Sh*t My Mama Said: The 10 Commandments of Black Mothers… And Life

By Michael Harriot

This is dedicated to all the crazy statements we repeatedly hear Black mothers say. All the statements, stories and anecdotes in this piece are 100% true. No names have been changed to protect the innocent.

10. Be Still – This is the first life lesson every Black mother teaches her child because this is the first lesson everyone should learn. Whether you’re getting your diaper changed, fidgeting in the pews at church, looking to move forward in a career or searching for love, sometimes you need to stop constantly moving and be still for a moment. Basically, everyone should treat life like they are sitting in a chair in the kitchen about to get their hair straightened. Be still or get burned. When A Black mother says “sit yo ass down, somewhere,” or “Hold still,” she is trying to elocute the same sentiment God told the children of Israel when they were standing in front of the Red Sea before it parted:

Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord

9. Don’t play in your school clothes – There is a certain classification of clothes that I have never been able to quite figure out, but trust me, your mama knows. There are school clothes, church clothes, and play clothes. You must know what to wear and when to wear it. Always dress appropriately. Sometimes they float from one category to another, but believe me when I say, you don’t want to get caught playing in your school clothes and you don’t wear your play clothes to school. Shit, I was home-schooled and I still had school clothes! The most egregious sin of all is to get caught running around in your church clothes. My mother caught me doing that one time, and I tried to lie to her and tell her I was outside praying.

8. Bring back my change – Yeah right, mama. I don’t care how poor you grew up, you thought your mama had some extra money. She won’t need that $1.57. Get you some Now&Laters and a Faygo, kid. You deserve it.

7. Don’t let your wooden God and your cornstalk Jesus fool you… – My mother said this anytime she thought I was getting “too big for my britches.” She let me know that she was the omnipotent, omniscient one. I would sign a letter of intent to join ISIS and vote for Donald Trump before I lied to my mother–not because I hold a high-moral standard for truth and ethical purity–I just know my mother is a human polygraph test. She knew when I acted up even if she wasn’t there, because they see all and know all. They can help you with long division homework and can feel when you have to pee. They can conjure up a full-course meal when there is nothing in the refrigerator but spoiled milk and baking soda. They can make rent money appear from an empty purse. They know where you hid that candy bar you weren’t supposed to have. If you raise Black children, you have to have more knowledge than a college professor and the survival instincts of Bear Gryllis. When the Zika virus morphs into a disease that leashes the undead into the world, there are three slots on my zombie apocalypse team that I cannot compromise: an engineer, that one nigga who doesn’t give a fuck, and my mama.

6. You don’t know anything about… – Black mamas always hate on everything. Your hairstyles, the crazy new dances, the latest clothes, the music you listen to. If it was left up to your mama, you’d wear cheap shoes, the plainest clothes and listen to old music. My mother was not a fan of rap music and said it was too “nasty.” My only goal in life, now, is to build a protective shield around my mom so she will never hear the line “eat the booty like groceries.” I don’t even like the song. I mostly want to listen to old music… While I’m doing the two-step… In inexpensive shoes.

5. When we go inside, you better know how to act – If you are in the grocery store and you hear a kid one aisle over rolling on the floor having a tantrum because he wants the big box of Crunch Berries, while his parents plead with him to, “get up Timmy. We’ll get some next time…” that’s probably a white kid. Before exiting the car, to go shopping, to an event, or any place you wear school or church clothes,  Black mothers give the speech in the car about knowing how to act (and when I say “speech” I mean “violently-worded threat”). Until 2012, I thought the bathrooms in businesses marked “Family restroom” were specifically designated for whipping your kids. I learned how to act accordingly in all situations, and I still  keep my hands in my pockets when I go to the mall, just in case. If you dared  to offend her pronouncements, all she would say is:

4. “Wait until we get home…” – This is the scariest phrase in the entire language of Black people. When I was eleven years old, Me and James Anthony Bird got in a fight in the pathway behind our church. My mother didn’t see the fight, but she saw the grass stains on the pair of canary yellow pants I was wearing (you know what? I can feel you judging me and my fashion choice right now, and that’s not right). She promised me I would get a whipping when I got home, and I did. But not immediately. First she fixed me something to eat (and didn’t mention the fight or the pants). Then I had to take a shower and get dressed for bed (she still didn’t mention the pants). Then she told me to take out the garbage (Still no mention. She must have forgotten). I felt like a man on death row who was scheduled for an execution but didn’t know when. I was almost asleep when she woke me up with the belt, which brings us to..

3. Where is my belt? – Every Black child who has been subject to corporal punishment knows there exists a universal etiquette for taking an ass whipping. Everyone should know how to take a whipping, because the only people who will never get beat are dead people (zombies not included) and those who never try anything. While the limitations of time, column space and word count does not allow me to list them all,  we all know there is a list of rules that have been collectively bargained since prehistory to which all Black children must adhere. They include

  1. Don’t run – A black mom could be stricken with asthma, gout in one leg and a bad knee on the other–you still cannot outrun her when it is whooping time.. Apparently God has gifted Black two things: An unbreakable strength to weather the storms of life while simultaneously shielding her offspring from them, and  a combination of unfailable stamina and  NFL cornerback-like lateral quickness during ass-whipping sessions. Like the poem says:

    If the worst is bound to happen, Spite of all that you can do, Running from it will not save you, See it through!

  2. Don’t grab the belt – Trust me, son. This ain’t what you wanna do. Let it happen. There is a moment of existential fear that arises the first time you grab the belt, when  your mama looks straight through your eyes, to the depths of your soul and whispers, “let the belt go.” I truly believe this to be the origin of the Jedi Mind Trick, because you will  let it go. Now it’s on.
  3. You must say the magic words – You know what to say. She doesn’t have to tell you. Just whimper the sentence “I ain’t gon’ do it no mo’. ” Don’t add the “r.”

    Learn the lesson. Don’t do it no mo’.

  4. She’s gonna talk with it – Didn’t –SMACK-she-SMACK-tell-SMACK-you-SMACK-not-SMACK-to-SMACK-do-SMACK-that? 
  5. This hurts her more than it hurts you – There will be some combination of this. She does this because she loves you. You gotta learn. She doesn’t want to whip you but she doesn’t know what else to do. You made her do this.
  6. The end – All whoopings end the same way: “…and STOP CRYING!” She’s right. Suck it up. No one wants to hear that.

2. You better fight –  Using fists, brute force or violence is the way neanderthals and people of low intelligence handle things. Evolved men should be able to resolve conflict amongst each other, and, as the only boy in my house, I was taught to never lay a hand on my sisters, or any other woman. However, there will arise special situations where you must fight. We have all seen or heard the stories of mothers telling their sons “either you fight him, or you fight me.” That is not even a choice because, whomever “him” is… you want to fight him. You don’t want to fight anyone’s mama. As soon as a Black woman gives birth she automatically gets the ability to lactate and a brown belt in jiu-jitsu. Over the course of a lifetime, everyone will find their back against the wall and a monster in front of them. Whip their ass like I did on my second day at Carolina Elementary, after my mom found out I took the back way home on the first day because a kid 2 years older and 50 lbs. heavier than me said he was going to beat me up. I had all night to choose between my mother’s disappointment and an actual fistfight. That’s how you fight–not with anger, but with reason and determination.

1. Because I said so – Black mothers feel no need to explain themselves. I wish my mother had told me that she was ridding me of gender biases while teaching me manhood responsibility when she made me share the dishwashing duties with my sisters, but they didn’t have to clean the yards or take out the trash. I wish she sat me down and explained to me that the reason we she made us learn vocabulary words while she was at work and that we could eat candy on Fridays only if we passed her timed math quiz was to teach us the value of education. But nah–like a million other Black mothers, “Because I said so,” was the reason for all things. I used to think that was mean and autocratic, until I learned that the world is like that, too. There is no logic and reason to the lines we have to live inside. Why do they need receipts when they audit your taxes but we don’t get a receipt when we vote, and why can’t we audit the polls? Because they said so. Why is “I felt threatened” a valid excuse for a police officer but not Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin? Because they said so. If you want to succeed on their terms, you must know and follow the rules–even if they don’t make sense…

Or you better learn how to take an ass whipping.

Thanks, mama for teaching me both.

Happy Mothers Day to all Black mothers

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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