I was facilitating a discussion about relationships, not long ago, in one of my college seminars for Women of Color when I had the realization that what I perceive as “normal” is not necessarily what other people may perceive as “normal”.
The discussion that I was facilitating was intended to draw a distinction between good and bad relationships. The problem is that when I introduced the first article that described bad relationships, some of the young women strongly disagreed with what was being described as unhealthy behavior. These 18 and 19 year old young women argued that it was normal to have verbal altercations and even physical altercations. They argued that it was normal for people to fight and that it should happen often.
“There you go again with your Cosby sh*t” exclaimed one young woman. What she really meant was that the thought of a normal, functional and healthy relationship was unrealistic. This particular sub-group amongst the general group was a group of young women who grew up in homes where verbal and physical altercations happened so often that to them it was “normal”. They also experienced growing up in homes where it was more common to see their mothers have a series of relationships with different men with their own fathers being gone and forgotten. This was so common to them that seeing a woman committed, through marriage, to one man and with couple of children with that same man and remaining with him, was just unfathomable.
I started to notice, unfortunately, when lecturing in a more racially mixed population of students, that the participants did not seem to think that fist fights and verbal abuse were everyday and normal occurrences. The reason why this disparity exists, I found, is rooted primarily in what the students see in their homes and communities. What they see the most becomes what they accept as normal.
It was so sad to listen to young women with no aspirations of getting married and having beautiful homes and decent jobs. That, to them, seemed unrealistic because they had not seen enough people in their communities accomplish those things. For a lot of the students, even going to college set them apart from the rest of their family members, so much so that some of them quit because they did not have the support and encouragement from members of their communities.
It would certainly be wrong to suggest that there is one solution to the many ills that plague a lot of people in Black communities but I believe that a good starting point is the exposure that young people have.
It is becoming more and more apparent to me that being a good example is an extremely important part of being a modern black woman. We have to model and show a good example of what “normal” should be. Yes, in relationships, disagreements occur but they can be handled without an unhealthy escalation every single time. Yes, sometimes relationships don’t work out but our daughters should not be exposed to countless men parading in and out of their mothers’ bedrooms.
It may not be easy to live by example, especially if the person trying to live by example, themselves, did not have anyone who demonstrated normal and healthy behavior. That being said, in modern day America, there are countless resources for those that wish to empower themselves and those within their sphere of influence to live better lives. There are books, ministries, counseling services, seminars and even men and women who have the heart for helping others succeed.
The starting point to start to establish a good “normal” is acknowledging that something needs to change, instead of getting defensive anytime someone suggest that change is necessary. Until we start to see less young men and women dying needlessly, less young women becoming mothers before they are ready and less instances of physical, verbal and emotional abuse of our children and each other we cannot continue to deny that change is necessary and it needs to happen right away.
Nomalanga helps Black Women thrive in their lives and careers. She is a Social Commentator, an Editor at Your Black World , Assistant Professor of Professional Studies and the reigning Mrs Botswana. Visit Nomalanga’s blog at successfulblackwoman.com