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Special for Mother’s Day – Mothering: Love on the Front Lines

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For Mother’s Day and everyday: listen to a discussion and poetry by women of color writers and editors of the anthology Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. They dedicate the book to “all the revolutionary mothers and all the revolutions they’ve created, because mothering is love by any means necessary.”

You’ll also hear about a recent investigation into Black maternal and infant mortality.

Special thanks to Maureen Mohapatra and The Laura Flanders show, Democracy Now! and PM Press.

Like this program? 

Click here and support our work. With your donation over $25 get a free copy of Revolutionary Mothering

Featuring:

  • Roundtable on Revolutionary Mothering Anthology, on The Laura Flanders Show with Dr. Gumbs as guest host:

    Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs  guest host and anthology co-editor and “A queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist and a prayer poet priestess, Alexis has a PhD in English, African and African-American Studies, and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University.”

    China Martens co-editor and “a zinestress extraordinaire based in Baltimore, MD. Her first book, The Future Generation, is a compilation of sixteen years of her first zine. She is also the coeditor of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities.”

    Mai’a Williams co-editor and writer, visual artist and birth worker and “the creator and director of Water Studio, which supports and co-creates with underground community artists and revolutionaries in Cairo, Egypt, and she organizes with the Revolutionary Youth Councils of Cairo.”

    Cynthia Dewi Oka  anthology contributor poet and “author of Salvage. She is a member of the Sanctuary Advocate Coalition, which works to expand sanctuary in vision and practice through the framework of black-brown unity.”

    Victoria Law anthology contributor and “Victoria Law is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women… She is the co-editor of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities.”

  • WEB Extra Segment from Democracy Now, Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis:

    Linda Villarosa,  journalist and New York Times Magazine contributor, director of  the journalism program at the City College of New York

    Amy Goodman, journalist and host and executive producer of Democracy Now

    Nermeen Shaikh, producer & co-host of Democracy Now

Credits:

  • Host: Sandina Robbins
  • Audio Mixer: Emily Harris
  • Episode Producer:  Lisa Rudman
  • Producers: Anita Johnson, Monica Lopez
  • Audience Engagement Director/Web Editor: Sabine Blaizin
  • Development Associate: Vera Tykulsker
  • The Laura Flanders Show and Democracy Now recorded material by permission

Music:

  • Farsical- Slow Driver-Blue Dot Sessions
  • Low Light Switch-Blue Dot Sessions
  • Careless Morning-Blue Dot Sessions
  • Backed Vibes Clean-Kevin MacLeod
  • Derailed-Blue Dot Sessions

TRANSCRIPT

OPENING theme with Climbing Poetree

Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumb: The radical potential for the word mother comes after them.  It is the space that other takes up in our mouths when we say it.  We are something else.  We know it from how fearfully institutions wield social norms and try to shut us down.  We know it from how we are transforming the planet with our every messy step toward making life possible.  Mamas who unlearn domination by refusing to dominate their children.  Extended family and friends.  Community care givers.  Radical child care collectives. All of us breaking cycles of abuse by deciding what we want to replicate from the past and what we urgently need to transform.  We are M–Othering, mothering ourselves.

Narrator:   That’s Alexis Pauline Gumbs: self-described “Queer Black troublemaker and Black feminist love evangelist.”  You’ll hear more from her in this episode of –Making Contact– on mothers and mothering.

We’ll also hear about The New York Times Magazine investigation, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis.” But first, we bring you excerpts from the Laura Flanders show with guest host Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs discussing…

Alexis:  Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.  A new book I edited with China Martens and Mai’a Williams.  I’ll be speaking to the editors as well as the contributors, Cynthia Dewi Oka and Victoria Law.

//Music Transition

Alexis: I wrote haikus drawing from the words that these brilliant revolutionary mothers used in pieces they wrote in the book as one way of introducing them … of course you should google all of them … to get the full genius but this is just a way to bring us in.

For Mai’a: Not cute or tidy. Glimpses of revolution. Every single day.

For China: Tall and graceful tree. Sacred nature of writing. Leaving quilted words.

For Cynthia: This self-creation. Reclaim our generations. Encumbrance throws down.

And for Vicky: We all are welcome. Enough passion for again. The world is transformed.

So those are 17 syllables from each of these writers and the anthology Revolutionary Mothering. Obviously you want to read all of the syllables because they’re amazing, and as we bring this Revolutionary Mothering genius in, I just wanted to ask each of you to invoke somebody who’s not here in the studio with us, but who, to you, represents revolutionary mothering. If you want to shout out their name, and maybe how they taught you what revolutionary mothering might be. Why don’t we start with you Cynthia?

Cynthia Dewi Oka: Okay, , I am going to shout out Joy Harjo. She is a Native American poet and artist and storyteller and musician. I think the best thing she has taught me about revolutionary mothering is the bridging work that she’s willing to do cross-culturally for us … Many many social barriers. I feel like she has crossed oceans in the ways that she’s been willing to allow me to reach her and for her to reach me. So Joy Harjo.

Alexis:  Mmhmm, thank you and continue Mai’a

Mai’a Williams:  I was actually sort of weighing this for a second. But I think Assata Shakur and I think because of the level of sacrifice that she gave. It is one thing to mother a child and and it’s another thing to mother a revolution and to make the level of sacrifice that you cannot even be with your child for a good part of their lives.

Alexis:  Awesome, thanks.

China Martens:  My grandmother, Elsie [inaudible] um because she was so fierce and she was my first babysitter

Victoria Law (Vikki):  I think for me it’s a woman who has some [inaudible 00:10:08], a woman named Carmen Rubio who is a Lower-East Side housing activist, squatter, tenant’s right organizer … And when my daughter was first born, kind of took us both under her wing and showed us what revolutionary mothering could be from someone who made a deliberate choice never to have her own children, but was involved in my daughter’s life, was involved in the life of so many children in her building, in her neighborhood … Had started a community garden specifically for children … And this idea that mothering isn’t just biological, but that it could be part of the community.

Alexis: I love that we have people who have helped mother literary movements, who have mother political movements, who have mothered us and who have mothered along side of us … I think that that’s really beautiful. And one of the things I know that one of our intention was explicitly with this book is to make some of those actions that … They may be in the home, they may be in movements that information about them is suppressed, they may be in writing letters to other authors, mentoring other authors, and they may be in the archive … Joy Harjo is someone you see writing letters of encouragement to other woman writers of color over and over again. And that’s a form of mothering work, but only those writers see it and then the nosy people go in the archive for that stuff.

But that’s another story … one of the things we wanted to make visible with the book is … Well what would the impact on the world be if the implications of those actions that are often known about only by the few people, even though it saves those people’s lives … What if those were known on a larger scale? And what would we say witnessing those actions from the inside of those actions on a grander scale? So the next question I wanted to ask you all, is if you knew everyone in the world was going to be impacted by something you know is true about revolutionary mothering, what would you want them to know?

Mai’a: I think I would say that … And I think that I’ve said it before, I think it’s like, I’m gonna get this tattooed to me the amount of times I’ve said it … Is that we are not the ones destroying the Earth. I mean you can talk about the 1980s with Ronald Reagan, you can talk about the welfare mother, immigrant mothers, you can talk about how poor mothers are always the ones who are castigated, and there children of course because all they can do is give birth to quote on quote “more problems” that they are also blamed for. Everything from the economic crisis to the environmental degradation … I always want to be like we are not the ones who are destroying this Earth.

You know the 2008 Wall Street crash didn’t happen because of mothers.

[Laughing from others]

We are not the ones who have been pumping poisons into the Earth for the last 150 years. Especially, we are the ones standing on the front lines, we are the ones, who are actually the ones who are the most impacted by these horrible decisions, we are the ones who are actually at the first place for having to deal with it. You know these are the reason that, for instance, black women have an infant and maternal mortality rate that’s somewhere between 2 to 4 times higher than other people in the country. We are not the ones who are destroying the Earth, we are the ones who one, are the most impacted and we are two, the ones who are creating the systems and communities and the ecologies that are actually going to save this Earth if anything is going to.

So if I can say that, if I can just get that into everybody else’s head to trust mothers and to trust us to build communities and stop blaming us and punishing us and taking away resources from us to be able to do really basic life-giving work. I think that would be excellent.

Alexis: Yes it would. [Laughs] Awesome. Other folks, what would you say?

Vicky:  …It’s not revolutionary mothering, it’s not biological so we need to recognize it, it happens all over. It’s crucial. It’s doable. You don’t have to say, “Well, I’m not a mother” or “I’m not a parent” or “I don’t have children.” It’s something that anyone can do and it’s this revolutionary act of being in community and being a part of a community. It’s not an isolated nuclear family instance that some people supposedly choose to be a part of and some people choose not to be.

Alexis: Yeah. What would you add, Cynthia?

Cynthia: Kind of building off of everyone, I think there is no movement without mothering.So, I think that it’s really, really important for organizers, for thinkers, for scholars, for cultural workers struggling for change in this country, in the world, to really recognize that we need the buy-in and we need the centrality of people who are caregivers and it’s not an option, actually, because you cannot sustain your movement without that practice, without that expertise, and without people training other folks inside of the movement to become proficient at mothering. To be able to do that with each other and to kind of because … It really is the practice of continuing. Transformation doesn’t happen … It doesn’t happen like that. Like we wish. But it doesn’t. This reiterative way. It happens in kind of the mundane repetitions. It actually doesn’t happen in the giant eruptions.

Those giant eruptions can signal that there are major issues at stake, major rifts at stake, but how we actually pivot from that is in daily practice and that is nowhere better embedded and better established than in mothering practice. I feel like it is imperative for movements to really take that seriously. You won’t exist without mothers.

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Music

Narrator    BREAK: That was Cynthia Dewi Oka along with Victoria Law, China Martens and Mai’a Williams in a discussion with Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

You’re listening to Making Contact. To hear to this entire program or others, visit radioproject.org. We’ll have links to these writers and you can ask us for a free copy of their book.  You can subscribe to our podcast, sign up for Making Contact updates, or join our conversations on social media. www.radioproject.org

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Narrator:    The book, “Revolutionary Mothering, Love on the Frontlines” is a passionate collection of essays and poems from diverse women of color around the globe. They define motherhood beyond the biological, make a call for radical mothering, and reflect on what mamas learn from children.

Vicky:  My daughter is now 15. What I’ve learned over and over and over is that even though she’s a teenager, which means she’s developing her own personality and she is her own person, everything that we’ve done together has been like … Has built a foundation. Like, for the things she believes, the way that she acts, the way that she reacts to injustice, and it may not necessarily always be what I would do, in my very correct, political way, but I can see the ways in which she has taken in those values and how she acts upon them.

Alexis: Cynthia, what’s something that you’ve learned recently?

Cynthia:    Something I’ve learned recently from my son who is … He’s turning 13 this year. I’m very proud of him. He wants to be a musician. Very recently he successfully crowd-funded nearly $1500 in order to purchase a mellophone, which is, essentially, a French horn for marching band, because we couldn’t afford it. What I learned from him, watching him in the past few years is … I think in particular mothers have been so deeply conditioned to not want things, right? To feel like when we want things it’s wrong or it’s indulgent. I learned from him that we should want things, that we should follow our passion, that we should involve other people in the pursuit of that passion and that we should take pride in the things that we are passionate about. That seems so simple but it was a very difficult lesson to learn.

I was a young mom. I had my son when I was 17. The messaging that I heard from all around me, I had to hide my pregnancy the whole time I was pregnant, was be ashamed of who you are. Be ashamed of … I still have questions and worries about showing up at public events for my son because it’s … You’re always like, “Really? He’s your son?” I don’t know. “How old were you when you had him?” That’s always the first question that happens. After you answer that question all of the judgments that come after, right?

I think he has been so open and brave about who he is and I’m taking notes. I’m taking notes on being strategic and naming the things that you want because that’s something I’ve seen from him that at every stage of his life he’ll be like, “These are my goals now. These are my goals now. This is the person I want to be.” He’s always identified that. It took me a long time to answer the question, what do I want?

Alexis: If you could offer a one-sentence affirmation for somebody who might want affirmation to take them through, something they could put on their mirror, and see themselves through that affirmation as opposed to through the different judgments that we talked about, through the oppressive narratives that we talked about earlier. Something to displace that. What would you say to that one person who is wanting to sustain their revolutionary mothering work.

China: That you are perfect! That’s the ultimate mothering, the ultimate look of love.

Alexis: What would you say, Cynthia?

Cynthia: I would say when you think you are empty, you are not.

Alexis:  Mhmm. What about you, Mai’a? What would you say as an affirmation?

Mai’a: I think I said I would get it tattooed which is we are just not the ones destroying the Earth.

Alexis: What about you, Vicky? What would you say as an affirmation?

Vicky: What you’re doing, no matter how small it seems, is actually really important.

 

Narrator     You’ve been listening to the shared wisdom of Victoria Law, Mai’a Williams, Cynthia Dewi Oka, and China Martens in discussion with Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs. We’ll link to each of them, and to Laura Flanders video of their discussion at radioproject.org. You can also check out ThisBridgeCalledMyBaby. wordpress .com

Music transition

Love, resistance, and resilience-amidst-oppression are woven into mothering by women of color. Meanwhile, researchers and advocates for reproductive justice are raising the alarm on maternal death for Black Women… across class lines. Here’s an excerpt from Democracy Now:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tuesday marked the end of the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week, a campaign founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. The effort was launched to build awareness and activism around the state of black maternal health in the U.S.

Here are a few sobering statistics that underscore the need for such a campaign. The United States ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations in infant mortality. Black infants are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants, a disparity greater than existed in 1850, 15 years before slavery ended. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the U.S., which is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality is worse than it was 25 years ago. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts.

AMY GOODMAN: Black women and babies make up a significant number of the cases of infant and maternal mortality in the United States. These statistics were reported in a powerful new investigation in The New York Times Magazine called “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis.” Even more shocking is that, according to the report and contrary to widely accepted research, education and income offer little protection. The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America, says our guest, journalist and New York Times Magazine contributing writer Linda Villarosa. It’s great to have you with us.

LINDA VILLAROSA: Thank you. Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: A really powerful piece. Why are America’s black mothers and babies in a life-or-death situation today?

LINDA VILLAROSA: Well, when you go through the research—and I’m very interested in data and research—first you have to look at all the things that it is not. So, you start to think, “Well, is it because black women are not taking care of themselves?” But then there’s studies that say, “Oh, even when prenatal care is the same, then still black women have low-birthweight babies.” Then it’s sort of like, “Well, is there some kind of gene? Is there a genetic component?” Then there are studies that say, “No, actually, because when African immigrants and Caribbean immigrants come here, their babies are equal to white babies in size. But after a generation, then they start to look like African-American babies, even when they’re from the poorest countries.” And so, after a while, it starts to just say, “Well, actually there is something else going on, that has to do with being a black woman in America.”

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what it is.

LINDA VILLAROSA: It is race and racism. So, it’s in two ways. One is just the lived experience of what happens to black women in the country has a physiological effect. And there’s a wonderful researcher in the University of Michigan who coined the term “weathering.” And so, I think I love the term, because it’s very poetic. So it says it’s like the weathering of a rock by the ocean. But it’s also like the weathering—weathering a storm, by a house, because it also speaks to resilience and resistance.

But it is—there is a physiological effect. So, if you are stressed out—and I don’t mean, “Oh, I’m so stressed out,” the “lean in” kind of stressed out, but repeated insults to your psyche, over and over and over again—it revs up your system so that it actually starts to wear you down, the internal systems of your body. So that’s part one of this, is the lived experience of being a black woman in America.

The second is the way black women are treated in the healthcare system. And I say black women, but I mean black people. And this has been studied ad nauseam. I’ve read so many studies, my eyeballs want to fall out. But it’s hard to get this across. And a lot of people will say, “Oh, the Tuskegee experiment. That’s what it’s about.” And I say, “The Tuskegee experiment was years ago. We’re talking about people who are being mistreated, ill-treated right now.”

So, if you combine the two, and you take a woman who is essentially having a stress test to her body, which is pregnancy and childbirth, and you put her in this volatile situation where she’s weathered and worn down by repeated insults, and then she’s in a system that maybe isn’t out for her best interest, you get a volatile mix.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to go back to something that you point out in this piece, which is—you know, it’s such a dramatic figure that black infants now are more than twice as likely to die as white infants, which is a disparity that was greater than existed in 1850. So, could you explain why that is? I mean, what accounts for the fact that during slavery there was less infant mortality than there is today?

LINDA VILLAROSA: There were certainly more raw deaths—I mean, deaths—then. So, I actually looked at the numbers, and I said, “What would it mean if there was no disparity? If there was no black-white disparity, what would happen? How many people would be saved?” Four thousand babies, black babies, would be saved per year, if the disparity was closed.

I am not sure exactly why this has happened, but I—this is happening—but I am thinking that we really need to look much more closely at both the lived experience of being a black woman in America and what it does to our bodies, as well as the treatment women get in the hospital system. I think doulas and other birth workers are a solution for right now, as we grapple with changing the system, that is unfair to people of color. But I think doulas connect the technology that we have, and some of the best medical technology in the world, with caring and really taking care of people and putting caring back in healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN:  Explain what a doula is.

LINDA VILLAROSA:  So, a doula is a professional person who is with a woman during pregnancy, during labor and delivery and in the weeks after the baby is born, just to make sure—to advocate, to make sure that everything goes well, to be a source of information and also to be a source of support and comfort. And studies show that women who have worked with doulas have better pregnancy outcomes.

AMY GOODMAN:  Can you talk about weathering? Who came up with this idea, what it is?

LINDA VILLAROSA:  So, Arline Geronimus is a researcher at the University of Michigan, and she came up with the idea when she was a college student, undergraduate, at Princeton. So she was working at, I think, a school for unwed mothers, and she noticed that—she would go to their medical appointments with them, and she noticed that their bodies, when they took off their clothes, looked older than would be expected.

 

And then she started looking at infant mortality in those numbers, in those teens. Because what was interesting, at the time—and this is, I think, the ’80s—the blame on black infant mortality was on teen pregnancy. It was like because these teens, they’re irresponsible, they’re having babies, they are driving up the numbers of black infant mortality. What she found was actually the opposite, that it was slightly older black women who had higher rates of infant mortality. But the flip was true for white women, so white teens were driving up rates of infant mortality in whites.

 

So then she started thinking, “Oh, this is because they’ve lived longer. Black women have lived longer. They’ve had more access to stress, and it’s affecting their pregnancy outcomes.” So that’s how she came up with the term “weathering.” But, you know, it’s real. It’s been well studied and been replicated. And I just love the term, because it really does say what it is. It’s your body is aging prematurely because of what’s happening to you.

And when you look at the, you know, sort of the questions, that—there’s a black women’s health study, and it added race questions in 1997. And the questions, it actually made me tear up, because the questions were like, “Oh, have you ever been treated differently because of your race?” “Do you think people think that they’re smarter than you?” “Have you had bad service at a restaurant because of your race?” And then there were hardcore questions like, “Have you been discriminated against at work, in housing and by the police?” And women who had higher rates of—reported rates of being discriminated against, whether it was big or small, had more preterm births.

AMY GOODMAN: What about doctors’ biases? How do they play into women and black women giving birth?

LINDA VILLAROSA: Well, the majority of physicians in this country, 75 percent, are white. And so, studies have shown that they do have biases. And how I look at it is, you know, not saying, “Oh, you went into the medical profession because you’re a big racist.” Everyone in this country has unconscious biases based on stereotypes that date back to slavery. But the solution is to really admit the biases, work on them, tackle them, say you have them, and how can you not bring those in to medical practices, to the medical setting. And that is what the key is, is to say, “Yes, these exist, but we’re going to work on that.”

And what I’ve seen is, in medical schools, you have younger medical students who are really trying to work on that. There’s this wonderful organization called White Coats for Black Justice, and there’s also groups around the country that are really trying. I received an email today about a young doctor who was saying, “I really want to get more woke and more organized about the kinds of inequities we see in healthcare.”

 

Narrator: That was Linda Villarosa speaking on Democracy Now in April 2018. Check out her investigative journalism report in The New York Times Magazine entitled “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis.”

As we end this Making Contact’s episode on Women of Color Mothers we bring you this poem entitled “A conversation with my Six Year Old About Revolution” by Cynthia Dewi Oka :

When 3 feet of sunshine missing two front teeth asked me why do we need revolution all i had was a grenade in my mouth. i held him for awhile and watched him draw clouds and trees and ladybugs and a house filled with everybody he loves when was the last time we put to image what we thought the world should be when did it become enough to know how to promptly explode i said to him he was much better equipped to figure out the revolution than his mama that if i don’t he’s got to disarm this bomb and throw it out the window cause the revolution is not about self-defense it’s about self-creation, it’s about seeing farther than the walls directly in front of us and my six-year-old has got a head start.

MUSIC

Narrator: That was  a poem by Cynthia Dewi Oka and you can find it, along with the writers we heard from earlier in our show, in the book, “ Revolutionary Mothering Love, on the Front Lines” Edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Marten, and Mai’a Williams. You heard from them  along with contributors Cynthia Dewi Oka and Victoria Law. We thank them all.

 

If you’d like a copy of the book, Revolutionary Mothering go to our website radioproject.org and click the red heart at the top of the site.

Thanks to the Laura Flanders Show and to Democracy Now, and This Bridge Called My Baby dot wordpress dot com.

Thank you also to the Mary Wohlford Foundation and Mardi Kildebeck who support our Reproductive Justice episodes.

Emily Harris mixed this week’s show and Making Contact’s Team includes Anita Johnson, Monica Lopez, Vera Tykulsker, Sabine Blaizin and Lisa Rudman.

And I’m Sandina Robbins and thanks for listening to,  “Making Contact.”

 

Music by:

Farsical- Slow Driver by Blue Dot Sessions

Low Light Switch by Blue Dot Sessions

Careless Morning by Blue Dot Sessions

Backed Vibes Clean by Kevin MacLeod

Derailed by Blue Dot Sessions

Author: Radio Project

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