If you’ve been keeping up with the news, chances are you’ve seen what’s happening in Portland, Oregon. And if you haven’t, here’s an update. Amid more protesting against police violence and the fight for Black lives, white moms are coming out and standing between the police and protestors. These women are using their bodies as human shields to fend off officers and rightfully the media is heralding them as martyrs and heroes. And while it’s true that they are, this narrative excludes Black mothers who have been doing the work of fighting against police violence for a long time.
Here’s the thing. I’m not mad that white moms are finally entering the chat. Dismissing them isn’t the point I’m trying to make here by any means. What’s frustrating is that Black mothers aren’t getting the same level of recognition on a large scale. And they’ve been doing the work for their communities for a long time. There’s a long history of Black women’s work getting erased while white women get praise for the same thing. So it hurts to see that these white mothers are making the front page for suddenly deciding to step up.
'whoa moms are part of this now!'
what you mean is WHITE moms
Black moms have been the unceasing engine of the fight against police violence since the beginning
— Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed) July 20, 2020
Black mothers have long been doing the work because it’s our babies who are dying. We have more skin in the game, we have everything to lose. So of course we’re out in the streets trying to fight for our kids’ lives. Because if we don’t, then who will? No one, and we’re very aware of that fact. This is why we’ve taken it upon ourselves to get out there and make moves to protect our children and our communities.
Really, it’s great that white mothers are finally starting to mobilize and care about Black people. It’s a constant fight, and the only way we can make real change is to have them on our side. But knowing that their presence is diminishing the hard work of Black mothers is incredibly frustrating. And it’s not the fault of the white moms either, because they clearly do want to use their privilege to help. But the thing that goes hand-in-hand with that reckoning is instant recognition for them. By doing the right thing, they’re being lauded as heroes. And not all Black mothers are being extended that same courtesy.
I know firsthand the involvement of Black mothers. My older sister is very active in the fight against police violence and has been for years. She’s a member of her local chapter of Mothers Against Senseless Killing, an activist group founded in 2015 “as a way to put eyes on the streets, interrupt violence and crime, and teach children to grow up as friends rather than enemies.”
“I’m just a mother. I used to think my greatest accomplishment was raising two happy, healthy children in Chicago, where so many other mothers are denied that right. Then I sat in a lawn chair on a street corner and extended the love I have for my kids to someone else’s. I have been enriched and deeply fulfilled by all of my children. I hope that one day you get to experience the same level of purpose that I have,” says MASK founder Tamar Manasseh.
These Black mothers are doing the real day-to-day work. They’re literally in the streets pouring their love into their communities. It goes beyond something like a neighborhood watch — it’s making dinners and distributing them to neighbors. In the summer, my sister and her group organize things like card games, double-dutch contests and other fun outdoor activities. With COVID happening, they designed their own cloth masks and are using the sales to put back into their communities.
The white moms in Portland are just the most recent example of white women getting credit for the things Black women have been doing for ages. For some reason, when we as Black women talk about an issue it simply gets downplayed or ignored. But then if white women make the same argument, suddenly everyone is paying attention. And while it’s important for them to speak up, Black women shouldn’t be swept under the rug because white women have suddenly grabbed the mic.
As some people have pointed out on Twitter, it’s because white women are often seen as non-threatening. Even when they’re simply there to lend their privilege to get attention, it turns into a heartwarming moment of white saviorism. When a group of white moms show up, you know things have gotten serious. When they’re pissed off, it’s seen as badass momma bear. And when Black mothers are rightfully pissed off, they’re seen as aggressors. There’s an unfair portrayal of one in favor of another. But what do we expect when whiteness is the default?
Okay yes but: cops have always portrayed black people as a dangerous enemy. “Criming while white” showed what white people can get away with vs law enforcement. The fact that they are tear gassing the white moms shows how things have escalated.
— Vijay Berry Owens (@VijayOwens) July 21, 2020
And again, this isn’t their fault, it’s just the way the media portrays it. But it’s important to acknowledge that this is how the narrative is constructed. By giving more power to the white mothers in this moment, it undermines the work Black mothers continue to do. Everyone is stepping up because they want a better place. And if that’s admirable for one group, why isn’t the other afforded the same level of attention?
Portland is just another part of a larger conversation. When white mothers are being allies to Black mothers, how can they best support them? Especially when we know how it will be perceived by the media. In situations like this, it’s not enough to use their privilege to make a point. Because the point gets lost by those looking for an appealing headline. It’s not the fault of the white mothers who are trying, but a symptom of a larger issue we need to continue to address.