With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I thought I would share an excerpt from a poignant opinion piece that Aja Monet published last week in response to the unfolding events in Baltimore:
A mother publicly beats her son “rioting” in the streets of Baltimore. The spectators weigh in on the subject. There are some things that are sacred. We ought to have the discussion around our sacredness. Mother is sacred. Children are where mother places dreams and visions not in some philosophical and ideological way but physically, very bodily. They are our offering and sacrifice. Our children are extensions of us, flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood. Who is loving our children if not us? Who is bearing them, protecting them, raising them? We cannot do this alone.
As a son tries to declare himself a man, to assert his right to express freedom and dignity, a mother aches with the conflict of wanting to protect him from this system. It is a system she knows is bent on beating him down and her down, too. It is upsetting because a Black mother knows what speaking up can result in for Black boys and girls. When we see any son or daughter die, it is our son and daughter that has died too. We do not want more casualties. Where is the depth in our rage? How do we expand the narrative verses simply shifting it?
With her characteristic poignancy and powerful voice, Monet indirectly reminds us of something we would all do well to dwell on this Mother’s Day: that each of us–white, black, and every shade beyond and in between–starts out as a question mark. I think it’s a powerful trigger for empathy to think of the universal experience that all mothers have when they first become aware of the life growing inside them. Who will this child be? Who will he or she become? What will break and delight their heart? How will I protect that little heart and help it soar? Will she have my hands or her father’s eyes? What will he like? What world will she grow up in?
Before we learn the narrow and destructive cultural associations of color, we are all blobs of cells and potential deep in our mothers’ wombs. The questions continue, we are never ‘resolved’–we all live our lives amidst a profusion of doubts, hopes, fears, joys and pains. We all struggle to define ourselves and find our place in the world. We are, all throughout our lives, a question mark to ourselves and those around us. Trying to shove all this unknown and potential into reductive cultural categories is not only an inadequate appraisal of the fullness of the human being, but much more erosive and malignant, it obscures our common humanity and shared experience of the thrilling and complex business of humanness. How do we expand the narrative versus simply shifting it?
Speaking of mothers and race, my earliest memory of race happened when I was four. My mother took me to the toy store and told me I could pick out any baby doll I wanted as long as it was a black doll. I threw a fit. I didn’t want a black baby doll, I wanted a white one. Clearly, I had already been exposed to ideas of race before this conscious memory since as a white little girl, I felt my dolls should be white too. My mother didn’t relent and when grumpily I picked one out, I decided I would name it Rose. My mother felt strongly that I should identify with humans and for a long time, race wasn’t really something I thought about. But I’ve come to realize that this stance of colorblindness comes from privilege–the privilege of having a mother who was relentless in trying to teach me to value people for their character rather than their skin color, but also the shameful and outrageous cultural privilege of being white. Where is the depth in our rage?
This moment in history is a moment where we have no choice but to destroy and to create. When we talk about Baltimore, let us also talk about the lack of resources in education, jobs, and community. I walked into a poetry workshop of teenagers yesterday afternoon and I want to believe that the work we do is how we pick up the pieces of what’s left, how we sweep the debris after the soot of our suffering settles. We unravel before each other reaching for words. Americans only reach for things that are already in their hands. We asked that we stretch and grab what wasn’t already there; handed to us. I pleaded with my students, leap, take, grab, fly, clench, fist, and fight—revolt. We left the room a little heavier, with more arsenal, a sense of more self than we had walked in with, calloused palms and swift blows. This is our birthright, not a land or object. It is our ability to communicate our humanity. It is our soul. It is our right to imagine a world where we create the language for our liberation not merely to become literati but inventors. If language is how we arrange the world, how has it been used to limit our worldviews? How has it been used to expand it?
In generation hash tag, we use catchphrases and slogans more than meaning. If we aren’t making liberation and love a part of our everyday lifestyle, I want no part in your rhetoric, constantly adhering to and navigating the white gaze.
All lives matter. It stands as a shameful reminder of our systemic failures to protect, celebrate and uphold our sacredness as human beings that in 2015 we need to be reminded that black lives matter too. In the end, we all bleed the same color. Perhaps that’s a sentimental image, but we ought to have the discussion around our sacredness. I’m not advocating for colorblindness– race is an issue, we have made it so, let us talk about the lack of resources in education, jobs, and community. We are only given nine months reprieve before the world attempts to stuff us into its categories and define us. The categories are man-made and arbitrary but the consequences are tragically real and cut deep, in real flesh. Children die. Mothers weep. We, of all colors, need to rethink this. How do we expand the narrative versus simply shifting it?
I leave you with the rallying call for disrupting the narrative from another poet.
Dis poem will not change things
Dis poem need to be changed
Dis poem is a rebirth of a people
Arizin’ awaking understandin’
Dis poem speak is speakin’ have spoken
Dis poem shall continue even when poets have stopped writin’
Dis poem shall survive you me it shall linger in history
In your mind, in time forever
Dis poem is time only time will tell
Dis poem is still not written, dis poem has no poet
Dis poem is just a part of the story
His-story her-story our-story the story still untold
Dis poem is now ringin talkin irritatin
Makin’ you want to stop it, but dis poem will not stop
Dis poem is long cannot be short
Dis poem cannot be tamed cannot be blamed
The story is still not told about dis poem