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I've Become the Mom I Used to Hate

Photograph by Getty Images

I've become that woman I hated when I was teenager. Actually, I hated everyone when I was teen, but the mom (or in my case my Aunt Maude) who just wouldn't leave me alone in my teen-ness ranked high on the list.

Aunt Maude was also a schoolteacher. She was always having conversations about my summer reading list. Her refrigerator had a list of healthy food choices on it. During dinnertime she'd always find a way to initiate a conversation about local and federal politics and the benefits and challenges of various polices. I always felt myself shrinking in her presence. I was always afraid I'd say something wrong or stupid, or worse yet, have to say anything at all.

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She was also the aunt who took me to several Broadway shows before I was 12 years old. Her mission was to educate me, and she did so at all costs. My aunt, believing that you become what you focus on, did what she could to guide my cousins and me and into areas she thought would benefit our lives.

Today's kids are not influenced by only TV and rock music. Technology has brought countless ideas and art forms into our lives, making it nearly impossible to monitor what gets into the minds of our children. Language that I find disturbing, like the "n word" and "bitch" seems to be commonplace now, especially in contemporary music.

But something has changed. My aunt's voice rings in my ears.

This past week I found myself in a popular boutique for women. There were a few children there with their moms, and most of the shoppers were young women. As I looked for jeans, the loud rap music streaming through the store was somewhat distracting, but easy enough to tune out. It wasn't until I heard the "n word" resound out of the speaker that I felt my temperature rise. Looking around the store, I noticed that I was both the only black person shopping there and the only person who seemed to notice the music. I located a young Asian woman who worked at the store, and after our introduction, I shared with her how shocking it was to hear the word "nigger" swimming through the store as we shopped. I used the word, just as the rapper had, having no desire to make it sweeter. She was horrified, apologized and went to quickly change the station.

A similar thing happened the next day at a community barbecue where there were at least 50 children under the age of 10 in attendance. I heard a 10-year-old boy singing what he would do to a woman's "jiggling booty." I marched right over to the DJ and asked if he'd considered his audience before choosing the music he was playing. He started playing oldies soon after, which made me sad. I'd heard these songs growing up on my aunt's home. It seems we have to go back 40 years to find music that isn't full of hatred.

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Before I was a mom, contemporary music served as my anthems. I'd dance for hours to songs that promoted the worst treatment of women and used the "n word" like life depended on it. I could turn it up and would do so freely. But something has changed. My aunt's voice rings in my ears. "All that nasty language, those messages and images? They're not good for you, Monique."

She was right; if the least offensive outcome is a numbness to the misogyny and self-loathing, that is a sorry outcome indeed. So yes, I've become the woman that I tried hiding from when I was teen. I'm the mom challenging people around me about what we are exposing our kids to and the impact it has on them. These days I don't hate her, but I'm certain someone does.

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