All Day: City Paper's Lisa Snowden-McCray and poet Tariq Touré talk parenting
Feb 01, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Parenting is a jumble of love, frustration, pain, beauty, and more. It can be overwhelming. I've been in the game almost nine years now, and talking to other parents about their own takes on raising small humans is one of the things that has always helped me. The stories I get are usually hilarious, helpful, and make me feel less alone and harried. So, I was thrilled when writer and poet Tariq Touré (an occasional City Paper contributor) agreed to talk with me about how he and his wife Imani are raising their two beautiful, vibrant girls—5-month-old Noor and 2-year-old Sanaa.
As I drove over to his house, with my own kids (Cameron, 8, and Grace, 7) in tow, an executive order came down from the Trump administration restricting citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries from coming into the United States. Among refugees, the executive order gives "persecuted Christians" first crack at coming into the United States. It's concerning and shows that Trump means to try to make life miserable for anyone in this country who isn't white and male for the foreseeable future. Of course, none of this is new. Parenting while black, and in Touré's case black and Muslim, has always presented a different, more difficult path. Touré and his family seem more than ready to manage it, though. (Lisa Snowden-McCray)
City Paper: So, how are you?
Tariq Touré: I think literally about 10 minutes ago, they signed an executive order or ban for certain immigrants. I forget all of the countries but I know Yemen, Syria, Somalia, I think Iran. I want to say Libya.
CP : Basically places where Muslim people live, but places that are not where Trump's properties are?
TT: Not where his properties are, and everywhere we've bombed—I mean, not even to say we, everywhere America has bombed.
CP: So I think that's actually a good place to start. I know how that makes me feel, but I'm not Muslim. How do you process that kind of stuff?
TT: I think your children have to see you assert your identity. And it'll be very, very important to see that. Of course they're very young, but let's say they were 10, 15 years old, if we started hiding parts of our religion and things of that nature then I think that will have an adverse effect on how they see themselves. So it's just important that when these things happen, you should become more Muslim at these times rather than kind of shrink yourselves because there is a whole lot of pressure.
CP: And with you saying you want to be more Muslim, how does that translate into what you tell your girls or what you will tell them when they are older?
TT: That there's nothing wrong with your religion. And that everybody has certain people from whatever certain groups that are perpetuating things that are wrong. You can't put a blanket across anybody. Any society, any people, and that the only reason that they are doing that is that there is some type of economic interest that's associated with it. So it's not just happening for no reason, nobody is just picking you out of a lineup or saying you can't come into America when you're trying to flee a country that's already crumbling for no reason. They are doing it because they have some serious interest in whatever is there, or they have some serious interests in getting people here to hate you. So hate always has a reason for people in power.
TT: Hate is profitable! It's probably the most profitable thing ever. Just letting them know it's not for any reason. You can get into a situation where you're like 'Why is this happening? Did they just pick me out of thin air?' Hopefully, them knowing that helps ease what they're going through.
CP: So obviously your babies are smaller than my babies. My kids are already in school, and this week Grace got this paper—remember "Weekly Reader?" Did they have that when you were a kid? They had it when I was a kid. So this paper is all about Donald Trump and I was like "Oh, well we're not doing that." I wrote the teacher a note that said "We will not be reading about that, we'll be reading about Rosa Parks and I made up some questions [for Grace to answer]." Are you prepared for that, once your kids are in school? When there's outside influences that aren't just you and your wife anymore?
TT: So I went to a school on North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue that is a completely volunteer-run, very small school, by some Muslim women who knew what public school would entail. And my father helped found it. And they were just like, "Look, we'd rather be working 16-, 18-hour days volunteering, teaching our kids and working, then have our kids go to public school knowing for a fact that a good portion of the information is either going to be incorrect or it's not going to be in a light that represents them well." So I have the same mindset. For me, it's that I think kids—especially black kids—need a very strong program, some parents who can really tell them the difference, and be able to take that "Weekly Reader" and tell them that this is not the wave that we're going to buy into. Or they need some time in an institution like that that's going to represent them.
Heber Brown runs Orita's Cross Freedom School and they made it free for kids in Baltimore City who were out today to come there and I think that was like—that's it. That's what you're supposed to do, you need that balance. So I think for them, to end up in that situation if they have to, I mean, it's going to be like boot camp here [laughs].
CP: I know you speak and do a lot of work specifically about black issues and Muslim issues. As your kids get older, do you plan on having them involved in that? Going out places with you, seeing you in that capacity?
TT: I mean, really they already do. If I do 10 speaking engagements, they're probably at eight of them. It really depends on what they want to do. Sanaa might not want to deal with anything slightly radical, revolutionary, and that's fine. But I think now given the climate, I'm scaling back in just how much people see them. I'm not with them 24-7. I think that those are game time decisions. So I think right now if I got invited down to D.C. to rally in front of the White House, nah. I'm not bringing them. Just because who knows what could happen there. But it really depends on the situation, what are the type of people we're dealing with, who's controlling the event that I'm going to, and all of that.
CP: Let's talk broadly about parenting. You're in the crazy part of it. You're in the part where your life is not your own at all. What is that like, having the little one and a baby?
TT: Thank God I have an amazing partner. It isn't horrible. It isn't where I'm like, "Oh God I can't do this, what was I thinking about?" But there are interesting days where you're like: "I dislike my child right now. In this moment [laughs] we have an issue. We have beef right now, between me and you. If I was your size we would be fighting."
CP: I know you sometimes tweet about Noor saying she has her own personality already.
T: Oh! Like Sanaa's super personable. She walks into a room, she's a politician. She goes and shakes people's hands, makes people laugh. Noor's getting a little bit better but she's as mean as a rattle snake. Angry. But overall, parenting prepared us for walking into every day like it's something new, because with children there's something new every day and it gives you a new perspective on life. Something as simple as leaving the house. At this age just leaving the house can teach you 10 years' worth of lessons about life. You'll be like, "Oh it's 3, we gonna leave the house by 3:30." It will be 6:15 and you'll be like "I'm finally leaving the house." So then it teaches you, "Well, I have to be three hours ahead of whatever I'm supposed to do" and it makes you better as far as planning. Now I know how to get to somewhere on the dot.
CP: I complain sometimes because it's like, even with this interview, I was trying to send my kids with my husband and my husband was like, "I can't; I have to work and I won't be home until later," so I have to bring them along sometimes or I have to not do certain things. So that's hard, but then I also feel like having them has made me be more productive. Writing is one of those things where you can come up with ideas and have them marinating in your head forever and you can be B.S.-ing for a long time; and this is like, I have windows of time to do stuff. I know that when this is done, I'm not doing anything with this interview until tomorrow because I gotta do dinner and baths. I have to schedule time and I have to be productive during that time or else it won't happen.
TT: Yeah, I think if you don't master that you're going to be in for a very long, hard, tough ride. So many things could go wrong from the door to the car. She could poop on herself. She could pee on herself. Just like in the space between the door and the car door. And it's like, "Oh dang, gotta stop, come back in here, and do whatever." She could throw up on herself. Both of them could. When they start crying in tandem? Woo!
CP: Then I want to cry.
TT: You also develop like a Zen-like patience. Like, impenetrable patience. Certain things don't bother you. Like, loud noises.
CP: I also feel like I have to keep a lot of books in my house. Especially a lot of books with brown people, which are hard to come by. Do you have any particular books that you guys read together or books that you want her to make sure she reads when she gets older?
T: I mean she reads what I read. We got "Cat in the Hat," we got a book called "Freedom Summer," it's a really nice one it's about this white and black kid. We have Nikki Giovanni's hip-hop book, "Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat (A Poetry Speaks Experience)." Curious George has a Ramadan book. It's dope. Five Pillars of Islam ABCs. Stuff like that. I guess maybe I have a different approach on it. We're just more concerned about how many words she hears, as opposed to a particular story. So I know some people say read the same book over and over again. But she don't want to read the same book and I don't want be like, "You have to read 'The Cat in the Hat' 50 times."
CP: What about books for when they get older, books that were important to you when you were younger?
T: What shook me up? I read "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry," "To Kill a Mockingbird." There used to be this series that we read in the Muslim school, this guy named Invincible Abdullah, who goes on adventures and stuff, so that was kinda cool. I think "Up From Slavery" by Booker T. Washington is just a staple. Like I felt like that is one of the most crucial books I've ever read just about doing for self and what the outcome of hard work sometimes is, and like where you can come from. Like "Up From Slavery" is like a Meek Mill joint where he be like, "Hold up wait a minute" [laughs]. That's how his book is because Washington couldn't read or anything and he went, got an education, went back to his old town and helped them, and started an entire institute. And I think that would be good for her.
CP: Do you want them to read your poetry?
TT: So the next book I release is gonna be addressed to my family. It'll be like a book to them that other people can read. I would hope they do, but they might be like, "This is trash!" [laughs] They might be like, "Daddy, what is you talking about?"
CP: What is your definition of a perfect world for your kids?
TT: Where people aren't oppressed and persecuted and people can survive and thrive and there aren't people who are crushing people beneath them because they have power. And that they can express themselves and try to live as righteously as possible without all this madness going on. Freedom, to sum it up. If they had freedom.