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As a Black Mother, My Parenting Is Always Political

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When I was 7 or 8 years old, my mother would put on Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” every day before we left home for school and work, and we sang along from start to finish. Standing in the living room moments before we shrugged on our coats, we belted out lyrics about self-reliance and persistence, finding a kind of armor through song. We wrapped ourselves in the richness and power of Whitney’s voice, reaching for the high notes right along with her. I can’t remember how long this lasted, but I consider it a defining ritual of my childhood. She’s too young now, but I plan to do something similar with my daughter, Isobel, who is 2. Black children and their families need this. We need a kind of anthem, a melodic reminder to ourselves and each other that we are not who the wider world too often tells us we are: criminal, disposable, lazy, undeserving of health or peace or laughter.

Black mothers like me know that motherhood is deeply political. Black women are more likely to die during pregnancy or birth than women of any other race. My own mother, who has never married and who worked full-time throughout my childhood, is a model for my own parenting, but culture-war messages from the left and the right tell us she fell short of maternal ideals. My grandmother, great-grandmother, aunts, and elders in the community supported my mother as she raised me. Their investment in me and in other children—some their blood relations, some not—demonstrated an ethic that we can all learn from. Sociologist Patricia Hill Collins has called this “other-mothering,” a system of care through which black mothers are accountable to and work on behalf of all black children in a particular community. “I tell my daughter all the time: We don’t live for the ‘I.’ We live for the ‘we,’” Cat Brooks, an organizer in Oakland, told me.

In addition to serving as other-mothers, we’ve had to fight for our right to be mothers. Prior to Emancipation, the child of an enslaved woman was someone else’s property. Slave owners routinely destabilized enslaved people’s lives, severing kinship structures rooted in marriage and blood ties; family as a concept became elastic and inclusive.

Because of this history, black women have had to inhabit a different understanding of motherhood in order to navigate American life. If we merely accepted the status quo and failed to challenge the forces that have kept black people and women oppressed, then we participated in our own and our children’s destruction. In recent years, this has become especially evident, as dozens of black women and men have had to stand before television cameras reminding the world that their recently slain children were in fact human beings, were loved and sources of joy. The mothers of those killed by police or vigilante violence embody every black mother’s deepest fears: that we will not be able to adequately protect our children from or prepare them for a world that has to be convinced of their worth. Many parents speak of feeling more fear and anxiety once they take responsibility for keeping another human alive and well. But black women especially know fear—how to live despite it and how to metabolize it for our children so that they’re not consumed by it.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !