Yesterday people across the United States celebrated, mourned, prayed or said an intention for their mothers. Whether biological, adoptive, fictive or something in between, mothers were given their moment to shine. Mother's Day is an opportunity for us all to say thank you to the woman or women in our lives for all the ways they bring forth life in us. And while no mother is perfect, and not all mother-child relationships are free of toxicity and harm, the celebration of motherhood is important to the fabric of a society. For Black communities, Black motherhood has kept us alive in a country determined to destroy us.
When Black women mother they do it as an act of community
The history of Black motherhood in the states is long and complex. From fictive kin relationships in the slave dens to "Madeas" and Grannies who raised their nieces, nephews and grandchildren so child protective services wouldn't break up the family. We have a beautiful tradition of care for others, whether blood relation or not.
As Camille Wilson reminds: "Other mothering is the practice of women rearing and caring for children, families, and/or kin who are not biologically related to them; it also encompasses women striving to uplift their communities through social activism, institutional reform and other means of communal care. African American feminist scholars originally named the concept of other mothering to help explain the various mothering strategies that U.S. slave women used to nurture and protect African American families who were intentionally separated, displaced, and exploited by white slaveholders. Within African American slave communities, other mothering served as a form of social and political resistance that helped support individuals, preserve culture, and strengthen communal ties."
When Black women mother they do it as an act of subversion
This country is unabashedly committed to waging war against Black bodies, Black lives. From the moment Black people transitioned from chattel to (second-class) citizens, our existence became a national liability; depreciated work tools; the physical equivalent to junk bonds. Because the dominant culture believed they no longer had any use for us, every institution that undergirds this society has conspired to bring Black bodies back under white control and dispatch the bodies that resist. So, when Black women teach their children to love their Blackness, reject white supremacy and collaborate with their siblings across the diaspora, they are subverting the genocidal project of hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy on which this country was built.
When Black women mother they defy historical tropes
In her 1985 book, Ar'n't I am Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South, historian Deborah Gray White details the historical tropes assigned to Black women by plantation owners and social thinkers of the antebellum era. One of the most lasting tropes is "The Mammy": The Black women who are completely asexual beings designed to focus their care and attention on white lives to the neglect of their own families. This trope could not have been farther from the reality of Black women's tendencies toward their children and families then or now. When Black women nurture their children with the physical and spiritual food of self-love and faith, we defy the idea that we neglect our families for anything or anybody.
When Black women mother they do it under heavy scrutiny
Black women are under constant surveillance. The methods we use to discipline our children, the foods we serve them, even the way we dress and groom them is constantly being evaluated by white people - in and outside of the state. When Black women are confronted by child welfare departments, they are found to be unfit more often than white women. As in other aspects of our lives, Black women are considered incapable of autonomy and decision-making. Our behaviors are regularly policed by strangers who feel entitled to control us for their comfort. Black women are expected to submit to dominant culture ideals in every way - including child-rearing. When we live in our authenticity, the white gaze is activated, and we are once again forced to protect ourselves and our children against an onslaught of unwanted critique and unmerited correction.
When Black women mother they keep our people alive
The support, counseling and protection of Black mothers is often the only barrier between Black communities and certain death. It is the fight in our hearts and the determination in our souls that sustain us when everything around us is working against us. Black mothers defend their children against the forces of racism, police brutality, gang violence, and unequal education. We do it with our whole hearts. We do it out of love. We do it be any means necessary. And because of this, our people survive. Our people thrive.
When we celebrate all mothers on the second Sunday in May we acknowledge their hard work and sacrifice for their family. When we celebrate Black mothers, we acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice to preserve an entire people.