I first met Amoke Kubat—also known as Yo Mama — about 10 years ago. I was helping to organize a public event showcasing local artists and cultural organizers, and Amoke was a speaker.
At that time, she was a teacher at a local charter school, and had just finished her memoir. She was also hosting workshops she called The Art of Mothering — welcoming spaces for mothers (and others who mother) to gather, create, share wisdom, and celebrate one another in a culture that devalues the caregiving and emotional labor of women and femmes.
I was not yet a mother when I learned about Amoke’s workshops — but as a cultural organizer who’d grown-up in a working-class community where women outnumbered men (many of whom were absent) and where art was something we lived with, but rarely labeled as such — I was drawn to Amoke’s theory and approach to creating art with and community.
Like Amoke, I also believed (though I didn’t know how to articulate it yet) that the key to transforming society and politics was to uphold the art of mothering through art-making and mentorship, and to increase the social and political recognition of the caregiving and emotional labor of women and femmes — through spaces, stories, and a compassionate community activism where these actions can transform all relations. And like a lot of people who meet Amoke, I just wanted to be in her presence as much as possible, because I could sense the importance of what she had to share.
When we got together in those first years of knowing one another, we would share stories and anecdotes about our experiences, which could not have been more different.
Amoke was from California, had travelled the world, lived the life of an artist and eccentric, was a single mother, an educator and spiritual guide. She’d ended up here in Minneapolis, had found her community on the northside, but had never really felt welcomed in white-centered organizations, communities, and spaces.
In contrast, I had come from a very small town up north, have not travelled much at all, and was as steeped in the culture of “Minnesota Nice” as one can be. While I also felt like an outsider at times (as a woman who’d come from a poor rural place) I’d experienced first hand the ways that whiteness flattens all of our individual stories of difference.
I wasn’t really able to relate to many of my white peers (who were mostly urban, and from middle-class educated families) but I was assumed to belong there, and given a pass into leadership roles and responsibilities that wouldn’t have been so readily assigned to a person of color with a similar social class background.
In spite of these differences, Amoke and I had some common ground in our passion for creating art and culture experiences that could heal and transform , and in recognizing the ways that passive-aggressive, white liberal leaders and organizations often do more harm than good. They do this in part by erasing individual experiences and wisdom, and not allowing voices from the margins to lead spaces or strategies for social transformation.
This harm is often done while prioritizing self-interest and the success of ones own ideas over what might be necessary to uplift those who’ve been historically disenfranchised.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve learned so much from Amoke. We’ve developed dozens of creative collaborations, evolved our ideas about art and social change, and become friends.
When she mentioned that she was writing a play called ‘Angry Black Woman & Well-intentioned White Girl” to communicate her stories and ideas about Minnesota Nice and racism, I knew it would be the kind of artwork that our world desperately needs. I was happy to be part of early conversations in the development of that play, but never imagined I would see it tour all across Minnesota — including to small rural communities like the one I’d come from.
Last night Amoke read the play to 220 people at North Community Hight School on the northside of Minneapolis. I played a small part in facilitating the discussion group for white-identifying women following the play, and wrote this reflection on the experience at North High and the play / tour as a whole.
Looking forward to seeing where it goes next!