Skip to main content

“Can You Hear Me Now?” Race, Motherhood, and the Politics of Being Heard

  • Kimberly Killen (a1)

Motherhood as a political identity grants women political legitimacy, enabling them to make rights-based claims. However, the efficacy and possibility of motherhood as a political identity is entangled in the sexist and racist narratives that are inextricable from white supremacy. In this article, I analyze the language used by the Mothers of the Movement (MothM) at the 2016 Democratic National Convention to demonstrate how the identities and experiences of Black women, specifically Black mothers, are co-opted and reproduced as deficient, criminal, and irrelevant, thereby limiting their ability to make claims as mothers and citizens. How, then, can marginalized mothers confront the tools of white supremacy, which portray them as “bad” mothers and “bad” citizens, to be heard within the dominant order without conforming to it? I contend that in appropriating the very discourses and spaces that seek to exclude and subjugate them, the MothM demonstrate the hypocrisy of the system of “good motherhood”—all the while reaffirming their status as equal citizens deserving of political recognition. Drawing from Black feminist thinkers, I demonstrate how motherhood and the rights that the MothM claim as mothers can be conceptualized as assertions of freedom and equal citizenship.

Hide All

The author would like to thank Michaele Ferguson, Anna Daily, Nora Keller, Rachel Mattson, Brett Bessen, Hannah Paul, the editors and anonymous reviewers at Politics & Gender, as well as fellow panelists and audience members at the Western Political Science Association for their comments and encouragement.

Hide All
Baldwin, James. 1962. The Fire Next Time. New York: Dell, 1962.
Bayard de Volo, Lorraine. 2004. “Mobilizing Mothers for War: Cross-National Framing Strategies in Nicaragua's Contra War.” Gender & Society 18 (6): 715–34.
Cohen, Cathy. 2004. “Deviance as Resistance: A New Research Agenda for the Study of Black Politics.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 1 (1): 2745.
Collins, Patricia Hill. 2014. From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
David, Marlo D. 2016. “‘I Got Self, Pencil and Notebook’: Literacy and Maternal Desire in Sapphire's PUSH.” Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 35 (1): 173–99.
Fernandez, Nick. 2016. “Right-Wing Media Lash Out at Mothers of the Movement for Speaking at Democratic Convention.” Media Matters, July 26. (accessed October 22, 2018).
Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. 2007. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Guest, Steve. 2016. “Giuliani on Mothers of the Movement Speaking at DNC: Clear Democrats Are the ‘Anti-Police Party.’” The Daily Caller, July 27. (accessed October 22, 2018).
Halberstam, Jack. 2011. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Hancock, Ange-Marie. 2004. The Politics of Disgust. New York: New York University Press.
Harrington, Craig. 2016. “Fox News Completely Ignores the ‘Mothers of the Movement’ during Democratic National Convention.” Media Matters, July 26. (accessed October 22, 2018).
Kaleem, Jaweed. 2016. “‘Black Lives Matter!’ Chants Erupt as Mothers of the Movement Take the Stage at the DNC.” Los Angeles Times, July 26. (accessed October 22, 2018).
Lorde, Audre. 1984. Sister Outsider. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press.
McClintock, Anne. 1993. “Family Feuds: Gender, Nationalism, and the Family.” Feminist Review, no. 44: 6180.
Noonan, Rita K. 1995. “Women against the State: Political Opportunities and Collective Action Frames in Chile's Transition to Democracy.” Sociological Forum 10 (1): 81111.
Roberts, Dorothy. 1997. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Vintage Books.
Roberts, Neil. 2015. Freedom as Marronage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sparks, Holloway. 2016. “Quarrelling with Rancière: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Democratic Disruption.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 49 (4): 420–37.
Threadcraft, Shatema. 2016. Intimate Justice: The Black Female Body and the Body Politic. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, William Julius. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wingrove, Elizabeth. 2016. “blah blah WOMEN blah blah EQUALITY blah blah DIFFERENCE.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 49 (4): 408–19.
Zivi, Karen. 2005. “Contesting Motherhood in the Age of AIDS: Maternal Ideology in the Debate over Mandatory HIV Testing.” Feminist Studies 31 (2): 347–74.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Politics & Gender
  • ISSN: 1743-923X
  • EISSN: 1743-9248
  • URL: /core/journals/politics-and-gender
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed