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Mama Said Watch Out

27 Sep 2006

A Black man's take on love, race and the angry black woman - PART I

I grew up in a relatively pro-Black family with strong beliefs in the values of family, culture and heritage.  What I’ve always admired my family for is that despite the cultural pride they instilled in me, there was never any message that anyone else was necessarily inferior either. The idea was that we were “just as good” as anyone else and that our character and moral standards were the measure by which the world would judge us – and we judge ourselves. In the midst of the racism we encountered growing up in a small industrial town in a nearby province, my mother and father always stood tall and never allowed us to feel like the occasional taunts from bigoted locals were justified in any way. They were the acts of uneducated people with poor moral fortitude.

I went to 99.9% White schools for all of grade school and most of high school. Perhaps that’s why it was always such a priority for my parents to always make sure I knew who I was. I would hear about my slave ancestors in the Caribbean who fought against the colonial powers, and about how my maternal grandfather raised his family honestly as a schoolteacher while never missing Sunday mass -- where he played the organ.

As I reached my teenage years, the inevitable topic of dating of course come up. That was my mother’s job in the household. I could tell she was eager to impart some of her wisdom. I somewhat got a taste years earlier of her perhaps overenthusiastic interest in my dating life when, as an 8 year-old, I asked her if I could invite my first crush to dinner. Her name was Julie Duheme, a White girl from school. I had to eventually stop mentioning Julie at home because my mother couldn’t stop going on and on about how cute it was that her little boy had a little girlfriend. Even grandma back home in the Caribbean knew about Julie.

Back then the topic of Julie’s race never came up at home. But I did recall never getting a similar invitation to Julie’s house for dinner despite the fact that she lived just a couple of houses down on the next street. I just remember her parents’ polite smiles and her father always petting my hair in strange curiosity. We left the small town a year later and I never saw Julie again. When we moved to the bigger town, the cultural mix in our new neighbourhood was much better. But it was still evident that there was an Italian neighbourhood, a Greek area, a Jewish one, a Caribbean one and so forth.

The Birth of an Angry Black Woman

By the time I reached my teens, my mother started becoming more concerned about educating me about my dating choices. She said she would welcome anyone I choose to date but to keep in mind that, in the eyes of most White girls, I would be an interesting curiosity and to watch out for that. Now that I’m older, I can perhaps understand where her concerns might have stemmed from. It was around the time when we moved to the large city that my parents’ marriage started falling apart. My father would come home later and later at night. We would often see him with a White female colleague of his from the office as they came by for a visit between sales meetings. My mother would often go on company functions and trips with my dad and I recall them arguing over that same female colleague many times

I think my mother was becoming an angry Black woman seeing her increasingly successful Black husband going astray with the lure of this White woman.

Eventually, as the story goes, that same woman used my father to get ahead in the company and my father was forced out.

I never really knew what actually happened between my father and this White woman but it was the slow beginning of the end for my parents’ marriage. To this day, my father says he needs to one day tell us his side of the story – when he gets around to it. I guess it became my mother’s mission to make sure that I don’t fail where my father did. While she never actually told me not to date White women, she would always remind me how good Black men should always be careful about the real motives of White women who claim to care for us and love us. “You are an exotic curiosity for them” as she would always say. “They will parade you in front of their friends and family and say: ‘Look, I got myself one.’” She would sometimes say those things jokingly and we would laugh. But deep down, I knew she meant it.

After years of raising two kids in a strange land full of promise, she found herself alone with the loving duty to raise a young man whom she has so much hope for. I can’t say that my mother is an angry and bitter woman. She still brings a ray of sunshine into every room she walks into and won’t show anyone attitude unless they really deserve it. But her story has been told and retold for generations from Othello’s days to today’s corporate boardrooms across North America. It’s her experience, and her efforts in making sure that I knew and understood those hard-learned lessons, which give me a good understanding of the root causes behind the birth of the angry Black woman.

But does that mean that I have to settle for a constantly chaotic and confrontational relationship with a Black woman to feel that I’m being true to my sisters? Not a chance. What it “does” mean is that I understand the struggle that Black women have had to endure and that I am hopeful that I will one day find a sister who knows and understands that my mother didn’t raise another “Tyrone.” And that I am not the one who needs to pay for every wrong done to her.

More to come in PART II