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University of Toronto St. George

In the article, The Meaning of Motherhood in Black Culture and Black Mother- Daughter Relationship by Patricia Hill Collins: "What did your mother teach you about men?" (264) Is a question that she asks her students in her course on african-american women? The student’s response is to not trust them and to be independent first before coming to serious with them are their responses - The students share stories that although they are encouraged to find manful relationships with black men they should also be vigilant. That is even when planning marriage they must be self-reliant and become mothers only when they are ready to do so - These daughters from various social class, family structures and geographic regions had received similar messages about black womanhood. Even their mothers employed diverse teaching strategies; the black daughters had all been exposed to common themes about the meaning of womanhood in black culture - This essay explores the relationship between the meaning of motherhood in African- American culture and Black mother-daughter relationships by addressing three primary questions: 1) How have competing perspectives about motherhood intersected to produce a distinctly Afrocentric ideology of motherhood? 2) What are the enduring themes that characterize this Afrocentric ideology of motherhood? 3) What effects might this Afrocentric ideology of motherhood have on black mother - daughter relationships? - Competing perspectives on motherhood: The dominant perspectives: Eurocentric views of white motherhood: - The idea of true womanhood with emphasis on motherhood as woman's highest calling has a place in the gender symbolism of white Americans - from this perspective women's activities should be confined to the care of the children, nurturing of a husband, and the maintenance of the household thus by managing this sphere, women gain social influence through their roles as mothers, transmitters of culture, and parents for the next generation - while white women have benefited from patriarchy provided by the dominant ideology, white women have come to challenge its grounds - One pole lays a cluster of women (traditionalists) who aim to retain the centrality of motherhood in women's lives. For traditionalists motherhood has been satisfying - the other pole is occupied by women who want to dismantle motherhood as an institution - they suggest that compulsory motherhood be outlaws and that the experience of motherhood can only be satisfying if women can choose not to be mothers - there is a dichotomy between the two where women are not arguing for different roles but just as long as they are not mothers - Three themes present in white perspectives on motherhood are problematic for Black women and others outside of this debate: 1) the assumption of mothering occurring in private, nuclear family household where the mother has the total responsibility for child-rearing is less applicable to black families - while the ideal cult of true womanhood has been held up to black women for emulation , racial oppression has denied black families sufficient resources to support private, nuclear family households 2) Strict sex-role segregation, with separate male and family spheres of influence within the family, has been less commonly found in African American families than in white middle-class ones 3) The assumption of motherhood and economic dependency on men are linked to being a "good"(265) mother where they have to stay at home making it a full-time "occupation " is not realistic to African American families - Even though there are white women challenging the "true womanhood", the dominant ideology remains powerful and are prominent in scholarly and popular discourse thus this will make the Eurocentric views of white motherhood affect black women's lives Eurocentric Views of Black motherhood: - Eurocentric perspectives on black motherhood revolves around 2 interdependent images that together come to define Black women's role in white and in African American families 1) The first image- the mammy who is faithful, devoted domestic servant like one of the family, mammy consciously "mothers" her white children, caring for them and loving them as if they were her own (265). Mammy is the ideal black mother for she recognizes her place, thus she is paid nothing yet accepting her inferior status 2) When this mammy enters her own home she is the second image who is the strong matriarch who raises weak sons and "unnaturally superior" daughter and when she protests she is labeled aggressive and unfeminine but if she remains silent she is rendered invisible - The task of debunking mammy by analyzing black women's role as exploited domestic workers and challenge the matriarchy thesis by showing that black women do not have unbalanced power in black African American families which has occupied African American scholars - But an equally critique concerns uncovering the functions of these images and their role in explaining black women's in system of race, class, and gentler oppression - mae king points out , white definition of black motherhood fosters the dominant group's exploitation of black women by blaming black women for their characteristic reactions to their own subordination - for example while the stay at home mother has been held up to all women as the ideal, African American women have been compelled to work outside the home in a narrow occupation - Even though black women are forced to be domestic servants and be strong figures in black households, labeling them as mammy and matriarchs degrades black women - Without a countervailing Afrocentric ideology of motherhood, white perspectives on both white and African American motherhood place black women in a no win situation - Adhering to these standards bring the danger of low self-esteem of internalized oppression on that is passed on from mother to daughter provides a powerful mechanism for controlling African American communities African perspectives on Motherhood: - One concepts that has been constant throughout the history of African societies is the centrality of motherhood in religions, philosophies, and social institutions - Cross-cultural research on motherhood in African societies support Barbara Christian on motherhood for African people symbolic of creativity and continuity - West African sociologists say that western notion should abandon equating household with family because it obscures women's family role in African cultures - While the typical white middle-class nuclear family conceptualizes family life as being divided into 2 oppositional spheres - the male sphere of economic providing and the female sphere of affective nurturing - this sex role segregation was not part of the west African tradition - Mothering was not a privatized nurturing "occupation" (266) reserved for biological mothers and the economic children support was not the exclusive responsibility of men - African American women - had emotional care for children and providing for their physical survival were interwoven as interdependent, complementary dimension of motherhood - First they are not dependent on male’s economic support and provide much of their own and their children's economic support - Women are structurally central to family - While the biological mother child bond is valued, childcare was a collective responsibility, cooperative, age-stratified; women centered "mothering" networks (265) - Research has shown that African heritage was retained among African American and this retention of west African culture as a culture of resistance offered enslaved Africans and exploited African American alternative ideologies to those advanced by dominant groups - Enduring theme of an Afrocentric ideology of motherhood: - An Afrocentric ideology of motherhood must reconcile the competing worldviews of these 3 conflicting perspectives of motherhood - The experiences of motherhood can provide black women with a base of self- actualization, status in the black community, and a reason for social activism - Embedded in these changing relationships are 4 enduring themes that characterize an Afrocentric ideology of motherhood - Issues facing enslaved African mothers different from those currently facing poor black women in inner cities - For any given historical moment the actual institutional forms that these themes take depend on the oppression and black women's resources for resistance Bloodmothers, Othermothers, and Women-Centered Networks: - In African American communities the boundaries distinguishing biological mothers of children from other women who care for children are often fluid and changing - Biological mothers or blood mothers (267) are expected to care for their children - African and African American communities have recognized that vesting one person with full responsibility for mothering a child may not be wise or possible thus "othermothers" women who assist bloodmothers by sharing mothering responsibilities traditionally have been central to the institution of black motherhood - The centrality of women in African American extended families is well known - Organized, resilient, women-centered networks of bloodmothers and othermothers are key to this centrality - Grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins acted as other mothers by taking on childcare responsibilities for each other's children- when needed temporary child care arrangements turned into long term care or informal adoption - In African American communities these women-centered networks of community based child care often extend beyond the boundaries of biological related extended families to support "fictive kin" ((267) - Example by Ella Baker- she describes how informal adoption by othermothers happened in her childhood - her aunt had 13 kids of her own and raised 3 more - mothers not wanting their child her aunt to them in and became part of family - African American community norms were that neighbours cared for each other's children - Sara Brooks a domestic worker described how the importance of the community based childcare that a neighbour offered her daughter - this showed African American culture value placed on cooperative childcare - she aid that her child was not charged but now its not like that but back then we were all poor and they understood one another - Othermothers supported children and bloodmothers that were not prepared or had little desire to care for their children - Given the political economy pressures the emphasis based on community based childcare and the respect given to othermothers who assume responsibility of childcare have served a critical function in African American communities - Kids orphaned by sale or death of their parents during slavery, kids conceived through rape, young moms, kids of moms in poverty have all been supported by othermothers like Ella Baker's aunt Providing as part of mothering: - African American women providing economic resources essential to black family affects motherhood in a contradictory fashion - on one hand African American women have integrated their activities as economic providers into their mothering relationships however in the cult of true womanhood in which work is defined as being in opposition and incompatible with motherhood - Work for black women has an important and valued dimension of Afrocentric definitions of black motherhood - African American women's experiences as mothers under oppression were such that the type and purpose of work black women were forced had an impact on the type of mothering relationships bloodmothers and othermothers had with black children - Even though slavery has caused enslaved Africans to be exposed to the gender ideologies and practices o slave owners it simultaneously made it impossible for enslaved to implement slave-owner’s ideologies thus the separate spheres of providing as a male domain and affective nurturer as a female domain did not develop with the African American families - Providing for black children's physical survival and attending to their emotional needs continued as interdependent dimensions of an Afrocentric ideology of motherhood - However by changing the conditions under which black women worked and the purpose of work itself, slavery introduced the problem of how best to continue traditional Afrocentric values under oppressive conditions - Institutions of community based childcare, informal adoption, greater reliance on othermothers, all emerge as adaptations to the demands of combining exploitative work with nurturing children - Despite the change in political status that brought liberation the African American women remained exploited agricultural workers but their placements in southern political economies allowed them to combine childcare with field labour - In sara brooks example that as a child she was 9 nursing her little sister and when she put her to sleep she would go back to the field and work - so tis comes to show that black women's work may have shifted from southern agriculture to domestic work in southern and northern towns and cities but it did not change the meaning of work so whether they wanted to or not the majority of African American women had to work and could not afford the luxury of motherhood as a non economically productive female "occupation" page 268 Community Othermothers and Social Activism: - Black women's experiences as othermothers have provided a foundation for Black women's social activism - Black women's feelings of responsibilities for nurturing the children in their own extended network have stimulated a more generalized ethic of care where black women feel accountable to all black community's children - This notion of black women as community othermothers for all black children traditionally allowed black women to treat biologically unrelated children as if they were their own like the case of Karen Fields: dealing with unfamiliar kids that are doing no good saying are u this kids mom, and if the kid says no then there is no threat - Mamie Garvin Fields became active in poor housing conditions of black people where she made a survey of the places where we were paying high rent for undesirable property and even though she had her own home she used the term we "268- we allows her to feel like it is her suffering through it and something needs to be done - Another example is where a teacher took in a boy that was causing trouble into her class, she said "the majority of the children in the learning disabled classes are our children"269- even though he did not belong there the teacher volunteered to take him - these show that women use the language of family to describe the ties that bind them as black women to their responsibilities to other members of the black community as family - this shows that community othermother relationships are behind black women's decisions to become community activists in a response to the needs of their own children and of those in their communities - this is taken from sociologists Cheryl Gikes study - this shows that not only performing community othermothers but becoming community leaders like this kindergarten teacher -her concern of our kids being excluded from summer programs Mothers as a Symbolic of Power: - Motherhood whether bloodmother, othermother, or community othermother can be invoked by a black women as a symbol of power - these black women gain status not from their roles as moms but as community othermothers to black community othermothers to black community development as well - they make contributions in nurturing black community development from the basis of community-based power-269 - Community othermothers work on behalf of the black community by trying to "uplift the race" 269 so that these vulnerable members of the community would be able to get self reliance and independence so needed for black community developing under oppressive conditions - This is a power African Americans have in mind when they describe the "strong, black women" they see around them in traditional African American communities Mothers as a Symbolic of Power: - Motherhood whether bloodmother, othermother, or community othermother can be invoked by a black women as a symbol of power - These black women gain status not from their roles as moms but as community othermothers to black community othermothers to black community development as well - They make contributions in nurturing black community development from the basis of community-based power-269 - Community othermothers work on behalf of the black community by trying to "uplift the race" 269 so that these vulnerable members of the community would be able to get self reliance and independence so needed for black community developing under oppressive conditions - This is a power African Americans have in mind when they describe the "strong, black women" they see around them in traditional African American communities - An example of women exerting power as community othermothers can be seen by Karen Fields example, where her grandmother was on the couch while seeing a man taking her TV and she said "nice boys don't do that "which the boy said John said I could borrow where the grandma said you got the wrong house and the boy went and returned it. He imagined his own grandma. - In local black communities black women are powerful figures due to their contribution of communities well being through their role as community othermothers page 269 Implications for Black Mother-Daughter Relationships: - Pamela Reid's discussion of the sex role socialization of black girls has 2 approaches in understanding Black-mother daughter relationships - 1) psychoanalytic theory- examines the role of parents in the establishment of personality and social behaviour. The theory argues that the development of feminine behaviour results from the girls' identification with adult female role models. This approach emphasizes how an Afrocentric ideology of motherhood is actualized through black mothers' activities role models - sex-role socialization process is different for boys and girls, while boys learn maleness by rejecting femaleness and separate from moms, girls establish a feminine identity by embracing their femaleness of their mothers - girls identify with their mothers a sense of connection that is embedded into the female personality but is a problem because under patriarchy men are more valued than women - while mothers identify with their mothers they also reject them since they are identifying with inferior subjects in patriarchal families - Black girls identify with their mothers on specific roles that are different than the molded middle-class white mothers - The presence of working mothers has extended family othermothers and powerful community othermothers offering a range of role models that challenge the cult of true womanhood - black mothers are less likely to socialize their daughters into inferior roles rather black girls' socialization involves incorporating critical attitude that allows black women to cope with contradictions - for instance black girls learned to do domestic work while rejecting definitions of themselves as mammies - they are taking on strong roles in black extended families without internalizing images of themselves as matriarchs - black mothers teach their daughters to fit into the systems of oppression expecting them to work without answering why she is unequal and instead work to get an education so that they can support themselves and to anticipate responsibilities in the family ad communities because these skills are essential for them to survive as well as the survival for those whom they will eventually become responsible for - yet the mothers know that if their daughters become too fit into the limited opportunities they will become participants of their own subordination (270) - Black mothers encourage their daughters to develop skills to confront oppressive conditions, thus learning that they will work, that education is a vehicle for advancement can also be seen as preparing black girls to resist oppression through variety of mothering roles and build emotional strength but not at the cost of her survival like getting involved in civil rights activities that could get her killed by whites - there is a balance between conformity and resistance where they become socialized one way and at the same time give them all the tools to be something else - Black daughters must learn to survive in interlocking structures of race, class, and gender oppression while rejecting and transcending those very same structures - to developed those skills mothers demonstrate varying combinations of behaviours devoted to ensuring their daughters survival - like giving them basic necessities and ensuring protection in dangerous environments to help them go further than mothers themselves were allowed to go - overall othermothers in black extended families and the modeling of symbolized by community othermothers offer give powerful support to teach girls to resist white perceptions of black womanhood while appearing to conform to them - black women extended family networks give an early identification with a much wider range of black womanhood creating empowerment in young black girls -2) social learning theory - rewards and punishments attached to girls' childhood experiences are central in shaping women's sex-role behaviour - black mothers punish and rewards are seen as key in the socialization process. This approach examines specific experiences that Black girls have while growing up that encourages them to absorb an Afrocentric ideology of motherhood - the contradiction that are apparent in black mother-daughter relationships - black mothers are often described as strong disciplinarians and protective yet they manage to raise daughters who are self reliant and assertive - the explanation for this contradiction is that black mothers "do not socialize their daughters to be passive or irrational" instead they socialize them to be independent, strong and self-confident and so they are protective because they want to mold their daughters into self-actualizing persons in a society that devalues black women - Black mothers prepare their daughters for the demand to being in oppressive condition by using multiple strategies - they isolate them until strong enough by building them education, family, restrictions of a close-knit community, religion (271) - this then causes a relationship that has emotional intensity - because the mothers are strong and devoted they are rarely affectionate since the demands are so high that affection is secondary to the basic needs of physical survival - these daughters have to confront the maternal love that is in popular culture while living with a strict mother so when they grow up they understand that giving physical care and protection is an act of maternal love - these daughters try to understand their mothers behaviours as they see the struggle they go through and conclude that their moms love them because they are providing the best they can - Othermothers also come to help these daughters understand the Afrocentric ideology of motherhood by teachers, neighbours, friends, and othermothers that they turned to for help in negotiating a difficult mother daughter relationship where they could not provide but could talk to them - the author concludes her student Jordan analysis of bloodmother and othermother and their cost through her passage she says that her mothers work never got recognition or never as meaningful to her but it did teach her to respect the ways of giving love and that hard work is to survive not to avoid which has allowed her to create a different work for the next generation - it shows the importance of Afrocentric ideology of motherhood to create a well being for countless number of black women but also come to lead the future continuing their mothers tradition that has caused them pain in prior generations (273) ……I’m here, but I’m there” The meanings of Latina Transnational Motherhood, by author Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila - The author states Latina Immigrant women working as nannies or housekeepers residing in Los Angeles while their children are left back in the otigional country is called "transnational motherhood." This is the arrangment of motherhood that has one form of variation in it. - the author uses surveys, in-depth interviews, and ethnographc materials gathered from Los Angeles and examines how Latina immigrant domestic workers transform the meanings of motherhood to accomadate thse spaitail and temporal seperation. The article emerges meanings of motherhood and alternative child-rearing arrangments, and also discuss how these women see motherhood in relation to their employment as well
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