“Doing all this healing so I can be a wise grandmother to divine daughters who get to live outside the cycle I broke for us.” – @BBZARIA, Zaria Jahlan Monae (a Black woman who be knowing)

Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all of the women celebrating every way that you nurture, rear and love on your babies and no-longer-but-your-forever babies! 

This past weekend was THE weekend for Black women as I tuned in with great admiration to Dr. Angela Davis and Ms. Nikki Giovanni (Thank you GirlTrek.) And then of course, all of the Flex bombs for the Erykah Badu and Jill Scott Verzuz. It was a night of great music, great women and Black sisterly love. 

With the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and Sean Reed, our community needed healing and a moment to reset so we can go back out here and get free. 

While I am all about celebrating Black mothers, I wanted to have a conversation with my homegirl, Kristina about those things our mamas have passed on to us that may not be serving us. 

As always, read, listen, comment, share, discuss, subscribe, follow and all the things. If you wanna hear about the one generational curse that Kristina and I refuse to break, you gotta listen to the full conversation.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

BWBK: Black Women Be Knowing, don’t even know what episode this is, we doing so many episodes. I’m sitting here with my baby Kristina cause Kristina is dope and [she] reached out to me saying we gotta do this fucking episode so now we’re doing it.

Kristina: Hello everybody! Hello, hello!

BWBK: So Kristina and I text message each other like every fucking day, texting funny ass memes. Every so often, aside from the memes, we text each other something serious. Kristina said, “Khalya, you need to do an episode about breaking generational curses.” So I said, “So WE need to do this episode is what you’re saying? Great.”

I’ll let you explain why [you wanted to discuss] this topic and why this is what we needed to do for this platform. [But first,] I wanted to ask you what I always ask everybody [but with a twist], what are the first five words that come to mind when you think of generational curses?

Kristina: Yeah I knew you were going to ask this question so I was trying to think of the five words that come to mind. So my first word is stuck and stuck just because it’s a curse- it’s something you can’t get out of. The next word is heal because you tend to have to heal from them. My next word is therapy because it’s required in order for you to get yourself [away] from that place. The next word is knowing because there is a sense of knowing you have to have in order to identify that you’re [experiencing] a generational curse. I think my last one is secrets.

What about you?

BWBK: So I ain’t cheat. I waited to think about this question until we started the [conversation] because I had a busy ass day. 

The first word that came to my mind was poverty. I [wrote] cycle and I think that relates to your idea of being stuck- that you’re never moving in a straight line moving away from [the curse] but you’re constantly returning to it. You said knowing and I said awareness because you have to have a sense of awareness that this is fucked up for you. I put family/lineage because I do believe that we’re extremely close to our curses because the people associated with them are close to us. Therefore, the curse is stronger because it’s attached to the people that we care for. And then I just wrote stop but like S-T-A-H-P! 

I love [your words] especially the word secrets, because I think it’s important for us to name that. You don’t wanna acknowledge what you’ve been repressing and [burying.] 

So how do you define a generational curse? Give us the ‘Urban Dictionary’ version.

Kristina: When I think of [a] generational curse, the first person I think about is Iyanla [Vanzant.] When Iyanla’s really going into somebody, she talks about pathology and the pathology develops and becomes a part of you and you can’t get out of it.

So when I think of generational curses, things that we pass down generationally (that we aren’t even aware of all the time) by our families in a way that doesn’t allow us to be prosperous. And not prosperous always monetarily but prosperous in terms of feeling free, being happy ..something that won’t allow you to be free.

BWBK: OK, so we preaching tonight? I would definitely agree with that in terms of something that has been passed down [particularly] for the need to survive and I think that’s antithetical to what you were saying about being free. When you’re always trying to scrape and scramble and looking over your shoulder, you can’t think ten steps ahead, you’re thinking about the step you’re on.

Kristina: You might be thinking about the previous step and you happy to get to the step that you at.

BWBK: Right! So there is no long-term plan. [Those behaviors] might have “worked” for generations past but it’s not necessarily going to allow you to thrive…

What do you think are the top three curses that exist in the Black community based on either your own experiences or what you’ve witnessed?

Kristina: We’re in a perpetual state of survival and I do think that’s a curse. It plays out in all parts of our lives whether it be our physical, financial or spiritual survival. Another curse is not being able to be yourself. We’re always a pack; we’re always a monolith. You’re not free to be yourself-everyone has an identity and that’s it. You’re stuck… We also can’t seem to achieve real wealth as a community… My brain is still moving. What are yours?

BWBK: My first word was poverty so I immediately went into financial freedom. We talk about platforms like We Buy Black and Black Wall Street that are trying to instill a sense of financial independence and also financial community- keep the dollars moving within. We still flock to the mainstream [therefore] we stay pushing our resources outside of our community.

The other thing which I have not been able to reconcile personally, is mental health. I think we’re still in this weird space- I know I am. I acknowledge that mental health services/therapy is necessary and I know it’s necessary for ME, but I still can’t take my feets over to a place yet. I [tend to] think I’ll just talk to Grandmama and I’ll get over it.

Because I know so many Black women who swear by [therapy] and really feel like they’re a lot lighter because of it, it makes it feel a lot less taboo. Another thing that’s coming up as we’re talking is this antagonism between Black men and Black women. On a lot of social media platforms, you can see this especially where Black feminists are, you’ll see the hoteps come out like gang gang and remind women of their place. We can’t move forward and move together as Black people if there still has to be a hierarchy.

Kristina: We were talking about this earlier but this is making me think now that a generational curse is the need to be accepted by the Whites. We have passed that down sufficiently to our children in ways we don’t even recognize.

BWBK: That’s facts. What are you doing to actively break these generational curses? Everything has to be done with intention. So how did you know it was a curse?

Kristina: If I dig deep, the curse I’m trying to break is what freedom looks like and what it means to be a free Black woman. People try to put you in a box. You can’t like that kind of music cause you’re a Black woman. You can’t eat that kind of food cause you’re a Black woman…

Family sends me those messages. Friends send me those messages. I get it from the world. I’m just trying to be who I want to be, how I want to be for whatever that means. As much as I love being Black, I don’t want to be defined by it to a certain extent. I can be a woman who loves Whitley Gilbert and listens to Alanis Morissette.

Jerome, our friend,  who is the ultimate co-signer, jokes that I’m gonna adopt these kids and I’m gonna name them Lavender and Quinoa. My family thinks I’m crazy but [my kids are] gonna be free to be whoever. They’re just gonna be free to be kids because we tell our kids how they have to exist in the world, what they have to believe and how they have to act for survival reasons. But we don’t have to live up to other people’s ideas of us. 

[You have to ask] do I really believe that or is that something somebody told me I have to believe?

BWBK: Yeah, you can give no fucks about what people think about you but you still need to know what people think of you so that you’re actively working against that. As I was listening to you talk, I was circling and taking notes and I feel like we need to do a community poem called, “Cause You’re a Black Woman.” That sounds like Black Excellence needs to get on that project.

Kristina: Think of all the things we inherited from our mothers because we’re Black women. So you already get saddled with certain things- you are the nurturer. Cause you’re a Black woman, you have to deal with that no good man cause you need to be lucky you have one… 

This idea that you’re walking around too proud, like what does that even mean? You’re not paying enough deference and [again] we did that for survival. But when are we gonna carve out new ways to be?

BWBK: I just finished reading Michael Arceneaux’s book, I Don’t Want to Die Poor and he speaks about his mom who’s Catholic and was very uncomfortable about him talking about his sex life, talking about their family life…just talking. You can tell that there is a clear divide between what happens inside and what you present outside- like wearing your outside clothes. That definitely stood out to me as far as your [comments about secrets.]

When you are talking about your future adopted children, Lavender and Quinoa, and actively working against these ideas or engaging in things seen as taboo [for us], how do your family and friends respond?

Kristina: Sometimes it’s kind of joked off. And then there’s a level of seriousness that’s not taken like I’m trying to get a rise out of folks. I don’t think they understand that it’s about achieving a level of being who I want to be. I am invested because it’s connected to who I see myself as and not just this (pointing to herself and referring to the outer appearance.)

BWBK: For me, because poverty was such a reality, both in experience and witnessing it, I stay hoarding money. I stash money [all over the] place and the shit is nuts- in socks, in the elephant piggy back, in the jars I put my rice water in for my hair. I’m the type of person where I check my bank account every morning- that’s a ritual. 

I had a heart-to-heart with my mom about two weeks ago and I had to tell her like, “Yo, you were not good with money and neither was Dad.” It’s really hard when two people are together and they’re not good at the same thing. My father was excellent at making money but not good about maintaining money. As quick as it would come, was as quick as it would go. The [curse I’m trying to break] is this issue with not  planning- not planning for the future, not planning for when you’re no longer here.

So one thing I wanted to know is, how do you hold yourself accountable to maintaining the changes that you’ve made so you don’t relapse into the familiar? I don’t want to say comfortable because I don’t believe people who are struggling are comfortable with it; they just may not know another way.

Kristina: I call it my auto-pilot and I try not to slip back into my auto-pilot. Perfect example, the way I engage with my nephews and the way I hope to engage with my children, is different from the way my mom and dad engaged with us. Discipline was swift and it was what it was. And I see the way other people engage with their children and they talk to them. There’s a consequence but there’s a discussion and a rationalization. 

I try to be conscious of that with my nephews. So when my auto-pilot says pop the shit out of them and fling them across the room and even when what they’re saying makes no sense cause they’re lying to me, the first thing I try to say [simply] is, “Don’t lie to me.” I rather they tell me the truth than make up this elaborate story thinking they’re protecting me.

It’s easy to slip into auto-pilot cause that’s the response you know. [My siblings and I] always laugh saying, “If we would’ve done this, mom would’ve done this.” I had to recognize that that’s not necessarily healthy for your child not to be able to express him/herself. You have to recognize that you’re passing down the idea that it’s more important NOT to be heard. So we need to build new schemas; new auto-pilots.

I need to ask myself, Why am I thinking that? Why is that my first response? Where does that come from? Is that something I wanna pass on to the generations coming after me?

BWBK: It’s great that you said that because I have things that I default to as well that were part of my childhood. LikeThe Belt, capital T, capital B that hung off the edge of the door- last name Belt first name The. And you didn’t fuck around with your parents when that leather strap was hanging from the door. 

[It took a while] but I had to get in the mindset that my children [should] respect me rather than fear me. All of that, “You better be scared of me, you better know I’ll whoop your ass” and it’s super unhealthy [for everyone involved.] One of the things that generational curses pass down is trauma and I don’t want my kids to feel like they’re traumatized by me. 

I love the questions you came up with because that could be like a self-help guide or an introduction to breaking generational curses. I thought that was brilliant. I have to ask myself that sometimes: Why are you responding like that? What are you trying to get out of this situation? [Your son] is four. Why are you so hype?…

My parents valued intellect and athleticism. The problem with that was if you weren’t doing any of that shit (i.e. books and sports) then no one was really checking for you. The problem with that is we didn’t really develop any other skills or hobbies. 

But [my daughter] Kaori was in cheerleading, chess club, drama club, technology club and she played guitar for seven seconds and still has the guitar from Kindergarten. But I wanted her to understand that nothing was off limits to her.  

Kristina: Understanding history has really helped me to question my actions. I took a workshop about Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and the way we pass trauma down to our children. I don’t wanna whip my children because massa whooped my great-great grandmother. In every curse, it’s like, why are we like this? And thinking about it that way. 

BWBK: How does the work that you’ve been doing on yourself keep you hopeful and how does it keep you more connected to community?

Kristina: So it keeps me hopeful because I’m working on myself and ultimately I’ll show up better for my community because I’m better. I’m conscious of certain things and I share that with everyone: co-workers, friends, kids, adults. Your father could’ve been a drug dealer, your grandfather could’ve been a drug dealer and you can be a drug dealer but that’s not [what’s] destined for you. You have to understand at some point that that’s a choice… 

I’m not just talking about it, I’m being about it. Everyday, I’m working on the things that are not healthy for me.

BWBK: The last thing I want to ask you, and maybe I should have ended on the last question but I wanted to know this: Do you ever hold any resentment towards your family or community, and if so then for what?

[For example,] there are times when I really wish my parents would have taught me financial literacy. Why are we always living from paycheck to paycheck? Sometimes there’s no transparent or healthy conversation around money…even if you don’t have it. 

The only thing you hear is, “We don’t got money for that. Put that back. We don’t got money for that” instead of talking about what prevents you from having money both systemically and personally. 

Kristina: I definitely feel like resentment is the word I would use. I feel like I went through that for a long time, resenting the things that I wasn’t taught; resenting the ideas that were passed down about not telling the business. Not seeking therapy. White people don’t need to know your business. Religion was a big thing- you can’t not be religious cause you’re Black. 

I had to come to a place like, they did the best they could with what they knew and so I have to do better. Ultimately, I can live in the blame space but that’s not gonna move me forward… Why don’t we have money? Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to revere white people cause y’all stepped off the sidewalk when y’all was little?

BWBK: Remember that was a challenge? That was a whole fucking challenge like don’t be inconveniencing yourself cause white people are walking down the street. I thought it was a powerful yet subtle way of breaking those generational curses. Cause your grandfather and your parents stepped off the sidewalk…you will NOT. 

Is there anything you wanna end on? We should end on The Why. Why do you think that was the topic to bring to the platform?

Kristina: I feel like our generation is in such an evolution right now. I don’t know about all of us but there’s a large enough [number] who are thinking about the way our parents were and are trying to be different and better. So I feel like we need to talk about it. 

Even looking at the art that’s being produced, the things we’re reading- there’s so many ways that it’s coming up and bubbling up for folks. We trying to get free and we trying to get free in a lot of ways. We’re trying to raise our children differently; we’re trying to exist in the world differently; we’re demanding things; we’re trying to operate better financially and spiritually.

BWBK: We also talk about these things because when we bring it to the table, we’ve either done the work [although we’re never finished doing the work] or we are in the process of doing the work. Things start with individual conversations and then we end up expanding that to Black Excellence and then outside of ourselves.

With that being said, this was amazing. Folks, please engage in the comments and follow Black Women Be Knowing on IG. Kristina, send us off.

Kristina: You know what? We Black women and we be knowing…about everything.

BWBK: Mics are dropping!

Black women be identifying their generational curses.

Black women be breaking their generational curses.

Black women be passing down generational blessings.

And if you don’t know, now you be knowing.

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  1. Thank you Khalya and Kristina! Thank you for this timely topic. I am certainly working towards breaking my generational curse of Type 2 Diabetes. I am choosing not to wear the proud badge of ” I got sugar”. I am choosing health and working towards the reversal of my diagnosis….my generational curse no more!! Again, thank you for the inspiration!

  2. I had to hear this discussion more than once, as I moved through different spaces each time I heard the speakers. This came at such a crazy reflective time for me and I have to say that not only did I relate to this topic but I was profoundly entrenched in this reflective state of thought and discomfort. Khalya Hopkins and Kristina R Dowtin you brought up such deep, deep feelings that I wondered where I stood in this mixed emotional space. I come from a long line of those curses; poverty, abuse, expectations on female children, women, ways in which we act, etc. Each generation starting with my grandmother has tested these traditions of oppression, my mother challenged the “stay at home model,” and I feel I have been able to invest in the freedom of oppressive expectations with my daughter. I focus this post on my daughter because I want her to define who she is. I want her to move through genuine spaces of self. I want her to experience the power of voice. I worked really hard on me- so that I can give that gift to her. I can keep saying more, but then I would probably do the ugly cry and I am in an extremely emotionally charged place today. Thank you for this podcast. I will probably listen to it again tonight!

  3. This was pleasing to read… definitely a conversation that needs to be spoke on more often i personally feel “stuck“ was a great word.. I would go with “ignorance“. Moving and shaking to find ways to abandon these generational curses you come across plenty people who don’t want the knowledge, they’ve grown comfortable with their current or past state whether it be financial, personal health or dietary. I would love to see more camaraderie between our people and accountability to move forward. Keep it up ladies.

  4. I was really excited about this topic. The one thing that stuck out to me is just breaking the cycle of living in poverty. I think a lot off ppl in our generation are trying to break that cycle. Trying to be more financially literate so they can actually pass something down that’s if value to their children. I think as a community we have a long way to go but we are making strides. This was a great read as always and you both definitely put things into perspective.

  5. This is my FAVORITE episode yet! Kristina and Khalya your share gave me chills! Yes to raising kids to be free! Yes to being Black and any and everything you want! Yes to breaking curses by trying and sustaining new habits.
    I’m a black woman who believes in and have participated in therapy because I realized one day I’m just doing what has been done- but I’m not sure if I like it; I’m not sure if it’s serving me. Lawd knows those familial dysfunctions follow you and are hella hard to change. So I took a leap and said, let me invest in a professional to help me process this.

    Listen y’all, I love my parents deeply and I recognize their struggle to give me more education and more opportunities. Everything that makes me great is because of them… everything I know about building walls and getting in my own way is also because of them. And if that isn’t an everyday mind F’ that threatens your sanity, I don’t know what is. So let me put a hand up and say AMEN to that freeing and candid moment where you all shared some resentments of your dear and loved parents… cause all feelings are valid. Period!

    Because of my parents sacrifice and struggle- I processed many things as if I should be exempt from the (nurtured) deficits in my understandings of how to navigate healthy love, finance, physical, emotional and spiritual life. And there is sooo much shame in our community sometimes for being “ungrateful.” But gratitude is not synonymous with being complacent. We should emulate, match and surpass, the generations before us. Yes, I’m grateful for all the dopeness I was raised to be. But I also rebuke the rest that holds me stifled in the purgatory of the curse. I rebuke the feeling of shame because I want different and at times better! Yea, I said it! Fight me!

    No one is exempt and the work is never done.

    This episode was a whole mood! And a hell of a word. I receive it!

    Love y’all!

    1. Family secrets can be dangerous. Secrets allow the patterns continue. This definitely has me thinking hard about how to break these curses. I really believe that these secrets are the nucleus of the generational curse. So often I remember being told what goes on in this house stays in this house. But some of that s**t needed to be told.

  6. This piece was timely af for me to read this morning. What resonated me for me mainly was the harm that we sustain from our families for years sometimes before we come to the understanding that tat shit is not protecting anybody, not helping anyone the way we may been taught to believe. The hurt and damaged caused can only be broken when we have the courage to do the hard work of recognizing, that this is abuse, not love.

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