The dance of Black motherhood or the journey to humanity

To choose to bring a child into the world is not for the faint of heart; to make the decision to raise a child is to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and, in essence, to gamble with your heart and soul. That child you nurture and raise can grow up to be the next CEO, ax murderer or decide that your parenting choices were so horrendous that they turn their back on you when they come of age. To parent or, specifically, mother while Black is to take all the pressure that mothers everywhere face and to have them amplified and projected for all to see and to be judged in a way that other mothers can only imagine.

This past week, Toya Graham, a Baltimore mother, saw her acts of parenting go viral in a moment that has been dissected and judged by many including yours truly. To recap, Toya’s 16-year-old son was attempting to join the protesters in Baltimore when his mother caught sight of him and physically hauled his ass off but not before laying hands on him which, in 2015, meant the moment was recorded and sent off into the world for all to see. The family is currently having their “15 minutes of fame” and hopefully something positive will come of their viral moment.

Personally, I am not a fan of laying hands on kids. The last time that I laid hands on one of my children was when my now 23-year-old son was 4 and I was a frustrated and young divorcee. I have apologized many times over for that moment, it wasn’t my finest and I swore to never repeat it again. Now with two kids and 23 years of parenting experience, I have kept that promise. However, I have learned in all my years of parenting that to raise Black kids is to exist in that same state of duality that scholar W.E.B. DuBois wrote of on the Black experience in the early 1900s.

I love, nurture and care for my babies but at the same time, they must understand that the weight of their skin color carries an extra burden. It is viewed differently than their white peers. That meant for my son unlearning any notion that the police were his friends. He learned that lesson at 16 when he was accused of looking like a suspect who turned out to be a short white man but not before he was brought home in the back of the squad car for the infraction of buying a sandwich at a local snack shop and walking home to eat it. It’s the lesson he now understands everytime he is stopped for the simple act of driving while Black and has his car illegally searched. It’s why he is stopped more often than any of his white peers when he hasn’t even violated any traffic laws. It is the price of Blackness, and as a parent it has meant instilling in him the tips for how to survive in this world that is unforgiving for Black skin especially Black, male skin.

The Baltimore mom said her actions were the actions of a mom just wanting to keep her son safe and I believe it. When my son at 16 first encountered the unjust realities of this world, I too got scared but I made different choices. I now fight the system that created this unjust burden that weighs heavily on Black and Brown skin and criminalizes our young. We all do the best that we can with the tools that we have at hand.

As Black mothers, we carry an unfair burden that our white counterparts rarely face. We are asked to carry the weight of the Black community on our backs. Part of why Toya Graham’s story has gone viral is the misplaced notion that all that ails the Black community is a simple need for more Black parents better parent their children. As a Black woman and mother that offends me because the majority of Black parents I know and have met along my life journey are parenting their kids. They are parenting often against the odds in a world hostile to our existence and the existence of our kids. They are often parenting in conditions that are unknown to far too many white people. It is the unfortunate side effect of the racial silos that exist in this country that so many people assume that all things are equal based off our their own often limited views.

This morning I came across this piece in today’s New York Times written by a fellow Black mom and frankly it annoyed me even more than the think pieces that have been written about Toya Graham. In part because, in an attempt to talk about the state of Black motherhood in the United States, it dehumanizes all Black mothers by stripping away the individuality of Black mothers. Yes, we face challenges that our white peers may not face but that doesn’t mean that as women and mothers, we don’t have our own tender and even confused moments as mothers. To be a Black woman does not mean we possess some supernatural abilities that are only given to Black women. While we often are not as active in the current day game of mommy wars, I have shared many spaces with Black women as we grapple with the same pieces of humanity that are white counterparts do. It’s just that rarely are our tender and vulnerable moments aired and celebrated as our white counterparts are.

The dance of Black motherhood is a delicate dance that does exact a toll but at the same time we are all humans journeying on a path doing the best that we can, some of us with heavier loads but in the end all deserve to have their humanity recognized and acknowledged in this world.

Yep, we want a place at the table too! Mothering while brown…imagine that?

Sometimes you read an article that just speaks to your soul so much that you think the author snuck in your brain and stole your thoughts. That’s the case with this piece I read late last night by Kimberly Seals Allers, Ms. Allers basically summed up many of the thoughts that I have had recently when it comes to the growing motherhood dialogue in this country. Hell, my most popular post ever on this blog was when I talked about Babble’s lack of diversity, there is a huge dearth of voices when it comes to mothers of color talking motherhood and the reality is, our experiences are not valued. The thing is there is not a shortage of mothers of color talking; the problem is our voices don’t get the same play that our white counterparts get.

That truth was brought home a few nights back when I found myself engaging with several other moms of color on twitter, all highly successful women in their careers who are passionate in their mothering and who also happen to be bloggers and writers. From where I sit here on the ground I often thought many of these women were further up the writer ladder than me but they all admitted to feeling hemmed in, that our stories never get the same credit and exposure as our white counterparts. That while we don’t hold any animosity for our white counterparts, but why in 2012 is there not a Black Dooce?  A Black Pioneer Woman or hell a Black Bloggess? Sure the powers to be will put a few of us on the list of “tops” but by and large none of us are trading in our day jobs to write full time, and that for the most part if any of us were looking to turn our passion for words and mothering into a living, we’d be on steady diets of rice without the beans.

Needless to say reading Allers piece brought that point back home for me. Allers is correct in that the reason for the lack of true diverse representations in motherhood is that by and large Black motherhood is considered an anomaly. The expectations are that we are breeders and loud mouth bitches and clearly the few of us who do it well are the exception and not the rule.

The larger question for me though is how do we change the larger dialogue so that we do have a place at the table? Lately I find myself wondering that rather than begging to be squeezed in at table that doesn’t seem to want us, maybe the answer is to get our own table. Then I am reminded that resources are needed and that’s where we face a downhill battle. Even in the blogosphere, the most popular bloggers conferences are short on diversity, and while there are conferences and spaces for bloggers of color, too many times due to a lack of resources they lack the ability to reach out. Hell, I only discovered the Blogging While Black conference mere weeks before it happened and I am not the only one…yet everyone knows of BlogHer. Some years back there was a list of top Black bloggers but it fell by the wayside, maybe we need to bring it back and somehow let brands and others know we are a powerful block too.

In any event, we are more than simply Mammies, Sapphires and Jezebels are stories are equally worthy of being heard, on the big and small screens as well as in print and we are equally deserving of earning a living from the telling of those stories as our white counterparts.

A Woman’s Work…

Today I bring you a guest post from Detoursfromhome, my baby sister in spirit as I have called her for many years. Enjoy!

About two months ago, I had “the talk” with my gynecologist–the infamous “birds and the bees” talk, wherein she reminded me about the looming dangers of getting pregnant…at this age. You see, I’m turning 35 in a month and, apparently, in the medical community that is a time to sound the alarm. As if I didn’t already know, she proceeded to tell me that I needed to think about having kids soon—asking me all kinds of questions about my personal life with my (now ex) boyfriend, telling me that in “egg years” mine were on the verge of extinction. Even the word menopause entered the conversation. After all of this, she decided to inject some of her own personal life into our talk. She told me that she was the oldest of 10 kids; because of her experience as the older sister-mother, she and her husband decided not to have kids. I sat there bewildered as to why a seemingly intelligent, professional woman who had purposely chosen childlessness for herself would feel the need to project unnecessary baby panic into my life, especially in 2011.

After leaving the office and lifting myself out of the depression into which I was plummeted by this conversation, I began to think about the social pressure to have children particularly among highly educated, successful, professional women. I know this topic has been done to death. Yet, it seemed especially relevant to me considering what I’m seeing among my close friends who are mothers, some stay-at-home, some working. They all love their children. But, a few of my working mother friends have admitted to me that, if they could, they would be stay-at-home moms because of their job’s unwillingness to accommodate their lives as mothers who work. Having barely developed a rhythm between her and her child, the mother rushes back to work after three months; her boss harasses her during her time off; and she pours obscene amounts—if not her entire share of the spousal income—into daycare. I don’t blame them. Under these circumstances, I’d want to stay home as well. My friends’ complaints seemed to have all one thing in common: they would rather invest their energy in the home than fighting a system that does not and has never accommodated them as mothers.

There is so much social pressure to have children, but there is very little pressure to keep women at work, and to reform our workforce so that women can be successful at home and in the office. And it seems like all these talented women—including my married, childless gynecologist—have bought into the idea that women must choose where they can do their best work. And, ultimately, that choice pushes them out of the workforce.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an attack on stay-at-home parenting. To be a stay-at-home mom, like any decision a woman makes about her body, is a personal choice. And, often, it can be the best, most fruitful choice for a woman, her child, her home and/or her spouse. But, rarely do we hear of men staying at home, with few exceptions—one of them being my friend Steve who chose to forgo his career so that his wife Ruth could go on to an Ivy League school to pursue her doctorate in sociology. Ruth is now one of the country’s top sociologists in education and race; meanwhile, Steve lives happily as a part-time campus minister and stay-at-home dad. Nonetheless, this example is rare. When I see droves of highly educated, degreed women—I’m talking about women with Master’s, MBAs, and doctorates—retreating to the home because there is no space for them at work to navigate and balance both options, it gives me pause. It makes me sad. And it makes me realize that, in spite of all our degrees and our so-called “progress”, this is still a man’s world. And it horrifies me. When I hear of places like Canada, France and Mexico (yes! Mexico!)—which are certainly not utopias and are fraught with their own social and political ills—where women get significant time off and, in some instances, child care subsidies, I realize how far we have yet to climb as a nation. I fear that, the more women stay at home, the more we are creating an ethical vacuum in a male-dominated system that, as we can see, is crumbling due to its own unchecked greed and corruption.

I don’t want to prevent women from staying-at-home. I want to make a way for women to stay at work.

My gynecologist may very well have had good intentions by giving me “the talk”; in fact, she was probably doing her job. However she probably doesn’t realize that my having a child—under my current circumstances—would require me to make a choice that would not only impact me but, especially, the system in which I work, where faces and voices like mine are sorely needed. So, when she asks me next year why I’m not rushing to fill my womb with seed, I will remind her that I’m filling another space with another type of seed that, I hope, will endure for posterity—with my voice as a black woman.

Detoursfromhome is an on-again off-again blogger and a self-described recovering evangelical who is currently completing her Ph.D. in Latin American and Caribbean literature. Like Blackgirlinmaine, she hails from the Windy City but, perhaps foolhardily, decided to move to a large college town in the rural Midwest to pursue her graduate studies. When she’s not plowing through her dissertation, she likes running and discussing religion, politics, race and feminism.