from mother to daughter

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The Liberator Magazine


I have a friend who writes great things. But she didn't know if they belonged here on The Liberator blog, not realizing that it's exactly the type of stuff that we need more of! So, with permission, I'm sharing!

It all started like this: About two weeks ago, as I was getting the girls ready for "night-night," :) Kamani, my older one, was telling me about what she learned in Kindergarten. It was "Columbus Day," so the soundbites she can remember from her teacher's lecture are the La Pinta, La Nina y La Santa Maria... I remember grumbling something under my breath about the "Miseducation of the Negro" while trying to show her how impressed I was with her "retention skills." As if she senses my discontent with the entire country's public school system masked in motherly proudness, she proceeds to recite the entire Pledge of Allegiance -- which, ironically, they must've learned that day as well -- some 20 times. I know I grumbled something else about wishing the African-centered schools were on my side of town -- and that I could afford them.

My mother, who happened to be in town, was listening in the bathroom nearby and immediately showered her with praises. "Good job, Kamani! Good giiiiirrrrrl! Did you hear her?" Clearly proud of her latest accomplishment -- which was deemed righteous by my mother -- Kamani looks at me expectantly ...
Goodness. My mom's always putting me in these ... situations. I grab her chubby cheeks, take a deep breath, and say, "Kamani, you're doing a great job remembering what you're learning in class ... now let me tell you a little something about this here fella, what’s his face? Oh yeah. Christopher Columbus." But that’s how its been lately: her bringing home info, and me (when necessary) countering it to the best of my ability while trying to preserve her self esteem. It’s a very reactionary system, and I feel like I’m losing leverage. In Kamani's world -- what her teacher says is DOCTRINE.

More and more, I’m beginning to realize the difference between "education" and mere "schooling." The gentleman from Kintespace (among others) has posited that the two terms are often mis-used interchangeably. To lay some kind a foundation for this, I know first-hand the shortfalls in my own schooling growing up, and my mommy – bless her heart -- never really supplemented my schooling with anything concrete that connected me to my African origins. Afterall, she learned at the discretion of British headmasters in Jamaica who, for the most part, taught her to reject her African heritage and to not necessarily claim a western identity, but instead to assume a strictly West Indian identity which, for her, managed to be constructed just out of the diasporic reach.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in my household growing up: “We are not Haa-frican” or some other backward statement that was saturated with colonial residue: “We, Jamaicans got our emancipation LONG before these Haa-frican Americans.” Even before I knew for sure, I had the discernment to know that this adversarial attitude was somehow tantamount to rejecting a major part of ourselves. Always one to do the exact opposite of what my mom preached (admittedly to my detriment, at times) I sought knowledge elsewhere – hence my matriculation at Howard (Mom: “You sure you nuh wan go Princeton like yuh bradda? What about Brown?”). Ultimately, my going to Howard was an (un)learning process for both of us -- to say the very least. So she knows how CRITICAL these moments are with my daughter. I’m feverishly trying to supplement her learning at school and provide a balance with what I know at home, however, it’s not as structured as I would like it to be. Teaching at her grade level is a gift and I find myself battling with the questions of "how much do I tell her? When are certain topics appropriate? How will she relate when her reality looks nothing like the reality I speak of?" But I know that by hovering around those questions I'm essentially guilty of the same thing that the schools are doing -- packaging it so that it's less political, less relevant.

As a mother, I feel bad for politicizing her learning process. As a mother, I feel it's necessary. As a mother, I want to shelter her. As a mother, I don't want to shelter her. As a mother, I feel it's unfair. And I suppose the underlying root of all of this is that I want to foster a functional elder-child relationship where I cultivate that environment so she can process "life" and be aware of things that are inconsistent with what she is learning at home and confront it. EARLY. Even if she has to confront me and my inconsistencies and the dysfunction that I have, without a doubt, clung to. It's like I'm molding my deliverer ... my redemption. Yet, ultimately, I feel as if I’m at the intersection of theory and reality. I guess I just need insight and guidance on how exactly to go about it -- especially since I spent so many of my early days rejecting so much of what my own mother taught me.

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