We women who came of age during the Black Power Movement, the Peace Movement, the Free Speech Movement, and yes the Feminist Movement continue to move in a circle that is, almost always, far different from most of our mothers. We were and are more independent, involved in a community reaching further than the local school or religious sanctuary, demanding a different type of relationship from our men- not negotiating although some of us learned how to do that too, not asking, not persuading, but demanding. We raised ourselves, each other and our children with a very direct, often strident posture towards justice, equity, and our perceptions of freedom and power. We knew what we believed and we pressed those issues to the front. My daughter did not own a white doll, my nieces were not allowed to own any doll. My children’s first books showed them the world weighted towards African diaspora and African images and mythologies. Did you know that every culture has a version of a Cinderella story? Well my daughter did by the age of four, but she didn’t hear the European version until she was in (public) school. Cinderella for her was African or Chinese or Japanese. My son didn’t own a toy gun under my watch. He had a fish that shot hard long streams of water in lieu of a water pistol. A sword was my rare compromise, me totally believing that playing at killing someone was evil, but insisting that if one did it you should be able to see into their eyes and smell their blood.
“It’s a game,” he would protest. “You know pretending.”
“So it’s fun to pretend to kill your friends.” Yes, I did put a bit to much on it, but I believed then and believe now in a way that is culturally rich, affirms one’s ancestry, reaches towards peace and supports a common humanity. Brown rice and revolution, jazz and evolution. But we new women made our mistakes. How many meetings, how many political priorities took us from our children? How many principled stands against this kind of toy or that kind of book turned our children from the very principles which we espoused? How many denied in gesture or substance their sons, or the male children of others? How many treated their role as mothers as a lodestone around their necks, a necessary, but less important, chore? How many times were we not there when we should have been?
Rebecca Walker’s recent article on her mother’s absence as a nurturing mother is important.
(http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1021293/How-mothers-fanatical-... - If long link doesn’t work go to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/ and put Rebecca Walker in search. This article is well worth reading.) The point is not the idea of a child publically humiliating her very famous mother. No this is not Mommie Dearest Redux, rather Rebecca Walker poses some important questions about mothering through a movement that too often diminished the value and wonder of being a mother, mothering that put the politic first and the family last, mothering that lost perspective. Revolution, after all, really does start in the home. But that does not mean negating the value of the home or denying the potency of the hearth? Yes, the images we put on our walls, the music we play in our homes, the books we read need to be carefully selected and are important. Important too to take our children to political actions and let them know that people create change, and people united can create more positive (or if misdirected negative) change. But equally if not far more important, are the lessons of love and endurance, the lessons of compassion and support, the lessons of strength and laughter than can be taught by fully embracing the role of mother.
So to movement women I say this, now that our children are grown, now that many of us have grandchildren, it may be a good time to look at what we did right as mothers and where in our political fervor we strayed too far. The times now are even more difficult then they were then. Now we live in a nation where torture is complicity accepted, where masses of people are, all too often unjustly, imprisoned, where imprisonment has become a for profit industry where full beds and short rations and slave labor (legal under the 13th amendment of the US Constitution) is the path to ever growing stock returns. There is more hunger and less health care and even less security for the very old and the very young. We need another massive push forward but this time we need to be sure to take our children with us. How? Let’s let our children speak openly about what they received and did not receive from us. Let us listen and help them to be better parents. And let us not reject the hard parts of the conversation. I, for one, think Rebecca Walker did the movement a favor. She’s got us talking and looking. Let’s not stop.