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Motherhood: What we can learn from history

May 12, 2015

Recently I was bombard on my Facebook and Twitter newsfeed (as I am sure many of you were) regarding the Baltimore riots. But more specifically the mother who was filmed forcefully taking her son away from the rioting because she did not want him to “become another Freddie Gray.”  When I first started seeing posts in support of her and then later posts against the mother’s behavior I began writing to express my disgust—how do we expect young Black men, or young people in general to know how to act “appropriately” or in a non-violent way if their parents and/or caregivers are beating them in order for them to “act right”. However, I stopped. As a white woman raising, what society sees as a young Black man (he is biracial), I needed to stop and really think about my view, the views of others and really how history has a part in all of this. Then, on Mother’s Day my parents handed me an article from the Sunday New York Times entitled What Black Mother’s Know (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/opinion/sunday/what-black-moms-know.html?_r=0).

Wow, what an interesting article. I knew I was not seeing it all, but I didn’t know what I wasn’t seeing until I began reading. The author, Ylonda Gault Caviness, is a Black woman who put a little history back into cultural child-rearing practices. My first ah-ha moment reading this article was when she stated, “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.” While deep down I knew that, it never really occurred to me until it was spelled out on paper—Black woman have been working and child-rearing for generations. They have been trying to manage the stresses of life that many White woman are just now trying to “cope” with as a first or second generation full-time working mother.

But then the comments came, i.e. history lesson, regarding the reaction of the Baltimore mother with her son. Ylonda stated, “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.” Keep them safe. In a society that claims we have “come so far”—we are still trying to keep our kids safe to the best of our ability. And the best of our ability is what has been passed down for generations as effective parenting techniques. We learn how to parent from our parents, unless we make a conscious effort to seek resources and change with the times.

So, should we judge others on how we keep our kids safe? You have to answer that for yourself. But for me, I know that at first I judged that mother in Baltimore. I know the brain research that supports healthy development of children. I understand the advances that have been made in child development in relation to violence, bullying, and the chemicals released in negative and positive situations. I have all of that knowledge to support how I am raising my young Black son. But, I also was missing pieces. I still am missing pieces. I know that history has shaped who we are today—and as we all know we are not to a point in our society where we are all seen as equal. While we are striving for that as a nation, just look at the nightly news and it becomes quite apparent that we haven’t come as far as we would have hoped.

Before we judge or criticize, understand. Understand where we come from, understand where we are, and understand where we would like to go as a community of people in a democratic society.  A society where conversations are had and compromises are made through effective problem-solving and a common goal.

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