Invisible Chains: Unlearning My Mother's Wisdom

Through the years it has been corporatized and commodified, but Black History Month is a time for self-reflection and meditation. A time to remember those men and women whose boldness and bravery left a mark on our collective consciousness. A time where individually each of us must take stock of our talents and think about what we will do to lift as we climb.

While we celebrate the trailblazers, the holiday exposes one of the most maddening contradictions of the Black female experience: African American women derive strength and pride from the fearlessness of our foremothers, but our own mothers and surrogates direct us to lead our lives with a spirit of caution.

From childhood, little black girls are taught to survive not to soar. A young black woman who dares to dream in color should expect that the women closest to her will, without hesitation, douse her heart in a sensible beige.

Black mothers are no different from anyone else. They love completely, give unselfishly and fight relentlessly.  They do so, however, with the looming specter of white supremacy. That legacy has left behind a trail of pain and frustration. We often forget the humanity of our mothers, but their eyes have seen what ours have not. They harbor sadness over missed opportunities and perpetual disappointments.

So when our spiritual guides tell us: think big but don't overreach or keep your head down and follow the rules. They do so not out of malice but of necessity. They mean to ensure we thrive financially and psychically.

Black Mothers kill dreams, but only because they care.

This is why I cannot fault my mom for her reluctance to accept my embrace of an atypical life. She is the one who taught me black women's multiple oppressions make us more vulnerable in the wake of missteps.  Her carefully constructed plans of action do not, however, provide an opportunity for freedom or fulfillment.

Melissa Harris- Perry's latest book, Sister Citizen , explores the ways in which Black women attempt to "move forward in our authentic selves" in spite of the stereotype-laden muck we wade through daily.

We try to cleanse ourselves with overachievement and respectability, but we can never seem to erase the stain of misrecognition. And perhaps it's time we stop trying. The dance is exhausting and prevents us from living fully.

Because  if I had one wish for all of Black womanhood, it would be to loose the chains that tie us to notions of our inevitable defeat. Unfortunately, I don't have a magic wand to heal the heartache that hundreds of years  of maneuvering the confines of racist structures has caused.

The conservatism of our mothers, passed down through generations, causes us to look askance at the black woman  who veers left.  Whether it's her behavior,  aesthetic or career choice that causes discomfort, we would be better served to enshroud her in revolutionary love, a love that fortifies and inspires.

If our ultimate goal is to cultivate greatness in our sisters and our daughters, we must recognize that it comes in all forms. A point I hope we can remember as we continue to contemplate how to build on the foundations the women who came before us laid.

Kimberly Foster is the Editor and Publisher of For Harriet. Email her at with comments or find her on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Washington Post

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