Black Parenting: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Maya Angelou

Ta-Nehisi Coates emphasizes the love a black parent has for his/her child in his National Book Award winner, Between the World and Me.

“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made” (Coates 82).

Ta-Nehisi_Coates_1_-_2015_MacArthur_Fellow
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Why does Coates make a distinction between the love of a white parent and of a black parent? Coates and other black parents understand that their children are helpless against the systemic racism engrained in American society and there is little they can do to protect them. This is inarguable considering the recurring news stories featuring police brutality against young black men. While this does not discount the love of a white parent for his/her child by any means, white parents don’t have to to deal with this fear, an emotion stressed throughout Between the World and Me.

However, Coates is not a proponent of letting this fear dominate his relationship with his son. Instead, he will teach his son to be conscious of his place in society because Coates believes this awareness is how one comes closer to the meaning of life.

“I am sorry that I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you- but not that sorry. Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it” (Coates 107).

Maya Angelou, one of the most influential African American women and poet of the 20th century, composed a poem related to black parenting, called “The Mothering Blackness”.

The Mothering Blackness

 

She came home running

back to the mothering blackness

deep in the smothering blackness

white tears icicle gold plains of her face

She came home running

 

She came down creeping

here to the black arms waiting

now to the warm heart waiting

rime of alien dreams befrosts her rich brown face

She came down creeping

 

She came home blameless

black yet as Hagar’s daughter

tall as was Sheba’s daughter

threats of northern winds die on the desert’s face

She came home blameless

 

The poem features two voices, signaled by the indentations. One is the daughter and the other is the mother, both African American. One interpretation I came to was that the daughter ran away to pursue some sort of goal, whether it be love or a job no one knows. It didn’t work out but she was worried her mother wouldn’t accept her if she was to go home. However, her mother had been waiting for her return since the moment she left; ready to welcome her back into her loving embrace when the daughter was ready to come home.

Upon further exploration, I began to see echoes of Angelou in Coates’ ideas of parenting. Coates is willing to let his son out into the real world, despite the obstacles he will inevitably face. Coates will never abandon his son though; the love Coates possesses for his son is too powerful. Similarly, the “mothering blackness” will never abandon her daughter or turn her back on her, even though the daughter doesn’t understand this and is worried to come back at first. Both Coates and Angelou know their children are “blameless”: They are simply paying the price for being black in American society.

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4 thoughts on “Black Parenting: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Maya Angelou

  1. Pingback: A Response to ‘Black Parenting: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Maya Angelou’ – Stay Woke

  2. At first glance I was confused by the title of this post. Why should black parenting be any different than white parenting? After reading the article I completely agree with both Coates and Angelou, society has different expectations for children of color than they do for white children. It all comes back to the Veil that Dubois talks about throughout The Souls of Black Folk. Not only is black parenting fundamentally different that white parenting; black parenting is different depending on whether one is raising boys or girls. Young, black boys are seen as an inherent danger in society, thus need to be raised to always be on guard; Coates talks about the need to always be on guard the protect the body from the violence and rules to supposedly protect it, (Coates 90). Growing up in a Hispanic family, my mother always said, “don’t be a statistic,” because that is what her mother told her before me. She meant as a black Latina society expects me to fail. Society does not necessarily expect me to be at Colgate. Even in high school the teachers did not expect me to be excel in math and tried to place me in a low level class; I had to double up on math course sophomore year to be placed in the class I deserved. I am very fortunate and blessed to have parents that would not let me yield to society’s expectations, but some children of color are not as fortunate as I am.

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  3. Every family has differing parenting skills. An Asian family parenting is different from a Hispanic family parenting. And a Black family parenting style is different a White family parenting style. But the one thing that a White family never has to deal with is the fear that a family of color has. I am not talking about the fear that their child might not grow up to be successful or that one day their child might make a horrible crime. I am talking about a person of color family’s fear of losing their child because of the color of their skin. Sadie is absolutely correct in her post when she explains this fear using the help of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Maya Angelou. This fear that a family of color has is not irrational. In fact I would be shocked if a family of color, specifically a black family, did not have this fear that one day their kid could be taken away from them because of the color of their skin. Having this fear as a parent makes the parenting style different. Parents of children of color have to take extra precautions to make sure that their child knows the obstacles that are placed in front of them and to make sure that their child knows they will not have to go through it alone. I am not saying that white parenting is less than a family of color parenting; all I am saying is that it is different and it has to be different because race plays a huge role in America.

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  4. I think it is very interesting to bring up this point about black parenting. While I agree that it is unfortunately more challenging for a family of color to live in society today, I also must say that there are other horrors in the world all parents’ worry about. For example, I saw in my own mother her fear of my use of cigarettes. However, her strategy was not to ban me from every trying one, but rather leave it open for me to choose to do so. She advised me that it was extremely unpleasant and would probably end up hating it, but she never said I couldn’t try one. Well, for whatever reason her strategy did in fact work and I have never tried a cigarette in my life. I think that adverse aspects in life are inevitable; therefore I understand the lack of protection towards parent’s children. The earlier they become exposed, the stronger they will be when facing various situations. This calls forth many different questions not only pertaining to the proper way of raising children, but also to whether or not there should be a certain degree of censorship when dealing with these issues. But in the end it seems as though all parents have the same goal in mind: what is best for their children. How they choose to raise them is entirely individual preference.

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