Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What a Plantation Visit Reminded Me about Motherhood

I'm slowly reading the memoirs that I picked up visiting Laura, a creole plantation back in Louisiana  a few moths ago.  What I loved about this tour is there is no sugarcoating the ugliness of plantation life. Our guide stopped to emphasize how human beings were sized up for sale and bred like bulls, 30 to 1. Some other plantation tours are Disney-esque, showcasing southern gentility fantasy but leaving the horror of reality as an optional afterthought for visitors. The more you learn about history, the more links you can draw to so many of society's problems today.  Even Iyanla mentioned how this gets into our DNA when she admonished the men on her show to stop behaving like plantation studs.  For the non OWN fans here's a clip of the show.

One part of the book that has stuck with me for a few days is the story about a slave who beat his son mercilessly because the owner accused him of stealing a gun. The gun was later found, left in New Orleans by the forgetful master. Damage was already done, so to rectify it he offered the young boy $5 to make up for the vicious beating he suffered by his own fathers hand.

I thought about Toya Graham, who was paraded around as 'mom of the year' for hitting her protesting son in Baltimore. Do we really think she'd get that title if she publicly assaulted her son for anything other than rebelling against the power structure?  No, she's celebrated publicly because we're still
inundated with messages that our role as Black mothers is to keep our children in line and subservient.  We're still not even allowed to love our babies unconditionally today. We're operating under the assumption that we must break them before the world does. If we don't discipline them the jail will.  Over and over this is repeated without question. Last time I checked people of color make up a disproportionate number of the prison population so it's really time to stop spreading these dumb memes.

In another story in The Atlantic about the origins of the watermelon stereotype we see another example of a parent enforcing the will of white supremacy,  (It's  fascinating article worth reading, but here's the pertinent excerpt.)
"But Southern whites saw their slaves’ enjoyment of watermelon as a sign of their own supposed benevolence. Slaves were usually careful to enjoy watermelon according to the code of behavior established by whites. When an Alabama overseer cut open watermelons for the slaves under his watch, he expected the children to run to get their slice. One boy, Henry Barnes, refused to run, and once he did get his piece he would run off to the slave quarters to eat out of the white people’s sight. His mother would then whip him, he remembered, “fo’ being so stubborn.” The whites wanted Barnes to play the part of the watermelon-craving, juice-dribbling pickaninny. His refusal undermined the tenuous relationship between master and slave."
Ugh, sickening but sadly familiar still.  Today, we turn our backs and criticize our young people for standing up against injustice with #BlackLivesMatter. Political leaders beg for understanding of confederate flag enthusiasts but quickly call young black males thugs.  What the kids see is, my elders will not protect me.  
Can there be any other general reaction besides rebellion?  We don't live in an isolated world anymore that hardly exists beyond our neighborhood.  They see that the other kids aren't treated this way.
Most women instinctively protect their children from harm, but we've been made to ignore those instincts for centuries in order to save their lives in other ways.  It's time to shed that twisted logic. Yes, it made sense to survive the best way you could, but we've moved beyond those times.  Some of the protective behavior is hurting us more than ever.  Maybe feeling like the one person who should have your back injures it to save face is irreparably damaging. Kids are able to pick out injustice early and are quicker to call it out than adults. The problems of race and social justice are so multi layered there's not one magic bullet to fix it.  I propose that one fully within our control is to teach our babies their worth with our actions. Show them what it's like to be treated with respect and demand it from anyone gifted with their presence. Maybe he won't need to seek it in shoes and cars. Maybe she won't find it in the attention from men. Black women are celebrated for being strong over any other trait. Let's have the strength to love our babies out loud, without condition, no matter who is watching.

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