In my circle, we give our daughters the gift of innocence. We give them the gift of no sleepovers, no unchaperoned events, no unbridled trust in other adults. It takes a lot of mental and physical effort to break generational curses and prevent your daughters from learning the world you learned too soon.
My daughter is many things, but if you ask her who she is, she’ll tell you she’s a reader. When she was in preschool, I’d often find her curled up on the sofa with a book in her lap, and my heart would sing. She was grateful for books as gifts, the inkless metal pens, and soft black yoga pants to read in.
She wouldn’t allow anyone to handle her newest books. Too many hands siphoned away the book smell. She wanted “to smell all the new.” Through nature or nurture, I have a child who is a reader. I gave her the gift.
As a preteen, she was unlike many children her age. She never had a tolerance for mainstream fantasy books. When I asked why, she said she couldn’t connect with the characters. Struggling to put her feelings into words, she said, “The books don’t talk. When I finish the book, I feel like the author was talking without looking at me.”
When she was thirteen, I found her with my copy of Beloved on her lap. Intuitively, I knew why she had it. I was once the eight-year-old girl who hid in the closet to read my mama’s copy of Thurston House by Danielle Steel. Like my daughter, I was consumed by the need to enter a fictitious world my mama didn’t seem to want to leave.
It takes a lot of mental and physical effort to break generational curses and prevent your daughters from learning the world you learned too soon.
That paperback traveled with her on the bus to work. It lay splayed open and face down on the countertop when she cooked dinner. It hung from her hand when she barged into my and my sisters’ bedroom to say, “It’s 9:50. Ten o’clock better not find your eyes still open!”
I raised my daughter to understand the world changes when enough people ask why, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when she asked why she couldn’t read Beloved. Hadn’t I told her it was an incredible book that everyone should read? She reminded me of what I said each time I revisited books by the greatest writers of our time. “As soon as you can, find and read the story people want to ignore or hide because it disturbs and pokes holes in their worldview. Beloved and The Color Purple are two.”
I didn’t tell her I meant that for me, not her. I grew up differently. At her age, I was counting out crumpled bills and quarters at the grocery store, then walking home with the handles of overfilled plastic bags cutting into my wrists unless I did the forbidden—accepted a ride and prayed in their backseat that they would really drop me and my groceries at home rather than a darker alternative.
I never had patience for the sheltered lives of the characters from The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High. My reading consisted of assorted, dog-eared paperbacks my mama stored in boxes with the family photo albums.
My daughter shouldn’t have to carry dark truths with her so early, I told myself. Innocence must be preserved. Don’t good mothers stand as a shield to keep their children from experiencing secondhand horrors? She’s only thirteen, I thought, then I remembered who we are.
I’m a Black mother with a Black daughter who is growing up in a state where a deluge of legislative bills seeks to force teachers into teaching American slavery through an inoffensive lens. History lessons paint her ancestors as bystanders standing on the periphery of events.
Only seven percent of the books on the suggested reading lists for the PSAT and SAT include books from authors who look at her when they speak. She lives in Texas, a leader in book bans and censorship, second only to Florida. Through school and TikTok, she hears detractors criticize Beloved for being explicit and pornographic. They say it has no place in educational settings because of its provocative themes.
Intersectionality’s reach extends even to the gifted among us. Toni Morrison was not just any writer. She was a Nobel laureate, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Pulitzer Prize winner. But her accolades don’t excuse her from being seen as Black first and a woman second. The storm surrounding her work may not solely be about its explicit content but instead rooted in issues of race and representation.
As we delved into the story of Sethe, I balanced between parent and storyteller, between protecting and educating. Exposing her to the uncomfortable truths within the book gave her a shield against the reframers of history.
Isn’t it my job to ensure my daughter understands these objections are not as straightforward as they appear?. Her ancestors lived through slavery and anti-literacy laws. Her great-aunties lived through the years of waiting for Brown v The Board of Education to be enforced, the lack of higher education opportunities, and poorly funded schools. Her grandmother was in the first class to integrate Paris High School in Paris, Texas. Each morning on her way to school, she walked past the protesting men who catcalled, some with shotguns resting on their laps.
That generation of Black women rooted themselves. They kept showing up. They never had the luxury of assuming any fight for freedom was not theirs. This alongside the battle for reproductive freedom is why I never considered fleeing to another state. In the 2020 presidential election, more than 5.2 million Texans voted blue through the chants of, “Don’t California my Texas!”
The next generation is always better, more open, more informed. The pendulum swings.
I passed Beloved into my daughter’s hand and allowed the shared exploration of the complexities of race, womanhood, and the impact of historical trauma to move us forward. As we delved into the story of Sethe, I balanced between parent and storyteller, between protecting and educating. Exposing her to the uncomfortable truths within the book gave her a shield against the reframers of history.
Instead of giving her the gift of innocence, I gave her the gift of knowledge.
The Blueprint by Rae Giana Rashad is available via Harper.