My Mother: What Is Womanism? – Part 1

I didn’t know the term, “Womanism” until I came to college. But, learning the term furthered my understanding of Socrates great saying, “All learning is a recollection,” and I can honestly say I have been a disciple of a womanist the entirety of my life, and I have been exposed to the power of Womanism long before stumbling across the term. It was my good friend Bilphena who introduced me to the concept, but it was my mother who exposed me to it in practice. Let it be known, theory without practice is like a fiction lingering upon potentially prophetic pages or, better yet, revolutionary thoughts versus revolutionary activities. My mother showed me that what my friend Bilphena was talking about in theory was possible in actuality. Nevertheless, before I continue I must make three things clear: 1) My mother does not identify as a womanist. 2) Womanism is not feminism or black feminism. 3) My mother is not a feminist. My mother doesn’t uphold or accept any of the following labels (this may make the case for her being a womanist even stronger, however) and she most explicitly denounces feminism. In fact, she is astounded or perhaps, repulsed, when I mention the possibility of my wife maintaining her last name or me, hyphening my own. In fact, she passionately believes in the idea of the “women’s role” in the sense of cooking, cleaning, and nurturing. In fact, the word, “patriarchy” may be as foreign to her as the word, “womanism” is. Nevertheless, even in my own acceptance of the feminist ideology based solely in my belief in gender equality, even in her renouncement of the ideas that follow such an ideology, my mother still remains a pillar in my own acceptance of even feminism. However, this is about womanism, which as I mentioned earlier, is not feminism.

Then, what is womanism? According to prominent womanist thinker, Layli Phillips, “Womanism is a social change perspective rooted in Black women’s and other women of color’s everyday experiences and everyday methods of problem solving in everyday spaces, extended to the problem of ending all forms of oppression for all people, restoring the balance between people and the environment/nature, and reconciling human life with the spiritual dimension.” My mother, the Black woman who gave life to my flesh and soul to my being, is naturally the first figure to which I can easily observe in everyday experiences and everyday methods of problem solving in everyday spaces; however, there is an energy, a devotion, and a dedication to ending oppression, restoring balance, and reconciling life with an infallibly, unbreakable soul and spirit that resonates within the language and actions of my mother that cannot be broken, and this, is the very root, the very essence of womanism.

With that being said, perhaps the way in which my mother could have impacted my understanding of womanism is already starting to formulate in front of your eyes within the universal image of the great maternal mother. But we are not there yet, and there is much more to it than that. First, take into consideration her condition, conditions of which I acknowledge and understand as disadvantages (she may not acknowledge them as so, and this is mainly a testament to my mother’s vigilant assault against being labeled or accepting a loss or failure as an option regardless of the biased and unjust obstacles placed in front of her): 1) Inaccessibility to privileges (white privilege, wealth privilege, “nuclear-family” privilege, male privilege, etc.) 2) Societal and historical hatred or distaste for black women (slavery, Jim Crowe, Voting Rights, mass incarceration of black males and females, fear of sexual assault, “ideal” beauty, and colorism all effect dark black women, like my mother, more than they effect whites, black males, and light skin black women) 3) Raising two boys (almost men) after my father and her divorced. Now with the intersectional disadvantages set out and many others potentially left out, I need to make one final thing clear before the conclusion of the paper.

 “Womanism manifest five overarching characteristics: 1) It is antioppressionists. 2) It is vernacular. 3) It is nonideological. 4) It is communitarian and 5) it is spiritualized” (Phillips). The manifestation of these characteristics within womanism is a “gift of power” revolutionized in the realm of the common day exhibitions of maternal love, but magnified by the occurrence of intersectional oppression and unconditional love. The quotes of my mother, and the philosophy of my mother and how it relates with these five overarching characteristics will be examined in the next paper, entitled My Mother: The Womanist, but understand what it means to be a womanist is essential in first understanding why I say my mother is one.

Works Cited

Phillips, Layli. “Womanism: On Its Own.” Introduction. The Womanist Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006. N. pag. Print.


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