Why ‘Play Cousins’ Are An Important Part Of Black Families

two people standing next to each other with arms crossed
Briona Lamback
January 29, 2024

Growing up many of us had “play cousins” who weren’t biologically related to us but were given those titles through relationships our parents valued, usually with close friends. For many, these bonds are one of the earliest forms of belonging we experience.

We know it takes a village to raise a child, and having play cousins strengthens familiarity, maintains community connections, and gives children access to support circles. Experts say that play family helps provide emotional support, guidance, and a sense of belonging that helps our children thrive.

Having play cousins isn’t new to us either. The concept is deeply rooted in our culture, likely extending back to West African beliefs about community and extended family networks. During enslavement, fictive kin relationships helped our people compensate for the loss of biological ties intentionally torn apart by bondage.

It’s a tradition that thrives because we need each other. Play cousins help children learn the importance of mutual support and cooperation–principles they can carry into adulthood. Poet Gwendolyn Brooks says it best: “We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.”

We’ve always been communal people. Togetherness is how we’ve survived and will continue to thrive.

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