Well, “hate” might just be a slightly aggressive verb and I don’t think I actually want help. As the holidays come and go and I sit and think on family dinners of holidays past and present, I can’t help but wonder when did our big “over-the- trolley-tracks-and-through-the-hood-to-Grandmother’s-house-we-go” get-togethers come to an end? Oh, I think I remember now. It was right around the time when my aunts and uncles had one Miller Genuine Draft too many and someone ended up thrown down the staircase, cussed out, or in cuffs.
I’m sure millions of people around the world can rejoice in my shameless truth: sometimes family just doesn’t know how to act. Why can’t we get together without someone bringing up some childhood resentment of how Granddaddy never let them keep that Cocker Spaniel when they were little? This is obviously why they have issues with responsibility as an adult (Or, that’s what they at least claim). It’s crazy the connections people can make between past baggage and present flaws under the influence of an elevated blood alcohol level. In my family, add a dash of sarcasm, an implied insult or two and some open wounds and you’ll end up with…well, real open wounds. And unfortunately one of the biggest lessons my extended family has taught me is that sometimes strangers can treat you better than your own blood.
I mean seriously, some families can’t function without drama. Almost every family has an uncle, a cousin, an in-law, just somebody that always comes to family gatherings on some BS. Family is supposed to be proud of one another. The best part of having family is so they can cheer you on from the sidelines when you accomplish things and have your back when strangers are throwing shade. But that becomes a challenge when people of the same bloodline are too busy being envious when someone else gets a new car, a promotion at work, a degree, or anything that they feel makes them “better”. It could be a new Toyota Corolla, getting a promotion to manager and completing a damn quilting class at the community center, and instead of getting some support from your family on a job well done, some members can’t do anything but be mad. It’s as if some people can’t go day to day without finding a problem with something. Everyone’s so insecure about themselves and their importance in life that they want to make everyone else trying to find their role in this life feel small. I don’t understand this type of behavior from grown people that were raised together.
Unfortunately, at first, all the blood-related backbiting made me suspicious at the slightest display of any type of intimate bond. I never noticed how comfortable I had actually become in gossip, resentment and passive aggression until I attended my first family dinner hosted by my partner’s uncle. Here were people that politely passed the potatoes and even after a few glasses of wine could joke and laugh without anyone’s feelings getting hurt. His uncle even gave me “parting” gifts: some seashell bracelets from their most recent family cruise. It wasn’t exactly my style, but a sweet gesture nonetheless.
Sadly though, I remember coming home feeling uncomfortable without truly knowing why. I found myself searching for reasons why his family couldn’t be perfect and why, of course, I was sure they secretly hated each other behind all of the hugs and hollow laughter. I stomped around the house all evening while my boyfriend assumed I was PMS’ing until I finally blurted out, “They don’t have to like me. I’m used to people not liking me, what else they got?” (Of course no one had done anything to convey that message) He responded, “It must be hard to be in an environment where people genuinely love each other.”
Wow, can you say “5-minute therapy session”? I never realized how much I was used to tension and drama until he pointed out my obvious discomfort around a family who actually acts like a positive family.
The best thing my mom ever did was isolate us from the negativity so that my sis and I would never grow up second guessing ourselves or feeling guilty about our accomplishments. Unfortunately, the results were cousins that I wouldn’t recognize walking down the street, aunts and uncles that pass messages through mutual acquaintances before they’ll pick up the phone to call, and me being skeptical of truly genuine family relationships. But I must be honest, things were kind of nice when people left their issues at home and left before they started feeling their liquor. There were dance contests between cousins, my mom and dad doing the two-step to something (anything) by Smokey Robinson, and the solidarity that seeing a cousin’s new girlfriend or boyfriend’s squirm brought. But things changed.
It’s true; no one has a perfect family, but imperfection doesn’t have to equal hate. And just because my experiences with my extended family are for the most part dysfunctional, that doesn’t mean that dysfunction dwells and thrives in most families. It has taken me a while to lower my defenses, but gradually I am getting to a point where I can laugh and truly open up to other people without feeling like as soon as my back is turned they will brainstorm reasons why they can’t stand me. It’s sad that I can’t have that closeness with my own family, but I’m happy that I have the chance to experience all that with someone else’s.
It’s because of my mother that I know I don’t need anyone’s approval but my own and that I should be the only one in control of my happiness, As black women, there’s a pride we naturally carry in our ability to be independent. Sometimes we wear other people’s hate and jealousy as a badge of honor and use it as an excuse to have an anticipated attitude problem and build boundaries so that no one can tell how vulnerable and insecure we actually are. We love to stand out on our own, and believe that anyone who isn’t behind us secretly wants to be us or see us fail. But at the end of the day, don’t we all just want to be accepted by someone? Especially family? And that can be hard when you don’t even feel like you belong when around your own blood. But try to do yourself a favor sometimes and allow yourself to be accepted by someone. Everyone isn’t hating on you, and in fact, there are people who want to get to know you and show you love, if only you allowed them to.
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog Bullets and Blessings .