Since discovering the Black Girl Nerds community, I have learned that many of us have the same story. Growing up, my interests differed from other girls in the Southern, all-black neighborhood where I grew up. I liked science, rock music, and 80s movies. I read Sweet Valley High books and watched professional wrestling. I felt different. As I got older, I lived with a deep sense of not belonging. In my “advanced” and AP classes, sometimes I was “the only” Black girl, which carries its own weight. All in all, I didn’t know where I fit or if I fit anywhere. But I survived those difficult years.
I am a parent now and I often think about my parenting style. I wonder if I am creating a space where my little one can thrive and grow into the girl she really is—nerd or not. As I pondered this, it became really clear that she will have a fundamentally different childhood than I had. Some of the reasons are a result of more resources; others are differences in my own views on parenting that differ from my family of origin.
There are many ways that my daughter’s experiences and mine are different, but here are six ways our childhoods are worlds apart:
- Hair Acceptance: My little one will never know the anxiety that comes from sitting in a chair in front of the stove on a Saturday night trying not to sweat while her mother presses her hair. Nope. Never. She won’t know that experience. I wear natural hair, so no pain-full hot combs. Hair is hair. What matters is the intellect beneath it.
- No Pressure for Respectability: I understand that respectability in appearance, speech or mannerisms will not diminish racism. I center Blackness in our home in every way I can. I elevate positive images of Black people in ways that weren’t accessible to me as a kid, like in books, TV programming and dolls.
- Access to Technology: When I think back to my own childhood, I used my first computer in 6th It was an Apple with black screen and green typeset. I didn’t even own my first computer until graduate school. The fact that I can get online at any time is mind-boggling. Now, my little one will grow up surrounded by technology in our home, which will positively influence her learning experience.
- Diverse TV Programming: I limit TV options to diverse characters whenever possible. Options for kids are more diverse than those from my childhood, although there is significant room for improvement. In our home, we like Doc McStuffins, Mickey Mouse and Dora the Explorer. These are good characters, but I believe my childhood favorites were more interesting, more engaging. I watched The Smurfs, Thundercats, Hall of Justice, GI Joe, Jem and the Holograms. Almost no diversity, but I remember being intrigued by the characters.
- Toys and Dolls: I am amazed at the range of toys for little kids, especially the pretty Black dolls with natural hair. My first black doll was not a pretty doll. Not at all. I think the improvement I see in them today is pretty awesome. For Christmas, my little one got Fiddlestix. Remember those? What about Lincoln Logs? As she grows, my little one will have colorful building toys like GoldieBlox and theme-based Legos. Certainly, the electronic apps and online games are endless. Truthfully, I think kids now do have better toys.
- Books: Reading fueled my imagination, and I went to the library frequently. As a kid, I honestly cannot recall one book that I had at home where the lead character was a person of color. Not one. Now, my little one has books galore that cover a range of experiences. Diversity within diversity. She is definitely getting the better end of the deal.
It’s funny because now “nerd” is no longer a bad word. As I reflect, I think those very hurtful experiences and the lack of acceptance I felt will help me be a better parent.
Jozie Scott is mother to a 3-year old inquisitive toddler. She is creator of Mocha Parents, Awesome Kids, a blog that centers Blackness in parenting. Jozie has a MA in family counseling and years of experience as a child advocate. She is a proud nerd and bookworm. Follow her on Twitter.