No Joke: Black Mamas, Fear Tactics and Love

Minding my lil’ business on Facebook and come across this.

Almost all of these are veiled threats.

  1. I’m not one of your little friends.
  2. Do I look like BooBoo the Fool?
  3. A hard head makes a soft behind.
  4. First of all, check your tone.
  5. Stop all that crying before I give you something to cry about.
  6. Don’t you get in trouble following behind them white kids / lil’ friends.
  7. I hope you know that school work like you know them songs.
  8. You smellin’ yourself.
  9. When we get in the store, don’t touch nothin’.
  10. Fix your face.
  11. I don’t care what ___’s mama does. I’m not ____’s mama.
  12. Keep playing and see what happens.
  13. Didn’t I tell you… (through clenched teeth)
  14. Don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t cash.
  15. Stop running in and out of my house
  16. I brought you in this world, and I can take you out.
  17. If someone hits you first, you hit them back

Honestly, I heard many of these things growing up.We make jokes about getting beaten as children. We laugh about this stuff, but its just not funny anymore. Maybe it was never funny.

Black motherhood in America has only existed under the gaze of white supremacy. We have only ever raised our children in an environment with a real threat to their life if they veered outside of the constraints of a society that demands that we be silent and hidden while being and offering resources for the benefit of a society that doesn’t value our lives. We have raised children to keep their heads down and to go with the flow, lest they be harmed. This is one of the ways that we have been able to survive — to hurt our children early and for small infractions, lest they commit a grievance against an unforgiving society and face harsher consequences like whipping, dismemberment, incarceration or death. Dr. Stacey Patton discusses this and historical context of  Black parents abusing their children in her new book.

But like, its 2017.

I know how it felt to be smacked in the mouth for sucking my teeth or rolling my eyes in indignation. I know what that embarrassment feels like, and the accompanying feeling of silencing the anger in me that wanted to strike back. Self-defense is a natural feeling, after all. I remember many a day spent seething with anger bubbling beneath the surface. That shit isn’t healthy. I don’t want to make my kids feel like this. I don’t want to perpetuate this cycle of abuse.

“When you know better, you do better” rings in my ears. I do know better. I’m grateful to have friends who remind me of the mother that I want to be. I am grateful to be surrounded by other parents who think, “there is another way,” to get our points across to our children and to lead with love and respect.  Two years ago, after the City of Baltimore found itself in a state of unrest following the murder of Freddie Gray, we saw a woman named Toya Graham snatching her teenaged son after she found him in a crowd of protesters, throwing rocks at police. She made national news in a video recording of her hitting her son, and presumably screaming things at him that are listed above…

Didn’t…I…Tell…You! … A hard head makes a soft behind… Don’t you get in trouble following behind your lil’ friends… You must be smellin’ yourself… I don’t care what ___’s mama does. I’m not ____’s mama… I brought you in this world, and I can take you out…

I can only imagine the embarrassment of being taller than your mother but being hit by her, not only in front of your friends, but in front of the nation and world, thanks to social media. I can only imagine standing up for yourself and your people, as a young Black man days after a young Black man was just murdered by police. There are just so many thoughts swirling in my head whenever I think about this.

My kids are people. They deserve respect. When I lose control of myself, they deserve apologies. They deserve to have the person who loves them most in the world acknowledge their missteps and make amends. This example, I’m hoping, will show them how to repair their mistakes. And I’m willing to try, because what our older generations have done hasn’t seemed to work.

In particular, we raise our sons to be able to exhibit ONE emotion — anger. Our boys can’t be happy because smiling isn’t cool after grade school… Smiling makes you “soft”. Our boys can’t be sad because then they’re “soft”. They can’t be helpful, kind, afraid, etc. because all of those make you “soft”. Exhibiting anger or dominance by taunting, bullying… All that shit is a toxic masculinity cocktail and IT DOESN’T WORK. We end up with scared men who don’t know how to handle their emotions or how to express them in a healthy way. We harden them, we break them, before the world does. And I pledged to not deliver one more broken Black man to this world. We need to speak love into our children.

I know that raising a child to behave a certain way in fear of consequences (don’t run into the street because I’ll hit you) versus raising them to behave a certain way because they understand the true consequences (don’t run in the street because you could get hit by a car and I don’t want you to get hurt) doesn’t really work. We all know plenty of people who say, “I was spanked as a kid and I turned out fine”. But if you were spanked as a kid and think that spanking is okay, you did not turn out fine. Evidence is in the society where we live right now that damns parents for being gentle with their kids and an older generation that takes it personal when we do things differently than they did.

So let’s talk about loving and building. Let’s talk about mamas being dope and inspiring.

In addition to telling me, too many times, to fix my face, my mama also said the following things to me…

“Be careful!” every single time I walked out of the house. She’d call after me, telling me to be safe and to keep my eyes and ears open. It would annoy me… “Mommmm. I’m JUST going up the street to the store.” And now I know better. Now I know about how often little Black girls are kidnapped and assaulted.

“I’m so proud of you.” When I was in 5th grade, one of my projects was chosen to be on the cover our our graduation program. My mom was so excited, y’all. 4 years later, a poem that I wrote was included in an anthology of poems by high school students, she bought a copy of the overpriced book and told everyone about it. My mother told me she was proud of my parenting. *clenches chest*

 “I love you.” Probably more now than when I was a kid, my mother tells me that she loves me. Often. She tells me that she misses me.

Being a Black mother is hard and I know this because I am doing it. I know that I’ve got a lot of privileges and less stressors than some others. Existing as a Black woman is hard and that stress sometimes spills over on to our children, sometimes in the name of protecting them.

Let’s actively try to be mothers that our kids don’t need protection from.

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