We need to stop telling Black children to “sit down and shut up”
Imagine the kind of life you might have led if you had felt empowered as child.
by Arnetta Randall
Recently, I watched a live stream of a conversation between the Former First Lady, Michelle Obama and the First Lady of television, Shonda Rhimes. I found it simply amazing. One of the moments that resonated with me the most was when Michelle spoke about how her parents listened to her as a child. She made a point to say that her parents not only listened to her, but encouraged her to use her voice. In doing so, they empowered her at home. That empowerment is still with her.
Her anecdote reminds of another story I heard years prior as I toured the home of Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. The tour guide told us about how young Martin and his siblings were required to read the newspaper and have a story to discuss at the dinner table every evening. I imagined how pouring over news stories must have ignited his thirst for knowledge and those dinnertime talks must have taught him the power of his voice. A voice that would go on to inspire so many.
Black children are growing up in an anti-Black society, and everywhere they go, people are devaluing and dehumanizing them, even at home. Many of us grew up in a “shut up and sit down” household. You may know exactly what I mean, reader. It’s the kind of household that tells Black children that they are to be seen and not heard. It tells them that they must “stay out of grown folks business” or expect a backhand across the face.
I’ve heard so many people recall the obscene language or physical disciple in they received by parents with a bizarre fondness. Remembering their abuse in one breath, and declaring how they great they turned out in another. But one has to ask, did you?
Imagine the kind of life you might have led if you had felt empowered as child. Maybe you would’ve opened that business, asked for that raise, gotten that degree, or left Mr. or Mrs. Wrong alone a long time ago. Maybe you wouldn’t have endured abuse because you thought it was love.
We don’t raise future Martins and Michelles by belittling them or beating them into submission as they are growing into adults. It is so important that the empowerment of our children begins at home. That means that their voices need to be heard. We can’t raise the future Black leaders, thinkers, and innovators that we need if we are constantly telling Black children to sit down and be quiet. In doing this, we give them both subtle and overt cues that their voices, opinions, and feelings do not matter, and then we send them out into a world that confirms it through anti-Blackness.
Reader, I know that you probably don’t have the resources it would take to revamp public education, stop the school to prison pipeline or rescue millions of Black children from poverty. But we, as a unit, do have the power to make sure that the Black kids in our life know, without a doubt, that they matter. A little effort on our part can have a huge impact on our children and their future.
Let them have a voice. I know many people struggle with this. The idea of having
open and honest conversations with children seems foreign, especially if you were not raised that way. Most people operate under the
guise of “Because I said so,” but children being continually dismissive of their ideas, feelings, or even rebuttals to your authority leads to children who never learned to advocate for themselves. In a society that devalues and undermines Black people regularly, we have to be confident enough to stand up for ourselves. Let’s start fostering that confidence in childhood.
Lead by example. Our children need to know that they can accomplish anything. Leading by example can apply to anything. I knew reading was important because my mother read, and she bought me books. A lot of them. Still to this day, I am quite the bookworm. If we want responsible children, we must show how to be responsible. If you want a child to be good with their money, then you must teach that child about money. If you struggle with it yourself, find resources to learn how to manage your money and then pass that skill along.
Tell them they’re beautiful. We hear countless stories about Black children being sent
home from school for wearing their natural hair. America has yet to let go of its European beauty ideals and every societal cue tells Black children that they are not desirable or wanted in any way. Our children need to know from birth that they are worthy; that every strand of their hair good and every skin tone is beautiful.
We owe to our children to give them our best because, in the end, we’re all they have. Even if
the world refuses to recognize the beauty, creativity, intelligence, and power of Black children, we can and we should.
Arnetta Randall is a graduate of the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign with a degree in creative writing. She is an avid blogger with a few articles published online. She is a self-published author of the book, Stereotypically Me. You can like her on Facebook to follow her latest news.