Do you know what licks is? No, not the lovable kisses from your pet. Licks is what some Caribbean people refer to has corporal punishment. As an adult I look back and laugh as many of us do but at the time it was terrifying, painful AND sometimes embarrassing. I got beats with a belt. Hubby jokes his parent couldn’t be bothered to get up so a slipper was thrown at him. We crack up about it but our kids look traumatised by our stories. I remember speaking to a European friend once about the topic. He wanted to know why ‘we’ (Caribbean people) beat children for disciple. Why was everything about licks? I told him it goes back to slavery. He didn’t buy the argument I put forward. Years later, I still believe that black parenting has its roots in what was passed down from slavery.
Parents of my mother’s generation seemed to parent using fear. What I mean by that is they tried to keep their children close but there was a paradox. They wanted each generation to be better and excel but at the same time being afraid of the big bad world. Sayings like ‘don’t fly to close to the sun’, ‘don’t forget your station’ or the phrase ‘you’re shitting in high grass’ were spouted to keep young ones in check … through fear.
… and of course there was the licks. If child was being too wild or loud, they’d say the child ‘had no training’. Looking back, I think it was more like they were not beaten into submission. I think of my children and sometimes I envy their childhood. I’ve said to Hubby, they are all we could have been. They are used to and expect to be listened to. They have a sense of self. Full confession, it took me a few while to come around to that style of parenting.
Post Tramatic Slavery Syndrome
Question: If the racism and prejudice black people experience today is steeped in our history of capture and enslavement, why is it inconceivable that our mental health and lifestyle is linked to it that as well? In Metro Lifestyle, Emma Dabiri was quoted from her book Don’t Touch My Hair. Emma says, ‘Hair texture is one of the principle things that was used to dehumanise black people and therefore justify their enslavement.
Then recently, I stumbled upon a video on Dope Black Dad insta where Dr. Joy DeGruy was speaking about Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome (PTSS).
What is it? On her blog Dr DeGruy says P.T.S.S. is a theory that explains the ethology of many of the adaptive survival behaviours in African American communities throughout the United States and the Diaspora. It is a condition that exists as a consequence of multi-generational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery.
Parenting while Black
Some say it’s an excuse. I say it is an explanation; based on my upbringing in Trinidad and now as a parent in England. I observe the way white parents parent there is merit to the argument. Our black ancestors experienced such horror and trauma for well over the 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade. Those experiences are ingrained into to the collective consciousness of black people. It’s in how we parent, live and love.
We are constantly waiting for loss and/or abuse. Some of us are too afraid to take up space for fear of being noticed and having what we hold dear taken way. We were ‘trained’ to think that way and so it passed from generation to generation. Although the true reason may have been lost the effects linger.
I’ve written specifically about my feelings and experience of being a black mother in England. I recognise those old fears mentioned above. Although it’s an effort to (re)programme the mind, change I (we) must. The change should start with my generation of parents. Our children should be to allowed express themselves just as any other child. Free to live.
Dr. DeGruy talks about Vacant Esteem as sign of PTSS. It’s a symptom I recognise and it’s one more than anything I have to work on. It ‘refers to as primary esteem, along with feelings of hopelessness, depression and a general self destructive outlook.’ Who would want to pass that on to their child? That said there we some lessons which are vital to our survival. So its striking a balance.
This morning (20.10.19) Wendell Pierce was on Good Morning Britain. She was asked by Susanna Reid how he felt about Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) comments during her interview with Journalist Tom Bradby in ITV documentary Meghan & Harry: An African Journey. Tears came to my eyes as he spoke, he said,
‘… I’m sure her mother raised her well and prepared her for the nasty side of human nature … any woman of colour would teach their child, like my parents taught me. There will be people out there that do not have your interest at heart, those are not the people you focus on….’
The struggle is real striking a balance to empower rather than stifle. I think we start by acknowledging our experiences, how they have impacted us AND most importantly make a decision not to over-parent OR not pass on our demons to the next generation.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you. What are the challenges to your parenting journey?