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Big Mama's Dead, So Get Your Shit Together

Most of us black folks who came of age in the '60's and '70's grew up with at least one matriarchal figure in the family who held things together and held up the triflin' folks in the family.  This matriarch was usually older, someone who always kept a roof over her head, paid her bills, and always had a meal available for anyone who crossed her threshold.  She always seemed to be able to dig down in her bra and find a twenty for someone to "hold," knowing full well she'd probably never get it back.  She'd co-sign for some young'un in the family trying to get a car or some furniture and wouldn't think twice about mortgaging her house to get her child or grandchild out on bail. She was the kind of woman who maybe worked a menial job, cooked up a storm on Saturday night for family card games, and pulled herself together for Sunday school and making a huge Sunday dinner.  She was Big Mama.  And if there were an Olympic sport for putting everyone else first and ignoring your own health, the Big Mamas would have medaled for sure.  They were overweight, ate a fat-laden diet, were often hypertensive or diabetic, and oftentimes smoked like chimneys.

Well, I've got news for the generations of black folks behind me.  Big Mama's dead, so get your shit together.

Anyone in the generations behind me looking for that same kind of black matriarch to fill the shoes of the Big Mamas before her is destined to be disappointed.  No one wants the role.  I know I don't.

Times have changed, and nobody, least of all elderly black women, can afford to carry any other grown-ass adults who make unwise decisions and end up in need because of them.  The financial setbacks that can come for co-signing for folks or mortgaging your house to help someone are far harder to overcome now than since the Great Depression.  As my late mother, SWIE (She Who Is Exalted) used to say, "Money's as tight as Dick's hat band."  As a child, I never knew who Dick was, but he and his hat band were always invoked when my mother didn't have it to give.

The Big Mamas of my childhood WERE the social safety net that government wasn't, or wasn't on time enough to be.  They were the ones who would take folks in when they lost their jobs, who'd keep a drug-addicted niece or nephew from losing their kids to the foster care system, who not only raised their kids and their grandkids, but their great-grands as well.

Black mothers today do well just to raise the children they have.  Elderly black women do well to keep a roof over their heads.  Taking on the created problems of grown-ass people who don't have their shit together is more than most black women of any age can handle.  And given how the Big Mamas of the past ignored their health tending to everyone else, well, that's not a model my generation wants to emulate.

So, if you don't have your shit together -- a steady job, a roof over your head, a way to take care of your own kids and stand on your own two feet, well, don't go looking for Big Mama.  Big Mama's dead, and nobody's going to to replace her.  Nobody wants to.


Anonymous said…
I know about your blog through my mother, who raves about it constantly, thank you for giving her something she loves to follow. Now, I would like to share something with you. 1 in 10 girls in Kenya can't afford to buy sanitary pads. These girls have to miss a week of school every month, causing them to fall behind the rest of the class. In some cases, girls have been found to be prostituting themselves so they can buy sanitary pads. Maridadi is an non-profit organization based out of the slums of Kenya. Run by a group of single mothers, their aim is to provide re-usable sanitary pads to girls in need. I am here in Nyeri, Kenya, on a Canadian international development project. When I found these women and what they are trying to achieve, I knew I had to do something to help. I have created a facebook, and donation page so people abroad can help the cause. Please, help me create awareness. If you can post a photo or link on your blog, I will be forever grateful!

The links:

I look forward to hearing from you,

Mike Riera
Amen to that, cause I am the Big
mama and I will provide food, a few dollars from my pocket book and lodging for a few days. But you must work or go to school to get all of that for more than a few days.My final statement is always, Love you dearly,but, you got to learn to love and take care of your self. I have also stopped at least two generations of babies from going to foster care. Babies are innocent and did not ask to come here. I do not pay bail or go visit you while you are there. So I guess I am a modern day Big Mama.

First, God bless you for being a modern day Big Mama. My problem with those who lean on Big Mama is that they don't realize that what Big Mama does is what she chooses to do, not what she's required to do. They also don't realize that Big Mama doesn't have any more hours in her day or some Superwoman strength that others don't have; Big Mama gets worn out just like everyone else. When you are grown, there is no God-given right to have anyone else carry your load, including Big Mama. There's nothing wrong with giving some support now and then, but as my mom used to say, "Everybody falls down. And I'll let you lay there for a little while. But then you got to get up." Too many of our people leaning on Big Mama don't know it's way past time to get up.

May God continue to bless you and keep you.

Mike Riera,

I'll see your blog comment and raise you one guest blog entry. You send me an email with everything you want to say as a guest blogger and I'll post it to my blog. I'm at Blackwomanblogging at yahoo dot com. God bless you for what you're doing for those young girls. As a menopausal woman, I've got a boat load of feminine products I can no longer use, so I can send them your way.

Again, God bless you and the work you're doing.
Nicky Jett said…
It might be tacky as hell but I want to start a foundation and now I have the name and mission for it "Big Mamas' Foundation" There is no one ethnic group existing on this planet that doesn't have (or had) a big mama) in fact the Indian family that bought my home got the majority of financing from -guess who? Yep her "Big Mama" (who by the way is weight-conscious as septuagenarian weight-lifter Ernestine Shepherd) Unfortunately it took her a minute to disclose (on record) how she got that wad of cash which delayed closing -but I digress. Thank you! (I'm so serious by the way,)

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