“More,” said my son as I listed as many “brown” people as I could think of. Grammy, Pappa, Aunties (including one adopted from India), his day care provider, a boy he likes to play with on our street. His thirst for knowing who in his world is “brown like me” was not quenched. I had to lengthen the list. It was another day in the life of parenting in the face of the politics of race.
If raising a child who loves the skin he lives in were not challenging enough, I’ve been tasked with raising a brown boy. As a former brown boy, I know a little something about the waters he will have to navigate. At least part of that will involve figuring out what it means to be black and male in a world where our humanity remains an open question to some. Something I pray I can help my son resist is the cultural myopia of hyper-masculine posturing and reflexive mysogyni that too many black men embrace as their answer to white supremacist patriarchy. He will need to reach adulthood with a consciousness of the spiritual, cultural, social, and political demands of a world where the equality of women and men must become a way of life. As ‘Abdul-Baha (1844-1921), Head of the Baha’i Faith from 1892 to 1921, explained:
The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.
One way that I can address both the raced and gendered dimensions of my son’s development is to provide positive images of “brown” girls and women. For example, the New York Times recently featured a story about ‘Doc McStuffins,’ starring a black girl who provides medical care to her toys (her mom is a doctor too!). It is gratifying to see that my son is as excited about her as he is about Diego rescuing animals. Something else he might find interesting is a blogger’s recent re-imaging of Disney Princesses as women of color. Of course the Olympics have offered a real life lesson in the power of brown girls in Gabby Douglas. Given my son’s near perfect dismount from parent’s bed to the floor, he may find footage of her particularly inspiring.
Of course there are no guarantees in parenting, which is ultimately a life-long process. Both my son and I will have a great deal of growing up to do together and he will likely teach me as much about being black and male as I’ll teach him. Hopefully we will both become more conscious of the kind of black masculinity the world needs now and adept at taking full advantage of the example of women and girls of color along the way. As the Universal House of Justice, the International Governing Council of the Baha’i Faith, tells us, the stakes are high indeed:
The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged prerequisites of peace. The denial of such equality perpetrates an injustice against one half of the world’s population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the workplace, to political life, and ultimately to international relations. There are no grounds, moral, practical, or biological, upon which such denial can be justified. Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavour will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge.