On my way to the grocery store this evening, I hear a voice behind me in an admonishing tone: “It’s your body. You’re the one responsible for it. You have to use deodorant, you have to brush your teeth. It’s your friends who are going to smell you...” As they passed, I saw that it was a mother speaking to her, I guess, 12- or 13-year-old son.
As they passed out of my hearing, I was reminded of the extremely controversial, if delightful, video of a few years back by Bomani Armah, called “Read a Book.” It took the message of “read a book, brush your teeth, wear deodorant, drink water, buy land, raise your kids” and wrapped it in hip-hop rhythms and language. BET played it like a public service announcement, and some (many?) black parents were deeply offended by the language and the booty shaking. But some (many?) kids got the message. (On YouTube, you can find at least one one, as well as Armah and his director being grilled on CNN.) I was also reminded of a Tina Fey and Amy Pohler “Weekend Update” skit parodying a few grown women’s attraction to teenage boys, how sexy their green teeth, bad breath, “skid marks in their shorts.” But I was also reminded of real (white) teenagers who wore the same sweater, even with food stains, for days because it was their favorite sweater. Or when I took baths maybe once a week because baths took so much longer than showers, and I didn’t like showers. And I drank Coke instead of water well into my 30s.Civilizing the human child into a grownup is hard work, maybe even a constant struggle throughout that human child's life. Remember that mom: “It’s your friends who are going to smell you...”