Toward a Theorization of Black Maternal Grief as Analytic

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This essay explores the interanimations between grievance and archetypes of Black motherhood that produce popular representations of Black maternal resilience, the most circulated being that of the "strong Black mother" and, what I term, icons of Black maternal mourning. I argue that these images circumscribe which maternal responses to trauma are legible and acceptable within public spheres, and enforce how Black mothers should "productively" cope with loss that is predicated on their continued presence and/or attempts for judicial redress. Thus I forward Black maternal grief as an analytic, which is animated by silence, unintelligible responses, and vulnerability. Formulated on the death of my paternal grandmother, I bring together Huey Newton's articulation of "revolutionary suicide," concepts of public cultures, and resistive performances of Black women entertainers to work toward an analytical practice that conceptualizes grief as a location and tactic Black mothers have deployed. This essay's primary aim is to widen our lens to the myriad ways Black mothers deal with traumatic loss, and to understand the salience of grief in formations of Black women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-30
Number of pages14
JournalTransforming Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology


  • Affective location
  • Black mother hood
  • Grief
  • Grievance
  • Suicide


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