“Do they live in houses in Africa?” asks your five-year old daughter.
“Of course, they do,” you say, shaking your head, for real.
Maybe you’re overthinking it, but this isn’t a good sign. How did she get the impression that Africa is so primitive? It’s probably the images she sees on TV. Though you try to shield her from Boko Haram as much as possible, sometimes it creeps in. It’s always an African man in the woods, wielding a machine gun. Before that it was Ebola. People sweating on cots in the hot sun while others walked around in space suits. Not exactly the most cosmopolitan of images, so you get it.
But as wife to a man from the Ivory Coast, and mother of his two kids, it’s your job to make sure they know the truth. Africa is a powerful place rich in tradition. A place where Kings and Queens are still born. We tend to make that cliché, but if you have ever seen an African King, there’s something magical about it. You saw one while visiting a town called Bassam in the Ivory Coast, and even participated in a ceremony. You want your daughter to know that even today this type of thing exists. So when she sees Prince William and The Duchess of Cambridge, she’ll have something of her own to compare it to.
So the question is: How do you make sure she feels proud of being African?
You reach out to a friend’s sister, whom you recently discovered has two kids by a man from the Ivory Coast. Deja, who is no longer with her ex, says that he’s a good father to her girls, but when it comes to teaching them about the culture he feels it will happen when they go there to visit. That, however, makes her uncomfortable. “I feel like for that first trip we need to go together.”
Honestly, you can relate. Before going to Ivory Coast in 2010, your husband would speak of sending your daughter, and, frankly, it freaked you out a bit. How do you send a kid to a place you know nothing about, sans the negative stuff you see on TV?
As for keeping the culture alive, Deja says it’s also been difficult because after 15 years here, her truck driver ex is too Americanized. “I can’t even get him to take me to eat African food!” For her part, she plans to get her kids into African dance. “At least by learning that they will see that a lot of the dances we do today originated there.”
Okay. So you’re not overthinking it.
You reach out to another mom you know who is married to a Nigerian and has two young kids. You met at the park one day and bonded over the fact that you both have blogs and married Africans. This topic is not something you’ve ever discussed because she literally moved to New Hampshire the weekend you met. Turns out Quiana, who met her husband in college and has been married for six years, makes cultural conversations a part of daily life. “My four-and-a-half-year-old is very much aware of her Nigerian heritage. We visited Nigeria when she was 16 months old, and we keep the memory alive by revisiting the pictures, the music and stories from our trip.” She says they also gave both kids Nigerian middle names, which they make sure to use. “We want them to be proud and not embarrassed because their name is different. We want them to have a strong identity.”
It’s comforting, because you do those things too. Both of your daughters have African names and the one who turned 1 years old in the Ivory Coast has seen those pics a million times. Her favorite is one where she’s in a wrap, sleeping on her tantie’s back.
And while this is great, is it enough?
You’re sharing your concern with a friend who suggests that you call his cousin, Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf, award-winning historian of the African diaspora, and Director of the Lapidus Center for the historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
She definitely gets a call.
First, she advises you to get some children’s books on Africa, but warns that not all are good. Africa Access is a site she recommends for positive books. She says it’s also important to integrate positive notions about Africa in their daily life. “Go online and show them images of what people wear. Show them jeans and t-shirts and also traditional clothes. If you look at the way women dress in West Africa, it’s very striking. Show them the city landscape in places like Dakar, Abidjan and Accra.” Ultimately, what made your call to her so incredibly enlightening was when she told you about a book she wrote called Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America. It tells the story of the last slaves brought to America in 1860 and how, after Emancipation in 1865, they were able to form their own community, which they called African Town. They kept their African customs alive, retained their native languages and passed them on to their children. “Their children were told about Africa as this wonderful place,” says the Doctor. “The kids took that image and it made them proud of their origin.”
‘Their children were told about Africa as this wonderful place.’
Hmm…You do that every day. Your children will be fine.
Photo Courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr