What I learned from studying my Black mother’s pedagogy of love
My mother's wisdoms are enduring, seemingly eternal. I’m still learning from her, even as I grow into my own shoes.
Editor’s Note: April is Black Women’s History Month. Throughout this month, Black Youth Project is celebrating Black women. This month is also National Minority Health Month, Autism Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
by Donnie Moreland
If you’ve ever inquired on your philosophy of love, I’d imagine what you’d discover is that how you love, have loved and what you consider to be the proper practice of love contrast in manners further from what you considered personal, and unmalleable, truths.
No matter what you uproot, one inalienable truth is that love never matures how you expect it to mature. This is a fact, an evidence of being, which I gathered in observation of my mother’s inquiry into love, and loving. One of many facts, explicitly about the subject of love, which my own child will acknowledge, both as lineage and as ethic. In fact, it is in the study, of love, which I uncover the blessings of my mother’s tutelage to be the most critically impressing.
We were both learning from her, my sibling and I, even when we were ignorant of when moments were shaping, becoming lessons. And to this, I owe my mother a great deal. She was open about her pedagogy being a corrective one and she regarded me able to scrutinize her teaching, albeit cautiously, and find in it my own truth. These meditations on love, loving Black women, loving the other and, most preciously, loving self are the findings of my excavation and the first attempts of me bringing to my mother’s table, gifts of my gratitude.
1) Love for a Black Woman
To love Black women is to first acknowledge the consequences of my being a Black man, in the proximity of Black women. My mother loathed the power of the tongues of Black men to both harm and bear no consequence for harming. What I am alluding to is the harm of Black social male-dom. My mother acknowledged Black Male Privilege as something which had, and has, no base. These privileges which are contradictory to their anecdotal histories in Blackness. I grew to understand her worry, the more I confronted the evidence of men, in the stories of women.
This evidence is, in part, observational and, in part, experiential. We, as Black Men, share a social proximity with Black Women, but our gender separates us. We are gifted the spoils of the white man’s private war with white women, as the assumed crown-bearer of community. The residue of white male privilege spills over the line between white men and Black Men and we brandish what is left of their “birthright” to lay siege to our own homes.
But whereas white women find consolation in their whiteness, a Black Woman must bear the wickedness of both the eye that sees her as Black and the eye that sees her as woman. Thus, doubly damning her to insult far beyond the comprehension of myself and any man of our yolk. My mother’s lesson to me has been that loving Black women begins with reconciling the frailty, instability and danger of my own gender — my own violence.
2) Love for the other
My mother, as a Black Woman, found herself bemused by the prospect of subjugation to marital mores manifested within the very private, and very unspoken, relations between the Black Man and Black Woman. To this day, she’s humored, and often bewildered, by the expectations of Black Men who see Black Women as the famed consummate mother-whore. However, this isn’t to say that, as she would reveal, she was impartial to traditionalism in her role as wife and mother.
There is a poem, In The Middle of Dinner, by Chris Abani, which reads:
“My mother put down her knife and fork,
Pulled her wedding ring from its grove,
Placing it contemplatively on her middle finger.
So natural was the move, so tender, I almost didn’t notice.
Five years, she said, five years, once a week,
I wrote a letter to your father. And waited
Until time was like ash on my tongue.
Not one letter back, not a single note.
She sighed, smiling, the weight gone.
This prime rib is really tender, isn’t it? she asked.”
I can not help but draw similarities between my mother’s experience, in motherhood and wifedom, and the brutality of passivity illustrated in Abani’s text. There is an expectation that, no matter the offense, a Black Woman is to be patient with her husband. A Black Man, in all of his narcissistic pessimism against God, world and community, should feed from his wife, her unwavering blessings of favor and endearment.
My mother adopted these principles of spousaldom and suffered from the wounds from dogged relational demand. She followed my father across the country, bore the emotional scarring of his psychosis and was, in the most Judeo Christian form, his “rib.” This, she learned from her mother and her mother from her mother and the same for many a Black Women, especially of the Church.
And like most, when my mother separated from my father, her transition into singledom was ripe with discontent. She speaks openly about the guilt associated with giving over to another so much of, as she refers, “The contents of her well.” Unrequited patience and frustrations, the consequence of providing another the intimacies, longing and support one also yearns for in conquest of marital fulfillment. And in bearing witness to her voyage, in the after years of spousaldom, I have discovered that loving another begins and ends with an undying devotion to one’s desires — obliging oneself to anything other than if, and only if, obligation is an equitable affair.
3) Love for the ego
I do not believe my mother would have me end this, a proclamation of my endearing respect for her wisdoms, without first speaking to the matter of the ego. My mother is not an egoist, nor does she subscribe to the schools of egoism. But she does value the sovereignty of her interior, with an earnest vigor I have encountered rarely among my peers, contemporaries, mentors, etc. This, I believe, is because she knows the many faces of loss. Friends during the A.I.D.S Crisis, Grandmothers, Uncles, faith in lovers, securities and femininities. My mother has known loss, been shaped by its ax. But she does prosper still.
There is no secret that Blackness, womanhood and loss are kin, but like the Womanist scripture of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou, my mother knows, as Nikki Giovanni calls it, “The Song of The Feet.” My mother is more than aware of her relationship to her sex, her body and country. And despite the magnitude and meaning of her beating heart, she believes she owes, not just herself, but the women far along the reaches of her memory, most of them her losses, moments of solitude in the wake of the violent interruptions of quiet. These quiet moments, in service of and to self, are moments of defiance. Matters of life and death.
I write improperly prepared to conclude, as my mother’s wisdoms are enduring, seemingly eternal. I’m still learning from her, even as I grow into my own shoes — as a father, a lover and a witness of Blackness in time, space and memory. But, to tell any story, to include even my own, I feel it necessary to tell hers, because she is a monument in my erections of love.
Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.