The Audacity of the Praying Black Mother
It’s been almost twenty years and there’s one of my momma’s whoopings I can still taste. If I close my eyes and focus hard enough, I can feel the sting of the belt on my left butt cheek. I got caught cheating on a spelling test in first grade. My teacher, Ms. Moses, walked up behind me just as I was copying the word from a crumpled piece of paper in my lap.
“It was just one time momma,” is what I pleaded as she dragged me out of school.
In the thick of tension on the ride home I would tell her that, “I just wanted to get an A.”
But all my begging didn’t stop her from demanding that I just get a belt from her bedroom closet, “and it bet’ not be a thin one!”
She put leather to skin as my body jerked and gyrated in every direction. I screamed and cried when she yelled that she —
Bet’ — slap — Not — slap — Catch Me — slap, slap — Cheating — slap — On Anything — slap — Else!
That was one of the first times I dared look at my mother before being sentenced to my room to nurse my ego after an ass whooping. To my surprise, I didn’t find a snarling, hot-headed lady looking back at me. Instead, I saw a face full of disappointment and tears.
At six years old, I realized that this had really hurt her more than it hurt me. This wasn’t just a whooping. This was her plea to God to put some act-right in her baby. It was her showing that she would do all she could, but she needed some help.
My mother still doesn’t know, but I caught her in my room that night praying next to my bed. She was giving me to God. This wouldn’t be the last time I’d witness this from her.
Her hushed prayers would always start with,
“Dear Lord, please lead and guide my daughter in the way that she should go.”
She knew, just like all Black mothers know, that just one misstep, no matter how frivolous, can lead to catastrophe for young Black youths. So the prayers, well the prayers sometimes weren’t what they seemed.
They sounded like:
Who are your friends?
Don’t you do that dumb shit again.
They looked like: three jobs, night shifts, night classes, lying about addresses so we could attend better schools.
We’ve heard it time and time again: Thank God for praying mothers.
The ones that will God into getting their children home without them becoming a hashtag.
The ones that bargain with God to turn their sons’ lives around before it’s too late.
The ones that beg God for their daughter’s deliverance as she lays on a chest of a man that’s no good for her.
The ones that even in the turmoil of race relations in this country, fall on bended knee to seek refuge.
Mothers, Black mothers, have been the back door into church. Pulling ears and throwing side-eyes to make sure the youth know about sacrificial love, God’s love. Because to be a mother and to be Black in this country is to know that type of love in an intimate way. These mothers look like Trayvon Martin’s mother, standing her ground with mothers that have lost their children to White supremacy. They look like Sandra Bland’s mother, vowing to lay her baby to rest and then coming back and fighting for her daughter’s justice. They look like that Baltimore mother, beating her son off the street during the Freddie Gray riots because she didn’t want him to become a ghost of the man for which he was rioting.
They look like my mother. They look like your mother.
The selfless audacity, the unabashed nerve, the unapologetic boldness of these praying Black mommas. Where would we be without them?