A little over a year after I moved my family to Asia, I was kickin’ it with my daughter on the playground at our expat (short for expatriate; euphemism for foreigner) condominium. I noticed her playing with the other 2/3/4/5/6-year-old kids and initially thought how amazing this experience was for her. This polyethnic group looked like the daycare at the UN for sure. I then noticed my daughter noticing…..everything. I saw this newly minted three-year-old absorbing, deciphering, internalizing, and concluding—all on her own, all through her eyes—that she was not alone, but lonely.
Her loneliness came from her differences. She didn’t see anyone like her. She saw all of the girls play together, then huddle up in their tribes before going back in the gumbo mix of kids for more fun. Every time they huddled to speak their mother’s tongue or do their ancestral dances or songs, my baby girl was left to stand alone. She never looked at me to convey the feeling written all over her face. This was truly one of those “The Good Shepard knows or Father knows best” unspoken moments.
In that moment, I decided that as great as Asia had been to me and for my family, we wouldn’t
be there much longer. When I shared my epiphany with my wife, in normal brazen manner, it sounded more like a fierce urgency when I said, “we gotta go home! Amina needs to grow up black!” She was bewildered because she was having such a great time living abroad, and she knew I was as well. But, one of the most amazing attractions to my wife has always been her ability to read people and understand what’s not articulated, even with me. So, she didn’t wonder for too long, but accepted my sincerity in that moment.
We didn’t end up moving for another year, but when I made the decision to put my baby girl’s (unbeknownst-to-her) needs as priority, I did so hoping that a richer soil was a better trade off than a bigger pot for my most delicate flower. Although we are curators and purveyors of our culture, and at times even proselytizers as well, we aren’t naive enough to believe we can supplement the experience of a sense of belonging, self-esteem, self-worth, and eventual self-actualization that comes from it all. Culture is not supplemental; culture is elemental!
Well, when I look at my baby girl on her fifth birthday today, on her last day of Kindergarten,
at a school where the Negro National Anthem is sung in its entirety all the time; where she can freely “hit the folks” to celebrate achievements, or express pleasure, and not be looked at as having spasms; where there are other kids she can sing ancestral songs and do native dances with who aren’t, but are considered family, I’m overwhelmed with pride. She beams and exudes of knowing there is a place carved out for her in this world and she can sprout inward, onward, and upward now!!! I’m so proud that the richer, blacker soil is already showing great results in this delicate flower’s growth!
I’m so happy I listened to her and read her tea leaves two years ago. I’m so happy that, so far, I haven’t messed up this lil’ black girl’s life and given her daddy issues! I’m simply proud to be my baby girl’s daddy today more than most days!
-Javonté Anyabwelé, Author of “The Back to Black List”