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Ooh Kill ‘Em!: Black Male Mentoring and Fictive Kinship

I love the South.  I love country folks.  I love country Black folks from the South.  I have two of them for parents.  And if you have them southern roots (pronounced “ruhtz”) like I do, you probably have more “play cousins” than you can count.

“Play cousins?”

For those of you without it, I’ll give you some cultural capital in context.  Stick with me, because I’m about to engage in come circuitous storytelling:

I’ve been outside the country for the latter part of the last few months, so I missed a rack of happenings in American popular culture.  Amongst the movies, new songs, and references I noticed when I got back was this “Ooh kill em”, often used in hashtags.  A quick internet search had me landing on this gem:

 

 

First of all, if you’re not familiar, Vine is the latest phone app that allows you to overshare things in your life no one else wants to see.  Thankfully you can only film these “events” for six seconds at a time.  However, every once-in-awhile one of these videos is so funny/clever/bizarre/annoying that it deserves our six seconds of attention.  Or more.

Since posting their Vine videos, lil-dancin’ Terio and his co-signing cousin Maleek have become internet-famous, inspiring everything from NBA point guard copycats to hip hop diss records.

So what does all of this have to do with cultural capital, play cousins, and fictive kinship?  Maleek and Terio aren’t related by blood.

In this epic Complex interview (you gotta listen to the audio.  Nobody short-sells answers like a nervous six-year-old!), the following exchange occurs with Maleek, Terio’s 16-year-old cousin who provides the footage and the soundtrack for his dancing and hooping protégé:

Interviewer: And so, how’re you guys related?

MALEEK: That’s my lil’ cousin.

Interviewer: Is there like, a parent’s sister’s son or something?

MALEEK: Nah, we like…he like, stay next door to me

Translation: they play cousins.  (Not a grammatical error).

Brotha and Sistah vs Brother and Sister: Are y’all Really Related?

In academic-speak, this is an example of the formation of a fictive kinship, a relationship in which people who aren’t related by blood claim a familial bond.  These relationships occur between and within all races of people. African Americans in particular have a long-held desire to unify through shared experiences, largely due to a unique and sordid American history of having their cultural practices denied and ridiculed.  For example, during American enslavement, Black family structures were routinely destroyed by the trade of humans across the Atlantic and between colonists.  This African American practice of identifying each other as “brotha”, “sistah”, and yes, “play cousin” developed as a valuable way to ascertain who was “down”, as well as in creating extended functional families.  These ties were especially important when blood bonds between Black people had been broken. Today, Black Americans still use these fictive kinships in the same way.

 Black-on-Black Male Crime Mentorship

I don’t know what the day-to-day interactions between Maleek and Terio look like.  I do know from my own experiences with the teenaged “old-heads” in my neighborhood where I grew up in Ypsilanti – and with my older play cousins in North Carolina who I saw when I visited my parents’ homes – that these dudes were excellent part-time role models and informal mentors.  They were flawed no doubt (I’m thinking right now about the time when this old-head named Tim tried to tell how you had great sex with girls.  Looking back, there’s no way in hell he had learned anything for himself; that bullshit had to have come from sneaking into someone’s porn collection), but they were well-meaning and had nobly taken on a role passed down to them by older play cousins who had done the same for them.  To be clear, I’m not talking about some Big Brother, Big Sister-type of relationship where these dudes provided daily and guided interactions.  I’m talking about those times when me and the rest of the young bucks had our bikes in a circle talking about girls/bikes/cars/sports and a couple of the older dudes would roll up on their bikes and start schooling us.  Just from reading and hearing the interview, I could hear at least the same type of bond between Maleek and Terio.  Are they closer than that?  Maybe.  But I know play cousins when I hear them.

Ideally these two kids maintain a healthy relationship and Maleek becomes or remains an important mentor for Terio.  It doesn’t have to be some “wonderful story” where Maleek becomes the main influence in Terio’s life, deters him from joining a gang, pushes Terio to go from wannabe rapper to English professor, Terio writes a best-selling novel, and Tyler Perry directs the movie version of his life (starring a light-skinned dude, of course).  Maybe Maleek is just the fun “cousin” whose video-based encouragement plays a small part in helping Terio feel just that much better about himself.  That’d be a realistic and important outcome.  Hell, despite Tim’s ridiculous sex advice, he always told me how smart I was, and he taught me how to pop a wheelie.  It’s that type of mentorship that makes play cousins special.

This article originally appears on alineinthesand.com.

Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry has taught grades 6 through 20, and has worked at both public and independent schools from Minnesota to Florida to Washington and other places in between. He is currently an adjunct college instructor while working on his PhD in multicultural education at the University of Washington.  Maurice has been a mentor, old-head, and play cousin for a long time, but refuses to give bad sex advice.  Ooh kill ’em!

Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry ©2013

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Family

A School is Always Teaching: What Deborah Brown Community School Taught One Little Black Girl

tiana-parker-crying

If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the news story about 7-year-old Tiana Parker. She’s a former student at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Deborah Brown Community School, whose father ultimately pulled her out after being repeatedly told by the school to change his daughter’s hairstyle. Tiana’s dreadlocked hair was in violation of the school’s dress code which clearly states, “Hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” (see page 13).

That’s the basic story, but this goes so much deeper.

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Family Relationships+ Family

Parenting: Tackling ADHD


Julian was just like most other 14 year old boys — energetic, fun loving and sports-minded. Summer was about to end, and the only thing on his mind was making the football team. He dreaded school, but was willing to do anything that would get him on the field again. Julian did not want to re-experience last year: athletically he was on top of the world… starting in football, basketball, and baseball; academically, the world was on top of him…beleaguered with low grades, discipline problems, and missing homework assignments. Because of the latter, the school stopped him from stepping foot on the field of dreams and told him to study harder.

For Julian, it was the worst of both worlds.

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Family Featured Relationships+ Family

Teaching kids the value of money

Teaching kids the value of money is important, but making them earn their money is even more important. Money gives kids decision making opportunities and teaches them not to be wasteful. Childhood chores provides kids with an appreciation for the things that they have, a sense of accomplishment for the things that they have achieved, and an empowering feeling of independence.

But its not enough to provide chores and allowance for your kids. It is also important to teach your children how to save money that they have earned from work vs money from received from gifts and how to spend the money that they have. Help your children learn the differences between needs, wants, and wishes. This will prepare them for making good spending decisions in the future.

Finally, inspire goal setting. Shopping with kids often inspires a long wish list with our children. Work with them to set goals for earning the money to purchase some of the things on their wish list.

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Family Relationships+ Family

Social Networking safe for kids?


My son is 10 and wants to join Facebook. He tells me all of his friends have Facebook, so why can’t he?

How do you allow your children the freedom to grow and become more social while still protecting them from unknown online predators? Or better yet becoming prey to a lifestyle of social ineptitude. For many of us, there is such a fine line between allowing our kids to join social networks to communicate with others online and letting them become couch potatoes that don’t know how to communicate with anyone unless it is via text, talk or type; With their heads buried in a computer or cell phone while their fingers move faster than their minds allow.

In the end, balance is key.  Allow them the “supervised” space to grow into our worlds social networks while also encouraging both physical and mental extra curricular activities endorsed by their churches, townships, and after school programs. Its important that all of our kids have the opportunity to socially mature both on and off the fields.

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Family Reviews

Dad from a Distance

“Dad from a Distance” offers powerful perspectives on how non-custodial fathers can and should still be fantastic Dads, but it goes even further by providing dozens of specific strategies that can help any man in this role forge a more involved and meaning relationship with his children. Whether you’ve just become a non-custodial father or have been in the role for years, this book is a must read and will be sure to help you move your relationship with your children to a higher and more engaged level. Every child wants, needs, and deserves a great Dad – even if he’s a “Dad from a Distance”!

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Family News

President Obama becomes first sitting US president to publish a children’s book

The 31-page book, for ages three and up, is filled with lyrical questions to his daughters Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, opening with, “Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?” A series of two-page spreads asks one question, such as “Have I told you that you are creative?”, across from short tributes to the appropriate person.

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Blogs Family Relationships+ Family

“Robersonville” An Editorial by Eric Roberson

robersonville

I’m a Jersey kid born and raised, but my family is from a small town in North Carolina called Stokes.

It always felt good turning down my grandparents road where cell phones barely worked, and the conversation were better than any show on TV. Well some years ago i was riding with my grandma and we passed through Robersonville, NC. Growing up I would see the signs for this town and thought how cool it was that my last name was in a town. Until that day i really never thought much about it. That is until my grandma pointed at this big old white house and said “that’s the old Roberson house.”

Right then and there it hit me. This was the grounds where my ancestors were slaves. And a chance for me to collect as much information about my limited family history.