ain’t i a mama…
you know how alice walker says that feminism is to womanism. like purple is to lavendar. ive always loved that quote. lavendar is my favorite color and one of my favorite scents.
well, last night as i was falling asleep after reading the comment thread of doom, i realized:
feminist is to mama like yellow is to:
waking up with the first rays of light hitting your face as the sun rises over the ocean and you stare into the sun’s reflection in the water and then jump in and swim celebrating this new day.
the colostrum nectar that i breastfed my daughter her first days after birth
the color of my mixed race daughter cheek as she sleep at night
the crushed wildflowers that aza picks in the park and then brings to me saying in her singsong voice: mama i have a present for you!
people who have asked why i dont identify as a feminist
-random strangers on the internet
-random people who have just met me and like to push buttons
people who have never asked me why i dont identify as a feminist
-zapatista women when we lived in chiapas
-palestinian women when we lived in a small village in the southern west bank mountains
-women community organizers in the east congo
-young black american and african immigrant mothers whose birth assisted in north minneapolis
-the eight month pregnant kenyan-dutch woman who i shared a couple of days in israeli prison with
-my grandmother who grew up in the south, was college educated in the 40s, worked and earned her own money for years as a teacher, didnt have children until she was nearly thirty, was a community organizer, and taught all of her daughters and grand daughters to speak their truth and respect people
most of these women did call me ‘mama’ though. as i called them.
i love the word: mama. when i was doing research in east africa, mama was my name. mama maisha (which means life in swahili). mama works as an honorific there. it replaces ‘miss’ and ‘maam’ and whatever ways of respectfully addressing women. it is not dependent on whether or not the woman has children.
sitting in a room with dozens of community women leaders all of us addressing each other as mama… mama fayida, mama esperanze. as we talked about ways to address the violence in the communities. was powerful.
especially since i had miscarried a couple of months before. i was ‘mama’ before i ever gave birth.
it was also powerful because mama is how the boys back home address me. and once again it acts as an honorific a term of respect and kinship.
and being able to travel half way around the world and still be addressed by the same name that southern boys knocking on my grandmother’s door use…just another way that one can travel so far…rural south carolina to rural east congo…and still find home.
mama. is just such an evocative word. here, in cairo, the equivalent to mommy is umi. and umi is a beautiful word. but even here. everyone knows what ‘mama’ means. ma. ma. ma. there is something primoridial about it. something that speaks to millions of years of walking on this earth. i dont have any scientific data to back up my claims.
I do not identify as a woman.
Or a feminist.
Or a womanist.
Woman of color.
They mean what that mean for me.
and then she dropped one of my favorite comments yesterday:
Fuck feminism, fuck feminists and fuck their obnoxious entitled bullshit attitudes. And fuck all of you who think you did a goddamn thing for my daughter. MOTHERS did that, not you.
Mamis, mommies, mothers, M/others–NOT YOU.
i know that when i have been seen as being helpful to another’s liberation, that is when they start calling me mama.
srsly, if the common definition for feminism to be treated equal to a man. im not interested in feminism. that is not the goal of the women with whom ive worked. 1/3 of black men are in the prison industrial system. i am working for a different world for my daughter.
so, why did i agree to blog for feministe?
well, frankly, i have been and continue to be pretty critical of mainstream feminism. mainstream feminism is pretty irrelevant to my work, my family, my life, and to the communities with which i work in solidarity. and ive been critical of feminist media productions, including this blog, feministe. and the role they play in public discourse and understanding of the world that we live in. after a lot of consideration, i figured it was only fair of me to know the media productions better if i am going to critique them well. and considering how critical ive been, the bloggers of feministe still wanted me to guest blog, well, i have a bit of respect for people who engage their critics rather than just attack them.
i throw a side eye at folks who call themselves feminists, especially without an adjective in front of the word. and i have made it clear that if i had to be one, (and thank god i dont) i would be a crunk feminist. those girls keep it crunk.
Beat-driven and bass-laden, Crunk music blends Hip Hop culture and Southern Black culture in ways that are sometimes seamless, but more often dissonant. Its location as part of Southern Black culture references the South both as the location that brought many of us together and as the place where many of us still do vibrant and important intellectual and political work. The term “Crunk” was initially coined from a contraction of “crazy” or “chronic” (weed) and “drunk” and was used to describe a state of uber-intoxication, where a person is “crazy drunk,” out of their right mind, and under the influence. But where merely getting crunk signaled that you were out of your mind, a crunk feminist mode of resistance will help you get your mind right, as they say in the South.
and if your brand of feminism does not embrace and push to the forefront the critiques of itself, then i have no interest in your brand or your movement. actually i dont have an interest in brands at all. and if your movement isnt aligned with crunk feminists, and rasta feminists, with the zapatista women’s critique of feminsm, with palestinian women dressed in hijab with a fist in the air, with little girls who walk through war zones to get to school whether on the streets of washington, dc or the streets of goma, drc (democratic republic of congo) then i want nothing to do with your movement. cause those women dont bother to ask me why i am not a feminist. they just call me ‘mama’.
these movements center mamas, overflow with mamas, because mamas have been at the center of every major movement in the world for change. we give birth to and nurture, in various ways, revolutionaries everyday, whether or not that has been acknowledged in the ‘official’ records. being a mama is not a description of one’s biology or genitalia. it does not describe how many children we have nestled in wombs. it is not a description of age or even male/female gender.
it is who we are. it is what we do. it is love by any means necessary.