Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Rhetorically Constructed Africana Mothering in the Antebellum: The Racial Uplift Tradition of Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Rhetorically Constructed Africana Mothering in the Antebellum: The Racial Uplift Tradition of Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Article excerpt

Mary Ann Shadd Cary's rhetoric on mothering is expressed in her writings on racial uplift. Her discourse on mothering (and fathering) resembles a type of Africana mothering that Patricia Hill Collins has termed "othermothering" (178). In the following case study, I argue that Shadd Cary's othermothering is rhetorically constructed, rather than the hands-on experience that Collins describes. Typical othermothers care for children whose blood mothers are not in a position to parent properly. However, I contend that Shadd Cary's rhetorical othermothering is designed not only to assist black parents with raising their children in a literal sense, but also to othermother adult elites (parents) on how to be citizens of the newly integrated Canadian society in the figurative sense. The advice Shadd Cary gives to black elites on how to be citizens can be extrapolated from the advice she gives on mothering and fathering. These arguments--both literal and figurative--run parallel. How are "you" going to parent? How are "we" going to be new citizens? A critical response to these questions is what Waters would call a new narrative "based on primary sources and new scholarship about old events" (365).

Critical theory scholarship has been very useful in examining nineteenth century black rhetoric and practice. Gordon asserts that discursive studies on abolishing slavery, confronting racism, and effecting black liberation have been very valuable in this regard, although some of the early studies tended to be more descriptive than critical (10-11). Campbell notes that, until recently, there has been a dearth of scholarship on the rhetoric of marginalized groups. However, the new trend in rhetorical scholarship is the analyses of the role of rhetoric in the black struggle (Gordon 11; Condit and Lucaites 1993). For example, Gordon's analysis of the rhetoric of nineteenth century Black nationalism is "critical rhetorical scholarship [that demands a] deepening of its social analysis, a more reflexive posture in its critique, and a broadening of its scope" (11). Critical analyses of nineteenth century women's discourse, such as Marilyn Richardson's study of the discourse of Maria W. Stewart, Shirley Logan's studies of persuasive nineteenth century African American women, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell's analysis of the rhetoric of early black women such as Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Mary Church Terrell, and Carla Peterson's analysis of African American women's speeches and writings, have served as illuminating studies of black women's rhetoric. Thus, contemporary critical analysis of Shadd Cary's nineteenth century rhetoric on motherhood is as powerful a means of understanding her othermothering as critical analysis of parenting in the analogous case of the eighteenth century metaphor "the Founding Fathers." I maintain that the metaphor of motherhood applies to black leaders as effectively as the metaphor of "fatherhood" applies to white leaders.

After defining typical othermothering and noting that the present literature on othermothering does not mention the resemblance between what is typically described as othermothering and rhetorically constructed othermothering, I argue that the similarities are such that rhetorically constructed Africana othermothering does represent a different type of othermothering than that described by Collins (178). I contend that just as typically defined othermothers nurture, protect, and educate children to ensure their survival in the black community, Shadd Cary's editorials, articles, and published correspondence in the newspaper she founded and edited enhance the welfare of black elites in the newly integrated society of Canada.

Africana Othermothering in Literature

Typically, Africana othermothering refers to the same caring for children that black blood mothers would provide if they were able. Collins has defined Othermothering as the form of mothering that occurs when black women, who may or may not be relatives of blood mothers, assist in caring for the welfare of black children beyond their own families (178). …

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