Empowering lessons for a colored girl

Empowering lessons for a colored girl

The most empowering lessons I have learned about myself, my life and my future were learned during the Jim Crow era when I was labelled “coloured.” These lessons were of four types: denial, affirmation, protection, and character building. The family, community (village), and school each provided and reinforced the values we children should learn as well as the expectations held for us.

The “denials” were critical in helping us as “coloured” children to know our true identity:

  • “I am not tragically coloured.”
  • “I am not who the larger white society believes or says I am.”
  • “I am not inferior to any race or group, culturally, intellectually, or morally.”
  • “I am not the ‘other’ whom they claim is underserving of respect, dignity, and equality.”

The “affirmations” confirmed our true identity:

  • “I know who I am.”
  • “I am a precious gift to my family and community.”
  • “I am a member of a dynamic culture that provides for my well-being and joy.”
  • “I am born with unique gifts and talents that I will use to better my community and fulfil my life purpose.”

As a coloured child, it was also crucially important that I learned protective lessons during the Jim Crow era. There were the Jim Crow laws related to segregation that we were to obey, but in addition, there were the Jim Crow customs or etiquette expected of us coloureds that served to enhance the identity and esteem of whites.

Coloured people had two forms of identity during this period, a “performance identity” in the form of a subservient attitude, speech, and demeanour that reinforced a sense of superiority among whites. As a coloured child, I learned that whites expected certain behaviours that I must oblige to protect myself from their wrath. I saw what I call a “performance identity” demonstrated by coloured adults. They might stand with their head bowed, making no eye contact, and speaking in a subservient tone to a white person. However, in demonstrating what I call their “authentic identity,” that same person might be the most esteemed deacon and well-spoken deacon in their church, or the mother of the church who organized and coordinated church events. These individuals might also be those in our community who taught and demonstrated the values that we as coloured children must learn.

We respected our adults in either role because we as children understood how crucial it was that we made whites feel that we believed in our inferiority. We learned that we were never to appear smarter than or dispute the word of whites. We knew to be back in our community by dusk and to avoid groups of whites.

“I am because we are.”

African Proverb

Our character building began in the family in the form of what we called “home training.” Home training was the cultural vehicle by which values were transmitted to each new generation. The very same values that had been instilled in my mother were now being learned by this little coloured girl. We are taught what is right or wrong, good or bad behavior. We children learned the social rules and norms that would guide our conduct as members of the community from childhood through adulthood. A child’s behaviour was a demonstration of the quality of home training a coloured child received. These lessons were there to build our character and teach us respect and proper manners.

The core rules of home training were:

  • Respect yourself.
  • Respect your family.
  • Respect the elderly.

A family’s name was very important, and we were taught and expected not to do anything to disgrace ourselves or our family. Respect for elders was most important. In our African tradition, ancestors were highly respected, and our elders were closest to the ancestors. Good manners were expected of us children. Besides our mothers and our grandmothers, there were women in our community who took responsibility for teaching etiquette and manners to us.

Unlike the white stereotype of the coloured being unsocialized and incapable of living in civilized society, coloured children were expected to develop their character to the highest extent. We were taught what is right or wrong, good or bad behavior. We as children learned the social rules and norms that would guide our conduct as members of the community from childhood to adulthood. A child’s behaviour was a demonstration of the quality of home training a coloured child received. Home training made us a “collective being”; we learned behaviours that would help us live harmoniously and cooperatively with others. Who I am today, my moral character and my ability to interact and form relationships with persons of cultures other than my own are the result of the “home training” or socialization I received as a coloured girl.

 

 

Source Credit: This article originally appeared on Wall Street International by . Read the original article - https://www.meer.com/en/78056-empowering-lessons-for-a-colored-girl