By Margaret Damghani
*In an effort to be inclusive of all parents of all gender identities, the word parent has been chosen instead of solely mother or woman specifically. Mother’s Day, being a recognized name of the holiday, is designated as such.
Last week on Mother’s Day, in the U.S. where I am, I decided to go to a monthly series at the Durham, NC Baha’i Center on Uprooting Racism. It’s one of my favorite series to go to; I’ve had the opportunity to hear first hand from a PhD student who actively protests racism on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, relating to his experiences with events leading up to the removal of Silent Sam from the campus. I witnessed a moving talk on the significance of people of African Descent to the history of the Baha’i Faith, inspiring this post.
I almost didn’t go, thinking that on Mother’s Day staying at home “relaxing” while my kids made art projects would be a more appropriate activity. But I decided that doing something I enjoyed and that benefited me was the best thing to do, at least for the morning.
I didn’t realize that the issue of whether or not to have the event the morning of Mother’s Day would be directly addressed at the opening of the talk.
Anyone that attends the series regularly knows the organizer is a parent; she’s picked her child up seamlessly in the middle of addressing the room. It’s likely an experience every parent has had𑁋 picking a child up without missing a beat, continuing on with whatever type of work they are doing.
She, briefly, spoke of the ideas of motherhood and scholarship, and said that ultimately𑁋 in my own interpretation of her words𑁋 she decided that to cancel the event for Mother’s Day would be to agree to the compartmentalization of a person’s role as a mother or parent.
Two things came to my mind.
One, an opinion I read years ago disputing the idea that mothers don’t use their educations when they are not employed outside the home, but are ‘instead’ raising children full time. A university polled its graduates on how they were utilizing their degrees, and a mother who was currently raising her children and not working outside the home wrote about having no options in the survey but to choose an answer that implied she was not using her degree or career path in any way. She pushed back against the idea that she had to have a job in her field to be using her degree, and that there were no choices to choose from in the answers that validated her situation.
I identified with that at the time, since my degree is in journalism, and I was in the thick of raising two children two and a half years apart in age. My education certainly combined with parenthood, as I became a mother during my junior year of college. My then one-year-old attended my graduation. How many times while dispensing advice, or helping with school work, have the things I studied in school reflected on the guidance I give my children? It would be too many to count.
I would push back further against the idea that a parent needs a college degree to be educated of course𑁋 another issue altogether; people use much of their education of all types as they raise children, but the point of the article was well taken. Many people get jobs in areas other than their careers. They are not said to not be using their education with the same tone, however, as a parent raising children without an outside job is. It is devaluing parents in general to insinuate that people are not using their education because “all” they are doing is parenting.
The second thing that came to my mind was how often the station of the mother, in contrast to this societal idea, is elevated in the Baha’i Writings. I’ve been to talks on the station of mothers, read countless quotes from the Baha’is Writings about the importance of educating children as parents, seen countless conversations in online Baha’i parenting groups on the significance of the role we play as caregivers..
I personally like this quote on the importance of educating children, and it directly applies for me in my efforts to teach my children to protest racism every day:
“Every child must be trained in the things of the spirit, so that he may embody all the virtues and become a source of glory to the Cause of God. Otherwise, the mere word ‘Bahá’í’, if it yield no fruit, will come to nothing. Strive then to the best of thine ability to let these children know that a Bahá’í is one who embodieth all the perfections, that he must shine out like a lighted taper ⎯ not be darkness upon darkness and yet bear the name ‘Bahá’í’.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 142)
What I hadn’t expected was for someone at a gathering at the Baha’i Center to state emphatically how important it is for mothers to educate themselves on being anti-racist because we, in turn, teach our children what we learn.
There is naturally going to be a difference here in the conversation from white parents to black parents, indigenous parents and other parents of color, as it is white parents that avoid discussions of race and that have the privilege to do so.
White parents can and do strategically and ignorantly avoid discussion of race with their children, on the whole. On superficial levels and deeper levels. As a white woman, a part of educating myself on how to be anti-racist in a society steeped in racism has been to read and discuss how to teach my kids directly how to address the racism they will see and absorb from the earliest days of their lives. It is up to me to recognize and admit that they will absorb it despite my desires and wishes to have children not afflicted with racism.
Hoping that they will somehow be immune because I’m raising them among a more “diverse” group of people in a religion that believes fundamentally in the oneness of humanity really isn’t enough. It never has been. It never will be.
What could the Baha’i Community look like𑁋 what could greater society look like𑁋 if white parents hadn’t dropped the ball by assuming that colorblindness as a racial ideology was going to work?
The talk was on exactly that; Colorblindness as a Racial Ideology. It was a very fitting subject to have the opener be on the importance of mothers as teachers of their children.
Two other white people mentioned this issue while we talked𑁋 that of being raised in a “diverse” community and one day growing up and realizing that had not and would not save us from being culpable in a racist society, and does not save us from the racist thoughts this society implants within us.
The talk deeply explored the harm of colorblind racism beyond the general idea that we should see and celebrate someone’s race, not be blind to it, which is worthy of a lot of thought as well. Coded racist ideas within four frames of Abstract Liberalism, Naturalism, Cultural Racism and Minimization of Racism were discussed as are a part of colorblind racism. I would add that ideas like bootstrap theory, ‘poverty is the real culprit’, reverse racism, calls for unity without actual justice, and more support this idea.
These are all things children should be educated on from the beginning of their lives. The talk ended with the speaker asking us to recognize which coded colorblind racist statements we had heard growing up.
I appreciated then of course that I had gone to the talk I wanted to go to. I’ve touched on these topics before with my kids, and I certainly will have to again. It’s easy to think you can bring up a subject when a child hears about it; but when it’s coded into our society we need to recognize they will absorb things they never mention.
It doesn’t take much to acknowledge simple truths that can make up for profound paradigm shifts. I think acknowledging that it was Mother’s Day𑁋 and I can say that attendance was about half as many people as usual𑁋, even in just a few minutes, likely made every parent in the room think about their responsibility toward educating themselves and thus their children.