In the aftermath of the Alabama Senate election at the head of 2018, Black women have had to remind folks that our primary objective is not in ‘saving the country from itself.” Saving ourselves from this country is also high on our list of priorities and has been so for a very long time. Superficial social media praise juxtaposed against the harsh realities that Black women have to face in this country re/produce a stark and disturbing contrast. And Black women have been calling it out.
This country has historically neither cherished nor protected Black women (unless our labor and existence was perceived to be in service to others). Black women’s self – love is in direct opposition to the material and emotional conditions this country provides. It has been Black women, loving and supporting ourselves and each other, that has provided the primary and necessary infrastructure for us to survive and thrive in this country.
Black motherhood is neither cherished nor protected in this country.
Black mothers loving themselves is radical. Black mothers loving themselves is necessary.
Black women’s mortality rates are higher while pregnant, during labor, and shortly after giving birth than any other demographic. According to the CDC, Black mothers die at three to four times the rate of white mothers. This is often still the case even when you account for income and education.
Although there are these multiple pressing health issues facing Black mamas, public dialogue is often dominated by other ‘concerns.’ Black mothers are frequently judged harshly for their age, the number of children they have, their relationship status, their previous relationships, and a multitude of other choices they make when it comes to how they choose to have children.
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In particular, unmarried Black mothers of multiple children are often on the receiving end of intense criticism. ‘The real problem with the Black community is all those unmarried Black mothers,’ is a narrative that circulates amongst multiple communities. However, as Tamara Winfrey-Harris writes, “The conversation about black single motherhood in America is driven by gender- and race-biased moral panic and is primarily a means to exonerate systemic inequality for America’s problems, while leveraging age-old stereotypes to scapegoat black women and their children.”
When Black women are shamed for having ‘too many’ children, for having abortions, for choosing not to have any children, for choosing to not get married, for being trans, for having intimacies with non-Black folks, for being in queer relationships, and for an infinite number of other partnerships and parenting choices and ways of just being in this world, the act of Black women finding ways to love themselves in the midst of all of this negativity and harm is radical and necessary to our survival and flourishing.
When this shame culminates and contributes to the violence and death of us, my heart breaks.
What is alarming is how achingly early Black women often have to learn how to resist and navigate this judgment and shame.
Black girls loving themselves is radical.
Black girls loving themselves is necessary.
Black girlhood is not cherished nor valued nor protected in this country.
According to a recent Georgetown Law study, people have a strong tendency to ‘adultify’ Black girls. Their research concluded that people believe Black girls (aged 5 – 11) needed less nurturing, less protection, less support, and less comfort than their white counterparts. They’re viewed to be more independent and to know more about adult topics. These perspectives have an array of consequences including Black girls being nearly three times as likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system as white girls. This say nothing of the emotional and psychological affects of being stripped of a childhood. The recent suicides of Black girls and the lack of mainstream response feels so deeply connected to these trends.
Tamara F. McCollough of the Indiana State University Police Department says “one way to help heal this rupture in childhood is to empower these girls. ‘We can start by helping black girls see that they are unique and there is nothing wrong with them,” she says. “We can also start by empowering black girls to be comfortable in their own skin. By building up their confidence, girls can begin to see their own value.”
I read these words and think about the intimate and interlaced connection between Black children and Black adults. In an interview with Ebony, Michaela Angela Davis writes about a particular moment that has stuck with her. She talks about her 7 – year old daughter asking her about loving yourself before you love others. Davis writes –
“In that moment, I thought back to every piece of generic advice I’d ever received. Countless times I’d been told, “Girl, you just have to love yourself.” Yet for the life of me, I couldn’t recall anyone teaching me how… Now, here I was exposed before my own perceptive precious little Black girl, who needed me to teach her about a love I didn’t quite understand.”
We have to teach Black girls how to love themselves, so they’ll grow in to Black women who can love themselves. And yet in this quote, Davis touches on the difficulty of that process/inheritance. Racism, sexism, transphobia, classism, homophobia … all these structures devalue and harm Black women. Black women’s capacity to forge an create ways to love ourselves, to support ourselves, to protect ourselves, to praise ourselves is such a critical act of resistance
Black women loving ourselves is radical.
Black women loving ourselves is necessary.
[Feature Image: And individual of color with long dark hair is pictured from crown to chin as they hold a serious look on their face. Pexels.com]