- The first anniversary of my grandmother’s death will be here in less than two weeks. Not long after her death my Dad told me about how she had wanted to be a wealthy white woman. This was her dream. I was angry when he first told me this a few months after her passing. Why did my Grandmother want to be Queen Elizabeth II?
Yes, my grandmother wanted to mold her life after the Queen of England. She thought wealthy white women and especially Queen Elizabeth II did everything right. The way she smiled or didn’t smile, the way she sat at a table, the way she treated the people around her…my grandmother took note of everything.
In my grandmother’s time being black was the worst. No one wanted to be black especially her. Anger and sadness took over my body. I could not imagine being a black woman born in Kentucky in 1916. I can understand how she must have hated everything about herself. My grandmother was not the most pleasant woman. I think part of that was due to her tough upbringing and her low self-esteem. She did tell me a few things about how her sister was the favored one and everyone treated her better. I can not verify this ‘mistreatment’ because her sister had passed on long before I came into the world. This is the only time my grandmother became animated – when she spoke of how mean her sister was to her. Otherwise she was stoic in conversation.
White women were thought to be prettier, smarter, more cultured, and well-mannered compared to everyone else. I’m not sure what society really thought of black women in the 1940s and 1950s. So my grandmother taught her children not to smile in pictures. She taught her children how to behave when “company comes over”. She made sure her children didn’t ask questions and sat where they were supposed to and didn’t talk to an adult unless spoken to because that is what she thought everyone should do. This was the right / (white) way to do things.
My grandfather on the other hand hated James Brown. He hated Afros and any hint of Afrocentrism. My grandfather thought, according to my father, that James Brown was loud and a clown. Why would anyone want to be connected to Africa? The idea of being African descendants were horrifying to my grandparents. My grandfather had to have felt conflicted about things: his mother ( my great-grandmother) was a biracial woman. My great-grandmother was fathered by a white man and there was no relationship between him and her mother. Sometimes things ‘happened’ like that years ago.
My grandparents chose to distance themselves from anything associated with being “too black” or “pro black”. Assimilation was always the goal. My grandparents wanted to be accepted and treated equal as whites.
My father was the total opposite and my grandparents hated all of it. My grandparents hated any type of music that wasn’t Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., or Frank Sinatra. They didn’t understand the purpose of why anyone would want to have natural hair. Black women should have permed hair because that was attractive.
I think of the late 1940s/1950s life of my grandparents who were taught to essentially “hate” their brown skin and culture. Fast forward from 1950s to late 1990s/2000s. A new generation of blacks are growing up in a changing America. In this time period rap music is the most popular. There are less black 2-parent households and a lot of black on black crime. On the other end of the spectrum: there are more blacks attending college than ever before in history. Afrocentricism is back again and embraced by many. Women wear braids and cornrows along with long straight hair (some weave and some not). Black people have choices in their careers more so than ever.
Now in 2016 everyone has a different sense of black lives. I used my grandparents as an example to tell a story I wasn’t aware of for years. Notice something mentioned earlier about my grandmother: She made sure her children didn’t ask questions and sat where they were supposed to and didn’t talk to an adult unless spoken to because that is what she thought everyone should do. [This was the right / (white) way to do things.]
My question today is who decided what “the right way to do things” were? I’m not suggesting that everything people in the Blacks Lives Matter movement do is right. Yet, I think more dialogue needs to be opened up about how everything that is ‘white’ is not necessarily always ‘right’. See: as mentioned above my grandmother taught her children to not ask questions. This is a BIG one. Many of today’s youth (all races) like to ruffle feathers and not necessarily do everything they are told by adults and authority figures. It’s called being young which does not always equate to being a black thug.
I believe some of this is generational. The problem sometimes with just sitting there being polite and not asking questions means you don’t get answers and change doesn’t happen. It’s all about context. If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and many others didn’t speak up or protest where would blacks be today. There were always forward-thinking white people who helped along the way but would the progress have happened so quickly without some black leadership?
Many of today’s black youth are lost because they didn’t have guidance. It is very sad. What is also sad is that people of my grandparents’ generation were lost too but in a different way. Yet, let’s be careful about suggesting that black youth should not be allowed to question things they see that are not right. I think kids should be respectful of adults but still have the right to ask questions when they don’t understand something or the law. Many young black people are informed of the law now and take advantage of it. It is ridiculous when they do tell a police officer something that they know goes against their rights and yet made to look at as a troublemaker.
Some white youth don’t have to deal with this. There is a double standard. The Black Panthers back in the 1960s/1970s were well aware of the open carry laws. They were seen many times walking around with their guns. The Black Panthers were feared by many white people. Was it because they knew the law and stood up for their beliefs? Somehow over the course of history well-educated blacks that were not docile got the short end of the stick in history books. I wonder why. Not all members of the Black Panthers were criminals and Malcolm X was not a racist his whole life. Yet, there are some people that don’t want you to know the truth.
Many people in this country still feel like everything was better when most of the blacks were like my grandparents. Sit still and don’t ask questions. Do as your told regardless of whether it makes sense. My mom always told me, “God gave you five senses. Everyone is not smarter than you. You have just as much right to say something if you feel things aren’t right as anyone else.” She is right and it’s called progress.
Let’s keep progressing.