“My mother, like every Black mother, has been slandered. But we know a lie when we see it…How dare they? How dare they? When our Black mother is the only reason we know how to breathe and survive despite the toxic racism filling this world. How dare they? – Alexis Pauline Gumbs from Revolutionary Mothering (a Black woman who be knowing)
Happy Mother’s Day!!! It’s time to give it up for all of the mamas, expecting mamas, mamis, abuelas, aunties, godmothers, and all the women who mother. It’s always great to see the many pics on folks’ timelines celebrating the dope ass women who raised them. #ThankYourMama
This can be a heavy time because we are also celebrating the mothers and women who have transitioned and the women who have lost children. So it’s more important than ever to gather in community and be there for one another as this time can bring both joy and pain.
I just finished reading Dani McClain’s We Live for the We and let me learn you- she had me thinking some things. I always know a book is good when I don’t agree with everything that’s said but it makes me revisit my own thinking, practices and in this case, my mothering.
We all know Black women just do shit differently: the way we talk, grind, show up and in this case, the way we mother. Originally, this post was going to be about my love for my dope ass Black babies but after reading this book, I decided to go in another direction. Because as much as I love being a mother, it took a lot for me to be one. I want my children to read this and understand that their mama fought like hell to be here for them and sometimes my dignity, my feelings and my survival were at stake.
I am a Black mother who knows that the odds are stacked against me and my children which is why I’m always hype to celebrate another Mother’s Day. So here are some of the ways that I have mothered fiercely, resiliently and unapologetically in spite of the circumstances that have tried to break me.
Institutions be trying to kill Black mamas.
McClain’s first chapter, “Birth” goes into the ways Black mothers and soon-to-be-mothers are affected by the stressors of seeing the constant execution of Black bodies by the state. The images of Black people like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile dying at the hands of racist ass police officers caused her to really think about “[her] health and [her] fetus’s health.” That meant simply unplugging at times because she was just in a constant state of emotional distress.
I understand this all too well. My biggest fear was having a Black son. It was as though the Goddess forced me to face my fear because now I have an amazing 3 year old son who I wouldn’t trade for peace of mind any day of the week. But Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice weighed heavy on my mind throughout my pregnancy. I couldn’t simply pick out baby clothes and choose baby names. I would dream of picking out a funeral dress and choosing a casket.
Sandra Bland added a layer of fear that I didn’t originally have for my Black daughter. I was so worried for my son that I didn’t think critically about the dangers of having a Black daughter because no Black body is exempt from state violence. This is the way America tries to frighten Black women out of being mothers. They make examples out of our children. McClain says that “the American experience tears away at the black body.” Ain’t that the damn truth.
It’s not just the police that shits on Black women but doctors as well. We were all shocked when women like Beyonce, Serena Williams and Remy Ma discussed their complications and feelings of disregard while in labor. And if they can’t receive quality care, you know it’s a miracle that the rest of us and our babies survive. As McClain points out, “Black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than our white counterparts, and black babies are twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday.”
That shit is beyond cray. What in the whole fuck can be the reason for this besides racism? (insert final jeopardy music here.)
I tell the stories of birthing my children to fellow mothers, expecting mothers and people who I jokingly try to convince not to be mothers. I think people are never really honest about labor: the pain, the blood, the healing involved with giving birth. I also realized that I wasn’t fully being honest with myself.
Recently, I was talking to one of my other fly ass Black mama friends and we began to talk about maternity leave and how shitty that is, especially if yo ass is broke because you can’t leave for very long and actually be a mother. And then we began to speak about the number of hours we were in labor and the way we were wishing that our babies would get out of our damn bodies.
During that discussion, I began to speak words in a way that I hadn’t before. I was 15 years old when I had my first child; everyone who knows me, knows that. I didn’t have an epidural, another fun fact that I never forget to mention. But the part that I pushed in the back of my mind and don’t speak about as often is the fact that I was left to go through the excruciating pain of labor by myself.
My mother arrived at the hospital with me when I was 3 cm dilated and I was left in a room ALONE for two and a half hours until I was 9 cm dilated. I was a young Black girl, surrounded by white walls and emptiness as I was about to bring another life into this world. I learned from that hospital that my life didn’t matter; my care didn’t matter and my wellness was given a huge middle finger.
I tried to crawl out of the bed.
And eventually I just waited as the pain became more frequent and more intense.
I asked the nurse, who came in to check on me twice in two and a half hours, where my mother was and she responded with a simple, “She’s in the waiting area. You can see her when you’re closer to actually giving birth.” I didn’t question her again. I was taught not to. They were the professionals- the experts- so I assumed that my treatment was protocol. But it was violence and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I could call it what it was.
I wasn’t prepared to be a mama but my daughter came and I knew that I was ready to fight, scratch and claw to be there for her and protect her as best I could. I don’t blame my mom for what happened but I know good and got damn well that shit will never happen to my daughter.
So yes, I beat the odds that day and I had to beat many more after.
Muhfuckers be sleeping on young Black mamas.
I was recently listening to an NPR segment, called “Do They Kick Out Pregnant People? Navigating College with Kids” and it was really informative and uplifting. People tend to equate young moms, especially young Black mamas, with being high school dropouts and women who’ve basically thrown their lives away.
The statistics highlighted aren’t necessarily the best news but it’s hopeful. I was shocked to read that “4 million college students, a fifth of all undergrads, are parents.” The part that didn’t shock me: “About 70 percent are women and more likely to be from low-income families and students of color.” Lastly, “2 in 5 black women in college are mothers, and the majority of them are single.” So yes, it felt like this segment was talking about me because to a certain extent, it was.
I was the 2 out of 5 and I came from a low-income family. I wasn’t supposed to be a success, let naysayers and the data tell my story. The hopeful part of the narrative was pointing out that student parents tend to “have better GPAs and grades than their classmates.” Speaking as a woman who graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, I fall into that category too. Ooowww.
There are two mistakes people make when they speak to me about my experience. The first is assuming that it can’t be done and the other issue is assuming that because I was able to beat the odds, everyone else in my predicament should just pull themselves up and do the same.
I ain’t gonna lie. The struggle was real and sometimes still is. But when people act as if it shouldn’t have been done, I’m like, “My daughter lit that fire under my ass.” Who knows what I would’ve done had she not been a part of my story. Everything in my life became so much more urgent and I realized that my degrees weren’t just for me but were to set an example for her. I always brag that Kaori has been to every one of my graduations including high school, undergrad and three graduate degrees. The motivation goes both ways.
But don’t assume that everyone’s setup is the same. We all don’t choose the same route nor should we. I was one of many teen mothers in high school and I see a few of the mothers I went to high school with on social media and we’re all out here just trying to mother the best we can and be an example to our children. Whether we attended college, finished college or went on to get advanced degrees, we love our babies and we bust our asses for them.
Despite what many might think, we out here getting shit done!
Errbody be having an opinion about Black mamas.
So lately, I’ve been dealing with a different level of bullshit: people who think that I’m not mothering enough. I dealt with the expected criticism of being a teen mom. People called me a fast ass, a statistic and whatever else is said about young girls who grow up too fast.
But 15 years later, after having my second child and being in a very different space in my life, I still gotta deal with women who think they know what my role should be and I need to live up to their expectations. While I don’t have to explain myself, I’m gonna say a few words so people understand why I might have to shut some haters down sooner than later.
Let me give you the abbreviated story: (sits down, fluffs fro and folds hands):
Who’s talking shit now? One of the caregivers at my son’s daycare.
What is she saying? Wack shit like, “I haven’t seen you in a while” and “Hey Stranger, long time no see.” (I’ll provide context in a minute)
When is this wack shit said? Whenever this woman sees me and thinks that I’m deaf, dumb or a combination of the two and she thinks I won’t catch her shady ass comments.
Where does this happen? At the daycare, typically in front of my son’s father.
Why? Cause sometimes Black women just wanna tear another Black woman down.
So the agreement between me and my son’s father is that he will drop off and pick up our son. I have chosen to loosen my grip this time around because I have a partner who’s very much involved. I raised my daughter as a single mother for the majority of her life and I’m hype as fuck to have someone who shares the responsibility.
But these folks don’t know that. So because they see him dropping my son off and picking him up (as we arranged, mind you), the narrative has become that I’m an absent parent. I come for ceremonies, parent-teacher conferences and I sometimes come with his father to pick him up. But somehow that’s not good enough.
It’s a damn shame cause they are so good to my son and he enjoys his time at school. However, I know a few things to be true:
- When my ass used to drop my daughter off and pick her up everyday, no one ever asked me where her father was and why he didn’t show his face at her school.
- This is the type of shit that makes families feel unwelcome. Unnecessary comments are just that- unnecessary. Just like the principal who enforced a dress code for parents (mainly Black mothers) who came to her school. #Unnecessary #FuckYourRespectabilityPolitics
- As long as my son comes to school fed, healthy and happy, who the fuck cares who gets him from school?
I would say more but what for? I’m gonna quote my son and simply say, “Mind your business sis.” To be a mother is to always receive unsolicited advice, input and opinions but to be a Black mother is to receive additional judgment, contempt and sometimes just utter Tom Foolery.
But I’m unapologetic about taking advantage of having a partnership. I won’t do more for someone’s opinion I don’t value. FOH! Consider the mic dropped.
Black Mothering Philosophy
Getting back to the book- McClain really caused me to think about my philosophy as a Black mother. She touches on so many concerns such as whether or not to give our kids spankings and for what purpose; do we send our children to schools that are academically rigorous and successful but damages our children’s self worth and pride in their Blackness (something that my son’s father and I are grappling with at the moment); and how to create a spiritual foundation for our children.
All of these things consume my thoughts almost every damn day. Shit is quite exhausting. But I plan to get together with my sista circle and craft a Black Mothering Philosophy because this is such a crucial part of who we are as Black women. No matter what I craft, I have to make sure that my philosophy includes joy, laughter, celebration and gentleness- gentleness with my kids and myself (cause I can be a bit rough in both cases.)
Being a mother has been the best thing I’ve ever done. I won’t allow racism, low expectations or irrelevant people to minimize my greatest accomplishments in life.
Shout out to Kaori and Kasir, my two melanated geniuses.
While I have the floor, I wanna give a shout out to these fly ass Black mamas:
My mother, Lisa, my grandmother, Peggy, Aunt Michelle, Aunt Ronie, Mama Iris, my daughter’s godmother, Ebony. My “Black mama sista circle”: Cynthia, Ann, Felicia, Nerissa. My friend, Amber, my son’s grandmother, Vivian (RIP), my son’s godmother, Ingrid, Kim, Christina, Philicia, my cousin, Princess and all of the Black mamas I didn’t name but inspire and influence me.
Drop a line in the comments giving a shout out to the Black mamas who have reared, inspired and loved on you.
Black mothering is tough.
Black mothering is worth it.
Black mothering is revolutionary.
And if you don’t know, now you be knowing.