For the vast majority of women bringing a child into the world triggers something so deep and so primal within that until we take our last breath we will forever be conditioned to put the health and welfare of our child first. (Obviously there are exceptions) I saw this clearly in my mother’s last weeks and days, after having brain surgery to remove a fast growing tumor, when she finally became conscious she was not the same person she was prior to the surgery. But she never forgot she was a mother, the last conversations she was clearly able to articulate centered on my brother and I, telling my father to remember our birthdays, etc. One of the last conversations she had with me was by phone and she was so weak…yet when the nurse put her on the phone, she whispered daughter. So weak that she could not utter my given name yet she knew I was her child. It was at that moment I realized that mothering never stops; it simply changes shape even when our children become adults as I am now learning with my own son.
That said, no matter what our financial circumstances we all want the best for our children. In today’s world we are seeing a revolution in mothering which we see clearly being played out within social media, on television and books. Many women in my generation (Gen X) are refashioning our lives to be the best mothers we can be for our children as evidenced in the rise of stay at home mothers. Yet for women with meager financial resources, doing one’s best can take many forms, going to school so that we can eventually get better paying jobs, etc.
This brings me to Kelley Williams Bolar, a Black mother currently serving a 10 day sentence in Ohio. Her crime? Sending her children to an out of district school as her local school was neither safe nor adequate. Ms. Williams-Bolar made the choice to do the best for her kids by sending her kids to an out of district suburban school that incidentally her father, the kid’s grandfather resides in. However this is a crime. The reality though is that this sort of thing has been going on forever, perhaps if schools were not funded so unfairly in our nation a parent would not have to make the decision to break the law in order to make sure that their kids receive an adequate education.
I won’t say that Williams-Bolar didn’t break the law but her punishment for a crime that if we are honest is victimless is 10 days in jail, probation and community service. More importantly because she was convicted of a felony, she now risks being disqualified to teach. See, Williams-Bolar is a senior in college looking to pursue a career in education; she currently works as a teacher’s aide. Apparently the judge wanted to make an example out of Williams-Bolar and deter others from skirting the law. Now as you can guess, the area Williams-Bolar resides in is predominantly Black and poor and the schools she sent her kids to was predominantly white and middle class.
There are some who are saying that race should not be an issue, but let’s be honest. Do you think this would have happened had Williams-Bolar been white? Of course not! Oh, she may have been caught and there may have been repercussions but a felony? Not likely.
While mothering and motherhood is simply not valued in this culture, I think it’s even less valued when the mother is a woman of color. Historically Black women were not allowed to mother our own kids; instead we were forced to mother other’s kids. It’s why the image of the Mammy still exists, we are seen as mothers of others but not our own kids. I think this is why it’s shocking to some when we see a Black mother fighting to mother her own kids and give the best we can to our kids. It’s why Black stay at home Moms are still perceived as oddities even in solidly middle class neighborhoods. It’s why when a Black mom shows up to be a class helper or accompany the class to the field trip we are looked at with skepticism. Its why even in the blogosphere there are literally only a handful of mothers of color whose blogs are highly rated and last time I checked while there are plenty of Mamas who have turned mothering into a money making venture with blogs that are producing real income and book deals. I have yet to see a Black or Latina mother receive these same accolades and rewards. Our mothering is simply not valued. This along with classism and racism is why Kelly Williams-Bolar is sitting in a jail cell as I type this separated from her kids with her future looking not too bright.
The only real crime in my eyes that Kelley is guilty of is wanting a better life for her kids yet doing that in a system that does not value her as a mother, a woman and most certainly a poor person.