Afeni Shakur and forgiving a mother's imperfections
When I learned of the passing of activist, philanthropist, and mother of Tupac, Afeni Shakur, my social media blew up. Of course, there were the typical RIP posts, and even some personal anecdotes from my Bay Area friends who had been personally linked to Ms. Shakur. What stuck out the most to me were several posts from different Twitter accounts honoring Afeni Shakur with #DearMama for helping them forgive their mothers for their drug addictions. Although it’s true that Afeni certainly can’t be reduced to her struggle with addiction, this narrative was one of Tupac’s most poignant. When he said, “And even as a crack fiend, mama/You always was a black queen, mama,” he illustrated one of the most basic dichotomies in the black community – the reverence we hold for motherhood and the way our mothers engage life’s challenges, which can sometimes disappointment or even harm us.
We know that the social issues that disproportionately affect black women don’t end with motherhood. Mass incarceration, drug abuse, economic inequality, single parenting and police brutality aren’t things that are necessarily top of mind for a child, but black mothers face these issues every day. They’re still people.
Afeni Shakur was a person, a woman living life, making mistakes, achieving goals, falling and getting back up. I’d like to think that before he passed, Tupac was able to come to terms with his feelings around her life choices. How can we become more thoughtful about the challenges black women as mothers face, help them cope and heal, and consequently overcome our own disappointment with our mothers?
As a society, we’ve created an idea of motherhood that I don’t think is realistic. In our society, a mother should never be irresponsible and never ever have (visible) relationship problems. If her relationship with the father of her child doesn’t work out, she should basically become chaste and focus on raising children. I submit that if the mother is the first teacher, then the mother should use her own personal mistakes as lessons to teach herself and her children. The judgment we levy upon our mothers is too intense. Our expectations are many times unrealistic. No human being goes through life without stumbling. Sometimes that stumble is small and the recovery is quick, but when that stumble is great and the road to recovery seems long and arduous, we have to open our hearts and show support. Especially to our mothers.
I didn’t know Tupac, and I didn’t know Afeni. To be honest, for much of my life, I idealized my mother as completely altruistic, wise and trailblazing. To me, she was perfect. It wasn’t until my late teens that I began to see her as a real person, fragile and fallible being characteristics among her fortitude. I had to learn to empathize with the fact that in conjunction with trying to navigate the obstacles of her own dreams, ambitions and hopes for herself, she was trying to guide me in navigating my own.
We can all take a real lesson from Afeni and Tupac. If you’ve felt that your mother has ever hurt you, let you down, mistreated you – see her as flawed in all of her glory, accept her as imperfect and forgive her.
How has your perspective about motherhood changed as you’ve grown older? Let us know in the comments below.
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