black girls.

those loud black girls
those loud
black
girls.
aggressive, confrontational
loud, black girls.
depicted by
white-washed
sensationalized narratives
that project anger
onto those loud
black girls
who, we’re told,
need to be tamed.

a perceived threat
even when
our mouths
are closed
and our hands
are at ease.
no neck rolling,
no lips moving and
we’re still those loud
threatening
confrontational, black girls.
so no one flinches,
when we’re assaulted.
not a blink of an eye.
masculine bodies stand
gazing in silence
“brotha, help me.”
but no hands are outstretched.
and we are to believe
those loud
black girls
must have done something.
to deserve
to be snatched
and handled
oppressively.
because those loud
black girls
must be taught
to respect
authority
when it’s
white and male
and uniformed
and suited
and tied
by identical skin
“brotha, help me.”

and no one cares for
those loud
black girls
but
those loud black girls.

“are you okay, sis?”

for
we are not
those loud black girls.
we are daughters
and sisters.
we are
human.

Notes on Father’s (and Mother’s) Day…

I must admit, I always have to check the calendar to know when Father’s Day is approaching. It’s one of those holidays that I never spent much time celebrating. As a child, I looked forward to Mother’s Day. In school, we’d always create some artsy, awkward gift for our mothers. And Ma would smile like we’d given her the best gifts ever. I don’t remember what we did for Father’s Day. And I’m sure that my teachers organized some type of Father’s Day arts and crafts lesson, but it’s likely that I shied away from participation. As I’ve grown older, I approach Father’s Day with uncertain trepidation. Some years, I celebrated by purchasing a gift for my mother. Other times I’ve thought about sending my father a card but could never justify doing so. This year, I did neither. No gift for my mother; no thoughts of cards for my father. Ironically, I dreamt of him the night before Father’s Day and figured that was the Universe’s way of saying that he still resides in my emotional blind spot. I’m okay with that.

It’s not that I never knew great fathers. I had a god-father. I had uncles. I had a father-figure in my sister’s father. I knew fathers in the church. I have friends who are fathers. I had a husband who is now a great father to our son and my step-son. But I didn’t have my father, not with any consistency. He was there sometimes. I recall an instance when he came to a basketball game with me. I recall him taking me to eat once. I recall him taking my sister and me to play once. There might be other subdued memories, but the immediate recollections are minimal. So many of the lessons that stereotypically gendered notions of fatherhood would have us believe are taught to children by a male were actually taught to me by a female – my mother. My mother was the one who attempted to scare away the boys and tell me what they really wanted. My mother was the one who taught me the proper questions to ask when taking my car to be serviced. My mother was the one who taught me how to do yard work. And had I gotten married in a traditional ceremony, it would have been my mother to walk me down the aisle. So in my eyes, she deserved those gifts on Father’s Day – and any other day.

Purchasing a gift for my mother on Father’s Day or celebrating her on that day had very little to do with my father’s absence and more to do with her presence. Yet, social media would have us believe that celebrating mothers on Father’s Day – or doing the opposite when applicable – is in some way about discrediting good fathers. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when social media intersects with commercialism and the hurt in emotional blind spots. Celebrating mothers is in no way a denouncement of fathers; similarly, celebrating fathers is in no way a reflection on mothers. Parenting is not a competition and should not be viewed dichotomously.

My initial plan was to avoid my Facebook feed on Father’s Day, but I gave in to the curiosity and scanned my friends’ pages. I was glad to see that there were just as many positive posts about fathers as there were about mothers on Mother’s Day. I smiled at each of the pictures of my friends with their fathers, particularly my female friends with their fathers. (This reminded me that I don’t have any pictures of my father and me when I was a child and only two pictures during adulthood.) I saw very few, if any, “father-bashing” posts. I did, however, see posts reminding women that we could never be fathers because we aren’t men. I saw posts stating that many single-mothers were bitter about the fathers of their children because the relationships ended. I even saw posts stating that the mothers shouldn’t complain about the fathers’ absences because the mothers should have chosen better men to father their children. I saw posts suggesting that the mothers likely were the reasons some fathers are not in the child’s or children’s lives. And most of these posts were by women and liked by women.

Based on individual reality, there could some truth to those posts. However, there’s a lot that could be unpacked within each of those statements. Fatherhood as a gendered concept, the reality of unresolved hurt, and the implication that making choices and maintaining a father’s presence is solely the responsibility of the mother are but a few troubling assumptions that require a more in-depth discussion than could be teased out in a blog. But the understanding of individual realities seemed to be missing from many of the posts. Some women may find the angst of Father’s Day difficult to understand – women who are married/partnered and whose husbands/partners father their children; women who were parented by fathers; women who are no longer married/partnered but whose ex-husbands/partners father their children. While I make no assumption here that all women that fall into these categories are unable to understand the difficulty of Father’s Day for some women who cannot identify with either of the categories, I argue that the individual experience is such that none of us can be the omnipotent social media therapist and jolt women into our version of reality. None of us can force a parent (as in mother or father) or child to forgive. None of us can heal the hurt by subliminally chastising folks in a social media post. None of us can do that. This blog won’t do that.

I have been a mother who was single; yet, I felt that I belonged to a parenting community. I was raised by a community of mostly women, but always respected and understood the need for fathers. I, too, have explored my own unresolved emotions and did the work to get to a point of peaceful indifference (And even the word ‘indifference’ suggests that there is more work to be done.). I don’t resent my father. I don’t resent his absence. I reconciled that I must have been in his parenting blind spot for his own reasons. That is not within my control. However, what is in my control is continuing to do the work to nurture wholeness for myself. I hope that we, as a parenting community will continue to do the same. Let’s resist the urge to keep a parenting tally. Let’s resist the urge to throw mothers and fathers (and all those who exist in the margins of those categories) into the ring to face-off, sparring for points. When we do that, the winner can be contested but the loser is easily identified. Children lose when we concern ourselves with capitalism’s hold on celebrating those who have loved us. Children lose when we fail to do the emotional work. Children lose when we fail to co-parent. Children lose when we isolate mothers and fathers into Westernized sociological norms, when our ancestry of parenting is centered on love and holistic realization of self for the child. Children lose when we become so engulfed in our own stuff that we forget about the children.

I’m always one for bucking tradition. So next year maybe I’ll ignite a celebration for Parents Day or Love Day. Because really…children need parents and love – and neither of those is bound by stereotypes, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, etc.

Karlesha Thurman’s Breastfeeding Is Natural and Normal. Our Reactions Are Not.

I became pregnant with my now 16-year-old son during the summer of 1997. I completed the requirements for my undergraduate degree in English in November of that same year. My son was born in March 5, 1998, and I participated in commencement ceremonies in May 1998. And I was a breastfeeding mother. Prior to the ceremony, I pumped but the longer that I sat in the University of West Alabama’s Tiger Stadium listening to speech after speech, the more uncomfortable I became. Nature had plans all its own. Regardless of the pumping that had taken place prior to the ceremony, my breasts filled with milk and I had no recourse other than to sit there and wait. As soon as the ceremony was over, I quickly grabbed my son to relieve my breasts of the milky tension. I unzipped my gown, pulled the shoulder strap from my dress, threw a blanket over his head and fed him. And I did this all while I smiled with my friends and family. This was not the first or last time that I had to rush to relieve my breasts from the stinging discomfort that results when the milk is ready to nourish a hungry baby. I recall that once I sped home from work hoping my son’s godmother hadn’t fed him because I was seriously in pain. Of course, she had fed him and I had to squeeze my breasts and release the milk into the bathroom sink for some relief.

What I learned from being a young, breastfeeding mother was that no matter how much planning you think you’ve done, the milk and your baby will alter those plans without notice. So yes, I totally understand why Long Beach State University GRADUATE Karlesha Thurman fed her baby at her commencement ceremony. And no, I don’t see thing wrong with it. According to an ABC News blog, Thurman felt the picture was a thoughtful display of mothering [And I agree.] and posted it to the Facebook group Black Women do Breastfeed. The picture quickly went viral. Since then, there has been much written, Tweeted, Facebook’d, and Instagram’d about Thurman’s intentions when the picture was taken and posted. Some claim that she did it for attention, and others suggest she was only doing what mothers do. I contend the latter is more accurate. However, even if she did make a purposeful attempt to feed her baby at the ceremony, breastfeeding a baby is a natural occurrence that we need to stop stigmatizing. Not only was she able to provide food for her baby, but she also helped to get the #NormalizeBreastfeeding message across through her photo.

Breastfeeding

A mother breastfeeding her baby at a commencement ceremony, in the mall, at her home, in the post office is completely normal. Our reactions are not natural and contribute to further alienating mothers who want to breastfeed their children. Thurman noted that when she became pregnant, she thought about leaving school temporarily or permanently. However, she decided to stay in school with hopes of securing a better future for her and her daughter. That’s what her picture represents. Thurman stands in her cap and gown, breastfeeding her daughter with an infectious smile on her face. She accomplished what many of us who’ve juggled motherhood, education, employment – life – have accomplished. Undoubtedly, she knows the anxiety of wondering whether she could do it all. The picture is proof that she did. Her joy and success illuminate from the picture, but the public is only worried about the appropriateness of a breast being visible in public. We’re worried about a breast being used to feed a baby and foster a bond between the mother and daughter. If the appropriateness of the timing of feeding a baby is our most significant concern when we view Thurman’s photo, we don’t have shit else to do with our lives. Let’s stop worrying about this young mother doing what she’s supposed to do for her daughter – be a mother. Period.

What would should do is educate ourselves on the disparities and benefits related to breastfeeding. A report by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) indicated that the percentage of Black women that breastfed their children increased from 47% to 60% from 2000 to 2008. However, “Black infants consistently had the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration across all study years” (CDC, 2013). We should also be concerned with how breastfeeding benefits infants and mothers. For example, the CDC (2009) noted that breastfeeding lowers an infant’s risk for respiratory and ear infections, Type 2 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome. Benefits for mothers include lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Mothers also benefit from a tightened uterus, diminished post-birth bleeding, and suppressed ovulation. We also should celebrate the fact that Thurman is a young mother who’s breastfeeding her daughter as the rates of mothers under the age of 30 that breastfeed their children are significantly low.

Motherhood can be a challenging, daunting, isolating, rewarding, satisfying, loving experience. Continuing to shame mothers for their breastfeeding choices is a practice that we must discontinue. Karlesha Thurman breastfeeding her daughter was natural and normal. It’s our reactions that are not.

#NormalizeBreastfeeding

 

Mother to Son…Reciprocated: When Your Children Teach You Parenting Lessons

Last week my son visited with me for Spring Break. We had several [mind-blowing, cover your ears] conversations about life, love, school, coming of age, etc. There were times when I wanted to yell and other times when I wanted to hug him and shower him with kisses. And then there were those times when he made a statement that forced me to reflect on mothering a son who’s has uses those qualities that I taught him [at times when I don’t want him to do so].

Conversation 1

Me:         Hey, do you remember [Steven]?

Him:       Of course I do, Mama. You mention him all the time.

Me:         I do? What do I say? Oh about his training?

Him:       Yes, you always talk about what he’s doing with training.

Me:         Oh… [uncomfortable pause because I just received a message]

Him:       Mama, I train, too. I lift weights and work at basketball.

Lesson 1: Don’t get so caught up in what other people’s children are doing that you forget to recognize the greatness in your own child. Our children are watching us as we watch others.

 

Conversation 2:

[As I’m making a point with which he does not agree…]

Me:         Wait. Since when did you start trying to argue with me? Is that what you’re doing now?

Him:       Mama, I wasn’t arguing. I was just saying…

Me:         You were just arguing. That’s what you were doing. I don’t know where you get that from, but…

Him:       Ugh. I haven’t changed. It’s nothing different about me. Remember, when I was little you used to tell all your friends that I should be an attorney when I grow up because I’m always trying to argue my point.

Me:         [Clearly agitated because I feel duped.] That’s not what I’m talking about! There’s a big difference between making a point and trying to argue with me. I hope you don’t think that you’re supposed to argue with adults.

Him:       I don’t argue, but if I think something is wrong, I’ll say so. Like when I’m at school…

Me:         Oh wait a minute…so you think you can argue with adults? Your teachers?

Him:       Sometimes I argue with teachers.

Me:         You better not!

Him:       But Mama, like if they have a math problem wrong or give us the wrong information, I tell them. That’s not arguing. That’s making a point that they’re wrong.

Lesson 2: Keep in mind the lessons you teach your children when they are younger. Don’t think that they’re not paying attention. They are, and they’re waiting for the right moment to use your words as fuel in their debates. And if they’re good – like he is – they’ll leave you proud and (possibly) annoyed.

 

These brief exchanges reminded me that mothering is an ever-evolving process that one rarely masters. I have always encouraged my son to talk to me about anything – even when the topic is one he approached with trepidation. After working as middle school teacher where making students stand in the “third block” from the wall and be silent in the hallway seem to have preference over encouraging them to be critical and analytical within a realm of respect, I also encouraged him to have voice and to use that voice. And he never ceases to amaze me. When I look at him, I see many aspects of who I am now – likely who I wanted to be as a youth but was often silent. He is exactly who I had hoped he would be. Yet, the question is: How do I handle a critical, analytical, intellectual personality…who is also a TEENAGER? 🙂

 

What about our children? The Fears of Mothering While Black…

“I just can’t imagine living without him. But I can imagine life without a revolution, without world socialism, women’s lib … I have a child. My responsibilities have changed.”

(Conversations with Nikki Giovanni, p. 66).

Much like Nikki Giovanni, I cannot imagine life without my son. The day he was born my responsibilities change, my outlook on life changed. As I watched him grow, I have come to know all too well what my mother meant when she always said to me, “Just keep on living” whenever I asked her why she worried about my sisters and me so much. My mother worried about the friends we made. She worried about the influence of young men whose main interests were sexual. She worried about us being presentable, decent young women. She worried about us going to college, having careers, and not depending on a man to take care of us.My mother’s worry, to my knowledge, was not focused primarily on whether our skin color and racial identity would impact our safety. Growing up in rural Alabama, there were always some minor racial tensions; but those tensions were, for the most part, limited to stares, a few racial epithets and a refusal of/poor service. There were no guns involved. My mother did not have to worry about us falling victim to gang violence. We had some young people who participated in gangs (or so they said), but in such a small community, everyone knew everyone and the likelihood that a ‘gang member’ would do a drive by shooting was minimal. My mother did not worry about our family members abusing us. We were always surrounded by family members that cared for us authentically and dared not let anyone harm us. My mother’s worry was genuine, but it is possible that her worries were much different from mine. Raising a child in not-so-post-racial America where ‘Stand Your Ground’ and lack of gun control are bosom buddies; where economic and educational disparity promote community violence; and where those who should protect you are suspected to harming you has marred my experiences of mothering while Black with worry…and FEAR.

Black Mothers

All mothers worry about their children; but in a society that has demonstrated (especially in the last year) its lack of concern for Black children, Black mothers’ worries are emphasized to point of fear. Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Carthan, possibly feared for her child’s safety in the segregated, racially charged South. Her son’s death reminded us that this country has an innate ‘fear of the Black male’. Fifty-seven years later, Sybrina Fulton might have feared less about her son, Trayvon Martin, because we had come so far as a nation, right? Wrong. Monica McBride and Georgia Ferrell likely had the similar fears as other Black mothers. I imagine that they both taught their children to be good to people and ask for help if they needed it. However, Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell both discovered that asking for help has detrimental effects…if you’re Black and in a predominantly White neighborhood. Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton, now fears for her son because her daughter’s death reminded all of us that doing our best to raise our children in our homes is sometimes trumped by the environment. [A bullet has no name on it.] Rekia Boyd’s mother, Angela Helton, lost her daughter at the very hands of a person who should have protected her – a police officer. Similarly, Danita Leakes mourns the loss of her daughter, Emani Moss, who was abused to death [allegedly] by those who should have protected her – her father and stepmother. Where are Black children safe? With whom can Black mothers trust their children?

Every story that I hear about the senseless death of a Black child ignites my fears and sends me into meditation for the mother. When the Trayvon Martin verdict was read, I cried silently. I first thought of the anguish that Sybrina Fulton must have felt. Then, I thought, “What do I tell my son?” Do I tell him not to wear a hoodie? Do I tell him that he must submit to the pseudo-authority of someone who is targeting him? Do I tell him not to protect himself? The deaths of Hadiya Pendleton, Rekia Boyd, Emani Moss, Jonathan Ferrell, and so many others not mentioned also have forced me to wonder what I should tell my son. Do I tell him not to trust the police? Do I tell him not to ask for help from non-Black people? Do I tell him not to hang out with his friends in a park? Do I tell him not to trust his family members? WHAT DO I TELL MY SON?! And for non-Black mothers reading this post, it is not my intent to diminish your worries and concern for your children. As mothers, we all worry. However, as a Black mother, the fear I have for my son’s safety as a result of living in the skin that he was born in is likely very different from the fears you have. As a Black mother, I worry about my son being a circumstance of – Driving While Black, Shopping While Black, Asking for Help While Black, Dating While Black, Minding His Own Damn Business While Black. Black mothers have to worry about their children’s experiences of simply LIVING WHILE BLACK.

My son is 5’9″ tall, and selfishly, I do not mind that he is not a towering 6′ or more. He is a very laid back young man, and selfishly, I do not mind that he is not more of an ‘in your face’ type. Unlike his White counterparts [who would be perceived as confident], if my son were over 6′ tall and aggressive, he would be deemed a threat to someone. I worry about his voice that is deep beyond his years – and his hair. His freestyle locs are indicative of his free-spirited, loving personality; but for someone who is not familiar with him, his hair can be interpreted as a threat. That’s what we have come to in this country. Black children are viewed as threats simply for being in the skin they are in. Black children are victims of circumstance…and as a nation, we [Black and non-Black] are not outraged enough. Black lives matter. Our children matter. 

Qiana

eclectic_GRITS

nilah monet

Mothering from the Margins – and Other Side-Eye Assumptions

Mother to Son … Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
 
Mothering has to be the single most important job that I’ve held in my life. But I am bold enough to say what some mothers may think but not want to say: Becoming a mother, especially at an age when I felt that I should have been partying, was not in my plans. I remember the moment that I got pregnant. No, not the day, the night, or the weekend – the exact moment. Life was good. It was my last semester in college, summer 1997 and I decided to visit my high school sweetheart in Florida while he served in the Air Force. It was the first time that I dared to venture so far away without my mother knowing about it. [Of course I didn’t tell her. She would have flipped the script.] The two of us enjoyed a weekend of hanging out and being foolishly in love – or in like. Then the night before I left Florida, we had sex. I remember jumping up at the exact moment and saying, “Damn! I’m pregnant!” I got dressed and stormed outside mad as hell. [Now, why I was mad is beyond me. When you have sex, that’s the risk you take. Duh.] He laughed at me and said I was over-reacting, but I just knew. Five weeks later, no menstrual cycle. I was right. I knew the exact moment that I conceived.
 
Fast forward beyond our courthouse marriage ceremony, our honeymoon night spent separately – him at the strip club and me at my mother’s house, my pregnancy “you get on my damn nerves” hormones and my six hours of intense labor – only to give birth at 12:36pm just in time to watch Jerry Springer at 1:00pm…and you have me, a young mother who looked at my son and whispered to myself: “Qiana, what in the hell are you doing with a baby? This was not the plan. Grad school was the plan.” But like I always tell my students, we can plan all we want, the Universe’s plan always supersedes ours. So God’s plan was for me to be a mother. [Now, maybe it wasn’t his plan for me to have pre-marital sex, but I won’t debate that issue with anyone because I’m grown – even then, I was grown – and no one can answer to any higher power for me. So let’s not debate religious doctrine. I promise you…you won’t win.]
 
After two months of looking at my son and asking myself that same question, he made me realize that I was asking a question that should have been an affirmative statement: “Qiana, you have been blessed with this baby. Get it together.” It was not about what I was going to do because mothering was not and still is not about me. I had just completed nursing him and looked down at his face…and he smiled the biggest, most innocent smile that I had ever seen. At that point, I realized that mothering was about him. Mothering was about loving him, nurturing him, raising him. And that’s what I set out to do on that day. So you can imagine my angst when I tell someone that my son lives with his father and I get the subliminal “What kind of mother are you?” look and side-eye. So after 15 years, I thought about it. Hmm…what kind of mother am I?
 
I’m the kind of mother who understands that I can teach my son everything that I know about the world. We can discuss life, love, females, friends, spirituality, females, society, relationships, and females. I can introduce him to culture, like when we attended the Atlanta Ballet. I can support his endeavors, like when I scream like a wild woman when he plays football. I scream, “That’s my baby.” when he’s on the field, and scream “Put my baby in!” when he’s off the field. I can encourage him to talk about sex with me, like when I needed a drink as he gave me a lesson in “What 15-year-old Boys Know About Sex” a few weeks ago.  I can surprise him with memories that he’ll cherish for a lifetime, like when I took him to see Alabama play in the Capitol One Bowl in Orlando, Florida. I can nurture him to think carefully about his choices and to stand by those choices with confidence once he makes decisions, like when he asked me if he could go live with his Dad when he was 13-years-old. Que the violin and the tears…
 
He sat me down and gave me a list of reasons to justify his desire to live with his Dad, and none of the reasons had anything to do with me. He ended his list with, “But Mama, I love you. I do love you. I just think you should share me with my Dad. I’ll still call you and come see you all the time.” Once again, I had to realize that mothering had nothing to do with me. It was all about my son – OUR son. I had always encouraged him to speak his mind, to have the courage of his convictions…and this was no different. So while I was sad (still am sometimes) to see him go, I dared not stand in his way.
 
So to further answer the question, “What kind of mother are you?”… I’ll write this: I’m the kind of mother who understands that my son, our son craved something that I could not give him – a relationship with his Dad. While I know that I’m EVERY woman, I also know that I’m not a man. Of course, I’m not one to say that a mother alone cannot raise a perfectly well-rounded man because I’ve seen it happen. But for me to keep Marcus with me when he wanted to be shared with his Dad would have been an act of selfishness. We should not be selfish with our children.
 
Mothering, for me, no matter whether my son is here in Georgia or with his Dad in Alabama is never a marginal experience. It is a gift that has been more valuable to my growth as a person, as a woman than any other gift I’ve received. There is a popular belief that many Black women “raise” their daughters and “love” their sons. This ideology suggests that we raise our daughters to be strong and resilient and attempt to protect our sons from everything in the world because we know their plights as Black men in America are likely to be difficult. I have set out to raise and love my son, and deciding (collaboratively with him and his Dad) to support his move to Alabama is not an act of mothering from the margins or failing to raise him. It is an act of raising him with love.
 
Qiana
Eclectic GRITS
nilah monet