Last week I was asked to contribute a 4-part online Mommy Blog for a popular Black Canadian magazine. The topic was Motherhood. Black Motherhood, specifically. There was to be little or no pay, no contracts were signed, and my passion and the fact that I was a “fine writer with a good deal of rant” would suffice as compensation for my 16 years of professional experience. Really.
That said, I was excited to commit to the discipline of writing a series of articles for publication, and certainly to lend my voice and support to my community.
However, truth be told, “Black Motherhood” is not something that I had ever really thought about, per se—at least not from the vantage point/perspective that whatever I had to say would reflect a “universal” black experience. I was also quite leery of writing something that was supposed to be “representative.” And frankly, how many times had I read, and also thought that Black People are not a monolith? Certainly this is what American Black People on Twitter and the blogosphere had expressed time and time again…
But there I was writing for the first time as a Black Mother and my perspective was to somehow juxtapose and perhaps offset the Wall Street Journal Amy Chua brouhaha of “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” I confess that I did not know “how” to write as a Black Mother—did Amy Chua have any misgivings writing as a Chinese Mother?”— nor did I succeed at first. I submitted my article, and the editor said, this is good, now please write from the perspective as a Black Mother. Wow, OK, I thought to myself, I thought I had.
Since I became a Mother, I haven’t ever spent too much time or stock in my “mothering” as it relates to my blackness. This could be a result of my being born and raised in multicultural Canada—that my friends and neighbours were as diverse as I was; the fact that my parents were educated and had careers; or that my Mother, who raised her 3 daughters as a Single Parent, who at times had to be both Mother and Father, simply marched to the beat of a different drummer—her own.
Growing up, I knew that I was Black by virtue of my skin colour, and by virtue of my African name. I knew I was black the first time a classmate called me Nigger. And I knew that I was black when my mother with confidence, tenderness and discipline told us that we could do and be anything we wanted regardless of skin colour. At the same time it was imparted to us that we must at all times be certain to “watch our Ps and our Qs.” “Never let them know your limitations,” my mother often said. “Don’t let people know how much you drink,” was another. “Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself,” was a third. The rest I can’t remember, but suffice it to say that whatever my mother did say left an indelible mark on my psyche and those “Birdie’isms” as I like to call them, contributed to who I am today.
I recall with distinction the time when the groundbreaking television program “The Cosby Show” first aired. There was much banter and discussion about how this particular family helmed by career professionals with 5 differently hued children who were raised with culture, warmth and love did not “accurately” reflect the so-called black experience. And yet they did. Just not the one that we typically saw reflected on sitcoms [Good Times, What’s Happening?, Sanford & Son], or on the 6’oclock news.
Watching Cosby, I remember thinking, yes, that’s my family right there. I loved Lisa Bonet in the character of Denise Huxtable because she was quirky and stylish. I never once thought that she “wasn’t” me or that we could not “like” one another because her hair or skin colour did not match my own. I simply thought cool, she IS who she is, so cool. When it came time to for Denise to go to college, I kept thinking, how swish, I’d LOVE to go to a black college. Not because I didn’t love my Canadian experience, but because the all-black university experience seemed so rich with culture, heritage and tradition. At one point, I quite literally considered myself in the running to marry Bill Cosby’s late son Innis. I truly did.
But as real as reality is, Time moves on. My sisters and I grew up, travelled abroad, attended university, worked in our chosen professions, and went our separate ways. We all eventually married, had children and built lives for ourselves based on our interests and experiences and not necessarily based on the colour of our skin. It never occurred to any of us that we wouldn’t marry black men [none of us did] or have black children [our children are Singaporean Chinese, Czechoslovakian, Dutch & German, plus Jamaican/Caribbean, Cherokee Indian, and Nigerian & Scottish], but we knew that whomever it was that we chose to fall in love with and who fell in love with us would have to respect our culture and heritage and certainly appreciate each bump and hustle that we experienced as a result of our humanity and our womanhood, in addition to our blackness.
So this is where I am today. Officially Black, and unofficially conflicted as to “why” I feel the way I do. Perhaps it’s because when I see myself, I don’t know how to be anything other than what I am. I’m not trying to live up to anyone’s standard or image of what a black person is, what a black person says, how a black person looks and acts, and certainly I’m not looking to align or assign myself with one particular role in the post/race game.
I am hyper aware of the media images that perpetrate an exaggerated stereotype of what black “is” and even as I recognize that these like many other stereotypes are grounded and perhaps founded in a certain “reality,” some of us veer widely from those suggested norms. I think about the Black Mother in recent news who was jailed for fudging application papers so her children could attend a better school. I think about the injustice of the disproportionate number of incarcerated black males, and the alarming stats that highlight how black males underachieve in schools, and I think what IS it about this race-thing that prevents us from moving forward? I think that one can never figuratively divest in race because issues of race affect us in the most profound of ways. I think about my own upbringing where I often heard how “different” my sisters and I were. I think about the black woman salon owner who told me that I wasn’t black enough and that “when the brothers see me coming, they see White Man’s Property stamped on my forehead.”
But these things, other people’s skewed ideas about a person’s humanity [or lack thereof], and commonly accepted tropes don’t alter what I think of me or what I think it means to be a Woman, a Mother, a Parent, or a Black Mother for that matter. If we are to move forward in a progressive way, as a global community, then we need to align our parenting resources and recognize our commonality, and look ahead and perhaps beyond our skin colour difference. We need to start seeing ourselves as citizens of the world.
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I really don’t think this is an issue of my privilege talking.