Volume 51, Issue 2: Spring 2017

Mothers of colour challenge white feminism

  • Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines

    Edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens and Mai’a Williams

    Between the Lines and PM Press, 2016

This is an extraordinary book. Its dedication to all the revolutionary mothers expands Malcolm X’s call for freedom, justice, equality “by any means necessary”: “mothering is love by any means necessary.” These writings by women of colour draw on human experiences hardly ever seen, and in this way alone their work engenders a passion for justice and survival. The American national anthem begins “Oh Say Can You See,” and reflects a now globalized culture that has come to see absolutely nothing about real human beings and which is fast bringing on our extinction. The book’s subtitle, “Love on the Front Lines,” resonates with Anna Freud’s understanding that the problem of excessive aggression is at bottom a problem of insufficient love, with love’s power to modulate.

This book covers so much and ought to be read in its entirety. Much originally came from Reproductive Justice, first organized by African American feminists in 1994. They transformed the singular focus on abortion rights to include the right to become a mother and the “right to parent our children in safe and healthy environments.

“How can a household, a community, or a nation be effectively governed when women are held disproportionately responsible for its future yet are disproportionately neglected, abused, excluded, isolated, and invisible? Two words: it can’t.”

Many of the writers challenge white feminism, Marxist feminism, Queer Theory, anti-war activists, the evasiveness of post-modernism, for whom the real lives of mothers are largely invisible: mothers of colour, mothers living in poverty, mothers with disabilities, immigrant mothers, teen mothers, adoptive children and parents. In 2005, William Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education and officer of Drug Policy, publicly stated that aborting every black baby would decrease crime; in 1977, World Bank official Richard Rosenthal suggested that three-quarters of the women in developing countries should be sterilized to prevent economically disruptive revolutions, and now there is shamelessly and ignorantly the environmental rationale of overpopulation (but not of people who believe they are white).

In a recent CD issue on children, I wrote of how liberal individualism centrally leaves out relationships. In contrast, revolutionary mothering is centrally about interdependence, encumbrance. Motherhood and revolution, they say, are fundamentally messy and they are about the relationship needs of the moment and of the future. Many of the mothers tell of their innermost physical and emotional feelings, knowing that they need to care for children and for themselves, and because of their children, make society livable.

I want to include one of the many experiences from day-to-day life (so obviously eluding most people in power), about a slice of encumbered life that is communicated in this inspiring book.

I’ve recently read other books about the grim state of the world, and of the people who see it and fear for human survival: Ta Nahisi-Coates’s words to his son; Henry Giroux on American torture of children; Gretchen Roedde on the shocking lack of the most basic pre-natal and maternal care in every region of the world. There is much about horrible people, gross deception, ignorance, and cruelty. These times require the utmost in human cooperation and honesty and acknowledgement of reality. Read Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines, and rage productively against the dying of the light.

Judy Deutch is a psychoanalyst, teaches and supervises at the Toronto Psychoanalytic Institute, and on the board of Science for Peace. She is a frequent and longstanding contributor to Canadian Dimension.

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