Guests of the Inner Sanctum

Millicent Hunter: “Being Raised Outside of the U.S. Gave Me Something I Could Never Get Here.”

Recently, a writer for Clutch Magazine posed the question, “Should more black girls be raised outside the U.S.?” As an American-born black female whose parents decided when I was six to raise me in Jamaica, let me answer a resounding ….YES!!! This was one of their best parenting decisions, EVER. Being raised outside of the U.S. gave me something I could never get here – the opportunity to grow up in the majority.

In the 1970s, having lived in the U.S. for over a decade, my parents were toying with the idea of moving back to Jamaica. There were many factors in their decision but a key one was me being bussed to another part of Prince George’s County in Maryland as part of a court ruling ordering the desegregation of the schools. I went from attending a predominantly black elementary school two miles away, to being one of only five chocolate chips in my 2nd grade class, 25 miles away. That’s when my parents decided they did not want me growing up experiencing the racism they experienced when they came to this country and having it affect me as a person.

It goes a long way to building self-acceptance when you see people similar to you in successful positions. As a child when I turned on the television there were black news anchors, black reporters, black beauty contestants, black models, black variety show hosts. Many of the wealthy businessmen driving expensive cars and running their companies were black. I had the blessing of living in an affluent neighborhood and most of the people were different shades of brown, but they were black. Many of our politicians were black. In 2008, when Barack Obama won the presidential elections, an African-American friend called me election night to say he couldn’t believe a black man was the president. I could hear the awe in his voice. Then I thought, how sad that a black man being a leader of a country should be such an amazing feat. I grew up with a black prime minister.

So what are the benefits of growing up in the majority and being surrounded by black people from all walks of life?

You don’t define everything by race and you are not defined primarily by race. First (and I’m waiting for the cries of “Pollyanna”) you don’t initially see race. You may see “class” but you don’t primarily see race. This has served me well in the United States. America puts a premium on networking. The successful person is the one who can work with any group regardless of race or creed. Yet it goes beyond that.

In my reading of other blogs about interracial dating and marriage I find many times that the black woman who is part of an interracial couple is usually directly from Africa or the Caribbean or has parents who are from those areas. I don’t believe in absolutes, but in my limited circle I can’t think of anyone who was told not to bring home a white guy, a Chinese guy, an Indian guy, etc. Usually the first question is, “Does he have a degree? How many degrees? And what does he do for a living?”

Just think how different things would be if single, black women would stop putting a premium on finding a “good black man” and instead focus on attracting “a good man.”

You are expected to be successful. No excuses. When you grow up surrounded by successful black bankers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, plumbers, electricians, etc., the expectation is that you too will become a successful, functioning member of society. If you don’t get into college or technical school, it isn’t because of your skin color. It’s because you didn’t study hard enough. In the U.S. there are good students who study hard and yet because of race are hindered in their educational pursuits. The expectations set by their teachers are sometimes low and they aren’t pushed to achieve academically. If they do get into a rigorous academic program, some assume they were allowed in to meet an affirmative action quota, not because of their intellectual capabilities. So now a smart black person must not only do well because he/she wants to succeed but to prove that blacks are smart too. That’s a burden children shouldn’t have to deal with.

Your skin color doesn’t define your social life. The ongoing battle with the subtle racism takes its toll socially. A few years ago, a married couple that was my age decided to move back to the island with their kids after living here in the U.S. for 10 years. They had a nice house in a nice neighborhood, but they noticed on more than one occasion that their children were the only kids not invited to some neighborhood children’s birthday parties when everyone else on the block was. It wasn’t a coincidence that they were also the only black ones on that block. Continued exposure to such racism could only lead to the children asking why they weren’t invited and or wondering what’s wrong with them.

Your skin color doesn’t define who you are or your activities. It was when I came to the United States to attend college that I learned that “Oreo” was more than a cookie. I was an Oreo because I had white friends. I was on Oreo because I listened to classical and rock music. I was an Oreo because I “talked white”. Unbeknownst to me – I, who came from a black country – apparently didn’t truly know what my tastes in entertainment, hobbies and people should be as a black person. Unfortunately, this backward way of thinking still exists. Who died and made a select group of people the definers of all things black? It’s this kind of thinking which limits people from expanding their horizons and doing new things. There would be no Jamaican bobsled team if someone told them “that’s a white sport.” Nor would there have been a Jamaican woman who was part of an expedition team to Antarctica if someone had told her skiing and trekking to the South Pole is something only white people do.

When your skin color doesn’t define who you are, doesn’t limit the expectations of you, doesn’t confine you to a stereotype, doesn’t limit how you dream, set goals or seek out experiences, doesn’t put you on the defensive against those who are ignorant about you, and doesn’t expose you to animosity then you are allowed more freedom to develop and evolve as a person. It gives you a confidence. You know you have just as much right to a job, house, position, and love as the next person. It prepares you to deal with anyone who wants to deny you that job, house, position or love just because of your skin color. You know, that you know, that you know, you are just as good as everyone else. A successful black person is NOT an anomaly.

Now let me qualify what I’ve said. A loving, stable, family environment also plays a role in my development and being from an educated, middle-class family has its benefits. Nowhere is perfect and Jamaica has its fair share of social issues. It is not nirvana. However, by growing up in a black society, I grew up with truths about myself that actually prepared me for living in this race-obsessed society. I didn’t need a Black History Month to focus on accomplished black inventors, businessmen, entertainers or professionals; I was surrounded by them everyday.

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