Missing Mother, Whiteness, and the Search for Justice
by Meredith Tweed
This morning I made my toddler chocolate chip pancakes (don’t worry there was pureed veggies and fruit in the batter) and held my six month old tight because my Nanny, with her beautiful garden and delicious cakes, taught me a simple southern truth: feeding people is an act of love. This morning— in the town just outside of the now infamous Sanford, Florida—I needed to feel the weight of their small bodies in my arms, needed to feel the soft texture of their hair, needed to bombard them with every once of love I could manage at 6:00 am because my friend, Myranda Southern, is missing and her babies may never eat pancakes made by their momma again.
Wednesday morning I learned from my longtime friend’s mother that Myranda had never made it back home to Florida to pick up her two children who were here visiting for a week this summer. In fact, she missed her eight-year-old daughter’s birthday. This is not like my friend Myranda, a devoted mother to her two children. Her children, like many of us, are her world. We don’t know what would cause Myranda to miss Abigail’s 8th birthday, what could keep her.
What we knew then was that:
1. She was last seen leaving work at midnight on August 18th
2. She did not make it home
3. She phoned a friend early Monday morning to say that she had been with her estranged husband Shawn Southern, a relationship described by her family as violent
4. The Greenville, SC Sheriff’s Office was slow moving on the investigation and was not keeping the family informed.
I went into activist mom mode. I did what a lifetime of volunteer efforts, church organizations, college organizing, and women’s groups have taught me. I launched a facebook (www.facebook.com/myrandasouthern) page to organize the efforts of volunteers; I created a flyer, began speaking to the police, found a lawyer willing to work for the family free of charge, and enlisted everyone I knew to help me find my friend. I put people to work and gave grieving friends (like myself) someplace to hurl their energy, sorrow, and anger.
When I began posting about #findmyranda there was no mention of her disappearance. Within twenty-four hours the efforts of online activists caused the local news to pick up the story in South Carolina and within 48 hours the story was being seen in Orlando and featured on websites like thundercloudit (http://thndr.it/19JgzIh). As of this post our group of activists has been interviewed by Good Morning America and anticipate being picked up by the national news circuit.
And, while I applaud the work of activists, I still woke up this morning to my babies while my friend’s children are confused and hurting, wondering where their momma is. As the day went on and we gained more and more attention I couldn’t help but think about the thousands of women across the nation that go missing without out anyone organizing on their behalf. I thought about poor women who are written off, about LGBTQ youth (http://zebrayouth.org/) that are abandoned by families, and about the countless victims of partner based violence that are ignored by police. And, I thought about my whiteness.
I am a white mother helping a white mother. Our story is the story that the media outlets choose to put as the face of injustice and tragedy. And while my friend and her family are working class, without traditional access to resources and familiarity to navigate the complex legal system, I am not. My story and my friend Myranda’s story is steeped in privilege even (especially?) at a time when it feels like the greatest oppression and sorrow I have ever known and even when gender based violence may be the cause.
This knowledge makes my stomach hurt. This knowledge makes me want to scream. This knowledge reminds me that I must be responsible for my whiteness. I have a stake in the lives of women of color and their children; I have a stake in how their stories are (un)told or silenced. I have a stake in how white motherhood is used against women of color. In telling Myranda’s story I must also be diligent to work against these prevailing attitudes about race, to acknowledge and show care about the stories of missing women of color, and to honor the lives of mothers that have disappeared without news coverage or hashtags.
Here are some places to start:
Pamela Butler: http://blackandmissing.org/2012/01/missing-on-valentines-day-pamela-j-butler-d-c/
Stephanie Shipman: http://www.blackandmissinginc.com/cdad/index.cfm?MissingInfoID=1652
Latasha Nevitt: http://newsone.com/2138899/latasha-nevitt-missing/
April Pickens: http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/april-pickens/
Let us keep telling the stories of missing women, missing mothers, of the impact of violence in our lives…