My mother was revolutionary. A genius! As far back as I remember, she told me I was a beautiful brown baby! She was talking about my skin color- often repeated.
It was the fifties, when we were still colored- on the cusp on being Negroes- and those two words: beautiful and brown, seldom travelled together.
A decade and half later, I learned that I was black, and should be proud, because black was beautiful. Sadly, while it remained a lively slogan, it was not the reality for the lives of too many blacks and browns.
Words have power.
In April, 2015, Toni Morrison, prize-winning writer issued her latest novel: God Help the Child, in which she touches on many matters: race; gender; love relationships-between a mother and daughter, and between a woman and a man.
The issues are dealt with the hand that only the remarkable Toni Morrison possesses. The principal character has renamed herself Bride. That word, and the images attached to it, is weighted beyond written description. Some things need to be left to the imagination. Let me just say that Bride has jet black skin that is, all at once, loathed and loved. Denied and showcased. Emboldening and soul-shrinking.
At one point in the story, Bride is literally shrink wrapped- her size and her secondary sexual characteristics. That’s all I’ll give-away.
The book is a must read, not only because of its literary importance, but because it uses words that are loaded to bear; commentary to compare and contrast with the headline grabbing debates about race in America and just how much black lives matter. How much black women’s lives matter.
Recent headlines have been filled with references to the value of black lives. On one hand, the debate demands that blacks be seen and treated as human beings: equal and deserving of all that is good. On the other hand, the debates have also pointed out how much we devalue one another’s lives; that black-on black crime is an indicator of how much we don’t love one another; that we are, therefore, unworthy of being treated as equal or deserving.
Adding to that debate, the repeat of the infamous 1950s doll test continues to highlight the self-loathing in still another generation of girls and boys.
What’s the truth in those truths?
Thug: Hoodie: Fit the Profile: Black: Male: Suspect: Welfare mom: Absentee father: All of the above.
What do we do to keep feeding fodder to the rhetorical poisonous snakes? Their feeding frenzy has bred more pundits who enjoy gnawing on words that incite.
Caution: Danger ahead: Beware of the bi-racial label, it has been weaponized; dipped into the murky well of ambivalence, divisiveness and confusion. We know what it means. It has been used to, once again, shift the value of a black life. The useless continuum persists.
Lest we forget, once we recited: “If you’re black get back; brown stick around; white you’re alright.
Biracial is just another artificial social construct that has become a destructive label devised to keep us off balance; another word weapon used to diminish the opportunity for self-love.
And what about self- love? Where to begin? My mom had the right words for me. Thanks mom.
I found others to use with my sons; words to show them love; words to help them know who they were.
“Mommy, sing Brown Baby,” my sons requested that I sing that revolutionary lullaby to them every night until they were around five or six years old. I know it was not for my ability to carry a tune. I think they were listening to the words, written by Oscar Brown Jr., a popular song writer/stylist:
Brown Baby, Brown Baby
As you grow up, I want you to drink from the plenty cup.
I want you to stand up tall and proud. And I want you to speak up clear and loud.
Brown Baby, Brown Baby
As years go by, I want you to go with your head up high.
I want you to live by the justice code. And I want you to walk down freedom’s road. Brown Baby
So lie away, lie away sleeping. Lie away singing.
Lie away sleeping. Lie away safe in my arms.
Till your daddy and mama protect you and keep you safe from harm.
It makes me glad you gonna have things I never had,
When out of men’s heart all hate is hurled.
Sweetie you’re gonna live in a better world.
What words do you use? For yourself? For your babies? For one another? You, who are black, brown, bi/multi-racial, males, females, et al.
Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org