Geraldine Wilson, undated, Schomburg Center
I am overwhelmed by this thesis (in a good way). Because my time at the archives was precious, I did not read Wilson’s papers as close as I hoped to. As I begin to transcribe letters and review her records, I often cry. I cry because she was so passionate for educational equality. I cry because the words she spoke and wrote remain true today. I cry because I wish everyone, including myself, could experience this with their own family’s histories. This post features portions of Geraldine Wilson’s Our Children’s Children Live Forever.
Some thoughts on child rearing in the Black community be one who was a Black child. She learned from her extended family of parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmothers, memories of a grandfather—born in slavery—who loved Africa where his parents were born; neighbors, and church members. She was taught by that community of folk the duties, responsibilities, the pain and heartache, the conflict, the joy, the fun and the necessity of the Black family as the place for learning how to survive in society. Sometimes it means that anger, frustration, jealously, and impatience for each other is what was learned. Most times it means that what she learned were many ways to support, defend, protect, and love the members of her community. If she learned those things it is because she had good “teachers”. Deep and grateful thanks to my “big, deep, and wide” family. (1)
Black adults share information and experiences; for the job of rearing Black children cannot be done alone. “They say at some of the workshops we go to, that we teach our children too many manners,” said a mother to a Black early childhood consultant who was herself a mother. “Of course you teach them manners,” she said, eye snapping like flame in a coal stove. “Teach them the manners of equality,” her voice hardened somewhat,” not the manners of subservience. “We’ve had too much of that.” Teaching pride, self-protection, dignity, and the importance of accepting one’s own unique style is part of the process. –and the river flows on–(7)
In a society that treats people of color in disparaging and destructive ways; in a society that views adults of color and their children as expendable; in a crudely competitive society where historically, the basis of co-operation among institutions has been the exclusion and exploitation of the poor; and people of color, rich or poor; the Black community’s hopes for our children must be – and often has been realistic. Hope must be based on our history and what that history (our past and present experiences) tells us about the possibilities and impossibilities of life in this country for Black people. Our children need to learn, – as many Black children learned in the past from their parents – that ours is a unique history. Even as those of us who are adults struggle to learn about that history so that we’ll have it to share with our children, there must be the understanding that our history has forged and continues to forge the kinds of shared and unique experiences that have shaped and still do shape our lives.
Given the past generations of Black adults who have raised past generations of children in a white society, the one conclusion that we must be drawn is that we owe them -our ancestors and parents- honor, respect, and a great debt for their wisdom in using hope as a foundation in rearing the young. Those of us who were Black children, who are presently raising Black children who will raise future generations of Black children must recognize that our existence is an expression of the hope of those who came before us. The fact that we live, is a tribute to the strength, frustration-level, self-control, flexibility, creativity, fortitude, and endurance of all of those who shared and do share in raising Black children. And of course, it is a tribute to their individual and collective protection, care, and love. (9)
Black adults, then, who share the collective responsibility of rearing Black children will continue to do as they have done in the past. They will teach their young the necessary adaptive behaviors crucial for survival and life in this country. In other words Black adults will teach their young how to respond in life with decorum, resistance, tact, fear, self-confidence, defeat, outrage, pain, resilience, joy. And Black adults will continue to:
Mourn the children they must inevitably lose
in a racist society;
Suffer with those young ones who fall under
the weight of societal injustice;
Begin anew the battle for a “good education”
when their young begin to go to school;
Anguish in fear and great pride with those
valiant ones who resist;
Protect all Black children to the best of their ability;
Cry with the young when there is
Punish them when sacred community taboos
Laugh with their children in joy;
Cop a plea for those in trouble;
Rap with them in bedroom, on stoop, porch
And defend their Black children’s right to be themselves.
Finally, now -as in the past- young Black children will learn from their adults a variety of different ways of responding to life in an oppressive society with a rhythmic, improvisational, creative elegance that is expressive of their unique cultural heritage.
Until the next post,