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This Mother’s Day, Can We Be the Mothers George Floyd Called Us to Be?

Last May, George Floyd called out to his mother in his last fleeting breath while Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck, ultimately suffocating him to death. “Mama! Mama!” he called out. “My knee. My neck. I’m through.”

When mothers all over the world heard this cry, our collective hearts broke. Floyd’s cry became a rallying cry for mamas — despite our ethnicity or race — to answer. “All mothers were summoned” became the uniting phrase, waking up many white moms for the first time about the violent reality of policing and racism in this country.

Much has been written about the long-lasting effects of the movement following Mr. Floyd’s death, including questions about longevity, what Black mothers hope happens, and what real change would look like. For one, Black mothers demand systemic solutions to the systematic problem of police brutality. Mothers of victims of police violence don’t want pity, they want solidarity and justice.

As we approach Mother’s Day and the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, I want to ask another question: Are we mothering right?

What impact did the summons that (supposedly) moved mothers all over the world have on our collective ability to imagine a world less laced with police violence, racism, white supremacy, and individualism?

While it’s absolutely necessary to ask these questions on the macro and systemic level (What policies have changed? What bills have been passed?), we must also ask how we’ve individually and locally changed. After all, we know that real change happens around dinner tables, playground benches, family Zooms, PTA meetings, and school pickup lines.

When a white mom tells us they’re moving schools because this one “just isn’t working,” are we asking clarifying questions and challenging what we know to be statistically true — that when presented with options, white parents choose schools that are more white and more affluent than other choices available to them, according to a report from Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Do we note that integrated schools are seen as educationally inferior, even as, paradoxically, parents recognize their value in the abstract?

While it may seem overwhelming to hint at the harm in moving to a majority white school, there is power in the questions we ask and the framing we provide.

Have you ever thought about what impact sending your kids to that school will have on their ability to understand the world as multiracial?

What standards is this school not living up to? Who defines those standards?

How do you measure success?

How will your kids come to define and see leadership and society in a school that’s mostly white?

When a parent challenges the new inclusion of anti-racism curriculum for fear of losing out on academic excellence, what are we saying? Are we publicly challenging the notion that academic excellence and anti-racist curricula are mutually exclusive? Are we loudly naming the fact that our public education has largely failed to provide a multi-ethnic, decolonized, anti-racist curricula for decades? Are we openly celebrating the addition?

This Mother’s Day, are we mothering right?

When my white 7-year-old son watched Chauvin’s trial, he asked again, wide eyed and astonished, “He KILLED him? With his knee? Because he was Black?”

Are we answering, “Because that’s how racism and a country that relies on policing often works”? Or are we dodging the hard truth, dancing around white supremacy and complex conversations?

This Mother’s Day, are we mothering right?

To answer that question, we must be specific about how we talk about mothering. Mainstream media tends to define mothering as a biological, gendered act, often saved for white affluent heterosexual moms. We’ve got to blow that out of the water.

In order to justly answer George Floyd’s cry for a mama, we must understand mothering as the way we care for the world — for each other, for ALL children — not just the ones under our own roofs, to whom we’re connected biologically or as chosen family, and not just the ones who look and live like us. All children.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs helps us redefine mothering and gives us a call to be the mothers George Floyd calls to in the book Revolutionary Mothering, edited by Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams.

“In order to collectively figure out how to sustain and support our evolving species, in order to participate in and demand a society where people help to create each other instead of too often destroying each other, we need to look at the practice of creating, nurturing, affirming, and supporting life that we call mothering,” Gumbs writes.

Furthermore, she says that the radical potential of the word “mother” comes after the word M. “It is the space other takes in our mouths when we say it.” Other! Say it right now. The other. How are we mothering the other? How are we mothering ourselves?

This Mother’s Day, can we grasp that we MUST begin to understand that what we demand for one child is what we must demand for every child? The founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, rightly teaches that “the future which we hold in trust for our own children, will be shaped by our fairness to other people’s children.” Moreover, we can’t create secure, successful, white (!), futures for our own children without acting fairly and justly to ALL children. It doesn’t work that way. We will collectively fail unless we begin to mother in a collective, liberating way.

Nelson Mandela said there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.

How are we treating our children mamas of the world? How are we mothering to sustain, redefine, revolutionize? What does the soul of this society look like?

This Mother’s Day, can we hear George Floyd call to us?

Floyd’s mother, Larcenia, was dead when he cried out to her, making his cry a sacred invocation as described by Lonnae O’Neal.

I imagine that George Floyd knew what he was doing. His cry transcended time, connection, and biology. His call was for the type of Revolutionary Mothering — loving by any means necessary — Gumbs, Martens, and Williams write about.

“What we see as the most crucial and challenging work of our time — the practice of mothering as an alternative building practice of valuing ourselves and each other and creating the world we deserve,” Gumbs says.

This Mother’s Day, are we mothering right?

Are we hearing, really hearing, George Floyd’s summons beyond protest signs and virtual signaling? Are we letting the way his call for his mama broke our heart be more than a one-time break? Are our hearts still breaking every day at the way white supremacy, capitalism, transphobia, and individualism kills our children?

Do we have the courage to mother by any means necessary? Do we have the imagination to mother all children regardless of race ethnicity class or ability?

I am a white mom raising white kids. I have so much to learn, and I mess up all the time. But I’ve got a lot of good questions to keep me focused.

Namely, this Mother’s Day, are we mothering right?

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