Close Kin & Distant Relatives: Some Thoughts on Family

3 Oct

Folks who know me know that I have family on the brain.  I am writing a book on family as theme in contemporary black women’s literature. Right now I’m also teaching a survey course on African American literature, with family as the guiding theme and this is not the first time I have done so.  Studying how folks write about family has been a major interest of mine since I was in college.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I am one of those people for whom their life’s work is, in some ways, a reflection of the anxieties at the center of their private lives. In other words, writing and teaching about family is like cheap therapy for me. It’s not so much that I talk about my own experiences in the classroom or in publications, but rather that some of the things I’ve experienced directly informs my intellectual work.

My family of origin has a lot going on. I have a brilliant, delightful, kooky mother who is a trip, and who I love fiercely. I have two older sisters that I am not particularly close to, a circumstance that I’ve struggled to accept.  I haven’t seen my father since I was five and am not sure if he’s dead or alive. I have scores of cousins scattered across the globe, most of whom I never see. Growing up as a latchkey kid with much older siblings, I often felt like an only child, for better or for worse.

I know that a lot of my thinking about transgressive iterations of family come from my own struggles with wanting a “normal” family as a kid.  Early on, I had to reject the notion that “blood is thicker than water.” By and large, that has not been true for me. Instead, I have had multiple caring, sustaining, and loving relationships with folks I met in school, at work, and just around the way and have come to recognize that these folks are my family.

Now while I would have appreciated having a responsible father or being closer to my biological sisters, I don’t have a narrative of lack in my life.  I am grateful for my mother, the first crunk feminist I’ve known. I’ve been blessed with brothers and sisters who have become the closet of kin to me, even if we aren’t technically related. These folk make me laugh, give me the space to cry, challenge my thinking, and call me on my shit. I just hope I am doing the same for them.

Sometimes we need a paradigm shift to really figure what’s best for us. For me, rethinking what it means to be in close kinship with folk who are not biologically related to me has been freeing, gratifying, and necessary. I literally do not know what I would do without my them.

I probably don’t say it enough, but I want to thank them, you, for being in my life and for loving me fiercely.

I love you, unapologetically.

We are, indeed, family.

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5 Responses to “Close Kin & Distant Relatives: Some Thoughts on Family”

  1. crunktastic October 3, 2011 at 7:57 AM #

    We are fam-uh-lee! I got all my sisters and me! Love you, Wonder Twin, and thank you for this piece, which is right on time for me as well.

  2. eeshap October 3, 2011 at 12:19 PM #

    I literally do not know what I would do without you, either. This was just what I needed to read today. Thanks, dear.

  3. Cal B October 4, 2011 at 12:06 PM #

    “Carrying the same last name doesn’t make you family. Those who carry you when you can’t manage to: THEY are family.” ~Anonymous

  4. Asha October 4, 2011 at 8:07 PM #

    Thank you for writing this, Crunkadelic. I have been thinking lately about conceptions of family and the complexities of being in community with folk, whether chosen or biological. I appreciate you for providing clarity and new questions. You are my family! Love you!

  5. teresz October 8, 2011 at 11:15 AM #

    “Sometimes we need a paradigm shift to really figure what’s best for us. For me, rethinking what it means to be in close kinship with folk who are not biologically related to me has been freeing, gratifying, and necessary.”

    Yes!!! I couldnt agree more.

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