Slavery was one of the cruellest systems created by mankind and one that continues to negatively impact us as black people whether or not we acknowledge it. It has altered our minds, our DNA, our relationships, and our identity. It has also had an adverse impact on our familial relationships.
Today’s post is by an African-American woman who discusses the real effects of slavery on a mother’s relationship with her children centuries after the fact. You may experience or know someone who experiences a similar struggle to Ashanda when it comes to loving those closest to you – not just in terms of the mother-child relationship. I hope this post opens up your mind when it comes to your relationships with family and why you may have certain less than ideal experiences with them.
I sat across from four women as our counselor asked each of us, “Why are you here? What do you need from God?” We’d come the night before to The Encounter, our church’s weekend retreat where we were given the opportunity to have a one on one with our Lord free from distractions.
“I want to learn how to love my children”, I said with a solemn face. It was a weird declaration, nevertheless, there was nothing more in my heart I could think of which troubled me more. Here I was a mother of five little ones struggling with the idea of love.
Like most mothers, I’d done what was required: feeding, bathing, hugging, kissing, clothing, even home schooling, but it all felt so mechanical. Something deeper was missing so I went in search of the answer. Before the weekend was over, I was set on a course to find the roots of my dilemma.
As a black mother, it wasn’t until recent years that the interest in understanding my history and identity on a deeper level had occurred. Like most Christians, I considered my identity found in Christ and that was enough. But was it?
Scripture declared, “He who the Son sets free is free indeed.” I’d known Jesus as both Savior and Lord and truly enjoyed reading His Word, ascertaining biblical truths that I may live a life pleasing to God. But I skimmed over verses which dealt with issues concerning our sin nature and consequences. That is, until I began to study Deuteronomy 28.
After the children of Israel were set free from their Egyptian captivity, the Lord made a covenant with them in which He promised they would receive multiplied blessings if they obeyed Him, if not, the curses they would receive would be horrifying .
He declared, “The Lord will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.” Deuteronomy 28:68. The preceding verses identify a time of hardship likened only to their prior time in Egypt. The curse would extend to their children and destroy the bond of unity offered in the family structure:
“Your sons and your daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand.” Deuteronomy 28:32.
Photo Cred: Media Checker
In 1640, twenty-one years after chattel-slavery became legal, a distinction between indentured servants and Negro slaves based on race was highlighted with the passing of the law in the case called Re Negro John Punch. Virginia was one of the first states to enact this law in 1661 which stated toward Negroes:
Negro women’s children to serve according to the condition of the mother. Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by a Negro woman should be slave or free, be it therefore enacted and declared by this present grand assembly that all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother. And that if any Christian shall commit fornication with a Negro man or woman he or she so offending shall pay double the fines imposed by the former act.
After Virginia passed this law most states followed suit enacting similar laws. The horror which ensued with the passing of these laws led to a great outcry of mothers who were raped and bred to make more slave children for the continuance of slavery. When Congress decided to officially end the nation’s participation in international slavery in 1808, slave owners deduced the only way for the profitability of slavery to continue would be through increasing the breeding of slave women.
Women of childbearing age were sold for double the price of a woman who could not bear children. And often the women who could not bear were given tasks as weighty as their male counterparts, while child-bearing women were given easier loads. (Black Then, She’s Breeding Age: Dehumanizing Price for Getting Pregnant During Slavery)
Photo Cred: The Help Movie Wiki
Aside from breeding multiple children for which these mothers could not become attached, many slave mothers were forced to become wet-nurses for their white women owners. Historian Kimberly Wallace Sanders details:
“more often [mammy] served as a generic name for slave women who served as a wet nurse or baby nurse for white children. This was a large part to the trend of medical experts of the day discouraging mothers from breastfeeding. Outsourcing breastfeeding was not a new phenomenon during the pre-antebellum, as it had been occurring since the biblical times. Still, it is no less shocking that black women were good enough to give bodily fluids to white babies, but not good enough to be treated as human beings. While black women were forced to give life to babies they did not birth, their own children sometimes went hungry.”
Sanders goes on to share that, “many babies died during slavery because they weren’t breastfed.” Oxytocin, the chemical hormone released when a mother breastfeeds her child, is a necessary component in the formation of bonding. When slave mothers were forced to give their nutrients to their slave master’s child, they were also forced to withhold the bonding element from their own children.
“We must dig deeper to get to the core of our struggle to form authentic relationships with the ones closest to us and that starts with honesty.” – Ashanda McCants
It was difficult for me not to see so many similarities between the curses outlined in Deuteronomy and our collective struggle in the black community. Christian and secular alike, there seems to be a running theme of unhealthy, dysfunctional familial relationships post slavery.
While I journeyed to find more of the spiritual underlines of my loveless dilemma, I didn’t have to look far to see that my own family had been deeply impacted by the crisis, going back as far as I could remember. My great-grandmother wanted her children to refer to her only by her first name, my grandmother struggled for years to say, “I love you.” And my own mother struggled to give us a warm bear hug offering only a light handed pat on the back. When we discussed this a few years back, she decided to make a greater effort to hug deeper.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and subsequent discrimination against the black populous was/is a physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual curse which has had a lasting impact within the black community.
Many of us sit in church week after week with brokenness in our souls covered by nice clothes, spiritual jargon and a friendly Christian smile. God’s word declares we can have, “a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.” (2 Timothy 3:5)
We must dig deeper to get to the core of our struggle to form authentic relationships with the ones closest to us and that starts with honesty. Coming to understand my identity has shifted my prayers toward a greater focus on breaking the curses of slavery off of mine and my family’s life. Even as I serve mothers in crisis pregnancy, I am aware of my own soul blockage and need for greater levels of freedom to love those in which I bore.
Day by day, I draw closer to being a mom free to laugh at their silly antics, listen to their concerns, share in their joy and mourn in their pain. I believe the curses are being broken in my life and as I share, my prayer is that you too will find freedom to love.
Ashanda N McCants is an author, recording spoken word artist, speaker and Founder of AM PERS8NIFY and the MOM Mission. She has been a featured artist on Reach FM, 96.3 IMG.net radio and the Wiley Drake Radio Show.
Ashanda’s work has been featured at Calvary Chapel Coral Springs, Christian Life Center, Florida Atlantic University and the African American Research Library. Her current work through the MOM (My Ovaries Matter) Mission serves mothers in crisis pregnancy by sharing the beauty of their God-given design through MOM Gifts. Ashanda lives in South Florida, USA with her husband Aaron and their eight children. To find out more about Ashanda and/or the MOM Mission, visit: www.myovariesmatter.com or follow her on Twitter at: @MOM_Mission.
Thank you Ashanda for providing us with insight into an issue that most of us rarely stop to reflect on. Slavery clearly had a more lasting negative effect than we realize and facing the truth of our ancestors’ experiences while surrendering to the power of Christ will set us free.
Can you resonate with Ashanda’s experience with regards to loving your children? Maybe you’ve experienced a loveless relationship with your parents or other family members. Let us know your thoughts on this piece.
Thanks again for reading sis! Wishing you a great end to your week.
Before you go sis:
If you are a young black African woman in the Johannesburg, South Africa area we invite you to join our Sisterhood Sessions. This is a practical and spiritual support and mentorship group for bAw, touching on the different aspects of our lives that we desire growth and fulfilment in. See the poster below for more details to join us this Sunday, 14 October.