My mother, my Black feminist role model, is more than her motherhood
Yes, Halimat birthed me, but she is more than her identity as a mother.
by Kathleen Anaza
I feel a sense of healing and reconciliation when I consider Halimat’s life outside of being my mother. My own navigations of womanhood help me contextualize her as a nuanced and fascinating individual I can relate to. Positioning her as a peer, makes it difficult to be the hypercritical daughter I’ve at times become.
Yes, Halimat birthed me, but she is more than her identity as a mother. At her core, she exercises levels of agency and resistance that demonstrate how culturally relative feminism is. Her actions are more subversive and subtle than the ones the academic and political institutions of feminism acknowledge, but I think they mean more.
For her, the stakes are higher. Like many other women of color, she is responsible for a community. She acts understanding the weight of her choices will be felt communally, and this includes her acts of resistance.
No marches or vagina hats for her. Instead, she carves out agency for herself and her children within little pockets of culture. She inserts creativity and nuance into music and defines them for herself as an African woman.
While music may seem like a trivial place to assert one’s agency, it is one of the few spaces where my mother is allowed to be carefree. She uses music to create a hiatus from my family’s struggles, a space to be imaginative and exploratory.
My community has made Halimat feel like self-care is indulgent. Like it is something inaccessible to women like her. She wouldn’t knowingly exercise self-care without feeling guilty or entitled. Every time she turns on the radio, she is able to prioritize her needs and cares for herself without guilt.
Every Saturday morning, regardless of the bills due or family drama, the sound of bass pulsated through the kitchen walls. Halimat weaved together diverse genres to create her own personal discoteque and safe space.
Some days the storytelling of Garth Brooks and Johnny Cash accompanied her two-step. Other days King Sunny Ade and Brenda Fassie make her whole body gyrate. Each song selection demonstrated a level of non-conformity and carefree Blackness that isn’t accessible in other avenues of her life.
Her life once lacked freedom and choice, and the context of that life now shapes how she resists. Without support or guidance, she simultaneously transitioned from a daughter and sister into motherhood and a foreign country. In one plane ride, she abruptly lost multiple levels of community—her large family network, her clan, her village, and her tribe. Before she could even process these many loses, she found herself involuntarily a single mother, alone in a foreign country.
For her, being a single mother was inconceivable. She wasn’t a widow. She had children with her husband, but she still ended up on her own somehow. Her sisters weren’t down the street to serve as trusted babysitters or confidants. Nor was her mother around to hold her hand during any of her labors. She could no longer relate to the matriarchs who raised her, she had to find a new path for herself.
During every weekend jam session, she navigated this new path. She played Afropop, Fuji, Reggae and Juju to escape and in the process shared with us pieces of her youth, having grow up in Nigeria. She indoctrinated me with Sade, Bob Marley, and Jody Whatley into Black internationalism. We explored genres, sounds, and cultures without anyone dictating what our Blackness, femininity, Africanness or economic class could allow.
Through music she discovered her love of classic country and funk. She didn’t politicise her affinities or stay within any box of “Blackness.” In our home, we could be proudly African, proudly African-American and any other subculture we desired at the same time. We could be nuanced, we could explore, we had agency within our interests.Through music, Halimat resists her social positioning by exercising agency and non-conformity.
While nuance is a simple concept, it is infrequently applied to those without social power. It is something that isn’t afforded to people that look like Halimat or come from any of the places she’s come from. Everytime Halimat asserts her nuance or teaches her community, she is engaging in resistance.
It is deeply impactful to be raised learning how to create space for yourself in a society that doesn’tdconsider you. I learned these lessons from my mother, Halimat, and other “mothers of the community.” I will not wait for dominant feminist establishments to recognize the nuance and sustainability of their feminism. I will not settle for feminist role models that don’t fully represent me.
The process of contextualizing our mothers and women of our communities’ actions and acknowledging their exhibitions of non-conformity and resistance can empower women of color, even if some of us don’t identify as feminists.
These women’s actions can embolden others to engage in bigger, more visible acts of resistance because they feel obtainable and respond to specific needs.
Our feminist references don’t have to be taught to us. We can teach them to others. We don’t have to wait for the establishments of feminism to articulate what the women of our communities are already doing.
Kathleen Anaza is a storyteller, activist and international educator currently based in Brazil. Her work examines global power dynamics through the cultures, arts, and resistance of the marginalized. She loves music, travel and critiquing international development. Follow her cultural explorations via Instagram @misskallday