Last week my daughter turned 15 and I feel a bit shocked, happy and super proud. There are so many qualities I admire about her, so many which I don’t possess and others that we share. One of the things that I am proud to say I helped instill in her is a strong connection to her African-American heritage.
There was a time, not so long ago when I remember searching for animation movies and tv shows that featured a Black girl or boy as the protagonist. (This was pre Word Girl and Doc McStuffins). I scoured the internet, ordered DVDs from far off places and wound up vaguely satisfied. At least I was making an effort I thought. But truthfully I felt disappointed and defeated. I had to go out of my way to supplement my daughter’s world with positive images and narratives of Black women, men, people. If I had to go out of my way, that meant the world was still working against this reality.
Raising a biracial child of African-American and Austrian and Jewish backgrounds it became very clear to me that I would need to make a concerted effort to create positive images and conversations around African/African American culture/identity. I would need to talk to my daughter about race, about our traditions, our…Blackness so that it would be clear to her that there was a rich fabric that she was a part of and which held a path for her to weave her own way through.
When I started writing Head Full Of Hair, Heart Full Of Song I began it both as a testimonial for myself and also as a remedy for my daughter and for what is often lacking in our mainstream culture. The culture that fortunately or unfortunately is partially raising and educating our kids...of all backgrounds. On the one hand Blackness is often upheld as the cool, funny or most badass way to be, while the wisdom, power, pleasure and pain of our cultural contributions are very often overlooked, undermined and degraded.
I couldn’t allow the values beneath so many images on tv and in the media to have the final say with my daughter. Images that said white was better or more beautiful, images that said Black girls don’t get to achieve their dreams, Black girls are always the side kick, or Black girls don’t even have dreams of their own.
I couldn’t let my daughter think that all the intellectual and artistic contributions that we should aspire to have their origins in Europe. There are, after all, countless traditions from farming methods to music to design to dance, literature, storytelling, cuisine and more that have their roots in African/African-American and Native American culture, quiet as it may be kept. One must be very careful, so as not to give the mistaken impression that Black and Indigenous people had nothing to do with the current world we live in.
So my solution was to create a songbook, a digital and analog experience, where I hoped she would envision herself in bigger ways. Ways that the mainstream culture might not encourage her to think possible. I created an album, installations and stories of her history and my history, hopefully leaving space for her to fill herself in. Head Full Of Hair, Heart Full Of Song is my sonic offering and reminder to my daughter and other young Brown and Black women that their talents, their interests, their beauty even their self doubts and fears deserve to be sung.