Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Prison Culture: “I love being a mommy!” On Shanesha Taylor and Black Motherhood

I was disgusted when I first saw the story about Shanesha Taylor in Arizona. Ms. Taylor is the mom who was arrested when her children were found unattended in a locked vehicle last week. She left her children in the car while interviewing for a job inside the nearby building.

According the stories I saw, the kids were in the car with the windows slightly cracked, and had been in there for about 30 minutes by the time someone noticed them. The police arrested Ms. Taylor, and placed the children in foster care.

These are the kinds of cases that keep me involved in the work of eliminating racial disparities in the foster care system, and that make it clear that we have so much more work to do - both to create the kind of society that is healthy and nurturing (i.e. humane) for our families, as well as the work of telling the stories of our families in this punitive, unjust and mean-spirited society.

I came across a piece on the Prison Culture blog this weekend, which really described this ordeal with the kind of compassion and humanity that so many other essays completely missed.

This is a must-read that really captures why this is such a tragedy, and why we have to not only support Ms. Taylor, but the many other young sisters who are struggling everyday to make it in this cold and unjust society.

While I had imagined Shanesha sitting in her jail cell missing her children like crazy before, it now feels more real to me. I have seen photographs that appear to be of her children. They are sitting in the middle of presents with a Christmas tree in the background. They are smiling. It appears that she also has an older school-aged daughter. How confused and scared must her children be? Where’s mommy? they must be asking. Every single hour of every single day that she remains locked in a cage away from them is an indictment of all of us. It is simply cruel.

Shanesha’s Facebook page is peppered with various quotes that she’s posted: “A mother’s treasure is her daughter,” “I may not be perfect but when I look at my children I know that I got something in my life perfectly right,” and more. These quotes belie the vitriol of women like Tamara who post judgmental and mean-spirited comments on blogs purportedly because of the deep love that they have for children. Our oft-stated ‘love’ of children in this country extends to incarcerating some as young as 9 years old and taking food out of others’ mouths by cutting SNAP. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Yet and still we must reserve some compassion for Tamara. After all, haven’t we all had a moment of niggling doubt about Shanesha’s fitness as a mother if we are to be perfectly honest? And this is because we are socialized and conditioned to understand motherhood in particular ways. We know who the ‘bad mother’ is and in this country, she’s usually poor and always black. It’s a small miracle that so many of us have been able to overcome our socialization to express our compassion for both Shanesha and for her children. I think that there’s something else at work too: it’s our innate knowledge that acute desperation makes the previously unimaginable plausible & perhaps even possible.

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