Please note: This blog post reflects primarily my opinion about a topic I have wanted to discuss for quite some time. My writing does not reflect the entire picture, nor is it meant to reflect truth for all. Many experiences can look different. I would offer, however, that engaging with my post might offer some insight into a topic that is too often ignored or understudied in the academy today.
As many are painfully aware, trauma is not a one size fits all. It does not come neatly wrapped in something we can understand in its full magnitude. It is, however, a reality for so many people, if not most living in the world. From natural disasters to cycles of abuse in families, it permeates the bodies and experiences of those living in various situations. Though it does not just affect one population in the US, a few populations are more inclined to deal with constant and complex trauma than other groups. To name a few, those in marginalized groups, including women, poor people, people of color, and those with disabilities, are at the top of the list.
Though there are other populations, including veterans, EMTs, and police, as we have discussed in our course, these groups often experience trauma connected to their profession, not simply existing. Though trauma is trauma, the distinction I am making here is that a poor single caregiver is experiencing trauma by living in a society that values wealth and production. In contrast, the enlisted person chose to engage in what they knew could involve dangerous and violent situations. Neither of them deserves trauma by any means, but one is more based on a career path versus how the other is forced to live. I note this because I will be discussing a population experiencing trauma based on the color of their race and gender.
Since the transatlantic slave trade, Black mothers have watched their children be abused, assaulted, and harmed at the hands of predominantly white men. This is not a debatable assertion but rather a fact and reality. I mention this first because to discuss the topic of images, trauma, and motherhood; one must first understand this is not a new issue. However, it has not been centered and will be in the rest of my post. For many who have studied relatable issues, this has looked like trying to understand how these mothers respond to their black sons being abused or killed. This conversation is meaningful and has some research attached, so I will discuss Black mothers’ relationships with their daughters.
Black women have to protect their daughters who share their faces, anatomy, and common experiences in a country deeply struggling with white supremacy and sexism. For Black mothers raising black daughters, the images of young women being assaulted, abused and slammed down by men is highly traumatizing. It is the constant reminder that not only do black girls and women have to deal with racism, but their anatomy somehow makes them a target for what folks might refer to as a double whammy.
Black mothers seeing the images of Breona Taylor, Sandra Bland, and the countless faceless women who experience sexual assault remind us that we live in a country that is not only okay with abuse and harm of black women but also causes harm. This is due to structural racism and sexism. They are constantly retraumatized by the images and respond as parents in ways that mirror that trauma, often in parenting styles. We find that Black mothers can be very strict with their daughters (almost to a fault) because they constantly fear losing their children. This can mean telling them to cover of their bodies, forcing them to be more mature than anyone around them, or training them to never be their fully vibrant selves in the face of any authority figures. These teachings take a toll on black young women’s light; it dims it and often make them feel less powerful, worthy, and valued. Even as this is not the intent of black mothers, it is the protective response to trauma they do not want to be imposed on their daughters.
I believe that knowledge is power, so having media outlets offer stories about the experiences black women and their daughters are facing is important. However, the images do not help. Instead, it can be traumatizing and creates extreme fear in the bodies of black women, young and old. I am not saying these images should not be shown, but to have no support in place for black women is seemingly by design and further exacerbates the issues. It is an everyday nightmare for a black mother to see images of young women who are being harmed by individuals and systems. I would offer this is not by accident but rather as bold statements that the bodies of black women do not matter.
Harm toward black women should be stopped. It is imperative that as this continues, we must build out specific support tailored for black women. In essence, the issue needs to be studied and researched so models of support can be developed around the country.