What Does It Mean To Raise Free Black Children?

Raising free Black children is an act of resistance and of love—and it requires Black parents to ensure our own fears are not in the way.

what does it mean to raise free black children
Photo: Illustration by Aleea Rae

There is a certain kind of steadfast rebellion that is required and inherent in the raising of Black children. The statistics are clear: Millennials are having children later and less often. There's a host of reasons behind this: fears about the climate crisis, inflation affecting everything from grocery bills to rent and gas, cost of childcare, a still ongoing pandemic, or, simply, not wanting to. So it goes without saying that the millennials who are choosing to procreate are often doing so with more than an appropriate amount of thought, consideration, and planning.

When we focus that lens even further, those same factors are even more pronounced within the Black family unit.

The average Black family's net worth sits at just $24,000 compared to their white counterparts, who have an average family net worth of $188,000. What's even more disheartening is that this wealth gap exists at every level of income.

When Black parents think about what they want for their children, certain words become overarching themes that become a through line: safe, healthy, alive.

But what does it look like to raise free Black children? What does it mean to raise free, Black children in a world that seems to function optimally when Black people are victims of it? How do we, as parents, take on the Herculean challenge of protecting our children from this world while simultaneously empowering them to thrive and remain soft in it?

Black parents exist in an impossible realm—caught in between knowing what awaits beyond the safety of our doorstep but trusting that the tools we've provided to our children, along with the lessons we've imparted, will be enough to see our babies cross those doorsteps at the end of each day. Bee Quammie, writer, TV personality, and radio host, in Toronto, Canada, says her role as a mother to two Black daughters is her most important and challenging role.

"There's a lot of hopefulness required in raising Black children, but I'm always reminded that hope is more a practice than something we innately possess, so we have to work that muscle for our kids' sake," says Quammie.

It becomes clear, then, that the act of raising free Black children is one that requires parents to do the work to free themselves too. Trina Greene Brown, founder of Parenting for Liberation, says encouraging this work is part of her organization's mission. "Parenting for Liberation is rooted in an Afro-futuristic vision of a world where Black parents are in community with each other to raise Black children without fear and instead parent for liberation," she says. "Our mission is to support Black parents to heal from historical and ongoing trauma and interrupt intergenerational violence to build resilient and joyful Black families."

Gloria alamrew

It becomes clear, then, that the act of raising free Black children is one that requires parents to do the work to free themselves too.

— Gloria alamrew

A free Black child is not a child made somehow exempt or impervious to the traumas that life and a rapidly-changing world may bring. It is, rather, a commitment to do the active inner work, as the parent, and in the home first, so that your child is well-equipped to respond to the myriad obstacles and challenges they may face. The praxis of parenting for liberation is becoming a mirror for our child, one that both shows them the possibilities that await and reminds us that the effort benefits us as well.

"It's about teaching them about what makes this world hostile, in age-appropriate ways, so they aren't caught off-guard," Quammie says. "[But also] about achievement and inspiration so they know they come from greatness. And about just existing, so that they know that trauma and triumphs aren't their only options in life." She works to ensure her daughters recognize softness in the world because they know it in themselves first: "I make space for them to just laugh, play, explore, and try things, because all of that helps them to learn more about who they are, and there's no one more empowered than a child—or any person, really)—who knows who they are."

The modern landscape of Blackness consists of unlearning and unpacking what has been bestowed unto us, often through violence and trauma, as to what it actually means to be Black. Black men are rejecting tropes of coded thug imagery and the myth of being absentee fathers, Black women are dismantling the angry, Black women stereotypes and reclaiming and embodying joy as practice. And as the Black family unit reshapes and redefines itself, so too must our conception of Black childhood. Perhaps if we are strong enough to step out of the cages we have been hitherto locked in, we can then open the door for our children to do the same.

Brown reminds us that the background of white supremacy may seem immovable and unchanging, but our power as parents resides in our flexibility to adapt. "Black children in America have always been raised against a backdrop of white supremacy, and more recently it has reared its ugly head in many public ways from increased police brutality, systemic racism in schools, healthcare systems, and the child welfare system," she says. "This is why it's important for us as Black parents to create safe spaces for Black children to still be children—giving them space to play without abandon, explore their curiosities, and make mistakes without judgment."

Black parents have a unique and innate understanding that we may not be able to change the world, but we can shape the smaller, inner worlds our children inhabit while in our care. We can offer ourselves as guides and models, holding their hands as they make their own way, and always offering a safe place to come home to. Brown explains that Parenting for Liberation seeks to support this end, "Our parents and elders used to say the world is hard, so we must prepare Black children by being hard. However, our reframe is because the world is hard, we must then create soft spaces for our children."

Audre Lorde, queer, Black, feminist author, wrote of raising Black children in her book Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, "Raising Black children in the mouth of a racist, sexist, suicidal dragon, is perilous and chancy. If they cannot love and resist at the same time, they probably will not survive." These words resonate even louder now, almost 40 years after they were first written, through the hearts and minds of Black parents. Indeed, they became the foundational ethos of Parenting for Liberation, and has informed both Brown's activism work and her own parenting. "I love my children while cultivating within them deep-rooted self-love and resistance to any and everything that comes up against that inherent sense of love."

By confronting how we have been limited and constrained by the travesties and trespasses of white supremacist violence, we will then begin to let our children grow into whole, free beings with agency. Our efforts in protecting them from all harm, can blur into restricting their own explorations and curiosities about who they are and who they are becoming.

"I had to do my internal work, reflecting on how I was allowing white supremacy to impact my parenting," Brown explains. "I wanted to transition from fear to liberation. Even in my work fighting for equity, justice, rights and agency of Black people, I found myself limiting the rights, agency, power and voice of the Black children I was raising. [We need] to ensure that our own fears are not becoming obstacles to raising liberated children."

Trina greene brown, founder of parenting for liberation

"Our parents and elders used to say the world is hard, so we must prepare Black children by being hard. However, our reframe is because the world is hard, we must then create soft spaces for our children. 

— Trina greene brown, founder of parenting for liberation

Whether the fight that Black parents have been tasked with is fair seems like the wrong question to ask. Our work as parents dedicated to raising free, Black children, is a matter of spiritual freedom. It is not a wanton disregard for the dangers of the world, but rather it is looking it in its eyes and refusing to be unseated. It is the allowing of real emotions to flow freely through ourselves first so that our children can witness what it means to exist as a whole person. Quammie already incorporates this parenting for liberation practice in the parenting of her two girls. "I celebrate my good news with them, I dance while I'm cooking. If happy tears come, I show them so they know crying isn't always about sadness. I try to model joy by joining them in the things that bring them joy, whether that's playing dress-up, doing arts and crafts, or just being silly."

If parenting is meant to be humbling, then it can be said that parenting in pursuit of raising free, Black children is the ultimate ego death. Our mission is bigger than us. This is generational work—both forwards and back. It is about looking to our ancestors for guidance, honoring where we are, and tirelessly fighting for a better tomorrow for our children.

"My daughter told me once that she likes that I'm still a kid, just a bigger one, and I love that." Quammie says. We raise free, Black children by nurturing our own inner Black child that perhaps didn't have that same opportunity. Lorde taught us that our work in the raising of our children is one of love and resistance and Brown continues that work, "Love them so much that they know their worth, value, power, strength, and beauty as Black people. Remind them of their legacy, of the resilience and power, brilliance, and creativity of their ancestors. Love up on them. Affirm them. Resistance is rooted in the idea that we resist any and everything that tries to limit our humanity."

So that is what we have been called to do—love and resist.

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