When you have three kids, two full-time jobs, a household, and a marriage, sometimes one of those has to fall by the wayside. We have only 24 hours in the day, and kids have immediate needs, jobs have deadlines, bills need to be paid, groceries need to be bought, dinners need to be made.
But marriages seem to lack everyday demands. If my bills aren’t paid, I could lose my house. My job isn’t done well, I could lose my job. No food means starvation. Child neglect is not an option.
But my marriage is crucial to my well-being. I want to live in a harmonious home, where love is palpable, affection is given freely, and we talk to each other and not yell at each other. That requires communication.
Sometimes, my husband and I have NO time to talk at home. Our children are high-maintenance, in the best of ways — they love to talk and play games. But then they are high-maintenance in the worst of ways — they get sick, they need homework help, they fight each other. And, oh yeah — they require food and clothes. Every day. Bills don’t pay themselves. My job requires an incredible amount of brain power.
So what do we do to make sure WE are okay? To make sure WE are meeting each other’s needs instead of always only meeting other people’s needs, including our children? We use technology to our benefit.
My husband and I talk every day on Google chat. Every day. Multiple times a day. We talk about our kids, we talk about our bills, we talk about our jobs.
But mostly, we talk about each other.
We express gratitude when we didn’t get a chance to do it properly. If the morning was really rushed and tempers flared, our 2pm G-chat is an opportunity, with calmed down emotions, to discuss what went wrong and how we can change it tomorrow. The medium allows for some dispassion and requires us to actually listen before we speak. We can strategize about a child without letting them know we are talking about them. We can say sorry and give each other the grace we deserve, knowing that we are both doing our best.*
We can work on us and what we want and need and then save our face-to-face together time to put those things into action. We can give each other gentle reminders about who we want to be, as parents and friends and lovers. Today, we talked about how to get out the house better and faster without yelling or getting upset with each other or the kids. We talked about how we don’t want the morning to be so tense. I don’t want him to be passive aggressive and sarcastic with me or the kids. He wants me to light more of a fire under the kids. We talked about how to make that happen.
And we either of us feels a little talked out, we can bow out of the conversation gracefully by saying “I have to get back to work. Love you!” Unlike in face-to-face, no hurt feelings. Because jobs.
And tonight, when we are together, our bedtime can be used for more important things. Because sex lives. Because laughter and fun.
So if you are feeling like you are missing serious talking time with your partner, if you feel like the metaphorical ships in the night, try using technology. Get gmail accounts. Open gmail on your work computer. And talk to your homie lover friend.
Dr. Mama Esq.
* We can even get a little naughty. But I’m not going to talk about that part.
P.S. — It’s also a great way to leave your kids at home alone and have a way to talk and see them without them having their own phone or a house phone.
We can’t stop saying her name. You get the feeling that a lot of time was put into news broadcasters and red-carpet-watchers practicing Nyong’o. (If you don’t know, you can hear her say it here.) After last year’s catastrophe over Quvenzhane’s, it would have been a crying shame for anyone to have gotten it wrong.
But one thing I haven’t heard people talking about is her acting, at least not as much as they talk about her looks.
More importantly to what I’m going to speak on here, however, is that I am a mother. Of a daughter. A black mother of a black daughter. That’s really all the expertise that matters.
But in case you’re wondering, I am a black feminist. A young, married, heterosexual, highly- and elitely-educated, black, middle-class mother feminist. I own all of that. Please do not get that twisted as you read what comes next.
At first, I thought that comparing the experiences of the slain children in Newtown to the slain black and brown children across this country was insensitive. I thought that it just wasn’t the time to point out the inconsistent treatment of dead children due to gun violence. I thought that no matter the color of the child, the pain to that parent is the same. And I still think all these things.
But as I’ve taken in the media coverage in the past 4 days, I’ve started to get a little annoyed. Angry even. And ultimately unbearably sad. And perhaps that’s my fault for watching the news, and their macabre fascination with death and tragedy. It seems that CNN simply cannot get enough footage to capitalize on the pain and sadness of others. Their camping out in front of churches where children are being buried despite the families’ requests for privacy? I almost want to throw my shoe at the TV. But instead, I just change the channel.
The beautiful golden retrievers dispatched to Newtown to bring some joy to the children of the community. The dogs trained to be gentle with even the most aggressive child. The dogs putting their nose to a 4-year-old’s nose. A shiny golden coat gentle rubbed beside a rosy cheek.
And while my heart broke with the memory of the pain, it also broke at the injustice of the disparity. At the fact that it seems that some kids’ deaths mean more than other children’s deaths.
For where were the comfort dogs to heal the children living in the Florida community of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, children likely traumatized that they could be shot down under the Stand Your Ground laws?
Where were the comfort dogs to heal the children living in Chicago when 7-year-old Heaven Sutton was shot in the back after running from her mother’s candy stand when she heard gunshots?
Where were the comfort dogs to heal the children living in Camden, NJ when a 6-year-old first grader was murdered trying to protect his 12-year-old sister from rape?
I want the children of Newtown to receive all the good things this world has to offer. I want all the well-wishers to send teddy bears, cards, and care packages. I want the knitters to send their handmade monsters to every single child at Sandy Hook Elementary School so that they know we love them.
But I also want the Camden first-graders to get comfort dogs. I also want Heaven’s classmates to get handknit monsters. I want a CNN special for every child who has ever died due to gun violence. I want their names and faces plastered on TV with words about their favorite book and how their smile brought their families joy. I want news vans to stay on the scene for days talking about the senselessness of every child’s death.
Not just for the children who go to school in a “bucolic” New England town.
Not just for the children who go to school in a place that had not seen more than one homicide in the last ten years.
Not just for the children who go to school where the vast majority of them are white.
Please understand me – when I see the face of each and every 6 and 7 year-old who died in Newtown, I see my own almost-7-year-old first grader. I hold nothing against those children or their parents or their community. I just want equity. I just want EVERY child to be remembered. I just want the same outpouring of grief for EVERY child who dies of gun violence. They may not have died en masse, in one classroom, in one community, but they are dying nevertheless. Their parents are hurting nevertheless. Their classmates are traumatized nevertheless.
I want the sports teams and day time TV hosts and churches all over the country to observe moments of silence EACH time ANY child dies from a gun’s bullets. I just want to feel some sense that if my cousin’s children, who still live in Philadelphia, are murdered by gun violence that the nation will mourn for them. I want some sense that if the children who play at the Boys and Girl’s Club in East Palo Alto were gunned down that the nation will mourn for them. I want some sense that black and brown little children matter too.
I’ll spare you the suspense: I think not. Now read on for the rest.
Here’s my position: I’ve never had an abortion. And I don’t think I ever will. I have friends and family who have. I am staunchly pro-choice. I was kind of pro-choice before having children. I am even more so after having children. It’s a responsibility only those who truly want to do it should take on. We don’t support parents in this country. And arguments about all the people who want unwanted kids are BS. Look at how long kids stay in foster care.
So here’s the deal. As I regularly troll the internets for stories about black children and black mothering, I came across this op-ed from Dennis Byrne, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, commenting on the billboards across the country that try to shame black women into not having abortions. Although he is neither black nor a woman (his words), he thought it his (duty? calling?) prerogative to comment on the “high abortion rate among blacks.” Here’s the gist:
Political correctness and ideological dictates discourage discussion of the culture of some black communities as explanative of violence, ignorance, high rates of abortion and other dysfunctions. But for those communities, culture is described by the growth of a matriarchy, as displayed by the many grandmothers raising their daughters’ children. By the absence of men in child rearing. By men who prey on young women who have never learned what to expect from decent, caring and responsible men. By the collapse of the family and the destruction of men’s and women’s traditional, balanced roles in making children strong enough to resist the challenges of today’s broader culture of irresponsibility, casual sex, substance abuse and other plagues.
In this op-ed, Byrne rehashes an old, but reborn, theory: that there is something intrinsic to black “culture,” independent of any outside factors, that accounts for the disproportionate numbers of abortions in black communities.
This makes my blood boil. One, because as a scholar who studies culture, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
First: on culture. Byrnes defines culture as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group.” Um, not quite, homie. Where do these beliefs and behaviors come from? They don’t just spring forth from the middle of the earth, waiting for people to adopt them. Culture is not “created” nor does not exist in a vacuum. Culture is both responsive to and part of shaping structure; many sociologists, such as myself, explain culture as the opposite side of the coin to social structure. The growth of a matriarchy (which is largely a myth, I believe to demonize black women) and the dearth of men available to actually father their children are events, happenings; they are not culture. Nor did not happen outside of the influences of social structure. Many factors colluded to affect that outcome: collapse of manufacturing industry; subsequent high rates of black male unemployment; mass incarceration; felon disenfranchisement; the crack cocaine epidemic.
Culture reflects options available within a given social structure. Yes, people make choices, and they have agency. But agency is not what we think it is as total free will, ability to choose anything and everything. Culture reflects what one BELIEVES to be their options, what one can do with what one is given. So black “culture” can never be defined as one thing, one way of being, one way of behaving. Because we live in a myriad of structural positions, and some of us have options that are not available to others and vice versa. And among the options, some of us choose #1 and others choose #4 and so on.
The “collapse” of the family structure is less to do with any possible independent effects of culture than with the structural effects of class. As I’ve discussed here before, a class structure that allowed for families of any configuration to make a decent living would have more time for child rearing. A school system that did not grossly and blatantly favor wealthier children over less wealthy children would be one in which all women could be educated enough to take care of themselves, and not fall “prey” to vicious and violent men.
If you want to change how people behave, you need to change their options. You need to change what is available to them. You need to change their structural reality.
And two, if the pro-choice side is the “right” side, why should we care about disproportionality?
Making arguments about cultures connection to disproportionality makes clear that true intentions are to get rid of the option to abort altogether. For if you are pro-choice, do you even care about disproportionality? Or rather, should you? If you believe that anytime a woman gets pregnant but for some reason – any reason – does not want to go forward with that pregnancy, she should have the right to choose to end the pregnancy, then every abortion should look the same to you. Regardless of the race of the woman. Disproportionality then appears to be that black women are having more unwanted or mistimed pregnancies, but are also using this option, the option to terminate, more than other women.
This can be interpreted multiple ways, but I’ll offer two that I find the most liberating. First is that black women are more aware of their reproductive rights, are more in tune with what they do and do not want, and are more willing to choose to abort. If you are pro-choice, this doesn’t seem to be a problem – black women are, in not the best language, taking advantage of exactly the right Roe v. Wade stood for – the right to make a decision about your body without anyone else second-guessing you or interfering. Calling these numbers a problem feeds into the idea that black women are not capable, or are somehow ignorant (or culturally deficient), of making this decision for themselves.
Second, this can be interpreted as other women – white, Latino, Asian – are not as gender liberated as black women. Bryne in the article above – as do many men – lament the “matriarchy” in the black community as a disruption of “balanced” gender roles. Who said gender roles had to be balanced? Instead of considering that black women are having too many abortions, maybe women of other races are having too few. In other words, women of other races are less willing to have abortions when they actually would choose to under different structural circumstances. Again, with culture as the flip side of structure, women of other races may feel as though their options (culture) are limited, despite Roe v. Wade, given their structural position.
This is not to say that black women do not experience and live under patriarchy. They absolutely do. But the facts are that black women are less likely to marry than other groups. Not being legally bound to your oppressor is sure to make a difference.
Spoken from a sociologist who studies culture: If you want black women to stop having abortions, if that is your true goal, you need to change their world. You need to make it so that there are no reasons for why a pregnancy would be unwanted or mistimed.
A billboard does not change the world. It just pisses people off.
One of the most unconventional findings was that “the darker an African American or Latino student rated his own skin tone, the higher his academic performance, academic confidence, and social acceptance.” This relates directly to the discussion we were just having about colorism, and whether what the teenagers in the video were saying accurately reflected what they thought about skin color and beauty. I’m tempted to want to spin these results to so that they can co-exist with the teenagers reflections being accurate, but I can also see how these can represent conflicting findings.
“In Singapore, the government deposits small amounts of money into an account for each child born, Shanks said. That money can be withdrawn to cover costs such as extra tutoring for children or higher education for young adults. Or it can sit, earn interest and become the sort of nest egg or emergency fund the child’s future family may need. As a result, almost all families in Singapore–regardless of income–own their own homes.”
Yet in this country we act as if people with assets – homes, stocks, etc. – aren’t doing the same thing for their children and grandchildren. When you start life off with a nest egg, even a modest one, the monetary laws of compound interest make it so that the money grows, without you doing a single solitary thing to earn it – no bootstrapping necessary. But for poor black children? We act like their situation actually has something to do with their or their parents’ character, not with historical, systematic denial of the opportunity to build wealth according to race.
“Right now, 12 percent of white children live in poverty compared to 33 percent of Latino kids and 36 percent of black children.” And you think we live in a post-racial world?
On a related note, over at LIE there is an article about money and black babies and adoption. Black babies usually “cost less” in private adoptions because there are more of them than white babies and they are harder to place than white babies. They are harder to place because there are more white adoptive parents than black adoptive parents, and the norm is to match babies within the race. I say this is related to the post above because, as one commenter says, perhaps much of why there are more black babies is due to the poverty that many black mothers find themselves in when it is time to give birth. In any case, transracial adoption is on the rise, for even at “rates” as low as $4,000 for a black baby, compared to nearly $40,000 for a white baby, getting a black baby is a deal. White adoptive parents come to “prefer” a black baby once they realize how much better the black baby fits into their budget. But its a secondary consideration; the White adoptive parents “settle” for the black baby, only after having taken the price of the child into account. Fucked up, right?
Apparently over a quarter of all women who have two or more children have these children with two or more men. For black women, this rate is 59%. And, according to the article, the trend is across demographics of income, education and marital status – even married women who work and are not poor have more than one father for their children. But what irks me about this title, and the rest of the article, is how mother-centric it is. It does take two people to make a child, does it? I mean, if this is true for women, mustn’t the same be true for men? Why isn’t the title “Many Parents Have Kids With Different Partners”?
I’d never heard of Almean Lomax, and I think that’s a damn shame. This trailblazer was a journalist unlike any other, who is notable not just because she started a black newspaper of incredible importance to black folks in the 1940’s and 1950’s, but because she was unafraid to do what others would not.
“She was a terrific writer…the only one of all the black newspapers at the time who really was fearless about exposing things as they were. She didn’t soft-pedal anything,” said veteran civil rights lawyer Leo Branton Jr.
Not only was she fearless in her writing, she was fearless in her life. After her divorce in 1959, she moved her SIX kids – ages 4 – 16 – from L.A. to the deep South so she could cover the height of the Civil Rights Movement from the ground, much like war reporters do now. According to the article and her children she regretted it later, because of the trauma that such racism left on her kids. But I admire her willingness to get in the trenches, so to speak. Often I wonder about the impact we can make from the outside looking in. While we want to protect OUR children, are we losing something – being selfish even – by not being in physical solidarity with the most oppressed among us? Or is our selfishness justified, as long as we use our outsider status to the utmost in service of those in the war? What does that utmost look like?
A new study debunks the long-held belief that racial bias by those who report abuse is behind the disproportionately high numbers for black children.
I don’t read The Root on a regular basis, and this article* is an example of why. The article is about a report that supposedly debunks a myth that racial disproportionality in child abuse statistics are largely driven by racism or racial bias. The report is supposed to say that instead black parents are disproportionately more likely to be cited for child abuse because black parents are more likely to be poor.
But the problem with this Root article is that it never tells you how the report debunks the myth. How did the researchers get from “there is no racial bias in how professionals judge was is/is not abuse” to “it’s all about poverty”? The article gives me no reason to believe the report, except that the Root says that the report debunks the myth. Isn’t the point of the news to digest the information for me, so I don’t have to read the report? The Root has this kind of shoddy “reporting” and writing consistently; I really cannot understand why black folk continue to read it or take any stock in what they have to say. I understand that media outlets for black news are few and far between, but we have to be able to do better than this.
Do you all have any news about black mothering or black childrearing to share? Send it to me or post it in the comments!
Have a great week,
*I actually have a lot to say about the report itself, but I’m going to save it for another post, later this week.
After years of black motherhood being equated with abandonment and neglect, it was pure joy to see the Obamas walk across that stage to accept the nomination and then the results of the election. Those nights – and those ever since – have been an affirmation for those of us who were what they are: A strong, loving, playful, and spirit filled African American family. The Obamas, of course, are not the first nor will they will be the last, but they are in the here and now, tangible and concrete. It is important to note the Obamas – including Marion Robinson, First Lady Obama’s mother who has been hailed by both of them as being instrumental in the development of their daughters – deserve every bit of praise. It is clear that they not only are extremely devoted to their children but also to their own relationship. If there were to be a soundtrack for the Obama family, it would be Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me off My Feet”.
They are the flip side to the many single black women – grandmothers, aunties, sisters, and every other in between – who are indeed mothering under siege. These examples seem to be the only dots on the spectrum. For those of us who seem to embody the Obama model it can be a lonely, isolating and conflicting experience.
I am a 34 year old mixed race woman – Puerto Rican father and African American / Cherokee mother – who identifies herself culturally as an African American- who mothers 2 amazing little girls: my daughter, 8, and my niece, 9. I have been married to an awesome guy for 10 years and on our second wedding anniversary our daughter was born. I work in pharmacy, a profession where there are more women than men. Because of this, I would find myself in conversations with the pharmacist- sometimes white but frequently themselves or their families hailing from the Middle East or South East Asia – about parenting. There was almost always a look of surprise and wonderment when I would talk about the regular every day struggles of mothering. I could almost see the thought bubble: “Oh my God she is just like me!” Usually at some point in time they would admit to being pleasantly surprised at how devoted I and my husband were to our girls. I was different, you know, unlike “those other” parents. Meaning “regular” black people. I would insist that every mother regardless of race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, socioeconomic or marital status wants the best for her child whether they have the resources or not, and I was not, in fact, an anomaly.
But I admit that I do feel invisible. There are very few mediums where black mothering is normalized. Normalized brings to mind for many a two parent, heterosexual, often Christian family. That is not what I am talking about. I mean I want to see black and brown mothers in advertisements for safety systems, breastfeeding campaigns, and educational enrichment pitches. I want to see sensitive portrayals of black and brown women as being nurturing, caring, responsible, patient and concerned about their children. I would no longer have to endure a picture of a black child automatically followed by these or any combination of words: challenge, crisis, chaos, dangers, death, neglect, and dysfunctional.
To black and white people I did right. I got married then had children. “You are a good mother” they nod approvingly. It’s like because I married when I married that I automatically get 500 points on the SAT’s of parenting. Why should that be? There is so much discussion concerning the ills of out of wedlock mothering in spiritual, economic, and emotional terms. Single mothers have their actions shredded apart. People feel it is justified by pointing to the high incarceration rates, poverty, violence etc. but is it any more right for a married woman to have a baby to save a relationship? Is it right for a married couple to bring a child into a household where the father is emotionally distant or even cruel because of their own unresolved demons? There might be a temptation to point out that society “pays” for out of wedlock children but don’t we “pay” when children are conceived under the matrimonial fairy tales that don’t work out. But there are a whole lot of ways to pay for a baby.
There seems to be a concerted lack of nuance in the discourse in both white and black spaces. If white spaces don’t acknowledge my presence black spaces insist only on the respectable. In a way I can’t say that I blame them. Slavery did not allow for slaves to be recognized as humans much less families. Even if an enlightened slave master allowed for slaves to be married, it was never legally binding. At any time these two people, who chose each other despite the pure hell of slavery, could be separated and sold along with any of their children or told to mate with another salve who had their own family or did not and simply had no desire to breed. When freedom was won the majority of slaves legalized their marriages. They may not have had much but they had each other. Literally.
So against that backdrop it is no wonder when pastors look out into the pews of their church and see the couple sitting next to each other, an arm draped across their partners back, maybe with a child or two on either side, maybe in between, they are not necessarily seeing patriarchy and submission. What they see is a stone in the eye of the naysayers who use charts, polls, and studies to prove that these people sitting in church on a Sunday morning don’t exist. There is no doubt that something pulls at you when you see a couple married for 40 plus years helping each other put their coats on. It is pride, love, joy, hope, an abundance of every bit of positive energy in the world. It is also tempting to stay rooted in that energy. It is so warm and wonderful. It makes me believe that I too will be in that number. To believe that this is the right way, the only way, the best way. But I can’t and I won’t.
Poor mothers do not automatically equate poor mothering. The No Wedding, No Womb and Marry Your Baby Daddy/Mama movements although conceived with good intentions have left so many important threads blowing in the wind and it seems like few are interested in catching, examining and then tying them together. Lack of comprehensive, fact based sexual education, the denial of mental health services (both in idea that it is needed and actual services), the lack of safe spaces or even language for men and boys to discuss their own feelings that are not steeped in patriarchy and the sustained unwillingness to deal with the effects of physical, mental, sexual and emotional abuse and how that affects interpersonal relationships all impact both parents and children alike.
The first step to correct this is the insistence that black women take back their own maternal narrative. Take it back from whoever is mishandling it, whether the person is wearing a three-piece suit, a black dress with pearls, pastoral robes or jeans and t shirt. This is your story. You and your child’s. There will be laughter and tears. There will be slammed doors and cuddles on the couch. There will be fear and certainty. There will be clarity and bewilderment. These things will happen at different times or maybe all at once. Doesn’t matter really. When you tell your story I will sit down and make myself comfortable, ready to listen to you.
– on the occasion of attending my first Donna Brazile talk and moments before composing tomorrow’s lecture on Sade
In 1988, at the tender age of 9, I campaigned for Jesse Jackson’s Democratic Nomination. My brothers and I, 11 and 7 themselves, went door-to-door in Perth Amboy, New Jersey registering people to vote, and chiefly, amusing the hell out of them. If pre-pubescent little black kids are not enough to convince you to fulfill your civic duty, I don’t know what will.
My son, twenty years later, voted for Barack Obama on nick.com. I must admit that no matter how special I thought it was when Mekhi declared, “Mom, don’t you think Barack Obama looks like me!”, in the ’08 season, I still have my reservations about our often conservative first gentleman.
Tonight, Donna Brazile stated that the reason she does not want to run for political office is like the reason why she doesn’t want to be married, because it requires staying in one place. And she likes to be, “on the go!” Though I traditionally do not believe in qualifying oppressions I can’t help but think if I had to choose between working in the white house or working as a house wife, WHICH I, OF COURSE, DO NOT!!!!, give me the suburban soccer mom, every day of the week.
It is so painfully obvious that I am from this country, not only because I am here, with my black family, simultaneously at war and in line with our nation’s political agenda. So many of us, even those not from this country, participate in this American narrative. My children however like to pretend they are from some other place. My oldest in particular has no clue he is “African-American.” I like to blame this on his educational environments and his penchant for White televisual media. In one of his four public schools there was a banner that read, “this is America; everyone reads!,” and in his most recent they celebrated “diversity,” with the book (and participating feast) “Everybody Cooks Rice.” For the latter he brought in rice pudding which I had to convince him was his great-great-grandmother’s dish.
Today, I am feeling particularly angry about not only the post-racial politics of today’s presidential aura, I am also frequently miffed at the government control over our bodies and families. The first time I almost wrote off Barack Obama was following his problematic “Father’s Day” speech in Chicago. Now, with the inability to promote national legislation legalizing gay marriage, the still-inadequate health insurance and the lack of access to safe abortions and contraception, etc., I am wondering where all my Cocoamamas stand. Granted we chose a right to have at least one child. However; I know that does not “safely” box us into right hetero-normative agendas?