The Women's March: An Ode to my Mother’s Strength
I generally credit much of my ambition to my father. It is fairly deserved - my dad is a great dad and he instilled in me a sense of internal value and personal strength. He never taught me that my ability was tied to my gender and always said I could do anything I worked towards and could always do better.
On the other hand, I have too often unconsciously minimized the contributions of my mother, who taught my brother and I to cook together, took us to learn chess, gave us both bikes for Christmas, shuttled us around between activities while working a 9-5 job, and took responsibility for all of our emotional health after she and my father divorced.
During my introduction to the workforce, I filed her contributions as “soft skills.” Those of my father, on the other hand, I viewed as more necessary for success, more monetarily valuable, and thus more appreciated. I love my parents equally, but often I separate and compartmentalize their contributions.
Raising black children - particularly black girls - in a country that has done so little to wrestle with its history of violence toward anyone perceived as ‘other’ is bold.
Yet, on January 21st, when I saw my mother look around at the other 499,999ish people who showed up in the US capitol to exercise their democratic right to protest, I was amazed by her courage and strength. I was amazed at how eager she was to not only be present, but contribute. There was history in her presence as she boldly stood, like black women throughout US history who have boldly stood against injustice and contributed to change.
My feminism is intersectional out of need. I lose minutes each day trying to decide whether the microaggressions as well as blatant discrimination I encounter are racist or sexist. Consequently, when I initially heard that there would be a women’s march in opposition to the sexism that plagued our election cycle, I was hesitant. I am familiar with the history of US ‘feminism’ - frequently white, historically racist.
My identity as a woman has been shaped by my mother, my grandmothers, and my great aunt Amazing Grace - all black women. Nevertheless, I have also been blessed by other women who have extended their love to me. They shared their stories, their food, their lives with me.
I marched for these women - my mother and for Amazing Grace; but also for the mother of a white missionary family who invited me to live with them between stints working as a camp counselor in Kodiak Alaska; for the young Iraqi girls who looked past my uniform and the weapon I carried to talk to me about their dreams; for my friend’s mother who was separated from all of the children she loved when they were sent from Haiti to the US for their safety, maintaining faith until she was reunited with them, and loving them selflessly even when she got sick; for my neighbors in Palestine whose homes I lived in more than my own, who showed me love by feeding me, dancing with me, opening their homes and lives, whose laughter still lives in my heart.
I, as a US citizen and voter, was appalled by the last election cycle, witnessing the normalization of hateful rhetoric. However I am intimately aware that racism and sexism were present before the 2016 election; neither disappeared after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., or the election of Barack Obama as the 44th US president, as our history books and media would encourage us to believe.
As a middle school student in a predominantly white town on the Jersey Shore, I experienced racism in 1999 as I endured being cursed at walking down my street. Again, I experienced it as a high school senior, in 2002, when my guidance counselors assumed, in front my classmates, that I was not going to college despite being in the top 15% of my graduating class. Then, in 2009, as a United States Army Officer deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I experienced racism and sexism from my leadership, who made me the only black and only female officer in my company in order to be the Equality Opportunity Representative, yet took no action on the complaints I brought to them. As a graduate student in 2014, I also understood the racism I was experiencing was systemic as one of three black American students in my program of over 100.
The November 2016 election just further institutionalized the sexism, racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, and homophobia that already existed. It felt as if those actions which would theoretically be shunned by ‘polite society’ were becoming socially acceptable.
My mother initially said no when I asked her to accompany me to Washington DC to protest. She would later, with no coaxing from me, change her mind, because one of the most remarkable qualities my mother possesses is her willingness to show up for everyone.
During the march, she collected visual history, taking pictures of all the unique signs, of my friends and I laughing, dancing, hugging - she captured the joy and the pain. Despite her hesitancy to attend a large gathering, my mom assessed the damage of normalizing leaders that joke about sexual assault and exploit divisions by manipulating hate, and fear to win power. As a mother, as a new grandmother, she overcame her anxiety about protest and added to the critical mass to exert her beliefs that hate speech is not good leadership, exploiting fear is not an effective strategy for change, that women, people of color, and immigrants have overwhelmingly contributed to what makes this country great.
As the mother of two veterans, my mom recognizes that might is not always right and empathy is important. Having a child live in Palestine, she has seen hospitality and love extended to hers and acknowledges the unfounded fears of xenophobia. Her fear that manifested when, I, her first child entered the world, and has continued with the birth of her first grandchild 394 days before the 2016 election, transformed to boldness as she faced her fear and stood with over 499,999 women (and men) from many backgrounds, races and religions, speaking out against the feelings of otherness we have felt and declaring that the US is for her, for me, for my siblings, for her granddaughter, and for every American.
Watching my mother become part of the crowd as she silently walked the streets of our nation’s capital and captured the passion for change was, for me, seeing her love. The Women’s March on Washington was for me a visualization of love, a visualization of democracy.