In Englewood, a majority-Black South Side neighborhood in the highly segregated city of Chicago, Black mothers formed the group in 2015. Officially organized under the name Mothers Against Senseless Killings, the Black mother-led group sat on the corners of the neighborhood’s most gun-violence plagued blocks to watch over children and serve as a barrier between their community and gun violence. Late last year, two of these Black women were killed on the same blocks they set out to make safe for their community.
When I pitched this story to several publications last year, the same publications heavily covering the “Wall of Moms” now, they didn’t see this as newsworthy. When Black mothers mobilize to fight against violence and racial injustice by forming a human barrier and two of their lives are lost, it’s a casualty of war. When groups of White mothers form a human barrier as a statement of solidarity in a movement new to them, it’s revolutionary.
Eventually, I did publish the story about the Army of Moms. But the publication that readily accepted the pitch — which had earned rejections and crickets from mainstream publications — was one for women of color. I’m honored to have the story there, but the response is very telling.
Black women are not only ignored in social justice movements. The sacrifice of Black women’s bodies and lives is so normalized that it does not move the masses. The reality is that as Black women work tirelessly to spearhead grassroots efforts against institutional injustices, their fight is just not considered as important as when White mothers show up. The Wall of Moms is a prime example.
A recent study highlighted what many Black women already know: Black women are the “backbone of their communities.” We are subjected to criminalization and police violence, and yet “little knowledge is known about the struggles and contributions of Black mothers in matters concerning police brutality and the fight against institutional violence.” We remain unprotected while being actively pushed to the outskirts of the work we’ve started but that no one is paying attention to.
On June 19, 2018, just a few days after my own Black son became a teenager, Michelle Kenney found out hers was never coming home again. His name was Antwon Rose Jr., and he was just 17. Protests led by Black mothers strategically cropped up throughout Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs, demanding charges against the police officer who took the life of Kenney’s son. As Rose’s mother and other Black mothers protested and cried out for police accountability in the summer of 2018, they went unheard.
Is there more empathy for the people newly fighting for Black lives than there is for actual Black lives?
There’s no doubt the intentions of the Portland Wall of Moms is good. Those images of White mothers holding hands and signs might also feel like a bit of hope — like we finally have the kind of support a movement to defund the police needs — but focusing on their intentions is erasure. Publications deciding that the Wall of Moms being tear-gassed for Black lives is “the story” limits the visibility of a group who is already made invisible — nevermind the fact that Black women are being killed in the fight and are ourselves at risk of gun violence and police brutality.
It would be a shame for Black women to end up in the footnotes of 2020 as we have so often in historical accounts of social justice movements. Wall of Moms is not the story right now. The sacrifices that Black mothers have made out of necessity, love of community and relentless activism — for years and years — is the story. Remembering why we are protesting in the first place and whose lives we are fighting for should be the story.
Everything else is a nice, white-centered distraction.
Kelly Glass is a writer whose interests focus on the intersection of parenting, health, and race. Follow her on Twitter @kellygwriter.