Growing up Black: Children Don’t Matter

Updated: May 19

R.E.S.P.E.C.T — A child is to be seen and not heard.

Photo by Benji Aird on Unsplash

Growing up in a black household, I felt that I had no control over my personal space. My parents owned my experiences, whether negative or positive, and had rights over my body, emotions, and self-esteem. This concept that children are property to be molded in ways that are deemed good enough for their parents is highly perpetuated in our culture. For example, T.I. believing he is within his parental right to confirm whether or not his daughter’s virginity is still intact is a prime example of a child having no say over their space. This showcases that because she is his child, and it pleases him to have a virgin daughter, her rights to self privacy are not being violated because they don’t exist. Her rights are the rights that he, as a parent, has given her by helping to bring her into this world. This way of thinking introduces the concept that your parent is in control of your destiny and who you become. However, If your parents hold within themselves residual emotions towards their upbringing, those traits will present themselves in how they raise you.

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Spare the rod, spoil the child

I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.

Whoopings. Beatings. Cursing. Name Calling. Ways to Train a child upright, right? Many children within black households have experienced some if not all, the things above. Many of those same children are now in therapy because of it. Our parents grew up in a time where racism was ever-present and in your face. I’m talking sit-ins, police dogs, water hoses. You can’t survive that time and not be tough. Take it a step backward; their parents were born in the 20s and 30s. Even more to deal with as black families tried to raise children and keep them from getting lynched in the process. Shit was hard. Was it all bad? No, but there are critical abusive traits that were passed down from generation to generation to prep the next set of children to face the world as black people.

These traits weren’t learned in the 20s and 30s. It goes even further back to slavery. This idea of corporal punishment stems from the lessons learned by European slave owners. It is these lessons that were carried forward that still infect our culture today.

But, not all black people abuse their children.

Yes, I am aware of that, and this is time I’d ask that If you are thinking in this “not everyone does it,” state of mind, please stop. There was a study that showed that more than 40% of black women would experience domestic violence in their lifetime. For women as a whole, that percentage is 31.5%. That means that black women are more than likely to be abused within their households than all cultures in the U.S. So what does that say of her children?

I recently did a poll on Facebook asking,” In what ways did you feel disrespected as a child, and how could your parents have done better to treat you as a human with emotions?” Reading the responses of my friends, I could hear the pain, anguish, and somewhat fear in sharing their stories publicly. One thing that resonated with me is that in some way, shape or form, they had all experienced abuse to some degree, whether it is the abuse of privacy, physical abuse, mental abuse, etc. To find that a group of people from all walks of life with our blackness being one of our common bonds demonstrated that violence is deeply rooted in our community. To have experienced otherwise is being the exception and not the rule.

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What goes on in the house stays in the house

Secrets and lies are something many of us have experienced in life. However, many black children grow up with the understanding that we have nowhere to take our pain or fear. Our parents don’t respect us enough to listen, and we aren’t allowed to vocalize our truths to the outside world. This creates a cycle of us perpetuating ways of deflecting and shut down. We can’t share so we close off, we don’t trust those who try to get close to us for fear that they will add to the problem. If we are being abused sexually or otherwise, those instances are handled within the home or in other cases, swept under the rug as if they didn’t happen.

We live in a world that functions in a state of gaslighting our experiences and curving our expectations of others. Normal becomes warped because those that are supposed to protect you become the thing that terrifies you. The media teaches us that no one cares about little black kids as we go missing, molested, or worse dead. A 2018, study of child abuse by race shows that we have the second-highest rate of abuse cases in the U.S. behind Native Americans at 14 cases per 1000 children. This speaks volumes to what secrets can do to a community.

The other component to examine is why these things need to remain a secret. Secrets are usually things we want to hide because we know they are wrong. Yet we learn at an early age that we are allowed to keep them at an early age depending on who was benefiting from them. If on a rare occasion, you were to slip up and say something, you were then taken care of at home in the form of physical or mental abuse.

I remember when I was in the first grade, and a teacher asked me if my father hits me. I remember my heart racing and feeling sweaty. Do I tell her the truth and deal with my father’s wrath, or do I lie and continue to deal with instances of abuse? I chose the latter, hoping that if I did, I could find ways to avoid abuse throughout my childhood. Now that I look back on that incident, I realize that I didn’t trust her to actually help me. I didn’t believe that she could. What if they took me away? What if I was placed in a house where it would be worse? I, at a very young age, had to decide which hill I would die on, and in this case, it wasn’t this one, even if that meant I would eventually be in harm’s way again.

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Twice as hard, half as much

You better know that schoolwork the same way you know those song lyrics.

Black people have been disadvantaged due to their skin color alone since they were captured and made into slaves. It’s a fact. This fact pushes our parents to seek greatness from their children in ways they believe set them up for success. Many of us grow up, feeling that we are never good enough, that we must always strive for more to gain the approval of our parents. The world already doesn’t approve of us, but if our parents do, then we’ve made it in life. What’s interesting about this is that many black parents grow up pushing their children for excellence by tearing them down. By not allowing them to celebrate their accomplishments, they believe that their children will always strive for more. Get your bachelor’s degree? Well, Ms. Paula’s son has a master’s. Get a house? Well, Mr. Rodney’s daughter just got married. Get married? Where are your children? The Bakers have four. The idea that you are in competition with those around feeds into a sense of tiredness and frustration.

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In a Child’s Place

Fix your face before I fix it for you.
Who are you talking too?!
Stop crying before I give you something to cry about.

A child’s place is wherever an adult is not. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Remain in sight but out of the dialogue around you, even if that dialogue is affecting you negatively. Your body is not your own, so it goes wherever the adult goes. However, that might mean that your body is being walked right into the world of an abuser. Are you being abused? Don’t tell because you asked for it for being fast, or you’re called a liar because it didn’t happen to you. Not cisgender? Well, you might want to keep it to yourself until you’re out of the household because abuse is more likely to happen to you.

As a child within a black familial structure, your emotions, desires, aspirations, pain, sexuality does not exist. Who you truly do not exist. If you dare to challenge those that helped you into this world in the first place, you will wish that you never did. You can’t ask why, you can’t defend, and you damn sure can’t escape until you reach the legal limit. You are to do as told because all of this is for your wellbeing. Being raised by people who weren’t taught how to be proper parents due to the trauma of past generations is exhausting.

One of the takeaways from my Facebook poll is that while we all grew up experiencing traumatic experiences throughout our childhood, we live to change the narrative. We participate in healthy habits like therapy to address our issues and heal ourselves for our sake and our children. We refuse to participate in some of the actions that our parents took with us. Lastly, we recognize the trauma they faced and understand that it is okay to separate ourselves from their narrative to live freely. If there is one message in all of this, it’s that all black children deserve is to live, healthy, loved, and free.

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