What Mama Couldn't Tell Us About Love: Healing the Emotional Legacy of Slavery, Celebrating Our Light

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"Mama," writes Brenda Richardson, "you taught me how a black woman could survive and prevail in this world...but because you never learned yourself, you couldn't tell me how to make love work...I don't mean any disrespect, Mama, but...now I have children of my own. And in a loud revolutionary voice, I declare to the universe: the pain stops here."

Clinical psychologist Dr. Brenda Wade and coauthor Brenda Richardson ask their African American sisters to consider this question: ...

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"Mama," writes Brenda Richardson, "you taught me how a black woman could survive and prevail in this world...but because you never learned yourself, you couldn't tell me how to make love work...I don't mean any disrespect, Mama, but...now I have children of my own. And in a loud revolutionary voice, I declare to the universe: the pain stops here."

Clinical psychologist Dr. Brenda Wade and coauthor Brenda Richardson ask their African American sisters to consider this question: "What lessons about love and intimacy were passed down from your foremothers to you?" In this provocative rethinking of the African American woman's experience, the authors suggest that African American women share an emotional legacy that began when their ancestors were dragged in chains to the "New" World and continued as their descendants suffered through the violence and humiliation of the Jim Crow period and later racism. Indeed, they argue, the long shadow cast by these historical events impacts romantic practice, lives can be transformed once there is a true understanding of the power of inherited beliefs.

What Mama Couldn't Tell Us About Love shows how important it is to grieve and make peace with this brutal history. As you will see in this remarkable uplifting book, it is possible to use the positive messages inherent in the African American experience to create a better life. Learn from the "Sisters Spirits"--well-known African Americans whose stories enliven these pages--as you move toward emotional freedom. Listen to the words of the spirituals interspersed in the text, enhance the coping skills and strengths your forebears harnessed to help themsurvive and prevail, and believe that emotional emancipation is your birthright.

Mama may not have told you all this in so many words--but there is no doubt that she would want to see you take these last steps toward freedom and abundant love.

"A provocative blend of scholarly wisdom and woman-to-woman insight that allows sisters to closely examine their choices in intimate relationships. "(-- Julia A. Boyd, author of In the Company of My Sisters)

"What Mama Couldn't Tell Us About Love forces us to `wade in the water' of the grief and pain associated with the peculiar institution of slavery, and to confront our own denial about the emotional legacy of enslavement. Richardson and Wade offer us psychological baptism, deliverance from isolation, despair and old prejudices, psychic healing, and purification of the spirit. Lord knows, America needs this book."(-- Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant, Ph.D., author of The Best Kind of Loving)

"A powerful, moving, and life-enhancing book that will help readers reconnect with the past and move forward into the future. It will change lives and hearts."(-- Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., author of The Dance of Anger)

"What Mama Couldn't Tell Us About Love is like having a long afternoon on the porch talking with an old, dear sister-friend about things of the past and present and matters of the heart. Richardson and Wade remind us in down-to-earth, readable, practical prose that we intuitively know how to heal ourselves and one another. Women of all backgrounds will rush to read their wisdom."(-- Charlotte Pierce-Baker, Ph.D., author of Surviving the Silence)

"A wonderful gift to black women..Our foremothers created a dynamic culture to overcome a history of pain. Richardson and Wade, with pens dipped in abundant love, gracefully advise us as to the lessons of the past we must embrace and those we must discard, if we are to achieve true self-empowerment and emotional liberation."(-- Darlene Clark Hine, Ph.D., coauthor of A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America)

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Based on their belief that "descendants of people stolen from sub-Saharan Africa" have a unique ancestral history that affects their intimate relationships, journalist Richardson and psychologist Wade (the coauthors of Love Lessons) have written a guide to emotional, romantic and sexual success aimed at the African-American Everywoman. Drawing on anecdotal material and occasionally the experiences of fictional characters in the work of Toni Morrison, the authors devote the bulk of the book to exploring specific "anti-intimacy beliefs" that they claim are rooted in slavery (e.g., "My body is not my own"; "no matter what I do, it won't make a difference"; "I'm not good enough to be loved"), and outlining "life-enhancing beliefs" ("God loves me"; "I can make something from nothing") that can be superimposed in their place. They also provide meditations for clearing the bodily energy centers known as chakras, instructions for constructing an emotional genealogy, role-playing exercises and other familiar techniques for working through negative attitudes and emotions. Though skeptics may not be convinced by the vaguely worded yet impossibly exact statistics that Richardson and Wade use to bolster their thesis ("90 percent of our beliefs and behaviors arise from the subconscious"), and their premise is bound to stir debate, their recommendations, especially for handling anger and depression, are on-target. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060192969
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.44 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was a weekday morning with our children hurriedly preparing for school. My husband, Mark, and I were already preoccupied with details of the hectic day ahead. just as we were about to rush out the front door, our eight-year-old son, Mark Jr., yelled, "Prayer!" and we thrust backpacks and bags out of the way. Arms circling one another, we bowed our heads. This was not the first time we'd interrupted the morning dash to pray, but it was the first time I could remember Mark Jr. being anxious to participate in a prayer. just as we were finishing, little Mark stared meaningfully at me and then at his dad, and said, "Thanks so much, God, for a mom and dad who love each other." My husband squeezed my hand.

That scene occurred more than three years ago and was just a pause in a busy day, but I will always remember it as the official turning point in my life; after a lifetime of longing for lasting love, I knew we had created it. Mark and I have now been married for fifteen years, but in our early years together, we lost too much time in angry, tense moments.

I'm breaking my tradition of privacy to share details of my marriage, because I want to demonstrate through my personal experiences that a life of abundant love is possible for all of us. Whether you're married or single, lesbian or straight, I hope my story will encourage you to work toward satisfying love. I'm a perfect example of a difficult reality: If you get the love you've been praying for and you aren't ready for it, you can still lose out.

If you are not currently in a relationship, keep in mind that the right person can arrive at any time. When I met Mark, Iwas a divorced single mother. I'd had the strength to leave my first marriage only after working with a therapist. It was my only physically abusive relationship, but looking back, it seems as if I specialized in dating dysfunctional men of various races.

When I was thirteen, my first boyfriend, Carlos, was the "warlord" of the Chaplains, a Brooklyn gang. Our, times together were fleeting. I remember waiting for a bus to take me to junior high school, when Carlos ran by, saw me, and paused long enough to kiss me gently on the lips and tell me he loved me. When he sped off, I realized he was being chased by several knife-wielding members of a rival gang. Although the men I dated later in life were deemed more socially acceptable, the truth is, after Carlos my lack of self-love only led me downhill. At least Carlos told me he loved me.

I don't have to tell you about the kind of men I was attracted to. (Honey, you've probably dated some of them yourself.) Once my first son was born, though, I became more selective about the kind of men I dated, and aware of my lousy track record, I continued working on my issues in therapy and turned to God for help. I prayed for a highly principled man, one who put his spirituality into practice, and I also asked for my heart to be softened. I wanted to be able to trust a man again.

Many of my friends were scornful and advised me to be happy with what I could get, because "the pickings for sisters were slim to nothing." But I kept on praying, especially weekday mornings. My son's nursery was located in a church that opened at dawn, and I would drop him off before work and rush to the sanctuary to spend a few minutes in prayer. I believe that the Holy Spirit not only hears our prayers, but helps us when we help ourselves. My life changed because my prayers gave me the strength and opportunity to continue learning more about why I had chosen abusive men in the first place.

In 1979, as the editor of a women's magazine, I spent a week in Manhattan. On my last morning there, I had a horrible argument with a male colleague and said some terrible things to him. About an hour later, I realized my feelings toward men in general had fueled my anger. As I'd been doing for many months, I closed my eyes and asked God to show me how to let go of my rage. Opening my eyes, I saw it was only minutes before my scheduled interview, but I felt compelled to find the colleague I'd argued with and apologize to him.

When I found this man, he listened patiently as I apologized, but he also wanted a favor. He had to meet an old school friend but was worried about getting lost in Manhattan. Since I knew my way around the city, he suggested that I accompany him to Grand Central Station. I definitely didn't want to go, and it meant postponing my scheduled interview, but something told me to and I did.

At the stroke of noon, I was standing near the elevated clock in Grand Central Station waiting with my colleague, when I noticed, in the midst of the crowd, a tall, powerfully built, and dramatically handsome man dressed in a clergyman's shirt. I thought, that's the kind of man I need, someone who lives his faith. I was shocked as this stranger suddenly shifted direction, walked purposefully toward us, and extended his hand in greeting. He was the man for whom my colleague had been waiting. And because God always gives us more than we ask for, this was also the man I had been waiting for all my life.

A year later, when Mark, an Episcopal clergyman and academic, quit his job and moved to California where I lived, I introduced him to MY friends, a few of whom had been questioning my sanity during what they called my "heavy praying" stage. As I made introductions, I noticed that one of my friends hung back. When she finally approached, she whispered, "Honey, give me the address of that church where you prayed."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2001

    Great book

    This is one book that every women should read. It examines our relationships with men and forces us to examine ourselves.

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