About 19 years ago, I was born into one of the most stereotypical southern African American families you could find in America. My grandfather is a pastor and my grandmother is a devout church-goer. They’re divorced, he’s remarried, and my grandma is still bitter about it.
On my grandma’s side of the family, she has six siblings and they all play their role perfectly. Almost too perfectly. There’s the eldest that basically raised the others, the second born that escaped all responsibility, the third child who had no responsibility, the middle child (my grandma) and the two invisible younger ones.
My grandma’s parents were complete opposites in every way. My great-grandma was a sweet and mild-mannered God-fearing woman who went to church every Sunday and sang her heart out for the Lord. My great-grandfather was a stern, mean and abusive old man that took all his frustration about how America treated him as a Black man out on my great-grandmother and their kids. Or at least that’s what my great-grandmother said a couple years before she died, but she did have dementia so I don’t know.
My grandfather’s family is slightly different. His mother was the alpha parent and his father was the mild-mannered one. Needless to say, my grandfather took after his dad. My grandfather has nine siblings and they all take after either their mother or father.
My mom is the middle child of my grandparents’ three kids, so naturally she’s the undercover brat. She’s basically a carbon copy of my grandma. They talk the same, walk the same, cook the same and most importantly, have the same bitter and cynical nature.
From the outside looking in, you’d look at my family and think, “Oh, what a nice Southern black family, full of love, strength and togetherness.” I’m here to proudly pronounce that that’s far from the truth. If I had to describe my family in five words, they would be: dysfunctional, deceitful, sneaky, conniving and fake.
Of course I love my family, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that it just sucks. We all gather multiple times a year, pretending that we actually like each other, but then we talk about each other like dogs constantly. I know that may be a common thing amongst families but my family takes it further than most.
Normally, when there’s in-house tension between family members, it stays in the family. My family didn’t get that memo. My family members will literally tell anyone they know that they dislike another one of us and then they’ll spew their negative opinions to whoever will listen.
For example, one of my great-aunts doesn’t particularly care for my choice in career. Not that I care, but I still don’t like being involved in drama. She invited her friend to our family Christmas party and the friend came up to me and said, “Baby, I just wanted to tell you that you need to try to get a real job instead of focusing on nonsense”.
Now, I respect my elders and I have a sense of decorum, most of the time. However, all of that went out of the window and I said, “Ma’am, I just wanted to tell you that you and your unnecessary opinion can go to hell.” I walked away with so much pride that I didn’t care that my great-aunt scolded me the whole evening.
After being in my family my whole life, you’d think that I wouldn’t be phased by their instinctual toxicity. Yet, for some reason, I am. I believe it’s because I would like to live in a state of peace and I don’t really know how to do that while being attached to them.
Over time, however, I’ve learned that I am one person and each of my family members is their own individual. I can’t control or change them and vice versa for myself. I can conduct myself and my life how I choose. If I want to exclude myself from participating in their chaotic antics, I can do that. If I want to stop associating with some or all of them, I have the right to do that as well.
Family is important and is a major part of who we all are but we all have the power to decide if we’re going to let that be a part of life that holds us back or if we’re going to move forward, knowing that our life is heading in the best direction possible.