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Why did the 'Wall of Moms' Become the Center of Portland Protests?

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

During the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, white women highlighted their identity as mothers while organizing against racial injustice. Why?


sign at Black Lives Matter protest
 

Note: This post comments on Dani Blum's article “’The Moms Are Here’: ‘Wall of Moms’ Groups Mobilize Nationwide” published in The New York Times on 7/27/20. Read it here

 

When first reading this article in July and considering all that has happened since, I remain baffled by the aims of the “Wall of Moms” contingents protesting racial injustice and police violence. Yes, they appear politically well-intentioned. And I understand that the category “mothers” can marshal deep-seated emotions to serve a number of initiatives, the most well-known national group, perhaps, being MADS (Mothers against Drunk Driving). I respect BIPOC groups mentioned in the reporting, such as MASK (Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings) and Mothers of the Movement, as both spotlight the parents of children who have been killed by gun violence—all too frequently by police officers. Black feminist scholar Jennifer Nash has recognized the complexities of their individual experiences and collective symbolism, noting “black motherhood is both the space of crisis and loss as well as the space of redemption, a powerful and densely loaded site of political meaning.” (703). BIPOC mothers have historically been denied the right to keep and parent their own children, who are far more likely to be incarcerated or murdered than their white counterparts. So it seems highly appropriate for them to express their outrage and grief as mothers.


Yet the “Wall of Moms”—self-identified as largely White, middle class, and middle-aged—appear to be relying on highly privileged and yet seemingly ‘universal’ markers of motherhood to announce their solidarity: “’they’re not starting trouble, they’re wearing high-waisted pants and trying to live their life’”; they “exist to protect and amplify protesters.” While taking advantage of their assumed law-abiding ‘normality’ and maternal care-taking skills to shield BIPOC protesters, they nevertheless end up reproducing such entitlements. NYT journalist Dani Blum suggests as much when she reports that TWM groups “have garnered a swell of attention that Black mothers protesting in Portland for months did not receive.”

Here’s my takeaway: I’m curious about the need to organize as “moms” in order for White, economically comfortable women to serve as allies in contesting racial and class injustices. One member affiliated with the group Mothers Against Police Brutality gestures to the bond between moms: “whether you have lost a child or not, … because you’re a mother, you’re able to absorb another mother’s pain.” I get that. I see that it can be a genuine and relatable form of identification. But aren’t men also parents to children? And can’t all of us feel grief for families torn apart by racist violence? Mothers don’t have a premium on love, nurturing, empathy. Why can’t White women and men of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, classes, and sexualities join the fight because they’re simply human? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

 

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