Mothers under Siege – A Black Feminist Mothers Day Card for 365 Days

By Kamaria Muntu
13 May 2012 07:46 GMT

“We need mothers who are capable of being character builders, patient, loving, strong, and true, whose homes will be an uplifting power in the race. This is one of the greatest needs of the hour.” Frances E W Harper

While some of the more conservative stances of the abolitionist, poet, lecturer and suffragette have elicited controversy, there can be no denial of Harper’s commitment to the institution of motherhood. But even as Black mothers strive to build strong characters and love their children, there remains this interference – the human suffering, terror and instability that threatened Black mothers in Harper’s activism of the 1800’s, continues to threaten Black mothers today.

The mother of Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton, recently spoke to the press about spending her first Mothers Day without her murdered son. Doreen Lawrence, Stephen Lawrence’s mother can tell her that 19 years later the ‘Mothering Sunday‘s’ become no easier, as shortly after folks in Britain handed out their Hallmark cards, she was ensnared with the Metropolitan Police yet again, to petition to request a new public inquiry into the cover-up around her son’s vicious beating. Ms Lawrence and Ms Fulton are two Black mothers among too many to have a child victimised and murdered by the savagery of racial violence – a list of names most particularly in post-Civil Rights America and many industialised western nations that espouse Human Rights, that is fast becoming too numerous to count.

Regardless of first, second, third or fourth wave feminism, there has been a relentless assault on our families and our ability to mother our children in an atmosphere of true freedom. This has been the case since the first Africans were brought to the shores of the Americas and Europe in chains. The waves may fold into each other, but the sea is one…and that sea is filled with the corpses of our children, and her turbulent waters are coloured in blood.

Feminist activists of all races and backgrounds in solidarity with struggles for global justice understand that any critique of Mother’s Day must transcend de facto deconstructions of how privileged women are positioned as homemakers and nurturer’s of the family clan. In Colorlines, Jamilah King reports on an effort by women activists to create Mothers Day cards that speak to women left out of focus by mainstream card makers – the series is called “mamas on the margins.”

And this is in keeping with strong traditions surrounding Mothers’ Day celebrations around the world, as many of their original objectives not only elevated mothers, but engaged purposeful action toward making community and nation a better place.

In Bolivia for instance, the celebration commemorated women who fought for the country’s independence, and who were killed en masse by the Spanish armies.

In 1997, Chinese activists declared the day to remember the poor mothers in rural areas of the western region.

As Black mothers in Western nations, our sons and daughters are routinely taken from us, or in some cases we from them – in the never ending cycle of modern slavery and oppression that capitalises off our pain, poverty and hardships – our seemingly endless misery as we struggle to create safe homes and communities in which our children may develop and thrive. It is staggering, the population of women in United States prisons – a population that has grown exponentially; a whopping 650% over the past twenty years. According to aTime Magazine article: “70% [of incarcerated mothers] have at least one child under 18…these mothers are often the sole provider for their children, the impact [of their incarceration] on their kids can be devastating…” Sadly these women are working for free – doing jobs in penitentiaries across America that they would be hard pressed to find outside of their iron bars.

America’s rates of poverty for households headed by single Black, Native American and Hispanic women are the highest. As of 2010 31.6% of households headed by single mothers were poor. In the United Kingdom, children in single parent families (the majority headed by women) are at twice the risk of living in poverty than children in coupled families.

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure
theirs.” – Julia Ward Howe

This stanza was part of the Mothers’ Day Proclamation issued by pacifist and feminist Julia Ward Howe in 1870 in the United States, as a call for women to support disarmament in reaction to blood shed in the Franco Prussian and Civil War. Far too many mothers had sons and daughters dutifully march to war in Afghanistan and Iraq – killing other poor kids like themselves, destabilising their neighbourhoods and communities – in order to make a paycheck because of the impoverished conditions and destabilisation of their own mothers.

But this is not just about the history of Mother’s Day or the devastating statistics that have become so commonplace that they almost engender a numbing indifference. This is about what we see and sometimes look away from, the ways in which sustainable motherhood is undermined – the woman in your neighbourhood who rises at 5am to catch a bus to keep her benefits – the African woman with the desolate gaze, prodded by television cameras in order to raise money for an organisation that will take 80% of the donations that were meant to keep her child from dying in her arms. Many children in Africa are child soldiers by the age of 6, and they may kill or be killed before they hit puberty – often spurred on by the brutally savage rapes and murders of their mothers. Usually these violent conflicts reaping so much carnage and sorrow are engineered by the super-powers of the world for profit.

When a mother is poor; Black; of colour– she is endangered and crippled from being the kind of mother that is her fundamental right to be. And this motherhood that would be a gift in a more temperate climate is likely to become the face of maternal despair. From high infant mortality rates in both industrialised and developing nations – to women dying in childbirth as a result of FGM – to pregnant and lactating women denied healthcare in the waiting rooms of America – to refugee mothers running from border to border with hungry babies strapped to their backs – to single mothers living in poverty from Baltimore to Brixton – to deportations of immigrant mothers leaving crying children behind – to the indigenous mothers fighting for sovereignty, visibility, culture and land – to lesbian mothers whose right to motherhood is challenged by a xenophobic sexual hierarchy – to children stolen away from their mothers to be enslaved, sex trafficked, made into child soldiers – to the mothers locked away from their children for killing their abusers (or simply shooting at them) – to the institutionally racist and sexist education, justice and healthcare systems that entrap and perennially fail poor women, resulting in trauma, devastation and loss of hope for any semblance of safety, stability or joy in their lives… Within these varied environments of stifling oppression, the stark fear Is unrelenting.

As Black mothers, we are afraid for our sons to be boys and afraid for them to be men. We are afraid that when they walk to the store or visit a friend, they will be gunned down as if they were rabid dogs by racist police officers or neo-Nazis posing as vigilantes, posing as citizens exercising their rights under “Stand your Ground” laws. We are afraid that each lynching will yield neither justice nor accountability. We are afraid that our daughters may be killed by white supremacists, by the police, by domestic terrorism and abuse – that they will be the victims of rape, torture, murder or disappearance before they get home from work or school. We are there but for random grace, a breath away from the knowledge of the unthinkable pain of Sybrina Fulton – from the pain of all the mothers of slain children, and children destroyed by the contemptuous and inequitable society in which they live.

Lastly, in order to create and sustain a global motherhood that will be viable and vibrant, there is a critical need for more allies. Not only those who will mobilise to intellectualise it’s concerns, but those who understand that revolution can be found in simple acts of humanity – in the tender gestures of nurturance and outreach of resources and support that will enhance the lives of mothers and their children, alongside strategic formations in advocacy of social and global justice for women. We must commit to ending cycles of loneliness, stigma, disconnection and isolation eroding the health, safety and potential of mothers everywhere.

In the spirit of the goddess traditions- Mother’s Day in India originally related to the appearance of the feminine conscious of the cosmos known as the Goddess Durga. In Yoruba tradition, reverence to the attributes and nourishing energies of motherhood are embodied in the Goddess Yemaya. – We call on these Goddesses to protect the Mothers in these tumultuous times. We call on the indigenous ancestral grandmothers of pre-Colonialisation who have become trees and moons to sweeten our walks down these many trails of tears.

Kamaria Muntu is a poet, writer and Black Feminist. She is also the single mother of two children. Her recent collection of political poetry, “A Good Lynching Should Be Enjoyed” under Coal Publishing is available from the e-Kindle store and Coal Feminist Review.

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