Motherhood, Activism, & Sharpening Oyster Knives
Photo courtesy of Samantha Clarke Photography
No, I do not weep for the world. I'm too busy sharpening my oyster knife. - Zora Neale Hurston
I remember a time while I was pregnant when all I could do was weep. While the joy of bringing a new life into the world never waned for me, it was constantly challenged by the foreboding of knowing that my child was coming into a world that would threaten their existence at every turn. I don't know how many times I cried and how many times I apologized - first to my belly, then to the squirming brown beauty who entered the world one sunny morning.
I never want the light to dim for her.
Activism in various forms isn't new to me. Whether through writing, volunteering, attending rallies and demonstrations, or taking the time to read and listen to others whose experiences vary from mine, I work on myself to ensure that I can better do The Work in liberation, resistance and fighting for rights, justice, and joy.
Becoming a mother? That inevitably put a new battery in my back when it comes to activism. Now, let me say here that activism and motherhood do not require each other's existence. But for me? My desire to bring her here and force her to inherit everything that this world contains means that my work on her behalf goes beyond providing food, shelter, and love.
What will her future look like? What possibilities will be available to her as she grows? Will the world allow her room to be whoever she wants to be during her time on this earth? Will she be safe? Will she thrive? Because of the society we live in, I know that the answers to these questions will not solely be determined by how well I raise her. Once she steps out into the world, the answers to these questions will also be determined by the people she encounters and the systems she partakes in, so I see my work taking place in two areas: privately, in the home, as her father and I do our best to help her bloom; and publicly, out in the world, helping to shape and reconstruct the people and systems that she will inevitably come across so that they are ready for her.
When I think about how parenting and activism intersect for me, I inevitably think about my own parents. I acknowledge the ways that my privilege allows me to say and do certain things that were not possible for them, but I also acknowledge the multitude of ways that they fiercely worked on my behalf to try to right the wrongs in the world I grew up in. I recognize that nothing is truly 100% safe for me in this society and that I have my own limitations - but I also know that there are other parents for whom their and their children's safety and level of capacity is paramount to their activism. We take up the mantle for each other in our own ways.
I always think about what kind of model I'm showcasing for Little Magician, and I want her to see the power in various forms of activism. I want her to see that her voice, words, and actions can effect change, and I want her to be emboldened by that. I want her to see that she doesn't have to wait or ask for permission to demand her rights, and I want her to see that she can be an effective support to others whose concerns may vary from hers, but are no less important.
Life as a Black girl/woman consists of clear intersections, but as time rolls on, those intersections can become even complex. Fighting against homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, sexism, poverty, and other forms of bigotry is a priority to me, not simply because my daughter could face them, but because eradicating them will expand the possibilities for self-actualization exponentially, and that is something we all deserve.
If becoming a parent is the catalyst that inspires people to action, then I say, "Welcome." However, I'm weary of the mentality that uses kinship as the singular reason for support or activism. "(Insert marginalized group here) deserve support because they're our children/mothers/husbands/etc." - while personal relationship will always motivate our desires to fight and resist, that cannot be the only value determinant we place on each other. Activism is one of the terms I agreed to within my personal motherhood contract, but while parenting has deepened my activism, it doesn't solely define it.
I used to weep and sometimes I still do. But now, I take more of my cues from Zora and spend my time sharpening my oyster knife, ready to fight and teach Little Magician how to sharpen hers, too.