Author Topic: What Black Moms Know  (Read 1914 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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What Black Moms Know
« on: May 04, 2015, 11:44:25 pm »
What Black Moms Know

I FEEL sorry for the others. You know those mothers: the highly informed, professionally accomplished — usually white — women who, judging by the mommy blog fodder, daytime TV, and new parenting guides lining store shelves, are apparently panicking all day, every day, over modern child rearing and everything that comes with it. They feel compelled to praise their kids, but fret the dosage. They worry about pesticides; this year’s best birthday-party theme; enrichment summer camps; preparing Johnnie for college admissions in 2025 (it’s never too early); and, of course, the biggie — keeping their kids happy.

Most adults know that happiness, unlike, say, integrity or self-reliance, is elusive and often fleeting. Still, so-called experts have convinced these mothers that their job is to plant joy into their children’s small bodies. Not surprisingly, this overabundance of advice has turned mothering into a hot mess of guilt, confusion and hard labor.

Thankfully, I am a black mom. Like many of my fellow sisters, I don’t have time for all that foolishness. Our charge is to raise — notice I did not say “parent” — our children in a way that prepares them for a world that, at best, may well overlook their awesomeness and, at worst, may seek to destroy it.

One thing that makes it easier for us is that, unlike many white women, most black women in America come from a long line of mothers who worked outside the home, and have long been accustomed to navigating work and family. My mama worked, as did her mama and her mama before that. According to the University of Maryland sociologist Bart Landry, the author of “Black Working Wives: Pioneers of the American Family Revolution,” black middle-class wives, long before the feminist movement of the 1960s and ’70s, rejected the cult of domesticity for a threefold commitment to family, career and community. These families “ushered in a more egalitarian era,” and a lifestyle their white counterparts adopted decades later.

When I was growing up during the ’70s in Buffalo, my siblings and I were met after school by Papa, my grandfather who lived with us and cared for us while our mother was at her factory job. If Papa was not around, there were any number of “aunties” and other mothers from the neighborhood available to feed us and taxi us to and fro. Most of these women were also employed, but they did shift work in hospitals or had jobs in retail with varied schedules. No matter. As a black mom on the block, everyone’s kid was your kid.

Mommy wars? “That doesn’t make a lick of sense,” Mama, who’s now 80, would say. Mama lived to sit at the kitchen table — our light blue princess phone nestled in the crook of her neck as she took long drags on her cigarette — gossiping about her girlfriends. But there was a mutual sense of love and respect among the moms of her generation. They were always tired, just like moms now. But never too tired to offer encouragement — words like, “Girl, all you can do is the best you can.”

There was none of the scorn I see today, and that the media so loves to perpetuate, among many white moms judging one another’s “choice” to work or stay home, or to breast- or formula-feed. The parenting industry exacerbates this divide. When women are persuaded to ignore their maternal instincts and common sense in favor of contradictory and competing instruction manuals, it’s no wonder they turn on one another.

Of course, it’s not like this multibillion-dollar parenting industry was built with me in mind. When pundits talk about timeouts and parenting by negotiation — Dr. Phil suggests no fewer than five critical steps — and behavior contracts that you can download off the Internet, I know good and well they are not talking to a black woman. Or at least not any black woman I know. When it comes to discipline, we are far more authoritarian.

Last week, in a viral clip of the Baltimore uprising, we saw Toya Graham, a black mother, snatch her son from the crowd. Yes, it has led to plenty of debate about corporal punishment. Did she need to smack him upside his head? I don’t know. But she was doing what she felt she had to. “I didn’t want to see him become another Freddie Gray,” she said. Dating back to slavery, black moms have had to hold a strong grip on their children’s behavior. Only a foolish mother would risk boosting her child’s self-esteem to the point where he might be perceived as uppity by whites. Tough love is what it’s called today. Back then, it was the only love that could keep a black kid safe.

Despite what the Fox show “Empire” might lead you to believe, most black moms would not smack around our insolent offspring. We are, today, far more enlightened. And I can attest to the fact that, no matter how many whippings Mama laid on me, I still acted out. None of the welts stuck. But her words did. Lines like: “You better act like you’ve got some sense,” which was a gentle reminder to call on the wits the good Lord gave you. They echo in my ears, helping to make me a more confident mom of my own three children.

Certainly, white women have their mothers’ wisdom to fall back on, too. But nowadays too many have been manipulated into thinking that wisdom is something to be found in a book. So they read, research and hire coaches to teach them how to parent. As they parse the latest tips for “happiness,” oftentimes someone else is charged with raising their children. From slavery to today’s economic realities, that someone has usually been a black woman.

For some reason, we black moms command respect. It’s just one of many reasons I have always been happy with my life as a black woman. Depending on my mood, I can change my hairstyle from curly to straight and back again. I can tell someone to “back up off me” with just a glance. It takes a heap of embarrassment to make my face flush. But most important, as a mom I simply “know how.”

That doesn’t mean I’m beyond reproach. It only means I trust myself. I know how, as Mama might say, to make a dollar out of 15 cents. I know my kids don’t need Mandarin lessons to succeed in life, so I’m not thrown when they are rejected from some program, nor do I lead them to believe that they need anything external to prove their worth. I know I don’t have to be a baby whisperer, toddler whisperer or anything other than my natural self to understand their needs. I usually know how to keep it together.

When all else fails, I know how to go someplace and sit down.