Better Because You’re Black

black children and expectations, Mama Knows It All

I’ve had teachers say it to me. Lots of my mentors said it. Once, a supervisor at work mentioned it. I’ve overheard folks telling their own children, educators telling other people’s kids, and I’m sure that I’ve even said it a time or two in my years of teaching. It’s a statement that’s meant to be empowering, and to serve the purpose of motivation, but does it really help our youth to tell them that they have to be better because they are Black?

I once taught a playwriting workshop at the #1 public high school in Philadelphia. The school was so good that the mayor’s daughter even went there. Students at this school were known for their stellar academic achievements, and went on to be admitted into top colleges. It was at that school that I stood in front of a classroom of seniors who refused to take creative risks. They wanted me to give them a formula for success, a rubric, or some sort of guideline for making sure they would “win”. I instructed on the things that were teachable like grammar and structure. I led them through exercises to help them generate ideas, but hit several brick walls with many of the students throughout the sessions. The biggest problem was that students didn’t want to take risks because they didn’t want to fail.

It makes sense when I think about it. These students were told that they were special, outliers, credits to their race. They were different than the other students in Philadelphia. They were promising. They had a chance to be somebody, despite the fact that they were poor and Black, as long as they worked hard to be better.  But better than what? Better than White children? Better than their parents? Better than other Black kids who didn’t get the memo?

Look, I don’t have a problem with being honest with youth and letting them know, realistically, what they’ll be up against in society. It’s true that some folks, heck, lots of folks, will be prejudice against them because of their skin color. People will treat them differently, and they may even fail to recognize our Black children’s greatness. That’s not MY Black child’s fault, though, and it’s not her responsibility to be better so that ignorant folks won’t have a chance to mistreat her. Nope, I don’t have a problem with keeping it real with our kids at all. You know what I have a problem with, though? Placing the expectation on children to be better simply because they are Black.

When we indoctrinate our children into believing that they are different because of their race, it’s possible that our words can have the opposite effect of what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s already stressful enough to be a young person. Add to that the pressure of being responsible for how the world views an entire race of people, and it’s possible that some of our youth will crumble under the pressure. Fear of failure will hold them back from really being able to go for it, and to test out their impossible ideas. That could keep them from reaching a higher dimension of success than we can even imagine for them.

How Do We Push Black Children To Success?

I think that there are more effective ways of pushing Black children to success. Let’s take the time to educate them based on their individual talents and gifts, and encourage them to try new things. Let’s expose our young people to diverse experiences, travel with them, and expand their world beyond their neighborhood and their families. Let’s provide safe environments for them to test limits, and learn to deal with conflict by listening to them and asking what they think.  Let’s teach them that failing doesn’t mean that they are failures, and that some of the greatest instances of genius often comes from mistakes.

Make no mistake about it, I’m not naive. I’m a African-American woman living in America, and I’m raising a little Black girl. She WILL be better than me, but not because I’m going to instill the theory of “gotta be better cuz you’re Black” into. It’ll be because she is creative, energetic, intelligent, and highly capable.

Parents, do you teach your children that they have to be better because of their race, gender, or other identifying trait? Why or why not?

9 responses to “Better Because You’re Black”

  1. clgossett Avatar

    I love this Brandi. I have 3 girls and 1 boy by birth. I know the business world is geared toward men. I always pushed my older girls. You’ll have to work harder because you’re a female. You have to do better than the males in the class. You’ll have to be more clever. You’ll have to be more aggressive. You’ll have to BE.MORE! And then, I let that go. They don’t have to be better. They have to be the best they can be. Black, white, yellow, male, female. It shouldn’t matter. Let’s just encourage our children to be the best they can be. We are all God’s children. We’ve got this. All of the pressure we put on our children, for whatever reason, is just too much. I just hope they do a better job at living peacefully together than our generation has done. If they do that, we’ve done our duty.

    1. BrandiJeter Avatar

      That’s my desire, too, @clgossett:disqus…that my daughter is empathetic towards others, and kind, and understanding, and helpful. I don’t want her to be so caught up in being “better” that she forgets to just be good. <3

  2. Laila Avatar

    I struggle with this, raising a Black male child. My dreams for my son are that he will love God, be healthy, happy, and see service as a responsibility. However, I can’t ignore that one day he may have certain negative experiences based upon his social identities (be it race, gender, etc).

    All I can do at this point is to love him and teach him to love others. Without fear. I think when we tell children they have to be better there’s an air of fear that does more psychological harm than good.

    1. BrandiJeter Avatar

      That’s it, @disqus_maMio09mJA:disqus! You hit the nail on the head. WITHOUT FEAR. Folks will try to box him in, they’ll try to make him anxious about taking risks or being great, but as long as you are there, letting him know that he can go and he can try because YOU are there…he’ll be great.

  3. MavenMantrap Avatar

    I positively LOVE this…and it grated on my ears when I was watching Scandal a few episodes ago and I heard “Olivia Pope’s” father say this to her. I was thinking she is already excellent…why does she have to be twice as good??…twice as good as what?? Excellent post…it resonates all up and through my Black Girl soul!!

    1. BrandiJeter Avatar

      Thank you, @MavenMantrap:disqus! I’ve heard it so many times myself that I actually felt like it held me back in some ways. I really didn’t learn to be GREAT (not just better) until I was grown!

  4. MELISASource Avatar

    I don’t tell my 4 children that they have to be better than anyone, I
    just simply tell them that it’s a must that they do the absolute best
    that they can do. And that goes for everything: both in and out of the
    classroom. I am real with them in terms of the ways of the world and
    some things that they may face in all arenas, but I reassure them that
    as long as they do their personal best, they can be proud of themselves
    and that it will indeed be noticed. Overall, I just want them to be
    confident in all situations and in all environments. I want everyone as
    well as anything and everything outside of their inner confidence,
    talent, and capabilities to be a non-factor to them.

    1. BrandiJeter Avatar

      Yes, @MELISASource:disqus!!! You are speaking to my heart right here! If they do their personal best, they will, indeed be noticed. And when they are noticed, they’ll be more confident because they are being true themselves and their abilities!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *