The politics of Mother’s Day

Posted 5/12/21

I have continued to reflect upon the speech that Sen. Tim Scott, R–S.C., gave after President Joseph Biden’s address to Congress. In light of Mother’s Day last Sunday, it’s fitting to note …

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The politics of Mother’s Day

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I have continued to reflect upon the speech that Sen. Tim Scott, R–S.C., gave after President Joseph Biden’s address to Congress. In light of Mother’s Day last Sunday, it’s fitting to note how Scott spoke of his mother — a woman who “prayed me through some really tough times.” I imagine that description of love and strength rings true for many people.

Yet, it is also true that people have painful experiences with their mothers and that some mothers know only heartache from their children.

For some, Mother’s Day is a celebration of the living. For others, a reminder of the dead. The same day might call to mind great joy or terrible tragedy. The fulfillment of dreams or shattered hopes. A special bond or a chasm of mistrust. Many people likely fall somewhere in between these polar ends of experience, but we can agree that motherhood is complicated.

I say the same about my mother country America.

In his speech, Scott declared, “Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country.” But the truth about racism in America is more complicated than any sound bite. Racism is complicated because people are complicated — to borrow a phrase from Martin Luther, the same person is both “saint and sinner.” And so, the institutions that we create and nations where we live are both beautiful and brutal — “brutiful,” to quote the author and mother Glennon Doyle.

We seek common ground and unity by acknowledging that brutiful complexity, not by ignoring it or protesting otherwise.

In his response to the president, Scott offered a similar populist appeal that has characterized many of Biden’s speeches: “Black, Hispanic, white and Asian. Republican and Democrat. Brave police officers and Black neighbors. We are not adversaries. We are family. We are all in this together.”

But as soon as Scott wished his fellow Americans a good night, both liberal and conservative pundits and politicians began twisting his words to bludgeon the opposing side.

Scott himself decried the hypocrisy (and rudeness) of progressives who branded him with derogatory remarks like “Uncle Tim.”

Yet, conservative commentators either glossed over or outright ignored how Scott illustrated racism still exists. He explicitly stated how police had stopped his car for no reason and followed him in stores while he was innocently shopping. The brutal examples of violence make the headlines, but those are clear examples of the indignities and injustices that people of color experience every day.

Like Scott, I believe Americans are a family. That is also a call to accountability. At some point, all families must have hard talks about negative behaviors and their consequences. Skeletons in the closet do not show themselves the door. The truth must be told about our complicated, brutal and beautiful nation.

Our national history includes both bright moments in human history and ghastly moral failures. Humans being humans, how could it be otherwise? Just as there is no perfect mother, there is no perfect country. All of us remain both sinners and saints. Even with our progress, there remains tension between the ideals of America and the lived experience of people of color. We have the work of truth and reconciliation to do together.

It seems fitting to close with a lesson in wisdom and humility from my own mom: “Remember everyone is a work in progress — including you.”

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His forthcoming book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”


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