The Eternal Sorrow of Black Mothers

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by Valerie Morales

In a shameless attempt to score a political point, ten days ago NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch used the sorrow of black women for a narrow gain. It happened at the CPAC conference where Loesch was a scheduled speaker. In her fiery remarks intended to push buttons and reveal hypocrisy, she said the media loves crying white mothers but ignores grieving black mothers. She conflated, as a defense, grief with preference.

In any other context, at any other time, or by any other person, exposing the media’s preference for whiteness would have been considered appropriate, thoughtful, empathic and even a little profound. A white woman berating other white women and men about eroticizing privileged victims is a sobering and necessary message, an example of America’s racialized tiers. But the messenger matters because of intention. Dana Loesch’s comments were mocked, not because of their inaccuracy but because of the duplicity of Dana Loesch herself.

On the one hand, Loesch refuses the basic level of accountability one would expect when children are continually murdered. But on the other hand, she transfers blame as a way to pivot from the carnage and change the topic altogether. Her transparent attempt to curate racial shame when she refuses to embrace preventative legislative solutions bestows upon her words an irrelevancy in the moment. It is, as we have come to expect from the NRA, nothing more than political gamesmenship and using one group to guilt another group. That she failed to qualify white privilege and black apathy beyond an emotive throwaway line she thought would score brownie points is more tangible evidence of how much of a desperate bind the pro-gun lobby is in.

Dana Loesche doesn’t care about grieving black mothers other than their prop value. But they are, as a community, in the thousands. Both alive and deceased, they are absent privilege. No social movements forthcoming. Ever since slavery institutionalized atrocities, the children of black mothers have been murdered. But the familiar is not the accepted. Historically, the murders of black children have been a vehicle for social entertainment and racial glee, not protests. In 1916, a black farmer named Jesse Washington was lynched in front of 10,000. A year later, Eli Persons was fetishized during death as he was burned while his mutilated body parts were sold as souvenirs.

When Fannie Lou Hamer spoke before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City in 1964 and said she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired” she represented every grieving black mother, past, present and future who had grief and trauma trapped within the three square miles of where they lived: Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Newark, Brooklyn. Birmingham, Charleston, Little Rock, Jackson. Privilege absent, news cameras absent, journalists absent, the internal sorrow of black mothers has always intersected with the external apathy and exponential distance from a much larger cohort of Americans.

Grieving black mothers are a Venn diagram nestled uncomfortably between white mothers who are outraged and white mothers who are in despair.

Despite invisibility, inattention, racial stereotypes, grieving black mothers don’t trade upon their horror at the expense of grieving white mothers as if they are not part of the same continuum of losing children. Like grieving white mothers, grieving black mothers are angry and depressed and bitter and vocal about what has happened and what needs to be changed. They don’t participate in an exchange about whose trauma is worse. Motherhood is motherhood. We have children we love. We have children we raise. We have children we want to see grow up, expand their education, find love, find career paths, live in joy. That’s colorless. Black mothers have more burdens because their children are more likely to be gunned down in the street and when they are gunned down in the street the media is benignly neutral and the courts are indifferent. But that isn’t an excuse for the Dana Loesch’s of the world to use our suffering pain as a shield for herself and her organization, one that is complicit in the death of the young because they refuse to participate in any policy change that may reduce profits.

There have been, over the course of time, many grieving black mothers from Chicago. Mamie Till was an ordinary Chicago mother until her son was murdered, leaving her with internalized grief. Emmett Till was killed by Southern white supremacists and then thrown in the Tallahatchie River, cotton gin fans tied to his ankles so he would sink. His mother’s angry sorrow was so enormous she purposely kept Emmett Till’s casket open so his bloated and swollen murdered face could be captured by cameras. Photographers disseminated the cruelty to the world without caption. The visual synchronicity was chilling: American hate creates 14 year old victims. Does anyone care?

Grieving black mothers in Chicago don’t need town halls- yes they did have one- as much as they need gun legislation that will keep guns out of the hands of the criminally ill and the psychotically disturbed. They need politicians to care about the death of their children like they care about the deaths of white skinned children who die in school hallways. They need Dana Loesch to stop using black women for her convenience and strategy, a shield for the NRA to hide behind because neither she nor they can exhibit basic levels of empathy, sorrow or atonement for white and black mothers dessicated by grief.

Writing: Race and Gender, Politics, Healthcare, Environmental Abuse, Domestic Violence

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