2016/04/18

Thoughts and Musings on "Black Feminism in Everyday Life" by Siobhan Brooks


I just finished really a long essay titled “Black Feminism in Everyday Life: Race, Mental Illness, Poverty and Motherhood and was written by Siobhan Brooks. This is one of the most powerful and painful readings that I have ever picked up. Schizophrenia is a very touchy topic for me on a few different levels. To read the original essay that I am reacting too, here is a link. This post is a bit convoluted and a bit personal to boot, but I certainly found lots to think about and comment on... :)






"They didn't deal with the issues of poverty and lack of education, the realities of infanticide and racism or making abortion accessible for all women"

"I think... rarely considered issues of class regarding motherhood"


I grew up very sheltered from feminists issues. In fact, a general authority of my church named "feminists" as one of the three most dangerous enemies to the church. The idea of individuals calling themselves feminists and being activists was (and still is a little) frightening to me. Contention and anger scare me a lot and activism and feminism come with both- mostly appropriately contentious, etc... as change doesn't come with silence demurring - it comes with struggle, with raised voices, and activity. It has taken over two decades for me to not only embrace many of the ideals that feminism embodies, but to feel comfortable calling myself a feminist and trying to learn to be comfortable with activism. I grew up relatively lower middle class I think and didn't really understand the idea of racism at all- to some extent I still do not ever though I do recognize some racism in myself and those around me. I understood that poverty was caused either by yourself or that God was testing you with it... but most likely a bit of both. I have heard that the US has a very high rate of infant mortality and I have never really understood that in the guise that I also here we have the best health system in the world. I also recognize that the women's movement has managed to make abortion legal, however, the reality is that abortion is for the most part only available to a small percentage of women especially as laws are passed creating more and more hurdles to obtaining it. When I read these lines I thought about how race and poverty/ class really do intersect a lot in our societies and for individuals without health insurance, so too do the problems of infanticide, fewer educational opportunities, and fewer successful ways to raise productive, happy, successful children. When I was getting divorced I discovered that women who divorce are more likely to become impoverished and adding children to the mix only increased the chances. I do struggle a lot with finances and paying the bills even though I work like mad and long enough hours that some days I come home and I am just too tired to even make anything for my dinner.

In many ways, I do not think that the feminist movement has ever fully dealt with the "realities of infanticides and racism or making abortion available for all women." I say this for many reasons. One reason is that no matter where you live in this country (and in many places in the world), abortions are simply not feasible or available to those who need them. While abortions are technically legal in this country, so many 'minor' restrictions and so much societal/ political pressure. In so many ways, It appears to me that to be able to be an activist, you must have steady financial support and stability in your life to return to... and so it makes an unfortunately amount of sense that feminism as a movement can literally not see important and needful distinctions in their work because these individuals for the most part have not lived or witnessed these particular struggles. For someone who is always able to afford and get healthcare whenever they need it, it is really hard to imagine the woman sitting crying on the couch after a fall praying that her leg isn't broken and after an hour of intense pain, begging a regular doctor's office to get her in to avoid the costly emergency room... and to go back to work two days later against doctor's advice because the financial needs are even greater now with the injury. For a stay at home mother with a well to do and fairly stable home and relationship, it is challenging to even comprehend how someone can give birth and be back behind a cash register or teaching a class two days later due to financial motivations. It is so easy to not see or even understand that these situations not only exist, but are way too common for comfort and even one significant change in their life can bring them to the same point of struggle. I watch many people who need feminism fight it because they can not see how it is helping them... and for the most part they are absolutely right- having the right to get an abortion but the inability or lack or resources to make it possible feels much the same as no right at all.  Having the right to legally take a few weeks off after child birth but not the resources or support to do so again doesn't feel much different to the woman who has the right and struggles back to work so that she can feed herself and her child. I have sometimes wondered in the feminist movement and motherhood have rarely noticed each other at all. After a child is born, the mother will work and struggle through the best she can with whatever resources she has and its seems to me (might not be true, just my thoughts from the readings and my own experience) and the woman is a mother, there is so little to help her at all. Many of the same people that I know who are against abortion only want to adopt white wee babies, not children with pasts or children with phenotypes different from their own. There are lots of organizations to help you adopt out your baby, but not to help set you up in such a way to learn, understand and really take care of it- in this sense the child becomes a commodity which doesn't feel comfortable to me either. The government has programs that can help and do help, but depending on your circumstances is isn't hard for me to see how people and children fit through the cracks all the time and very little in resources or even thought seems to be brought to the table by either feminist groups or those who are "anti abortion / pro life." And now I am one of those people.... where I think about it and want to change it and feel strong emotions about all of this and yet... I do not see any way to change it very much at all and so after a few weeks, these thought might too simply drift off into my memories as the weight of daily living, work and needs overwhelm and slowly push them to the deep of the subconscious mind. (In a separate reading titled Alaza', "My oldest sister .... she's married and lives with her husband, she doesn't have any babies (so you know she's going somewhere!" Strong words indeed.)

"They never said I was being abused and never made me feel as if there was something obviously wrong with the way we lived."

"In fact, I never saw my mother as having a mental illness at all because she was functional"

"I feared that my survival would be at risk if I were ever taken away from her."


Ouch. This hit hard. My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was twelve (this was in the 1980's where so many mental health disorders including bi-polar and autism were called schizophrenia- with age, time and more knowledge I suspect that my mother is actually bi polar or had borderline personality disorder, but that is only a guess on my part. For six months, she used medication and I remember that six months as a fairly quiet and peaceful time. As one of five children, things were never truly quiet but even my mother seemed calm and didn't seem so manic and ragged and ready to fight. Then, she decided that the doctor was wrong, threw away the meds and has studiously avoided doctors, counselors, anyone who could potentially be a threat to her since then. The fear of people understanding what happened at home and then rejecting me for it was very real and it was only during my teenage years that the war of openness and hiding all broke into my conscious life. When I couldn't take it any more, I would try to run away and being a relatively unintelligent person, I ran to the homes of church members who would tell me to stop being rebellious, to honor my mother and father and would then return me home where I would be seriously punished. Nothing I ever told anyone that was happening in my home was every really believed until after my sister and I were old enough to leave without legal recourse. This quote makes me smile and cry for the child that this young woman once was- not having the best help at home but also some support and love to help her continue on. I want more for her and I feel I think some of the pain that she might have felt and confusion from the different examples of families in society around her. Did her mother love her? Yes it sure seems so. So together they both fought or dealt with her mental demons. I have not chosen to do that as I do not feel like I can... so I recognize that my mother does love me and did the very best job she knew how, but I avoid all contact to protect myself from the violent anger and words that are hurled through the air when she is crossed... and it is so hard to know what will make her feel crossed. Many of my siblings have moved far enough away that visits with her require preparation and one sibling has moved his family and not passed out the address. Its a bit of a cluster mess really.... Sometimes I think that the feminist movement has done so much good with focusing on domestic abuse, etc... but these movements tend to focus on the men as perpetrators and women as victims - while stereotypically and usually true, it leaves the victims of women doubly silenced. Also, mental health is something that both feminism and society tend to shy away from. Its difficult, messy and very individual and unique... it is also quietly feared. I am grateful to have read this story, to learn that she had no idea that medication even existed and to recognize that this happens to many people. I am sad that it does, but listening to other people who have successfully and even compassionately survived these situations is a beautiful and precious thing. (In a separate reading titled 'Jaminica', she suggests the same idea that gripped my heart- "...I immediately felt like if she could go through that sort of thing and come out on top, then I could too."

"I began to understand why most women of color were in ethnic studies, not women's studies"

"These women just assumed everyone was coming from a similar environment as theirs."


I had never really heard of the idea of ethnic studies until the last year or so and what little I heard about it suggested to me that the class was a mix of feminism and cultural studies. So I thought it sounded really interesting but not necessarily a novel idea. This reading suggested its real appeal and how it is so vital to women of color who, even in classes that would seem welcoming to them and safe, are actually not able to feel the same safety and benefits that white women are. That was an eye opening idea to me... and suggests my own skin color as a result. (In a separate reading titled "Myesha", she states - "I'm not sure how much of the way they act is about me being black, but I think it could be more about my being black than I actually know or understand. I don't even know if they understand how racist they can act." I suspect that at least for me, I would have no idea how racist I was being... for if I did I like to think I would fight to change it after getting over being appalled and ashamed at myself. Sometimes the idea of privilege is wonderful and comforting life a security blanket, but it is also like a blindfold in which I do not even recognize what I cannot see. The blanket that I carry for warmth and protection that also leaves me unable to truly understand the environment around me for others... and in essence, myself.

Thoughts?



photos: http://temple-news.com/lifestyle/people-you-should-know-siobhan-brooks-king/

1 comment:

  1. You are in no way a "relatively unintelligent person." That's your mother talking, right there.

    ReplyDelete