A Black Mother’s Love (or What Love Looks Like in Public)

mothers love

I planned to write a blog about the unconscionable inconsolable injustice that is plaguing the black community right now.  I was going to write about how black lives matter (always have, always will), how condemning black folk for hurting, and calling them animals and savages for being treated like animals and savages, is just that bullshit disguised as being deep, and how the protests in Baltimore following Freddie Gray’s death and funeral, while still waiting for explicit details on why the hell he died, is just and justified–but as I search for words they feel overly familiar.  Like so many folk, I feel like I have written that post, said those words, made those arguments (for so many other black and brown folk who were unnecessarily taken), yet they keep coming back to me on repeat like a cassette tape on rewind.  The names are different, the circumstances are different, but the systemic and perpetual racism and disenfranchisement of black and brown folk who have the audacity to be poor and/or imperfect and/or disillusioned with the police is consistent.  The failure of a system that creates and perpetuates this injustice to punish itself gets conveniently lost in the storyline while the people on the frontline are maligned.  I don’t want to have to try to explain to folk that just because the media frames something as a riot, doesn’t make it one.  I am tired of  telling people that righteous rage is righteous, even if it makes folk uncomfortable, and you can’t keep telling people to “wait for justice” when it seems to never come.  I can’t conceive of why it is necessary to keep defending their frustration, or my own.

So, when I sat down to write my blog this morning, I couldn’t bring myself to repeat myself.  Instead, I thought about a video circulating last night of a black mother confronting her son for participating in the protests.  We don’t know her name, and the footage captures her slapping her son in the face and directing him away from the crowd, presumably home.  The boy, her child, her Trayvon Martin, her Jordan Davis, her Tamir Rice, her Ezell Ford, her John Crawford, her Mike Brown, her Freddie Gray, looked at his mother respectfully if not indignantly and led the way home, away from the crowd, likely embarrassed by her spectacle, but breathing.

We have seen the way black mothers have been represented during the years-long move/ment for justice.  Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother) was respectable. Lesley McSpadden (Michael Brown’s mother) was not.  Lucia McBath (Jordan Davis’ mother) was respectable. Samaria Rice (Tamir Rice’s mother) was not.  The media portrays “respectable” mothers as compliant, quiet mourners who demand justice but do so solemnly.  Respectable mothers are constructed as married or marryable, God-fearing, well dressed and visibly middle class.  Mothers who are young (or had their children young), who are single or struggling, mothers who may have multiple children or no father-figure present, mothers who are mad as hell about the death of their child and who refuse to be silent are blamed for the supposed bad choices of their sons (Tamir Rice and Michael Brown were blamed for instigating their murders by police officers, and their so-called lack of respect was attributed to their parenting, or lack thereof—Moynihan Report anyone?).

I find it fascinating that the same folk who would condemn this black mother for putting her hands on her son in any other context, are celebrating her “parenting” because they assume it is evidence that she, like them, is “respectable,” and against the protests.  She is being heralded as a good mother (one who refuses to allow her son to organize) even though her presentation is likened to the presentation of the so-called “bad mothers.”

I don’t have a son, but I do have a mama, and she has never prioritized my feelings or my pride above my safety.  And her fear for me (staying out late, going anywhere alone—fears she still has now and I am well into my 30s) is not always based on logic, its based on possibility, its based on knowing what can happen to a person in black skin in this country, just for walking down the street or trying to get home.  I imagine that fear is magnified when you are the mother of a boy-child who is black and working-class in an urban city.  I don’t think the mother’s interference was a result of her anger (as it has been characterized by news outlets), but rather her fear.  A black mother’s fear might look like anger (or embarrassment to hear the Baltimore mayor tell it) in public.  It might seem aggressive or abrasive or too much on the outside looking in, but a black mother’s love is desperate and deep.  I believe this woman wasn’t just pleading with her son to go home, she was pleading with her son to live.  In my opinion, she was trying to save her son’s life, protect him from the possibilities of danger or recognizability that could put him in danger, if not immediately then later for being seen as an agitator or troublemaker.  I don’t believe her reaction was an attempt or intention to vilify the folk who were there, it was about protecting her son so that she doesn’t have to know what it is like to stand in protest because something happened to her child.

The image of this mother, ignoring cameras and onlookers and directing her stare and concentration on her son, is a nuanced layeredness of loss, fear, sadness, rebellion, reaction, and love.  The news station undoubtedly captured this mother loving on her son in public accidentally (because the news, particularly CNN, was too busy making a spectacle of and making light of people’s pain, victim-blaming, insisting and implying that material possessions mean more than material bodies), of mothering him the only way she knew how, of having that love looked at as something different, something political, something radical (though loving ourselves and each other, as black folk, is an act of rebellion and radicality) .

The mother in the clip, not unlike most black mamas I know, is not implying that there is anything wrong with protesting or acting in response to yet another injustice.  She is scared as hell that the presence of her child is dangerous because his black bodied-ness and maleness and open defiance to authority could cost him his life.  I saw in her my mother and the mothers of sons who have died who wish they would have had the opportunity to tell their son to shut the hell up, to go the hell home, to turn the music off, to keep walking and not turn around, to not pick up the pellet gun in the store, to  not play with a play gun in the park, to not run, because if it means pausing your protest so you can live, masking your masculinity so you can walk out of here alive, your life is more important than the principle (and oh yeah, life is also more important than property, but I digress).  To me, this mother demonstrated what a black mother’s love looks like in public.  Unfortunately a  mother’s love, however powerful, cannot save the lives of her children in a world that ain’t never loved us (and probably never will), but it’s a beautiful start.

  1. Pingback: A Black Mother’s Love (or What Love Looks Like in Public) | The Crunk Feminist Collective | United Against Police Terror – San Diego

  2. Basically. My mama would have done the same to protect her child. Of course the media made it seem different.

  3. Fear — mix it with fierce love and desire to protect — it frequently looks like this. I remember getting whooped for running out into the street when I was two– the only time I remember what felt like anger from my mother in a punishment. I have a clear memory of that “anger”. And I know it was the fear only a mother can know when her child is in danger — when there is only this that she can do to protect him or her.

    Anyone watching it who is a parent should immediately recognize this … anyone — not only Black mothers love like this… but it is the “anger” of people of color that excites the masses. If only they knew what other emotions were carried in our public anger.

  4. You have me in tears. It’s easy to put myself in her shoes and do anything to keep my child safe. However, it’s also easy to put myself in his shoes and feel that something must be done – someone has to take a stand. Both are being brave and courageous in their own way. I wish it were safe for her to feel pride instead of fear for the amazing man her son is.

  5. Justice is never generously conferred upon any downtrodden people by some benevolent overlord. It must be wrested from the ones who insist that the downtrodden do not deserve it because they are not sufficiently obsequious in their dealings with those who abuse, exploit and murder them.

    Do not wait for others to notice your pain for they will not heal you. If possible, organize the community, take over the reins of power and let the abusers feel the pain they thought was your just reward.

  6. Thank you , well stated.. I may have done something similar if it meant saving my son’s life. We all know that reaction was/ is out of fear and love mixed in with anger and frustration
    .

  7. Pingback: Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet: Baltimore Uprising Edition

  8. Thank you for stating so eloquently what is in my heart. The hopes and fears for our sons is all too real. For me these hopes and fears carry on to concerns for my grandsons. I can see myself doing whatever is necessary to save my sons or grandsons.

    • I admire this mother, I know her love and her fears, I have two sons, one grandson, five brothers, and fourteen nephews and great nephews, and they are all Black.

  9. This was exactly how I felt when I saw this video. I watched it and thought, “she must be so afraid for her son.” It is not easy to raise black children in a country that hates them and I can only imagine how terrified she must have been that her son would end up like Freddie Gray. I felt so much compassion for her even as I was disappointed to see people praising her as a “good parent” keeping her son out of trouble. I’m sure she wants the world to change but doesn’t want to have to sacrifice her son to see it happen. I get that and my heart goes out to her and black mothers everywhere doing all they can to make sure their children make it home alive.

    • sure a protest is fine, but it was a riot.. people are bound to get injured or killed.. she stepped in and said enough is enough.. good for her..

    • “It is not easy to raise black children in a country that hates them….” Please, stop telling black children the country hates them. Please. The earlier you ingrain that message into their hearts and minds, the earlier they start judging people of other races too, and that’s how this whole thing keeps going round and round.

      • Amen. We need to teach logic, reason, put yourself in the others’ shoes for a moment. I’m watching too many brilliant young men of color self sabotaging due to perceptions that are not always correct, finding no place to plant themselves and grow (this one seems true for all young men not destined to be neurosurgeons) while the young women are finding jobs, buying cars, getting apartments etc. I remember a time when we made a place for our Freddie Grays. The polio cripple swept floors at the hardware store and made sure that children like myself put all the screws and nails back in its proper bin when we were done playing with them. The store owner made sure this man was treated with respect even though the smallpox had made him hard to look at. The pharmacy likewise had a not too bright employee who spent his days ensuring that the shelves were properly stocked and the floors clean who over time learned to direct customers. The young man with Downs syndrome washed dishes at the diner. They all had their dignity and self-sufficiency and if some troglodytes bullied them around the neighborhood I don’t know. Even very young i saw that their bosses made sure that each person that entered their place of business was going to be respectful to these men. I highly doubt that Freddie Gray’s lead check was enough to live on so he did what he could. This is part of why I am against “immigration” – because we are throwing away people born here that need inclusion. I fail to understand government math. We waste US born human capital and leave our own displaced in favor of bringing in strangers who also feel free to bring and act on their prejudices. So from what I have read about Freddie Gray shows me the multi-generational misery of chronic poverty. If he had received the help he needed he would still be on the poorer side of life but he would have had dignity and community support in life, not after death. He would not need to be a petty criminal to make ends meet. Unfortunately I no longer see this problem demographically – it’s nationwide and not exclusively black. Freddie Gray was supposedly learning challenged due to the lead exposure but we as a nation aren’t just wasting our Freddie Grays – we are wasting highly intelligent who are capable of being, doing, giving so much more. It’s the same 3rd world devaluation of human life that we were once taught in public schools to be so grateful to be here in the USA.

  10. I am a mother , i would do the same as her, not because i against anyone, but to save my child life. To make sure he will be alive.

  11. I’ve seen this video used all day by folks to condemn the rioters. It broke my heart. Thank you for your voice…which is likely much closer to this mom’s voice.
    My reaction to my own brown son would prob not be fit for tv. God protect them all.

  12. i am a teacher. i cannot count the number of times mothers have come to school and commenced to hit their child for misbehaving slash having to leave her job that she only gets paid if she is there slash child i am tired and doing the best i can for us slash why are you acting like this? slash i am trying to get us out of this. on the one hand i knew her hits, her punches and slaps were not meant to be seen as too much but that she loves her child and will “kill” him/her before this world does. many times i have turned away because i could not witness the physical and sometimes verbal actions of these mothers. other times i have interrupted and simply consoled the mother and gave her space to be in pain and have her pain felt. yesterday when i saw this video i cringed because i was upset and thought did she have to punch him like that? yes she did! thank you for showing up and loving on the living. #iloveblackwomendeeply

  13. The mother on the clip acted just like any mother or parent(s) with values and self respect. And yes, with fear and concerns about her son’s well-beings and….. some embarassments on his choice of actions!!!! But I absolutely Do not agree about the being a black person, white or brown!!!! It is her or you within and what she or you believes in. In her heart and mind, she knows and came to acknowledged that her son made the wrong choice of action. Who is the better person to guide him and have him realize the potential of making the biggest mistake in his life!!!! Ethnicity has absolutely nothing to do with it!!!!!it is about acknowledgements, integrity and resposibility to your choices or actions. That is what is ABOUT!!!!!!!

  14. Her child appears dangerous because he is dressed in all black with a black ski mask on to hide his identity amongst a hostile, criminal mob. Not solely because he is a black male, as you stated. I applaud this mother for dragging her precious son from the street and it’s dangerous influence. I hope there are plenty more mothers and fathers following suite.

  15. A mother’s love is like no other it is deep. A mother protects and nourishes her children by any means necessary. This woman exhibited the height, depth and width that a mother would go through to protect her children. This woman is the epitome of a woman and motherhood. Kudos to her cause I would have done the same
    #saveourbabies #saveourfuture #saveourmen
    #blackwhitegrizzlyorgray #alllivesmatter…Praying for peace…Vera LeGree King

  16. I could only imagine the look on her face,as she saw her child in that crowd.My reaction would’ve been exactly the same.Her actions get a thumbs up,and I applaud you.

  17. She should be Mother of the year. Saving her son’s life. We need to love our children enough to do what it takes to keep them alive.

  18. Isn’t the problem we are trying to deal with the fact that black males are stereotyped as only understanding physical force? Do these images really help? Is violence the only way of getting through to us? Turning fear into anger does not look like the answer. Maybe the issue here is deeper than we know.

  19. There is nothing stronger than a mother’s love. There is no deeper pain than the death of your child. There is no greater fear that for your child’s safety. Most mother’s would die to protect their child. I love your article. It is well written and you are able to see a deeper meaning to what happened.

  20. I couldn’t have said it better. I love what she did for her son. I would have done the same to my son. Now I wish every mother in Baltimore would go out and collect her child/children. We have gotten so scared of disciplining our children that they run wild. Had she been doing that in a Wal-Mart parking lot people would have called the police. Maybe it’s time we go back to the way things used to be. Where we behaved out in public because we didn’t want our neighbors to tell our parents how we were misbehaving.

  21. I agree with you a hundred percent as a mother of a male child and someone who works in the social work field. Our sons are a very precious gem and need to be treated as such. There are So Many traps out there To ensnare them that we as mother’s need to save them at any course. It is very hard for a women to raise a son . We must instill in them a sense of worth, pride, intelligence , empathy, compassion and just the right touch of sensitivity. This is a hard job especially when men who are in touch with their sensitive side is frowned upon. What that mother did is the right thing because she knows that prince would probably not live to be a king of his own castle one day fighting for his rights.

  22. This is a beautiful piece of writing. It’s sad that it has to be written in this day and time. I had to blink back the tears several times. I have a son in his 30 ‘ s with a career and doing well and I was just like this mother when he was a preteen and young adult. But by no means do I think he’s safe in this world. There is continual prayer and STILL conversation on this persistent unfairness/hate fullness of our boys/men.

  23. Yes thank you as a black mother who is raising four black males and is 29 with a deadly disease but still got college degrees and who teaches her sons to be men to be strong black men and to be strong black educated men i thank you for this message. It just makes me want to push my boys a lil harder and let them watch everything thats going on and explain to them whats going on just because of the fear of raising strong black educated men in todays society is very scary…
    But the there is A God
    Iove what she did because it would have been me

    • “who teaches her sons to be men to be strong black men and to be strong black educated men”…Hmm…what if we tweaked that to read, ‘who teaches her sons to be men, to be strong men, to be strong educated men’ ? Maybe if we weren’t to point out the already obvious difference, the children wouldn’t feel so segregated from the beginning. If unity in this country will ever come, it will take the raising of an entire generation, of all races, being raised and taught, “We are men, we are women, we are human” with the racial specification left out so that generation of children is able look at each other as children, as other little humans.

  24. Every black male child born to a black mother is taught to yield, a consequence of being born black in America. Every mother spends her life praying over him and waiting for his safe return. Hers is the posture of every mother bold enough to take it to the streets. Wendy C. Blackwell

  25. So beautifully written and heartfelt it brought me to tears. I’m a light skinned person and I momma the same way.

  26. Though I read your emails as often as you send, this is my first response to your insights and eloquence. THANK YOU for giving voice to Black Love’s reality!

    This Warrior Mother is raising a Warrior Son. No matter what stew of emotions propelled her out the door to find him, she accomplished her mission, which will resonate in his memory, forever. He has felt and can watch on national television, just how much his life matters. And he will know what to do with his own Warrior Son.

    “Rise up fallen fighters;
    Rise and take your stance again.
    ‘Tis he who fight and run away
    LIVE to fight another day.” (Bob Marley – The Heathen Lyrics)

  27. Ex when is preventing violence by committing violence admirable? I think it’s good that she is PRESENT and aware of where her child is. I think it’s huge that she went to get him but he is not property. The police have no rights to his body and neither does his mother

  28. Well said!! From a white mother with a black son. Who is scared as hell. For her black young son.

  29. Black and white mothers all love their children! Black beat the hell out of their, white mothers coddle, and cuddle their. Both ways are WRONG. Moderation is the key!

  30. There is a big difference between ‘organizing’ and causing personal harm to men and women who have mothers themselves, which is absolutely going on in Baltimore right now. However, there is no difference between a black mother terrified of her child being in danger when they’re walking down the street trying to get home and a white mother doing the same. Parenting concerns are not reserved for people of color who believe that the world is out to get them. You de-value parenting as a whole when you suggest the only thing to fear for your children is harassment by police.

  31. This is a beautifully written article! I believe you touched on the very essence of being a black mother. A mother of black sons. I have three. They are adults now but I would not have hesitated to do exactly what this mother did! I would rather get them straight than letting the streets or the “system” them straight. And to all those who say she was wrong…you know your parents wouldn’t tolerate these actions and if something had happened to him they would have been asking where his parent(s) were. This had nothing to do with abuse but everything to do with a responsible parent protecting her own!!! I applaud her!

  32. I understand the desperation, and even the frustration. As the mother of a black sun, I would lay down my life for him. But what I do not understand and will never be able to support, is the idea that beating our own children will protect them. It never has saved us. Because our children are killed even when they are not rebelling and protesting. I get fear, I do not get disrespecting our children in the name of “discipline.” It is plain abusive to beat your own child when you could just as easily talk to them. Tell them you’re afraid! Tell them you’re frustrated! I’m sure they are frustrated too! We have to stop acting like physical assault is a sign of love. Fear is not productive here. He was out there because he recognized that things need to change. Or perhaps he felt so desperate that he would be killed anyway that it didn’t matter if he died in that moment. As parents, we also need to learn how to listen and understand our children. They are literally the future, and they can teach us things we’ve never considered before. But we have to be willing to listen, and stop recycling the same crippling ideology that propels us to control them with violence. They’re not property, they are people. It’s time we respected them as such.

  33. Pingback: A Black Mother’s Love (or What Love Looks Like in Public)

  34. Pingback: How they ignore Black America: Freddie Gray, Baltimore & the pernicious influence of respectability politics - Salon.com

  35. Pingback: A Black Mother’s Love (or What Love Looks Like in Public) | Project Ava

  36. This article was written beautifully! It clearly conveys the sentiment of this Black and Latino mother! When reading this article replace the word she/this mother with the word I and watch the epiphany unfold! This could be me at anytime! “The image of this mother is a nuanced layered ness of loss, fear,sadness, rebellion, reaction and love! Thank you for this article! It helped me to verbalize what I truly feel as an Afro-Cuban American mother raising a son in this country!

  37. An insightful and evocative article, I enjoyed reading very much. I too had mixed feelings about that Mom’s actions, but being a mom and knowing the fear that she was likely feeling helps to put it in context. I would, however, like to point out that this fiercely protective instinct applies to any devoted mother’s love, of any colour.

  38. This sounds great, yet we gave charges to Adrian Peterson for disciplining his son in the privacy of his own home. If she does not want him to turn into Freddie Grey, she should not have slept with (Freddie Gey) to have him. Why did she not send his father to go get their son?

    • I think we all know the answer to that. We can talk about poverty, drugs, socioeconomics, racism, etc, but with a black president for two terms, along with all the black officials from him down, that argument is getting so old. The problem starts with the breakdown of the family unit. When 72% of black women are raising children alone, that is what the black community needs to focus on. The problems are only going to get worse because now these 72% of kids will think this dysfunction is normal, and sleep around, and then will start the next generation. I have seen this just in my lifetime getting worse and worse. We get so many drug users in the hospital, and it’s so sad. One lady last week I was trying to get up and walking in the halls bc they were looking at a care facility for her bc she wouldn’t take care of herself, or do anything at all. I talked to her about her 9 yo daughter I knew she had and told her how much she needed her at home. She needed her mama to come home to her. She said, oh, she’s at my mama’s house 8 miles down the road. She stays there. I still got her up and ambulated her, but I felt so sorry for her daughter. The same woman that raised the woman addicted to Crack cocaine in front of me, now was raising another child, and God only knows how many others. The 9 yo, more than likely, will become another statistic.
      I desperately want these black women, especially in my community to know they are worth more than this. They do not have fathers to help guide the children.
      I left the movie theater a few months ago around 1000 and there was a group of about 5 black teenage girls in the front of the theater. They were in mini skirts, sticking their butts out taking pics of who could do it to make their rear end look the most appealing. We all know that was on social media before they even got home. I walked by thinking about how my own teenage daughter talks about at school they judge the girls based on the size of their rears. The majority of the school is black and my daughter has actually been picked on bc her butt isn’t big. She is white.
      Ever since that night, I desperately wish I had stopped and talked to them. I don’t know if they would have listened, but I at least wanted to tell them that they are worth so much more. They were created by our Heavenly Father that doesn’t want these girls to be exploited and played and then suffering the consequences. They weren’t made to be the objects that the black culture has made them out to be. My heart just breaks for these girls still. Black girls have to be taught they are beautiful and prized as children. But there is no father showing them their mother is worthy. I think the only way families will be rebuilt in future generations are for the daughters to be guided to know they don’t deserve to be objectified and used for sex by boys that disappear.
      Any suggestions for solutions are welcome. I really feel lead to help protect these girls.
      Thank you.

  39. Pingback: empathyeducates - A Black Mother’s Love (or What Love Looks Like in Public)