A few weeks ago I logged into my Facebook account and realized the format had changed (again!). But then my eyes quickly glanced at the 4th post in my newsfeed which was the picture of the cutest baby girl I had ever seen. It was posted by a childhood friend of mine (we’ll refer to him as “Joe”), and the caption of the picture read “yeah [insert baby’s name] got that good hair”. As if it were instinctual, I left a comment under the post that said “leave it to black ppl…” It only took Joe a few minutes before he replied stating that his comment was out of pocket (translation: inappropriate).
Although Joe has posted a plethora of pictures of his baby girl, which illustrates his love and adoration for her, I could not help but think about the effect that such a statement could have on a black girl growing up in our society. Most of us have heard about the famous 1940s Clark Doll Experiment in which two African-American psychologists used black and white dolls to study children’s attitudes toward race. The experiment was recreated in 2006, to similar results—children believed that the characteristics of the white doll made it a nicer doll than the black doll.
So what was my frustration with my friend’s comment?
Being a parent is one of the most honorable jobs that can be bestowed upon a person, and it is also one of the most challenging jobs one could ever have. Despite the success I may garner in my professional career, if I failed as a parent, then all of my other successes would be irrelevant. One could write a book on the various ways that I could fail as a parent, but as it pertains to my current point, if I raise a child who isn’t proud of who he/she is, then I would have failed in some aspects of my parenting. Now I’m not saying that if parents don’t raise perfect children then they have failed in life–nowadays society has a stronghold on the values we might try to instill in our kids. But black children will face an abundance of challenges growing up; therefore, it is important to instill confidence into them at an early age.
Joe could use the Aibeleen Clark approach and tell his daughter on a daily basis that she is beautiful, smart, and important. Or rather, Joe may also try to ensure that his words or thoughts about his daughter’s characteristics do not give rise to negative self-images about herself. For instance, saying that his daughter has “good hair” shows his belief that some hair textures are good and others are bad. At three months old, there is no telling whether the texture of his baby’s hair will be the same soft and luscious locks that his daughter will have when she turns two. Is his “good hair” statement a precursor to one day having his daughter sit in her room blasting India Arie in an effort to love herself more?
Be careful of your thoughts, because they become your words.
If a parent–especially a father to his daughter–believes that there are certain physical characteristics that make a person better than another, that parent is adding the primary ingredient to the recipe for his child to develop self-esteem issues. We all know that kinky hair is no better than straight hair if you know how to comb a child’s hair (don’t confuse easier to manage with being good). I often remind myself that I need to kick my height complex before I have a son so that he doesn’t grow up believing that his height is an inadequacy because his mother prefers taller men. At a young age, kids become aware of the differences in their features and will naturally question whether those features make them better or worse. The best illustration of this is the 2009 image of the son of a White House staff member who met President Obama in the Oval Office. The little boy–likely recognizing the importance in the man that stood in front of him, was curious to know whether the President’s hair felt like his. President Obama obliged in quelling the boy’s curiosity by leaning over and allowing the boy to touch his hair. Such a simple but powerful gesture only reinforces the fact that children at a young age recognize and place a level of value in certain physical characteristics. As a result, it is important to ensure that kids don’t view their own physical characteristics as better than or worse than another individual.
For all my parents out there, never forget that your words and thoughts are powerful tools in the development of your child.