By Mwabi Kaira
Michelle Obama was recently interviewed by poet Elizabeth Alexander at the first annual Obama Foundation Summit. What she said about parenting is not a new sentiment. Michelle said, “It’s like the problem in the world today is we love our boys, and we raise our girls. We raise them to be strong, and sometimes we take care not to hurt men and I think we pay for that a little bit and that’s a ‘we’ thing because we raise them. It’s powerful to have strong men but what does that strength mean?” she asked. “You know, does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion? Or are we protecting our men too much so they feel a little entitled and a little, you know, a little self-righteous sometimes? But, that’s kind of on us too as women and mothers, you know, as we nurture men and push girls to be perfect.”
Here’s why Michelle’s words gave me pause.
She doesn’t have sons.
Yes, I realize this was a general statement but had she related it back to growing up with a brother and the apparent different treatment they received with being nurtured versus being pushed to be perfect, pause would not have been necessary. Actress Gabourey Sidibe took to Instagram with Michelle’s clip and captioned it, “I love her so much. I say this all the time! Even my brother will tell you that we basically lived in completely different households, even though we were under the same roof. Can we start raising these boys to be strong black women cuz I’m very tired.”
|Gabourey Sidibe’s instagram|
Maybe I’m overly sensitive when anyone speaks about the shortcomings of boys because I am a mother of two teenage sons who has gone out of her way to raise my boys and not just love them. Add raising them in this climate where we have seen Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Mike Brown be killed just because they are boys who happen to be black, and this mothering black sons thing takes on a whole different turn. I know nothing about raising daughters and would never speak on it. I have lived long enough to know that being vocal about a subject is completely different from actually living it.
Michelle Obama said what I have heard since I was a young girl. Because I heard and saw it, I made a conscious decision to work extremely hard to raise my sons to become strong, intelligent, thoughtful, caring, compassionate, feminist men. I have taught my sons accountability since they were toddlers and I challenge them on not only being responsible for the parts they play in situations but to own them as well. I encourage them to treat everyone the same from the janitor to the CEO. I have taught them to show respect to everyone and to handle adversity with grace. I have taught them that rejection is redirection to better things and to not take it so hard. My sons are not perfect and I wish they were better cleaners when it comes to their rooms but overall they are on the right path and I am proud of them. I am trying my best to love and raise them and I know I’m not the only mother of sons who feels this way.