treat others with respect. As far as their burgeoning womanhood, my husband and I planted their minds early with reassurances that they are both loved, are both equally beautiful (in different ways) and come from generations of powerful women who survived horrific circumstances, so there is very little that they’re not capable of. As young as they are, they’ve both been endowed with a sense of history, purpose and standards when it comes to how they live and conduct themselves. Few girls their age, for example, know about the tragic tale of the ‘Hottentot Venus,’ the advantages of their brown skin and that their physical differences from their peers doesn’t permit the ignorance and trespass of others. They have been encouraged to speak up for themselves and to not accept ill treatment from anyone, of any age group, of any color.
C&K: Thinking about the imaging we see in the mass media about Black women and girls, what are your greatest concerns for your daughters as they mature?
LIJ: I fear that my generation of parents matured in the last true age of innocence. Yes, crimes and deviances existed, of course, but we were insulated by the likes of a close-knit community, music and other forms of media that encouraged creativity and uniqueness and left a lot to the imagination. The internet is a tool that we didn’t grow up with that they now have and it can expose them to so many disturbing ideas and realities, as well as their place in a world that encourages a ‘do you at any cost’ lifestyle but fails to mention the consequences of such a choice.
I hope that my husband and I can live long enough to guide all of the kids to maturity, independence and keep protecting them in a world that exploits and undermines them. We want them to be self-reliant, yet interdependent enough to welcome unity and companionship with men who share their history and cherish their hearts.
C&K: I’m certain that you, as have I, read about the fact that although natural hair is returning to its rightful place as the preferred grooming choice, there is still a stigma associated with it, not just amongst the AA community but society as a whole. With that in mind, what have you done or are you doing to engender self-love in your daughters?
LIJ: Since I was always an avid reader, I went out of my way to find books that explain, in ways they could understand, the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of what makes our hair our hair and why they don’t need to have anything but what they’re born with to be accepted and beautiful. Also, they have a mother who’s only worn natural hair since adulthood, so I’m comfortable with it and know a few styles they enjoy wearing. I also put major emphasis on them watching positive shows with African-American casts, playing with toys that reflect them and buying books by and about us that reaffirm their uniqueness.
C&K: Do you use your experiences being a natural hair wearer to teach your daughters lessons about life?
LIJ: Oh, most def: they learned early on that people are entitled to their opinions, but that not everyone will like everything about them, and there will be people who dislike them for no good reason. Our girls are comfortable with telling people that ‘God made me beautiful’ and telling people to not ‘pet’ their hair, skin or other body parts.
C&K: I know that you advocate natural hair and you keep your daughters’ hair natural. Has there ever been a time where they reported that someone gave them a hard time about their natural hair? If so, how did you handle it?
LIJ: Not yet, but what has recently happened is that my seven-year-old matter-of-factly told a classmate that her mother shouldn’t have put a relaxer in her hair because the ‘chemicals make your hair fall out.’ The classmate revealed to my daughter that her mother stuck it in there when she didn’t want one and actually wished that her hair had remained the way it was.
C&K: You have a son as well. Do you feel that the lessons you are teaching your daughters about Black womanhood and self-esteem have implications for him as well?
LIJ: I feel that since my oldest is so accustomed to natural hair and self-aware sisters, he’ll gravitate to them when it’s time for him to create a family of his own. I hope that he’ll also not have qualms with assertive women, since that is also commonplace with his upbringing.
C&K: What do you believe is the future of natural hair? What do you HOPE is the future of natural hair?
LIJ: I want more Black women to stop ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ about accepting the Eurocentric beauty standards as something to aspire to. Some of us need to make conscious choices about what we internalize and what we communicate to the children who look up to and love us.
As for what I hope, I really want those in our community with the capital and connections to start buying back our stake in the hair care industry that is making other groups so wealthy. We need to encourage more support of Black-owned beauty supplies and suppliers. As much money as we pour into the industry and into maintaining and styling OUR hair, WE need to be the main ones building communities that profit from it, not others.