Time for Non-Black Mothers to Do the Work of Antiracism
It is no longer martyrdom if we are using it to continue to uphold a violent system of oppression.
by Alexis Barad-Cutler
Recently, we asked our community the question, “What do you wish you could say/scream out loud but can’t right now?” Many of the responses seemed to fall under one of two categories: rage against our current politics/systemic racism, and yearning for time and space to oneself. The two are undeniably connected. White supremacy and violence against Black folks has existed in our country since the beginning — and white folks have been ignorant and blind to this fact, for just as long. Finally it seems that — in our community, at least — the non-Black women (e.g. white women, and non-Black POC) among us are committing to learning about and applying antiracism into our lives. Many of us are just starting this journey — reflecting on what “whiteness” means, how oppression against Black people has afforded us many of the comforts we enjoy; and recognizing the ways in which we have been shaped by racist systems.
As many non-Black women are learning, this is ongoing work — work that takes a lifetime. Shifting into a new world view and shattering an old one takes tremendous energy, commitment, and time. This is not something we can accomplish the same way one might train for a marathon. There is no end “goal”, because the work is never done. And so, this begs the question: Will the work of antiracism become something that non-Black moms will need to barter for, and negotiate with partners around in order to be able to engage in the journey? Will the refrain in houses across America be something like: “Hey Babe, can you watch the kids tonight while I work on internally addressing my anti-blackness?”
This is the dynamic taking place in my own home, in a way, as I have been taking part in Layla F. Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” challenge — a 28 day challenge based on her workbook (of the same name) and hosted by a feminist activism group I belong to called I Will Not Be Quiet. Luckily I have not had to convince my spouse about the importance of this work I must do, which includes time to journal alone every day; and time to meet virtually with my group once a week. I told my husband what I would be doing, and so, he now takes on bed time duty solo (instead of us splitting it) every Wednesday night during group meetings. Still, it takes planning — and I recognize that not everyone has partners who can carry the load of childcare; or who are committed to antiracism. Some of us are even realizing that we are living with racist partners.
This learning requires discussion with others who are also doing this work (specifically with other non-Black folks, so as to do the least amount of harm), and it takes TIME. (The healing from racial violence also takes time, space, and going internally though I do not want to assume to know anything about the specific experience of Black mothers). Many mothers do not have time, because it feels like it is not ours to claim. We didn’t have the time pre-pandemic, and we especially didn’t have it when the pandemic hit and our workloads became tenfold. But it has never been more important for white mothers to do whatever it takes to carve this necessary space for ourselves to commit to antiracism work. And the learning/reading/reckoning part? That is only the beginning.
The space we are talking about here is nothing like “me time” or “self care” (although, those are important too — because we need strength for this work.) This is about life and death. Black and brown people are four times more likely to die from coronavirus than white people. The life expectancy at birth of Black men is 71.9 years, far below white men (76.4). Black babies die at more than twice the rate than any other racial groups. In the United States, Black women are dying at 2 1/2 more times the rate than white women from maternal causes.
Instagram “activism” means nothing if we are not actively participating in anti-racist movements in our workplaces, our streets, and our communities. We must claim time to enroll in courses and webinars, taught and written by the Black femmes that we have just woken up to hearing about. We have to read the books by the original leaders of this movement (Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, etc.) Many of us are just starting to learn and live what has been preached for decades upon decades. Finally. This time is not negotiable. For the pendulum to swing, at all, the “martyrdom” narrative mothers have been clinging to has to disappear. Find the time. Demand it. It is no longer martyrdom if we are using it to continue to uphold a violent system of oppression.