History, racism, and erasing black mothers

Guest: Anna Malaika-Tubbs
Despite the influence of civil rights icons Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin, their mother's stories were all but erased from history. That is until Dr. Anna Malaika-Tubbs came along. While pregnant with her first child, Dr. Mailka-Tubbs wrote the award-winning book The Three Mothers: How the mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation. Her original research details the lives and influence these women had, and is a catalyst for conversation about the many ways we continue to undervalue the work of mothers. She joins Sabrina to discuss: • The ways in which American society could better celebrate and support mothers • How she refused to be erased as the wife of a prominent politician • Her experience as a Black woman raising young children
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Anna Malaika-Tubbs Transcript

Sabrina Merage Naim
Hi Kassia!

Kassia Binkowski
Hey Sabrina, how are you?

Sabrina Merage Naim
I am doing well. The weather is feeling a little summery. I'm in a nice dress. My baby bump is humongous.

Kassia Binkowski
Yes, excellent!

Sabrina Merage Naim
All the good things.

Kassia Binkowski
I love that.

Sabrina Merage Naim
And life is feeling a little bit back to normal, so I am just thrilled. And the episode that I got to do with Dr. Anna Malaika Tubbs, who I have a full on lady crush on, I just have to admit that off the top of this episode. She is amazing. She's so impressive. She has accomplished so much. And oh, she's not even 30. So...

Kassia Binkowski
No big deal!

Sabrina Merage Naim
No big deal, right. We got to talk about her latest book, which I read and loved, called "The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation" and this book has really caught fire. It is now a New York Times bestseller, yay to Ana. It also, by the way, was her thesis for her PhD so it has kind of come full circle that she is now a doctor, and has written this book that shot up the New York Times bestsellers list. And it's such an interesting topic, she decided to talk about the erasure of mothers, specifically black mothers, in history. We have sold so much information, we have so much accolades and holidays and books and you know, conversation around these three men, as we should, right? They are important people in our history. But nobody ever talks about the women who raised them. And she went kind of, into obscurity to find the stories of these three really incredible women in their own rights. There isn't that much written about any of them, she really had to dig up resources from everywhere you can imagine. And it's not like she's just repeating what she read elsewhere, she really had to create this from very little research and very little background. And the idea is that there is a system in our society where we just kind of forget that the incredible people who carry on our, you know, our history and carry on our future came from somewhere, from someone.

Kassia Binkowski
They were raised by somebody, yeah.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, and the mothers in particular, are so often just kind of forgotten in the dustbin of history. We don't give them any of the credit, we don't tell their stories or how they were even involved in raising these strong men. And Anna is turning that on its head completely.

Kassia Binkowski
Did she uncover any common themes and these women's lives? I mean, were there similarities and parallels, obviously the significance of these men in history is similar, although what they've done is obviously very different. What was the path of their of the women who raised them?

Sabrina Merage Naim
What's interesting, and this is something we talk about in the episode is that they actually, all three of them, come from very different backgrounds, geographically, socioeconomically, etc. But because they all were born within a very short time of each other, I think she said five or six years of each other, that what was going on around them really shaped how they grew up, and their lives shaped how their their children grew up. And so there are a lot of similarities, there are a lot of parallels. And then you also hear and read about the big differences and the things that were so kind of glaringly different in each of their lives that put them on different paths, and how that impacted them and then their children. And that's something that's really important to recognize, and also to recognize what was happening in the US during the turn of the 20th century for black people, you know, and how that impacted the story of how these people then went on to live to become who they were. And that is such an important aspect of this as well. And one of the things that I say to her is, it must have been extremely hard to write at some point- she was pregnant with her first, and so she was already in such a frame of mind of like, now I am carrying on the legacy of being a black mother, but she was writing stories of just terror. And we know the broad strokes but to read personal stories, it's really hard.

Kassia Binkowski
Do you guys dive into how it shapes her as a mother and the influence of tackling this body of work while pregnant with her first?

Sabrina Merage Naim
A hundred percent, it was such a big thing for her. It was really present throughout this whole process. She's so grounded, she's so eloquent, she's really thoughtful in her responses and I just loved loved loved this conversation. Take a listen.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Hi, Anna, thank you so much for being with me today.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Thanks for having me. I'm excited.

Sabrina Merage Naim
I'm excited as well. This has been a conversation that's been in the works for a while, so to be able to finally sit down with you, I'm thrilled. And so so much has happened for you over the last few months, just even anecdotally on have to say, from what I have witnessed as a fan of yours, first of all, you had your second child towards the end of last year.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Yeah, in August.

Sabrina Merage Naim
In August. So you have a brand new baby, you completed your doctoral PhD so you are now officially a doctor.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Officially. So exciting!

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yes, you dropped this book that we're going to discuss, and became a New York Times bestseller, all in that time.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
And a TED talk, where we met each other!

Sabrina Merage Naim
How could I possibly forget. And you had a TED talk, which I was very fortunate enough to witness in person, and it was phenomenal. And all of this in such a short period of time you overachiever!

Anna Malaika Tubbs
It's a lot. We also moved to LA. Since the books been out. There's just a ton, you know, we like to keep things going in the Tubbs household!

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yes, yes. So I'm really excited to touch on a lot of these things that are actually very connected. And the theme of this conversation is really going to be about the storytelling and erasure historically of women, more specifically, of mothers, more specifically, of black mothers. And this theme has really touched so many aspects of your life. And so one of the things that I'll be doing, when asking you these questions and kind of going through your history is touching on it as it intertwines. It really just kind of intersects all along. But I want to first ask you, you grew up in Dubai, in Sweden, in Estonia, in Azerbaijan, in the US... What were the circumstances of such a diverse and global upbringing?

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Yeah, it was incredible. It's such a privilege to be able to travel the world in this way. My parents were both lawyers, my mom very specifically focused on women's rights both in the US as well as abroad. And so they almost prioritized the travel over the position that they might work in. Lawyers who are kind of jacks of all trades, as they say, can fit into so many different places and so if a job opened up, whether it was a visiting professor role, or a consulting position on a project with the State Department or an organization that was trying to make a difference, in some place abroad, my parents would say, "have we lived there yet? No, let's go, we're going." And so the longest I ever lived anywhere was four years, and that's tied for Dubai, Mexico, and Laramie, Wyoming, funnily enough, and I just was able to see things firsthand. That was really important to my parents, that we not always just believe what was presented in the news, but that instead we were able to form our own opinions, that we could develop this media literacy, even that we would connect with people across all different cultures and backgrounds. And not so that we have this notion of you know, all human beings are the same, but more so to say, we are all very different and that's a beautiful thing. And we should celebrate that diversity. There's always something to learn from that difference, so I'm grateful to my parents for having that insight and giving us this very nomadic experience, which was also at times hard, but I loved it.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Sounds very idyllic, I mean, it's something that even my husband and I kind of fantasize about sometimes like, what if we just took our kids on the road and went and lived for months on end in a different country and had that whole experience? And as Americans, we really are so kind of in our bubble, right?

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Yeah, definitely.

Sabrina Merage Naim
And we don't have that experience of the global view and landscape. So having that I think it was... What a what a value add for your life. What a privilege.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Absolutely. I mean, it's very American. It's not something necessarily, I'm criticizing, but very American to say, "hey, we're here in the States, I know our history, or as much as we can, I know what's going on in my community." And maybe not even though yeah, as I said it, I was like, oh, there's a current debate on this. But we think we know our history, and we're kind of okay with that, we're satisfied with that. And it also keeps us stuck in a lot of ways because we can't even envision things being different, you know, so I don't want to get too political about it. But for me things like, you know, universal health care, or gun laws, they don't seem like this just imagination. I'm like, "no, it's possible because I've seen it."

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, you seeing it firsthand really changes your perspective, right, versus this abstract dialogue of politicians, it's like a whole different thing.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Exactly.

Sabrina Merage Naim
And you've spoken a lot about how your mom had such an influence on you, her being such a fierce feminist herself and women's activist, that that was something that paved the path for you. And in your career, also, we're going to talk about how you were kind of the first lady of Stockton, California and what you did there in that role, we're going to talk about through your schooling, and through your book writing, and all of these things, tell me a little bit about the importance of your mother, her presence and her influence on that.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Yeah, my mom was so incredibly inspiring and amazing in every way, you know, with her career, as a mother, she was always teaching me that you reach for what you want, and you work for that. And there are gonna be a lot of people who tell you, you can't do it, but basically "F" them, and challenge that and push against it, and that she was going to support me in that and be by my side in that approach to my dreams and accomplishing what I thought I could do in my life, and always helping me to kind of see the next step after that. You know, she was never like surprised, and I accomplished something, it was never this, like, "wow, Anna yay!" it was more like, "that's amazing, and what's next?" kind of thing, because she just had this full belief in me. So my inspiration for my work, very obviously focused on female empowerment and challenging all the ways in which there are systems that are trying to keep us from accomplishing what we want to accomplish and even having resources that we should have and supports that we should have and that we deserve, all come from learning from her from the moment that I was born, that this was possible and necessary.

Sabrina Merage Naim
So in 2016, your husband Michael Tubbs became the youngest ever and first African American mayor of Stockton, California. And as much as I want to give him kudos also for all of those roles, I wanted to kind of talk a little bit about how becoming a public figure impacted you during that time as a black woman, as a young black woman, especially in that role. First of all, what was that conversation with Michael like, even to kind of get into that, and then I'm curious to know if during that process, if you ever felt erased or sidelined as the woman next to her husband, you know?

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Absolutely. And I almost have to give more context, so bear with me. But we started dating when I was 19 and he was 21. We were both undergraduates at Stanford. We went on our first date at our favorite Ethiopian place, and I asked him what he was going to do when he graduated. So he was a senior, I was a sophomore. And he had recently been thinking about running for city council first in Stockton, and said, I think I might run for city council of my city. And I was like, okay, cool, you know, he presented so casually, I had no idea really what this meant in terms of our journey and what I was going to be joining as his partner. But I believed in him and I went back and forth from Stanford, every, you know, two weekends, I would go and volunteer and would help phonebank and just be a part of this large team that was joining him on his mission. And I was so stunned. Even though this was what I studied, I was always really interested in how women were being treated, like we said, and so I was still an undergrad. So I wasn't quite getting my masters or my PhD yet, but my degrees are also happening as he's continuing this role in office and has all these eyes on him because he's so young. And like you said, he's the first black mayor, but the youngest city council person before that, all of this. There's a documentary being made about him, there's actually two now that have come out, so I'm well aware of how I'm being represented. And it was so weird when we were on campus at Stanford, how people knew me knew my work, knew my own path and my own journey, and then when I would go to Stockton, how everything shifted, and I became just his partner. And people would say things like, "oh, you're the trophy girlfriend," they would say it to my face!

Sabrina Merage Naim
Just say that straight to your face? People are shameless.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Shameless. I was called a tart once, I literally don't even know what that means. A lot of comments on what I was wearing, you know, like, "oh, you're so beautiful and he's so brilliant." Even assumptions, one particular person came up to me once and said, "so cool that Michael went to Stanford, like you went to Sacramento State, right?" And there's nothing wrong with Sacramento State, I just didn't know why they were making this- it was out of nowhere. So there was just all of these stories that were like, "this is who Anna is, and we're not even gonna give her a chance to tell us who she is." So it definitely impacted me. But I also realized more and more, as much as it was hurting me personally, this was the result of everything my mom had talked to me about and what I was studying, and it wasn't just about me. And I needed to stand up for myself, I needed to reclaim my narrative, I had tools available to me that women before me did not, and I can start to shift how people saw me and not only again, for me, but for my students who I was mentoring, I wanted them to see who I believed I was and how women should be treated, and do my own part, even, with his work. So I co-authored the first ever report on the status of women in Stockton to make sure that we were paying attention to their unique issues. And, you know, basically discovering that 30% of households in Stockton were being led by single mothers, and if there wasn't policy that was catered to them, then you weren't going to be able to fix anything in the city. So if this was his mission, he needed to know what was happening, particularly with women. So that's kind of how my relationship with Stockton developed, and I think by the time we were we were leaving Stockton, there was a very different view of who I was and I think people started to really understand, "actually, we should not make these assumptions about Anna or she's going to write an article about it."

Sabrina Merage Naim
I think it's very frustrating to hear, and it's not unusual, right, but to hear that you had to claw your way out of those stereotypes, because all of those assumptions were placed on you right away. But it is also very clear that it was the thing that kind of lit a fire under you to go above and beyond maybe what a lot of other women in your position would have done in that role. Like you said, you published this report that was so important, and the first of its kind to shed a light on what was going on with women in that community, in that city. And then from that, you can create all kinds of solutions and programs based on data that had never been developed before. You as a highly educated and accomplished woman separate of your husband should not have to prove anything to anyone, but this is what we're faced with all the time, right? Which is we do, we always have to prove ourselves, we always have to be like, "actually, I did all of these things, and I went to all of these great universities, and I," you know, yada, yada. And the fact that you even have to stoop so low as to list your resume for other people is maddening.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
It's frustrating. It is frustrating. I think that all the time. Anytime I feel like I need to somehow show my CV or something I realize, okay, there's something even larger that I can do with this. You know, to think about it beyond myself, think about what changes need to be made so that other women, young women of color, are not taken, you know- I guess that others that don't define us, that we need to define ourselves. And so really, in all of those moments, sometimes I would be kind of quiet, like if we were at an event and somebody said something that I found to be kind of disrespectful, I would say, okay, maybe right now, it's not the moment that I'm going to address this, but I wasn't really fully joking before I would really go and I would write an article and then it would be like published. And I would say this is my experience, this is something that happened, and I'm going to tell you why this was not okay. Or as I was writing this book, thinking about how my own experience of being erased helps me to feel even a fraction of what the mothers who I wrote about, were facing and were continuing to face posthumously, that we were denying their contributions. And not only for me with my husband, but his mom, his grandma, his aunt, it was black women who have backed him and made him who he is and he is incredible, but he will tell you the exact same thing he couldn't have done that without us. And so to erase us is to not even fully understand a person who you so admire and respect, you're erasing a critical part of his story.

Sabrina Merage Naim
I want to ask you about when you were studying for your doctoral PhD at the University of Cambridge, as a Bill and Melinda Gates scholar, I might add, I'm just going to brag about you this whole interview. At that time, you were studying black motherhood, before you yourself became a mother. And, you know, a lot of the backstory of what your own mother kind of imprinted on you and your desire to bring women's issues to the forefront, all of that I really understand. But what was it that drew you specifically to black mothers before that was even your personal experience?

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Yeah, yeah. Especially, you know, my mom was white, I wasn't a mother myself yet, so it is an important question: how did I decide I'm going to write about black mothers and these three black mothers? So I was first inspired, of course, by the fact that my mom always spoke about mothers everywhere we traveled, she said that we need to pay attention to the role of motherhood and how mothers were being treated in all these different places that we lived. This was kind of an indicator for how well this society would do, how successful they could be, depended on how they treated mothers and the role of mothering, she believed everything could relate back to that. So I always had that in the back of my mind. I then was really inspired by Margot Lee Shetterly's book "Hidden Figures" that went on to become this incredible movie and the way in which she made it clear that the erasure of these black women was intentional, very strategic, not a mistake. And I thought, okay, I want to be someone who finds other Hidden Figures, other black woman who we should have known all along, and how knowing them would shape our understanding of our country today. And so I said, okay, it's going to be about black women, but then pairing that with things my mom had taught me, it's going to be about black mothers, that sounds to me, I'm so excited, that sounds so powerful. And I started to get really inspired and realizing that not many had done this before me. And then I said, okay, what can be really my very unique contribution to kind of our shared knowledge, things that we talk about all the time, but that we need to see from a different perspective. And then, of course, I thought about the civil rights movement, because we come back to it, always. And we're going to continue to do so we're thinking about how our world aligns with our civil rights leaders envision for us, but we think about it from a very male perspective. And so I said, I'm going to play on that patriarchy, I am going to use that as a hook for a lot of people who might not have come to the book otherwise. But if I can have a book that joins this genre of the civil rights movement, from the perspective of black motherhood, how amazing could that be like, this was my dream. This was my process as I'm thinking through what's possible. And then I discovered that the three mothers were all born within six years of each other. So Alberta King, Berdis Baldwin, Louis Little, all born within six years of each other, and then their famous sons are born within five years of each other. And this, for me felt like the aha moment, it has to be these three. I can bring these unique stories together, celebrate their incredible differences, while still telling it in one book, because of time, and can progress through each chapter as a decade, not only of their lives, but of American history through their eyes. So that's how it all came together.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, and I have to say, you really did such a phenomenal job of that, because not only was it so important that their stories, albeit extremely different backgrounds, socio economically different, from an educational standpoint, very different, even geographically different. Having existed kind of in similar times, means that from a historical standpoint, they experienced a lot of similar things. And being able to tell that narrative and then lay that groundwork in terms of who they ended up becoming, and then who their sons ended up becoming and the families around them, was such important context. And I want to actually say the name of the book because we haven't we keep saying, so the book is called "The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation". The fact that their stories were so erased and that you had to kind of go digging in places that, you know, authors don't have to go digging so, so deep and come up with, you know, there's just not that much written about them. So it's not like you had, you know, tons of research to go through and all these books and documents and whatever, and then you just had to put it all together. You didn't have any of that that was an extreme challenge for you, I'm sure.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Thank you. Thank you for bringing attention to that. I appreciate that. Because quite often, when people read the book, and it's a compliment to me, they're like, this was such so beautifully written, and so cool how you brought these stories together, right? As if like you said, they were out there, and I just brought them together. No, this was the subject of my PhD dissertation. I would not have become a PhD if I had just done that, right? This was original research and so I had to dig deep for all of these facts. And I agree with again, I've had really great reception, so I'm a little spoiled, but the few people who have been critical of the book are like, we want more information. Yeah, I agree! I want more information too! But it's not out there right now. And also, it's not to say that it's never going to be out there, but with my book, I'm making the claim that they deserve to be studied, period. That is the goal of the book, well, there's a lot of goals of the book, but that is one of the primary goals. And so if people want to join me in that research, like if more or less want to put on this investigative journalist hat and find it and uncover it, we should. There are multiple books written about their sons, there should be multiple books written about each of these women. And I don't want this to be the only biography but it is important to note that this was my original research.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, and really such a important point that brought this whole thing together, which is that the erasure of these women and of so many women in history is exactly what made you want to write this story. And that's kind of the underlying theme here. So we have talked about kind of the the timeline being an important common factor among the three mothers, what are some of the other common threads that bubbled to the surface?

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Yeah, so definitely spoken about how the differences are very important to celebrate. But like you said, there are things that bring them together, and almost in some ways, tragically, because despite the fact that they have these different backgrounds, and, you know, different access to resources, et cetera, in many ways, they're treated similarly, because they are black women. So it's as if whoever might have met them, or seen them would have just treated them as if they were "less than" simply because of this identity. And that similarity is a hard one. Another similarity that comes up is their approach, when we speak in general terms, in parenting. So even though when we get more specific, it gets different, when we kind of take a bird's eye view, I see there being four tenants in their teachings around the movement and around civil rights and freedom. So the first one being that as black mothers, they didn't have a choice as to whether or not they were going to teach their children about how ugly the world could be, that white supremacy was a reality, or that it was present, you know, not that it was a real thing, but that it was going to be there and they were going to have to face that. And secondly, though, that their children shouldn't be defined by that, that they needed to push past this view that black people were "less than". And not only could they change things, but that they should, that they were agents in this fight. That thirdly, they were going to teach them how to be a part of this larger team of fighters, that it wasn't that everything rested just on their shoulders. As individuals, we don't want black children to feel like the whole world is on their shoulders, but instead that they are part of generations of fighters who came before them, and that they could learn the strategies that our families have perfected and we're passing that on to you so that you can join us. And fourth, perhaps being the most important, is that a part of our fight is to have happiness, to live in joy, to still find love, to not always be in fear, to not always be working and working ourselves down to the bone, but to feel like we have moments of relaxation and of peace. Because when those are taken from us, that's when we've lost. And so all three of them do it in very different ways, they have very different strategies for addressing injustice, but those four tenants I think bring them together really beautifully.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, I love that. Especially the last two, I think the third one being that we don't want black children who feel like the entire world is on their shoulders, like all of our hopes and dreams and, you know, everything for the future is on the shoulders of one individual at a time, I think that is crushing. And then the fourth one being the that we need to also live in moments of love and happiness. It's so easy to drown in the challenges and the difficulty of our histories of the, you know, the difficulties that we've been through our people have been through, our ancestors, it is so easy to drown in that, and then not to see the joy that also exists on the other side of that. And I think that's a really important message for all of us, for activists and beyond, that we need to live in the joy also.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
That's so important to me, that when we think about black history, it is so often, I mean, we think about when we were younger, and in school and the way that we presented black history as if it was all about victimization, all about sadness, all about being oppressed. And while that is an important part of our history, yes that all these different factors have tried to rob us of our humanity. What's even more important to study is the ways in which we have pushed against that and reclaimed our humanity and said, We do not accept the circumstance as it is, we do not believe what you are telling us, and we are living our lives, we are pushing for this world to recognize us, we are changing systems around us because we can't accept the circumstance as it is right now. And that is the perspective that I take in this book. Yes, I acknowledge all of the moments that tried to rob our humanity. That's the balance of the book, is an acknowledgement of dehumanization, but how black women have created life despite being denied it. So it's not only through birthing children, it's through our activism, it's through our art, through educating others, teaching others, it's a celebration of motherhood far beyond the biological, it's our foremothers, it's our community mothers, all of them who are giving life even when other people are trying to rob it from them.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, what an interesting tightrope to walk and something that for sure. And we've mentioned this, sprinkled throughout the book, it's not even sprinkled, a very fundamental part of the book, are the stories of atrocities against black people in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And, frankly, it's hard to read at times, it's really hard to read, it paints a really bleak picture, which, of course, we know, we've known, but difficult to read nonetheless. And actually, I'm thinking specifically about the pregnant woman who was strung up by her feet and sliced open and shot hundreds of times, that, I have to tell you, that image has been ingrained in my brain since I read that, I can't get it out of my head.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Mary Turner.

Sabrina Merage Naim
How was it for you, as the writer, to write about these horrors? And I mean, I appreciate your perspective of what you're talking about, you're juxtaposing the horrors and the atrocities with also the beauty of the mothers and what they brought to their families and to their communities, which I think is so important and hopefully brought levity to your experience as a writer. But what was it like for you to kind of delve so deeply in those very challenging historical moments as well?

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Incredibly difficult. And you have to remember that while I'm writing this, I'm expecting my first baby. And so I am also feeling my baby kicking inside of me, and I'm thinking about all of these attacks against us, you know, writing about Mary Turner, editing, going back to the story over and over again, thinking of what's happening in our nation, and how it relates to everything that I'm writing. It was difficult. There are multiple times while I was writing, where I'm crying, and, you know, I would submit a chapter to my editor and even she would say "Anna you can take this slower, I'm having a hard time reading some of this, and so I don't even know how you're writing this, while pregnant and thinking about your child's life, and how so many people are going to try to attack this life, this beautiful, precious life." It was emotional. I felt, however, that it also gave me even more motivation to finish this book, and make sure the world read about how Alberta Bertus and Louise despite the many ways in which their dignity was being threatened, where people were disrespecting them, telling them they weren't worthy of life, that they they created it for their children and for our community. And they were doing that for me, in my study of them. It was teaching me about me as a mother, as a person, as a scholar, and as an activist, really, what my work could do to change these awful circumstances. So very difficult at times, but also a reminder of the need for this work.

Sabrina Merage Naim
You were writing all of this and researching all of this pregnant with your first child. And now you have two, and I want to know how your experience as a black mother in America has compared to that of your subjects. Do you see any parallels? Do you see similarities between what they went through 100 years ago and what you're going through today?

Anna Malaika Tubbs
That's such a good question. I definitely see some parallels. Definitely that feeling of excitement that you're having a baby, having children, you love them so much, but also that fear of fear. Because you're well aware of attacks against you and attacks against your children. There was such awareness for Alberta Bertus and Louise in that. And awareness for me, in studying this, I hate that I can relate to their fears still. I will also say that there's parallels in the form that these attacks are still taking. There's, you know, obviously this police violence that James Baldwin, I have a paragraph in the book where I speak about when he was only 10 years old and police assault him, and the fear that so many black mothers today feel about their children being outside of the home, and an officer who's supposed to protect them, treats them like a criminal. And this notion of black children being seen as adults and being seen as monsters. And I relate to all of that, all of the worries that these three mothers vocalized in their children, even joining the movement and wanting to make a change. You know, it's really difficult to want to tell your children, "yes, we can make a change, but you're also risking your life in doing so," that's terrifying. But I also relate to going back to those moments of reclaiming the joy and the love and allowing my children to just dream. And I wouldn't say that Alberta Bertus and Louise, were saying, "you all have to be famous activists," you know. That's not what they were training them for, they were training them to survive and thrive, and it just so happens that those strategies led to their fame. But that wasn't the ultimate goal. The goal was really that their children felt that their mothers believed in them, believed in their worthiness, believed that they were as good as anybody else, and they supported that, and their crafts, and their different ways of just thinking about who they wanted to be in the world. So I'm always reminded of that, reminded that the fear and the pain cannot be the overwhelming emotion in my heart, but more so the love and the belief in my children's abilities and fighting for their peace and their joy.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Let that be the mother's mantra, because I think it's so true of most mothers that because we love our children so much, because we have so much awareness of the challenges of the world, that there's a lot of fear just being a mom, right? Like, fundamentally, being a mom, knowing that it's so hard to raise children, raising them well, all of the challenges that they're gonna go through in their lives, all of the ways that we as moms feel like we screw up on a daily basis and the pressures that we put on ourselves, but then layering the additional complexities of being a black mother with black children is, you know, a lot, it's a lot. It's a lot to think about and being aware enough to not let the fear be the driving factor in your experience as a mother is a game changer. It's just, I think is going to be the the one important factor that changes what their prospects are in their lives, how they're able to accomplish whatever it is that they want to do because you weren't driven by fear and they won't be either.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Yeah, that's that revolutionary love of black women that I often speak about. And that, what you just described, is exactly that. Despite all these factors that are trying to keep you from practicing that love, that you still do, and that you prioritize that, and it shows up in saying, I believe in your worthiness, and I will be the source of that belief and love and encouragement for you.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah. I want to reflect on the dichotomy that exists for mothers, which is that women have been basically defined by one thing since the beginning of time, right? Their ability to bear and rear children. And yet mothers have been so ignored and pushed aside, even when fulfilling that so called cosmic duty, you know, it's a no win situation. We are on this planet for one thing, and then we are not appreciated or supported for that one thing. And I also want, I just want to read because the three mothers were living during, during a time when the common belief was this quote that you put in here of Roosevelt: "there are many good people who are denied the supreme blessing of children, but the man or woman who deliberately forgoes these blessings, whether from viciousness, coldness, shallow heartedness, self indulgence, or mere failure to appreciate or write the difference between the all important and the unimportant. Why such a creature merits contempt, as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle, for a race that practice such doctrine, that is a race that practiced race suicide, would thereby conclusively show that it is unfit to exist, that it had better give place to people who had not forgotten the primary laws of their being." What he's saying here is people who decide not to bring children into this earth are practicing race suicide, are abandoning the one thing that we're supposed to be doing on this planet. And now, interestingly enough, we are among the first generation of women who actually are kind of stepping back and starting to question, well, do I even want to be a mother? Is that for me? Is that something that, do I feel like I, you know, I want to have that role? And many of them have kind of decided no, that's not for me. This is a first time in the history of the world, right? And the message has always been that, right? That no, you have one duty.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
He's particularly talking to white women in this because he felt really concerned that black women were having children at even a slightly higher rate than they had the year before and that white woman's rate of birth was declining. And he was very concerned with what might happen. So this was the pressure he was putting, basically telling white women this is your only worth, right?

Sabrina Merage Naim
Right. That's really important context, because that's a racially charged issue, where he's basically saying that it's a threat to our race, right, it's a threat to the white race, if black women are having more children. But I also just wanted to acknowledge the lack of consideration for mother's needs and contributions leads to a lack of intervention and support and like, what kind of the message that your mother gave you, which is that when mothers are doing well in society, then societies are doing well. And the relationship between your ability to mother and your worth on this planet, were so intertwined for so long, and yet, so kind of undercut. And we, for so long, we didn't have the ability to have that support system. That's something that really kind of was like a big bell in my head for a long time reading this book. And I will also say, something that we on this podcast have discussed a lot, the decision not to mother, and that being something that's new for women, because we haven't had those supports, because of this massive erasure of mothers and black women in history. What does it look like to actually support mothers? What does it look like to support black mothers in a way that changes that narrative?

Anna Malaika Tubbs
First and foremost, when I'm thinking about maternal health, and when we're, you know, maternal health advocates, and we're talking about motherhood, that's also advocacy for the choice as to whether or not you want to become a mother. So it's just as important to say, women do not have to become mothers if they do not want to, and we need to stop putting this pressure on women or even saying, you know, like, this is what your body was built to do.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Baby bearing hips.

Anna Malaika Tubbs
Yeah, exactly. We need to stop making this assumption or put this pressure on women, or, you know, we need to move away from that. And that is just as important a part of maternal health as everything else that we're speaking about, if you do decide to have a child, so that's really important. And I'm so glad that you discuss that on this podcast. And then moving in terms of the second part of the question with how do we support mothers, how do we think about black mothers today and what's needed not only for black mothers, but for mothers, all together in the US? And even bringing this back to our first question around the fact that I lived so many different places and saw how mothers were treated abroad. And different things that we can take from systems around the world, even though yes, I understand, the US is not as homogeneous as other places. But it still is something that we can apply and take when we think about places that have affordable quality childcare, places that have universal parental leave that extends beyond a measly four weeks, ridiculous. Places that have -- we couldn't even pass that -- places that have this understanding of maybe it's universal pre K, or child tax credits, or the list really goes on and on. So if you are reading the book after this, I think it's important to think about what could make that policy reality today.

Kassia Binkowski
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