Why my partner and I will use Womanism as the framework to parent our child
Love, however a child learns of it, must include the knowledge of it being a practice which is as much demanding as it is eternal.
Editor’s Note: April is Black Women’s History Month. Throughout this month, Black Youth Project is celebrating Black women. This month is also National Minority Health Month, Autism Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
by Donnie Moreland
I am going to be the father of a baby girl. At this point, I have moved beyond the reservations I imagine most men carry in thought of the duty of fatherhood. I now spend much of my time, in preparation of delivery, obsessing. I obsess over all matters related to her birth, regardless of their morbidity, obtuse irregularity or, for lack of a better phrase, their silliness.
I also obsess about who she’ll be (if a “she” at all). Less who she’ll be, in proximity to our relationship, but who she’ll be in relationship to the world around her. I speak as though she bears the sole responsibility of assigning herself a role. In truth, she’ll be, as all do, entering a social contract which has, by hands not her own, predetermined many of the conditions of negotiation between self, country, race, gender, sex, class and power. She’ll find that there is very little wiggle room to maneuver around the rigidity of our so-called democratic society. This worries me.
I, as all fathers of daughters, desire that she be well, always. That survival be a matter of fact, and less one of uncertainty. The mind wanders into territories of subjugation, admittedly. “I’ll do X to assure Y” or “The world assumes X of my daughter, thus I’ll assure she’s Y.” But, I cannot, as a man, meld my daughter into a subject-of-design, no matter the meanings of her skin and gender. I can only trust that she will learn to honor, despite the despairs of Empire, whomever she is to become. This, a tenant of Womanism, the fruit from which we, my partner and I, will feed our child.
It must be noted that my understanding of Womanism, and the framework of such, derives from Alice Walker’s definition from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983). Womanist scholars note this text as the first, less mentioned, but defining of tenant. Womanism, as Walker understands it, maintains four principles. The same we draw from, in our parental framework:
- From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.
- Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.” Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
- Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
- Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.
Walker’s Womanist principles present a quest for preservation that is wholly dismissive of political associations, which other philosophies of social equity demand, such as Feminism. That which is political requires a body able to be counted, and many Black women are without this privilege. This isn’t to suggest that Black women cannot be politically participants, but if we are to observe the Black Woman’s body, as evidenced historically, we come to understand that the bodies of Black Women serve a political function largely in the act of political exploitation.
Thus, we’ve arrived at the appeal of Womanism as parental framework. Womanism asks only that a child learn to be in service, uncompromisingly, to the ego and to their ethic of self-preservation.
Notes on Womanism, the ego and preservation:
1) From the Black folk expression of “mothers to female children, ‘you acting womanish,’ i.e., like a woman.” Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Womanism recognizes the role of excavation, both of the philosophical and of the historical, in the maturation of the self. Being a woman is not, nor has it been for Black Women of our daughter’s yolk, predicated on the mimicry of the consummate mother-whore. And it is often in this struggle with performance that one discovers the richness of authenticity as self-preservation.
2) Appreciates and prefers what society considers “women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people,” all genders. If women’s culture is a culture which implores both self, and the other, to practice proper emotional management, then it seems a favorable condition of healthy child rearing. It is imperative that a child, especially a child of heritage as I, or my partner, know the properties of proper relations with the same, and other genders. That they know the their bodies are at the mercy of their will, and their will only. That intimacy, longing and desire are as much components of healing as they are sensations of the pleasurable. And that sex, and their presentation of such, is neither obligation, nor a matter of shame, and abjection.
3) “Loves struggle.” Love, however a child learns of it, must include the knowledge of it being a practice which is as much demanding as it is eternal. Love of the moments, in life, which bleed one of all patience and serenity, is the love, the practice of the love, that denotes “growing up”. Maturation, less of the body, and more of the soul. The soul, or that which one recognizes their wisdom, and discernment shapes.
4) “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” There is something to be said about the condition of whiteness. That whiteness is defined in terms of power. Power, in the political and never of the person. I believe this is what Walker is suggesting. The objectives of white women are to posture, in mimicry, as purveyors, or dealers, of the same game which white men have mastered. This is the measure of a life lived absent of joy. Joy, the quest which all Africa’s children must embark to reconcile the wounds of their bloodline.
As I lay my ear against my partner’s belly, I feel my daughter’s palm reach outwards. Her aggression painting a picture of one yearning for a hand, in return. A hand of safety. I may not know who she’ll become. But I know, in this moment, what she requires of us. As all of our children require of us. That they, as Audre Lorde would profess, define themselves for themselves, less they be crunched into others fantasies, of Black girls and Black boys, Black children eaten alive.
Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.