Me Me. Nana. Maw Maw. Big Mama. No matter what term of endearment they are called, grandmothers serve an irreplaceable role in black communities. This Women’s History Month, we are looking to celebrate the undeniable impact that black grandmothers have upon the generations that follow them. Since immediately following the ending of slavery, many black families have inhabited inter-generational households, with grandmothers serving as the matriarchal glue that holds them together. They are our backbones, the ones who raised our parents in a nation that does not always see the value of their most prized possessions.
Part of why the elder generation of women are invaluable is because some of them have lived long enough to witness the gamut of the black experience in America. They are walking history books that can recall the pitfalls such as segregation, the tenacity of the civil rights movement and sometimes hopelessly losing children to the crack epidemic or mass incarceration. They also hopefully experiencing the joys of our culture including watching the first black president take the highest oath of office. Much of our cultural inheritance including the types of foods that we enjoy can be traced back to our grandmothers’ influence.
Black grandmothers oftentimes are surrogate mothers to children of their offspring or take in others that may have been abandoned by the ills that plague our communities. They can exhibit a no nonsense toughness that stems from a life of labor whether inside or outside of their homes but also provide a gratifying gentleness that is saved just for the grand babies. Our grandmothers’ wisdom pass down oral traditions and stories that assist us in better understanding our past that is conveniently overlooked in history books . How many of us can really say that we are strong enough emotionally to endure the hardships that our ancestors encountered?
The significance of grandmothers in the African American culture is continually on display through the works of black creatives. Acclaimed singer/songwriter Bill Witherspoon, authors Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, and even Tyler Perry’s Madea series are dedicated to expressing the importance of our grand matriarchs. There are hoards of other examples that shine a light on them as well but for the most part, their true worth to our communities cannot be valued enough. Grandmothers are to be cherished, revered, and consistently thanked in a society where their worth can be severely underappreciated.
I was fortunate enough to experience the love of both my paternal and maternal grandmothers and even as a child you could tell the difference in the soft but firm way they handled me differently than my mother. Grandmothers are often the living embodiment of what it means to endure and persevere. They are strength, they are unconditional love, and sometime they are the blunt reminder that we need to put us in back in our place.