Over the past few days, I have watched a stark racial divide develop among my social media friends, many of whom are progressive clergy, academics, and social justice activists. The divide in itself is not unusual. I have noticed it each time that some major social justice concern has occurred, whether it is the impending execution of a White woman, the videorecording of police killing an unarmed Black person, or the unjust conviction and sentencing of a Black women defending herself from an abusive partner. Just like most of U.S. society, social justice concerns tend to be divided along racial/ethnic and class lines. So the mostly White activists organizing on behalf of Kelly Gissandaner are largely silent about Marissa Alexander. And the mostly Black female crowd organizing on behalf of Marissa are largely silent about Kelly.
But the latest issue that divides my Facebook and Twitter pals is not a social justice concern. It’s Mother’s Day. For some reason this year, the holiday is engendering some vigorous antipathy. There’s been a proliferation of anti-Mother’s Day articles. Anne Lamott’s 2010 Salon article, “Why I Hate Mother’s Day,” seems to have started a new genre of writing. Several writers have joined their voices with hers to lament this holiday that celebrates mothers to the exclusion of non-mothers. One writer agrees with Lamott’s disdain for the holiday but says that it’s for an entirely different reason. Another argues that “Mother’s Day is NOT a Liturgical Holiday.” Every article has some variation of the same argument: Mother’s Day is bad because it makes too big a deal of mothers.
It’s bizarre that so many people are spending time complaining about a day that they think receives too much attention. It’s even more bizarre that it’s mostly my White feminist friends who keep posting these articles on social media, with comments such as “This writer says everything I ever thought about Mother’s Day.” In contrast, my Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American friends and acquaintances are largely silent on the issue.
Actually, they’re not silent. They are posting photos of and tributes to the women who have mothered them, to those whose mothering they admire, and even to the children who have made them mothers. They are posting articles about women of color whose rights to mother were taken away by hospitals and Christian missionaries who stole their babies, by states who forcibly sterilized them, and by a society that undervalues them.
They are reminding us to pray for the exclusive mothers’ club whose membership consists of women whose unarmed Black and Latino children have been killed by police and white civilians. They are grieving along with people who are motherless or childless for a number of reasons – death, neglect, abuse, infertility. They are acknowledging that all mothering is not good and that many people have complicated relationships with their mothers. In the best traditions of womanist, mujerista, and Native and Asian American feminist thought, women and men of color are both celebrating Mother’s Day and lamenting the sources of individual and systemic pain that the day can bring.
I suppose it’s much easier to denigrate a day that venerates motherhood when it is your culture’s ideal of motherhood that’s being elevated, when your right and capacity to mother have never been systemically questioned, threatened, or denied. But for some of us, motherhood has not always been a crystal stair.
Tread lightly, my white feminist sisters. Your privilege is showing.