[By Simone Savanna]
After my mother passed, I found in the pages of her journal—the story of a woman’s life I had little understood. She was consumed by self-hatred, and could not face life as an unloved overweight woman. Much of her life was spent caring for eight children she had by six men she thought loved her. The contradiction between her negative self-images and her undying commitment to her children have provided the motivation to study the lives of black women, the stories we write about them, and the practices associated with sexism and racism in our society.
While reading Ann Petry’s 1946 novel, The Street, I was constantly reminded of my mother and her journey as a Black mother. I was also reminded of several poems about Black motherhood, including Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Mother,” mainly because of the idea of motherhood and the slight differences in their endings. As the back cover states, it “tells the poignant, often heartbreaking, story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s.” It is a novel of social realism and protest (of the Richard Wright School), and features themes, such as spectatorship, the environment as a character, and gender politics. Because my research involves examining the confrontation of racism and sexism for Black women in Literature, Poetry, and society more generally, I’m choosing to focus on the gender politics, though the three aforementioned themes are very much interrelated.