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The H3O/Art of Life Blog

  • Writer's pictureThe H3O/Art of Life Blog

"Our Daily Blog" #8

Updated: May 28, 2020

By Dr. Gloria Latimore-Peace

"What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black: Reflections of an African American Mother"

By Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs

"...I shall take them into a way back time

of Kings and Queens who ruled the Nile

And measured the stars, who raised the pyramids, and discovered the

Laws of Music and Mathematics.

Upon whose backs have been built

the wealth of continents..."

There is an African proverb that tells us, “Children are the reward of life". I am, and continue to be, a witness to this ancient truth for I am blessed, and have long-since been blessed, with countless offspring. The term "countless" is based on my understanding of an African family system taught to me by my mentor (and later NEIU Colleague), ANCESTOR Dr. Elkin T. Sithole, a member of the Zulu kinship group of South Africa.

In contrast to the limited, "nuclear family"[1] model which African-Americans have been led to follow, the African Family is all-inclusive. It is composed of ALL of the progeny of the living, the dead, and the yet-unborn. This way of looking at the world transcends both biology and gender as prerequisites for parenthood. "Your" biological children are not "your" only children because the children of your sisters and brothers, social as well as biological, are also "your" children.

To elaborate, your sisters’ and brothers' children are “your" children and "your" children are the children of your brothers and sisters, both biological and social. And, although your social brothers and sisters, i.e., the members of your age-grade with whom you are initiated into adult-hood, are not bound by ties of blood, they, too, are mothers and fathers of "your" children. Thus, while biology does play a part in parenthood it is not, according to the worldview of our African forebears, THE determinant of parenthood. In other words, "giving birth to" or "fathering" a child is not the one-and-only means of "having" children.

And now some words about "fathering" and "mothering" which, as has been previously stated, is not solely dependent on biology or gender. These terms are culturally-defined in this context, which means they are based on function, i.e., purpose. The function of the "mother" is to nurture, as well as to "spoil" the children (occasionally); the "father" function is to discipline-- to set the standard of behavior as a member of the kinship group. Therefrom come the male "mothers”, i.e., "Malume" (Ma-loo-may) and female "fathers", i.e., "Babekazi" (Ba-ba-ka-zee). (Caution: These cultural terms are not to be misconstrued as references to conventional "sex" in any way, form, or fashion). To reiterate, "your" children are not only those to whom you "give birth" or "father" but also those of your biological and social brothers and sisters.

In contemporary society, it is said that “you cannot be both a mother and a father to your children". But, in an African family system, you are responsible for and therefore expected to be both- but not to the same children. Keep in mind that you are a parent to your biological children and to the children of your sisters and brothers as well. However, as a female- mother, you are Mother to your own children and to the children of your sisters. While as a female-father, you are Father, "Babekazi", to the children of your brothers. Your brothers function as male-fathers not only to their own biological children, but also to those of their brothers. However, to their sisters' children they are Malume, male-mothers. This custom is carried from generation to generation, extending into antiquity, through grandmothers and grandfathers and Greats-, and Great-greats, ad infinitum. In clans that also practice polyandry[2] or polygamy[3], this custom also incorporates the husbands or the wives of the members of the group thus extending the parent component.

From the beginning, our children were conceived to have a multitude of "fathers" and "mothers" to care for them. It is incumbent upon us to recognize the value that our children add to our lives. Life without children is as improbable as it is inconceivable. Were it not for our children, all of our children, none of us would be who or where we are today. So, whatever changes we may have gone through together, we owe our children a debt of gratitude for being the agents of our evolution. We can repay them, in great measure, by teaching them back to themselves, i.e. all the way back to that "way-back time" to which my "Sister", Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs referred when she wrote:

"Knowledge of his heritage shall be his weapon and his armor,

It will make him strong enough to win any battle he may face,

And since this story is so often obscured and omitted,

I must sacrifice to find it for my children

[E]ven as I sacrifice to feed, clothe, and shelter them,

This I will do for my children because I love them,

No one else will do it for me ...".


[1] Nuclear family- a couple and their dependent children, regarded as a basic social unit. [2] Polyandry- the culturally-approved custom of marrying more than one husband contemporaneously.

[3] Polygamy- the culturally-approved custom of marrying more than one wife contemporaneously. In contrast, Monogamy is a socially-approved, legally-binding practice of marrying one spouse at a time. (In some societies, there is also a socially and legally approved practice of marrying more than one husband or wife sequentially, not at the same time, but following divorce from a previous mate. This has been referred to as Serial polyandry/polygamy.

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Thank Deborah for verifying that our mentor taught us about ourselves., The world is indeed small. You were likely in a later class than mine.



Dr. Sithole was one of my professors at NEIU and I remembered him discussing this topic in one of my classes. He was such a kind, informative and dedicated educator. I learned so much about the African Culture from him. May he RIP.


Evonne F Blakey

Thank you for a very uplifting message. I have much love ❤️ & respect for Margaret Burroughs.


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