Authentically Relating: How Can We Build Stronger Bonds Within Our Communities

When I gave birth to my daughter Khari, I felt intent on mirroring my mother’s method of raising me...

When I gave birth to my daughter Khari, I felt intent on mirroring my mother’s method of raising me consciously. My mother prepared me early on that there was racism in the world and the educated mind was the tool for battle. As she greased my scalp and braided my hair, my mother hugged me between her knees as I practiced my growing vocabulary at 8 years old, reading aloud from books the words of great minds like Chancellor Williams and Franz Fanon. I was thoroughly educated backwards and forwards of the trials and tribulations of our ancestors and raised holistically in the footsteps of my culturally-conscious Black mother.

Our goal as a people, I believed, was to overcome racism and become a strong collective that has a stronghold on our interests socially, economically, politically, educationally, etc. Shoot, that wasn’t so far fetched, I reasoned as a youth. I looked and believed that the Chinese people collectively own every carry-out in my hometown of Washington DC. The East Indian and Middle Eastern people own every 7-eleven around and have portions of the city dedicated to their culture. And white people, it seems, own everything else. Why was it unrealistic to set such high goals?

So, traipsing into the “new world”, as I called life on my own, I felt pretty prepared to meet head-on the racism I knew would be awaiting me -- the racism that had peeked out of pockets in my all-black neighborhoods as a young child, blossomed into closed minded professors and racist rhetoric in college newspapers when I spent four years at the local university and plucked me incessantly when I was reminded how offensive I could be for simply existing when I was denied interviews based on my strong African-Islamic name (you don’t look like a “Khadijah” I was told once.)

Racism, ha! It was no match for me at all. My mother talked about all with me before-hand. But what she really didn’t spend too much time on, I realize now is the area of relating.

My personal experiences with relating with others in our community have always worked best on the superficial level, teetered if challenged and crumbled at the first effort to move past the superficial. From the men who would rather be “friends with benefits” than friends who discuss politics, the spirit and a commitment, to the girlfriends who pledge forever friendship until a man comes on the scene, my personal life has been challenged with the idea of relating.

Our failing ability to relate to each other on an intimate level in our own community is something we rarely talk about but can be so painful and soul-toxic that it runs like poison into the relationships we form with each other as adults, the relationships we have with our offspring and the relationships we build with others outside of our community.

We can talk about the surface issues of someone being jealous or someone not having self-esteem or having commitment issues, but we don’t discuss it in depth with each other, the people involved, the reasons we are uncomfortable and how to turn the situation into one where understanding and acceptance are the goal. Some say that it depends on whether you were raised in a single parent home or two-parent home that dictates how you will relate to others. To that, I totally disagree. I’ve witnessed children turned adults who come from two parent families who are even more clueless than I about what it takes to make a relationship between two people work. They’ve been raised by two parents who are still together, but don’t necessarily talk to each other, listen to each other or demonstrate acts of kindness and communication.

Beyond racism, beyond sexism, we have reached a critical stump where relating to one another and communicating beyond simply talking is difficult for some and unattainable for most. Adults have fallen so deep into a trend of looking the part that the substance inherent in intimacy building and basic empathetic conversation has diminished. We have taken a value system of education, extended family, oral history, traditional honor custom, elder revering and rites of passage and replaced it with ideals that value money lording, “baby mama/fatha” drama, fashion idolatry and glorified entertainment. One set of values that uphold relating and sharing, replaced by values that promote separation and self.

And maybe it’s easier. Maybe it’s easier to focus on the superficial if it means not rocking the boat and at least giving the appearance of everything being okay. I know personally that it is easier to watch MTV with my daughter’s father and smile and grin and get along rather than discuss with him how it really bothers me that we don’t talk about anything that isn’t on television.

But it does something to me at a soul level when I don’t speak to him. It disturbs me on a soul level when I don’t speak up when someone has hurt my feelings and been insensitive and it hurts me, almost irreparably, when someone considered a friend, finds it easier to choose to disassociate with me or act passive aggressively rather than address personally what it is that I’ve done that has hurt them. So, as I feel my soul aches, I venture to wonder, how many others are out there aching as well. How many, I wonder, yearn to relate and shed our present state of separation and get together to share, really share, listen and love?

So, as two-year old Khari learns to speak paragraphs and identify her shapes, colors and numbers, I follow in my mother’s footsteps and strive to raise her conscious. Coupled with her legacy of black self-knowledge, I promise her as well that, as I learn and grow, she will also be taught and know the gift of relating.

- Khadijah Ali-Coleman, Khadijah Online

Khadijah "Moon" Ali-Coleman is editor of the anthology, Liberated Muse Volume I: How I Freed My Soul and founder of So Our Youth Aspire (SOYA). She is contributing editor and manages the blog Transforming Places Into Art Spaces. She hails from the Washington DC 
area. Visit her website at and follow on Twitter @KhadijahOnline.

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