I had my oldest son in a New Orleans teaching hospital the day before a tropical storm. In fact, I left the hospital a mere ten hours after giving birth—enough time to make sure both baby and I were healthy and enough time to show me the “basics” of breastfeeding. A storm was barreling down on the Crescent City and they needed my bed to accommodate the wave of mamas going into labor because of the drop in barometric pressure. At least that’s what they told me and I believed them. I was a new mom. New mamas tend believe anything and everything we’re told.
Months later I held that baby boy to my chest. Formula and powdery disposable diaper filled my nose as he nuzzled into my neck. Nurses, friends, meddling old ladies in the line at Winn-Dixie, discouraged these two choices, but I made them anyway. My instincts told me this made sense for our family, mastitis and college classes, and temporary homelessness, all contributed to that decision and to this day, I don’t regret bottle-feeding him at all. But that night, oh that night shame crept over me as I rocked my baby back and forth.
Accusations of my failure accompanied each swing of the chair:
All night long. My tenuous grasp of my mama instincts were nothing compared to the vice grip insecurity had over me.
Seven years later, that same child stared at me with his big laurel green eyes and crumbs on his lip. I know he’s lying to me. I know his tells and the way he answers a question with a question.
“Did you sneak some crackers before dinner?” I ask.
“What makes you ask that, Mama?” he answers
With my instincts pinging, I’m more confident than ever that I know what to do. I wipe the crumbs onto my thumb; show him the evidence of his mischief and with a light pat on the bum I send him off to clean up for dinner.
Today I am sitting my couch, that same baby is eleven now and I feel like a failure again. I didn’t listen to my instincts and now the accusations are back. Things are happening at school, he’s feeling unheard, and isolated. For months I’ve watched the situation play out and even though I could see it landing here, I explained my observations as paranoia. The words used about my child, the manner of speech towards him, the silence of advocacy for him, ring in my ear tonight. The house is quiet and still, but anger boils within me.
But, I can’t be angry. No. Not at all. I am a black woman. A black mama, in fact. We’re known for our antics. Our curler in the hair, ratty house robe, loud, ignorant antics. We’re expected to waggle our heads and suck our teeth. We’re Medea personified, the stuff of urban legends. This stereotype keeps me from accessing my very real, very hot, divinely sanctioned anger.
Until I was told of a new injustice, then today, I got angry. I asked questions. I pushed back on illogical reasoning. I defended my child. I followed my instincts and shortly thereafter, the accusations came.
I was told that my anger wasn’t productive— that I was wrong to be upset and misguided and didn’t quite comprehend the situation. Today I was shamed for having the audacity to be angry over being informed about decisions made that affect my child instead of invited into the decision-making process. Today I tried very hard to not be the angry black woman. Today I failed. Today I succeed for my baby. That insidious insecurity suffocated any victory cry.
When I hung up that phone I was back on that rocking chair of rebuke.
Back: Stop making this a race thing
But this always happens doesn’t it? For me, it’s a fine line, if I don’t care enough in this brown skin of mine, I can be labeled as “neglectful”, if I care too much, I’m volatile, unreasonable, or my current favorite—unproductive.
Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.
For years I easily avoided the “angry black woman” stereotype. I’m a people pleaser—not pissing people off is what we do. Then I had children who snatched pieces of my heart. Now my vulnerability stumbles through this world daily, bumping into hard people and sharp circumstances. I feel it all. The pain. The confusion. The frustration. I want to protect, to defend, to conquer, to comfort. And yet I feel trap by the accusations to follow these mama instincts.
I worry that when I stand up for my son, they just see Solange whaling on Jay-Z in an elevator. I worry that when I push back they hear the riotous noises of a Jerry Springer cat-fight, much the same way Charlie Brown heard his teacher’s “whomp, whomp, whomp”. I worry that the stereotype is preferred over the authenticity of my vulnerability. I worry that this fear of being the “angry black woman” muzzles my mighty roar and my fierce femininity.
The house is quiet. The family is sleeping and I wish I could join them. But I’m up, pacing, writing, crying, hurting, wondering, dreaming.
This is my dream for my fellow black mamas. May we trust our eyes, listen to our hearts, discern our fears, and pursue our wholeness fearlessly. May we turn our beautiful faces to the storms and not away from them. May we seek to understand while still confident in what we know. May we share the gritty, raw feelings with gritty, raw words because we know on the other side is a gritty, raw, and glorious healing. May we know the difference between sensitivity and sensationalism. May our mighty roars alert other lionesses of the impending danger of stereotypes and biases and may we all—black, peachy, brown, and tan destroy them together. In Unity. One pack. One Body. One Kingdom.
May we be free to trust our instincts and empowered to ignore the accusations.