In April, I gave birth to a sweet baby girl who’s nickname is Skye. Like most new mothers, I’m flooded with all types of feelings of love and inadequacy. I’m smitten by her cute chicken-like squawking, how her arms and face contour when she stretches like she’s had a hard day at work and the way her big brown eyes lock onto me as she furrows her brows.
I smile back when she reflexively newborn sleep smiles when she’s milk drunk. As I nurse her in the wee morning hours — with “I Love Lucy” or “Frasier” on television in the background — I ponder her future. Do those long legs and arms mean she’ll play basketball like her dad? Does her contemplative gaze mean she’ll be a keen observer of life? Will I stick to my ambitious plan of making her organic baby food? How many years before she begs to go to Disney World? It’s fun to play fantasy when Skye’s this tiny.
But there’s another set of important questions in child-rearing waiting for me in my sleep-deprived haze of poopy diapers and marathon pumping.
Because I often write and report on race, giving birth to Skye has prompted people to publicly and privately ask what I want to teach her about race. It’s given me pause because while I was pregnant I mainly thought about gender. I’m a girly girl but I don’t want to thrust that on her. I’d resolved to reject all things princess and limit the amount of pink Skye wears. Navy, black and yellow look pretty cool on an infant.
I want my daughter to be race-conscious without burdening her with my own post-civil rights baggage. Reaganomics, hip hop and affirmative action backlash colored my 1980s childhood. While she won’t have any memories of Barack Obama, Skye was born when the first black president occupied the White House. I wrote in her baby book that one of the biggest news stories during my pregnancy was Black Lives Matter.
Friends and family have contributed to Skye’s burgeoning library. Books affirming black girls and their kinky hair are important to me and will give her a foundation of self love. Baby girl has several other picture books by black authors that will instill positive messages. I know that as she gets older, mass media could possibly undermine those images. I see black friends with little girls who desire the long blonde hair of Elsa from animated “Frozen” fame, which opens the floodgates of putting a premium on white aesthetics. In response, a friend has started a list of books and media mirroring our own black girls’ experiences.
I want Skye to love herself and like-minded images. I also want her to be a global citizen. I never want her to feel stymied by race or gender. I’m unsure of what Skye’s path will be and whether she’ll reject what my husband and I endeavor to introduce her. The writings of Maya Angelou and Malcolm X shaped me early on. Do I give those books to her or let her discover tomes on her own?
I welcome the journey and hope my daughter and I can learn from each other given that she will come of age in a different era. On the other hand, mama and daughter have something crucial in common: segregated Chicago. Like me, she will be a South Side girl.
I grew up in black middle-class Chatham. Skye is in integrated Hyde Park. She’ll see the black-white inequities in our city and our region based on housing, schools and neighborhood aesthetics. Even if I wanted to shield her from racial injustice, it’d be impossible based on where we live. So I’m preparing myself to have hard talks in the future. The trade off may be taking that Disney World vacation. But not buying the Elsa wig.
Natalie Y. Moore is a reporter for WBEZ and author of “The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation.”
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