academia, feminism

Identity (It’s Complicated)

diversity

The concept of identity is complicated, at best. Why aren’t white people called “European American”? Why aren’t Asians and Latin Americans known by their respective colors (or shades of brown)? When we talk about black people, what do we actually mean? I identify as an African American woman. What does it mean to identify? In an article by Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper titled “Beyond ‘identity’” (2000), the two theorists complicated the question of identity as a category of analysis. They argue that “the prevailing constructivist stance on identity—the attempt to “soften” the term, to acquit it of the charge of “essentialism” by stipulating that identities are constructed, fluid, multiple —leaves us ill-equipped to examine the “hard” dynamics and essentialist claims of contemporary identity politics.” (1) In other words, these theorists doubt the existence of identity based on the many, complicated definitions of identities across academic disciplines.

Surely, this complication of identity will be a shock for women, especially women of color, who are constantly oppressed and exploited because of their identities. As women, we are paid less than men (often justified by our ability to birth children), we are sexually abused, battered, and are offered less opportunities for social mobility. As women of color, we face what Frances Beal calls “double jeopardy”, the uncomfortable and problematic socio-cultural position of being black (or of color) and female. If identity does not exist, why are we being punished because of it?  

For people of color, our brown skin is an empowering reminder of historical tragedy, past racial struggles for human rights, and the very real continued struggle against all forms of oppression. For men and women who are not of-color, oppression and exploitation are also very real; we must not discount any struggle based on our racial and sexual differences. Like bell hooks says in her book title: Feminism is for Everybody. We must work together towards this inclusive feminism to reject all forms of oppression. Until then identity will be a hazy, complicated signifier used to enforce social, political, and cultural dominance.

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feminism, motherhood

I’m a Single Parent Kid

More than ever, families of color are being defined as non-traditional and alternative. According to the 2012 Census Bureau, single parent households are largely made of black (56%) and Hispanic (38%) families. If this is the case, why is motherhood still defined in relation to fatherhood? Why is single mothering ignored in favor of collaborative parenting?

This post is a partial response to the Randi S. Cowedry and Carmen Knudsen-Martin study “The Construction of Motherhood” (2005). In the article, both question 50 couples’ definitions of motherhood either as a traditionally feminine, gendered talent or as a conscious collaboration between two people.

While reading, I couldn’t help but note that their definitions of motherhood didn’t apply to my personal experience growing up. My siblings and I are single parent children: we were raised by our mother. There was no choice between who mothered and who fathered. My mom did both. No one assumed a gendered role. My mom didn’t collaborate with anyone (consciously or otherwise) when she chose to divorce my dad, chose to parent alone and chose to raise her kids her way. What better definition of feminist is there? bell hooks, Barbara Smith or Patricia Hill Collins would love my mom for her anti-patriarchal, anti-oppressionist choices. With that in mind, why aren’t more third wave feminist studies or feminist literature dedicated to single parents or their single parent kids of color?

One reason is that single parents contend with negative stereotypes or negative social perceptions. Valerie Mannis’ article “Single Mothers by Choice” (1999) notes that single mothers deal with negativity and fight for a positive outlook:

     When they are confronted with stereotypes and negative social attitudes about single mothers, these women rely upon their maturity, financial security, and family and community support to either distance themselves from the stereotypes or ignore the negative social discourse surrounding them. (126)

Single moms (and dads for that matter) are fighting an uphill battle for their kids and for their sense of self. I was a single parent kid and I am now thinking of starting my own family. My mom continues to fight for her balance between internal positivity and external negativity. She creates a legacy for us that questions collaborative, gendered parenting. How do I continue redefining parenting for my own family?

I am empowered as a single parent kid to define what a father means to me. My idea of a dad is a question mark. I’m not bound by any hegemonic gender roles, because I didn’t grow up around that. When we have kids, my husband will be my equal partner. Rather than mother and father, we will be parents. Being a single parent kid is empowering because it gives us some very unique perspectives on parenting. 

 Are you a single parent kid? How has this affected your views on parenting? 

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