God’s Plan Ain’t Black Mother’s Dying Young

7 Mar

Yesterday I attended a funeral for a distant cousin, and I was angry throughout the entire service and for the rest of the day.  I am still angry because we buried a 47 year black mother, and no one could tell me why.  The family had to get an autopsy done to determine the cause of death.

The minister preached from Job 1:21 “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Maybe it is because I did not know why she died at the young age of 47, leaving four children to mourn her, but “the Lord has a plan,” just wasn’t doing it for me.  Couple that with her white male employer stating that, “she put everyone’s needs before her own;” “she knew all of my family members by name,” and “she was a loyal employee.”  I had real questions like who helped her raise her four children; how many hours was she working a week; what kind of health care did the major retail franchises she worked for all her life provide for her and her children.  And “God has a plan,” just is not enough for me because I cannot imagine that God’s plan is for black mothers to work work and work some more and die young.  The choir was great, but the message did not work for me.

At the funeral for this amazing black woman all of the women involved in her life are excluded from the sermon.  “[He] came forth naked from his mothers womb, so shall he return,” (Ecclesiastes 5:15). This coming forth idea perplexes me because last I checked, and I am a mother, women work really hard birthing children, and I know it must hurt like hell to have to bury them.  These rhetorical and visual images of pregnant women with no bodies, i.e. missing breasts, head, face or legs (like the ones currently circulating on posters for the WIC Healthy Eating Campaign in Atlanta) are damaging.  I’m fine with God being a he if that’s how the church presents their God, but what I find disturbing is at a funeral where the father of the deceased and the father of her four children are not present, but where the mother of the deceased and the deceased are present and on display, the sermon renders them both invisible.  How can you be a present absence at your own funeral.  And to end with “don’t cry…. he is not dead,” I’m sorry but I’m crying because a hard working black mother is dead at 47, and I’m crying because her mother is going to have to bury her.

To be clear her death does not make me angry with God. I am angry because there is no fucking war cry.  No call to stand up for and to support these hard working mothers in our community, who we seem perfectly content to let take care of everyone’s else’s needs before their own.  We are too quiet when they are working themselves to death because there is no affordable housing or accessible healthcare, few sustainable jobs and no protection through unions, and no affordable free childcare.  And when they die all that can be said is “God has a plan.”  That’s not enough, what’s the plan, and are we not the implementers of this plan?  Isn’t the preacher supposed to share the plan with us, inspire us to get moving, to help God help us?  No the message seems to be do not question “the plan,” but come worship at my church of 4000 and maybe I will let you in on a little secret.

I’m sick right now because black women are dying unnaturally of EVERYTHING, and the supposed solution to all of our problems is getting a man.  Get real.  We need a community.  We need burdens to be lifted in real ways now, not when we have “transitioned.”  We need people to tell us to slow down and to take care of us too, or else being an “angel” for others might get us buried at 47.   What we needed was a war cry.

The family did not need an autopsy to determine the cause of death because the answer was written in the obituary.  Mother Jones said, “mourn the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”  It’s time to fight like hell for hard working black mothers.  Let’s give them their accolades while they are living.  And it would be nice if they could be addressed in the sermon at their own funeral as well.  Get Crunk!


14 Responses to “God’s Plan Ain’t Black Mother’s Dying Young”

  1. Tameka March 7, 2011 at 10:17 AM #

    This is awesome!

  2. Ayofemi March 7, 2011 at 10:35 AM #

    Like the author I am also wanting action and afgirmation of this woman’s life not empty platitudes. We must do more than repeat platitides. I want to DO something for her children. Where can I send a donation?

  3. ashaf March 7, 2011 at 11:33 AM #

    Thank you Sheri!!!! This is a fucking war cry, indeed. I am so sorry about your family member and even sorrier about the silences that surround such common deaths. You make excellent points about the “present abscences” in the church. This makes me really angry and it makes me think about what I can do to promote self-care in the communities I’m a part of. Thank you so much.

  4. Eeda March 7, 2011 at 12:47 PM #

    This really touched my heart. I am a 25 year old single mother pursuing my phd in philosophy. And I have been contemplating this very idea of having to always put others first and the risk and threat that this posses to my own health. Still trying to learn to merge being a live and living.

  5. Christina Ramos March 7, 2011 at 3:08 PM #

    your writing gives women of color a voice! thank you. thank you! keep fighting!

    p.s. can someone please shut up The Radiance Foundation? they have started a war against women’s reproductive rights, especially women of color. how ironic that the founder is a bi-racial black male.

  6. Robin March 7, 2011 at 3:53 PM #

    Powerful writing!

  7. Carrie March 7, 2011 at 5:47 PM #

    Wonderful post. Too many times we hide behind the church as an excuse not to do anything. As a community we can’t just sit in the pew and pray or rely on the government to do something. I’m a devout Christian and love God with everything in me, but faith without works is dead. The church is becoming more of a crutch than an institution that helps us.

  8. Nafeesa March 8, 2011 at 4:01 AM #

    I needed a war cry today…. thank you sis. Thank you , thank you, thank you. And YES how fucking ridiculous that your cousin and the other black women in her life were rendered into a platitude and invisible at her own funeral. My deepest condolences for your, for her children’s and for the community’s loss. Let us ROAR women.

  9. Lyn March 8, 2011 at 10:59 PM #

    Well Written.

    I agree we must re-imagine the movement to support African-American Mothers; however, I do not think that self-care promotion or donations adequate strategies. We need sustainable community support for the working, low-income and non-working African-American Mothers. I totally agree with your premise and the faith community is a great place to start. I’m ready to get Crunk!

  10. TheDivinePrince March 9, 2011 at 7:06 AM #

    Divine, All Blessed!

  11. Brenda Tindal March 9, 2011 at 11:12 PM #

    Very powerful! Thanks for your willingness to share these raw emotions and for bringing awareness to this pandemic: black women being worked to death. I stand with you in your warranted anger.

    B. Tindal

  12. Sonya March 31, 2011 at 4:36 PM #

    A war cry indeed! I am a black mother surrounded by male progeny and a husband. I’ll be damned if they’ll be burying me at 47. I thank you for writing this piece and pumping a fist for the black mothers. So often we are criminalized, villified, and jezebelled. I’m trying to shake off the scourge that Zora Neale Hurston wrote about. If I’m the “mule of the world,” then I must, at the very least, grow old and happy in my “muledom.”

    One thing I know to be true: there is no solace in martyrdom. We need to work less, eat better, take care of our beautiful bodies more, and fight for access to decent health care. No one else gives a damn about us except us.


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