"When you think of a welfare mother, what image flashes before your eyes?"

     The (stereo)typical welfare mother is a Black woman with a sty full of kids, breeding social ills, and taking the system for bad, an irresponsible machine of reproduction. Yes. Yes. Okay ... I point out that even though the majority of welfare recipients are white women, race is the lens (a black lens) through which "welfare mother" becomes seen. My voice gets louder. I'm up out of my seat now, reaching for the chalk. So we can begin to see how all these elements then - race, gender and class - work together to shape images, social relations and consequently policy? At this point I'm standing in front of the room, my hands pawing through the air.

     Just minutes before 2:30 p.m. (the end of class), one of the older, adult non-traditional, Black female students announced that she just had to say one thing before class ended. She said that even though she was a single mom with five kids and had to rely on welfare, that she wanted the class to know that "I am not your typical welfare mother."

     Deafening silence.

     Several of the other students looked at her, then they looked at me, evincing a mixture of surprise, anticipation, hesitation, and, if I dare say, empathy. My stomach sank. I probably grimaced a bit. An inaudible but obnoxiously loud laughter from the pervasive and ingrained meta-narrative (stereo) typically, resuscitated itself in her comment, doing an "abracadabra-now-you-don't see-it-now-you-do" magic trick, mocking and tainting what potentially seemed to be the course's first unified moment of clarity.

     I'd like to think I recovered quickly. I tried to problematize her statement without dismissing her heartfelt exposition or ignoring her personal connectedness. Running through my head: History as transformative. Be sensitive to her situation. Black feminism as a struggle against anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-humanist sentiments, etc., etc. But adequately challenge her remark. However, try not to sound condescending or "matronizing." Black feminist pedagogy as teaching change, and change itself.7 Push her to question the underlying assumptions of that statement.


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May 2000