A baby inspired this post—more specifically, my new nephew, born yesterday (as of this writing).
I have so many thoughts about his coming into this world: his being born black and male-bodied and what that—and by extension, he—means in the United States and the world; coming to grips with my own “gender disappointment” (no lie—I wanted a little niece. But it was I who predicted my sister’s fetus would become a cis boy before she found out about the baby’s gender. What I can’t predict is how he’ll feel about his gender–my abilities aren’t that good). What the heck could I possibly tell him, being a bit of an outlier in my own family?
Perhaps it’s that exact status that allows me to be the perfect aunt.
However, when I think of aunts in pop culture, there’s Auntie Em from The Wizard of Oz; Aunt May from Spiderman; White Palace’s Judy, whose sudden arrival causes consternation for her sister Nora yet fascinates Nora’s younger lover, Max, in whom she confides what happened to her nephew and Nora; Aunt Norris and her sister Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park, who adopt their niece Fanny Price; Aunt Mozelle from Eve’s Bayou, a thrice-married and -widowed clairvoyant whom her niece, Eve, adores and who gives her niece a message of redemption.
Oh yeah, there’s Aunt Flo…but I’ll get back to her in a moment.
These aunts are lovingly supportive—except for Aunt Norris, who behaves horribly to Fanny, and Lady Bertram, who’s happily sipping opium–if not a little quirky. They’re a cross between surrogate moms to the main characters who are on a hero(ine)’s quests or just trying to find their way in the world, and wise women who offer advice to help the searching souls find their way. But, unlike pop-culture moms, who get judged as simply “good” or “bad,” aunts are given some leeway—via their quirkiness—to have some complexity and, therefore, humanity. Aunt Mozelle is the rarest of pop-culture aunts: she also has a sexual life and desires along with sorrows and the other traits— and she’s honest about all of them (watch the first 19 seconds). Aunt Mozelle is the quintessential Cool Aunt.
That’s the kind of aunt I want to be for my nephew: When he asks me about the world according to me, I want to be honest about it. I want to tell him about the constellation of great images of black men, from James Baldwin and <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_Hemphill”>Essex Hemphill to Romare Bearden and Gordon Parks to Kortney Ryan Ziegler to Jimi Hendrix and Living Colour and Maxwelland Andre 3000and Chuck D and the Derricks (Walcott and Bell) to Bryant Terry and Van Jones. I want to tell him about trials and triumphs of feminists of color and why he matters to some of us. I want to discuss black male privilege with him and why it may not be as great as it seems. I want to tell him how his body works and how to take care of it. I want to tell him that his sexual/romantic partners are there for asking, not for taking–and how to take care of their bodies, too.
And I want to tell him how another aunt, Aunt Flo, really works.