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No study begins or ends with itself. It is part of a larger discoursean ever-changing blueprint on which details are added in a growing understanding of some experience. The partially complete blueprint for this study includes "details" from ideas about success and achievement, the mother/daughter dyad, the educational experience, and the immigrant experience.
To begin the review of literature, particularly as it relates to success development in women, I used the traditional electronic databases: Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC) and Dissertation Abstracts to note what topics were current and which were widely researched. Having ascertained that, I used three search enginesSocial Sciences Abstracts, Psychology First, and Education Abstractsto broaden my search on extant success studies. Eventually, and in keeping with the purpose of the inquiry, I limited the search to the literature on the lived experience of Black or Caribbean mothers and their adolescent or young adult daughters.
Descriptive Definitions of Success and Achievement
The Oxford Encyclopaedic English Dictionary (1991) defines success as the accomplishment of an aim; a favorable outcome such as the attainment of wealth, fame, or position; a thing that turns out well. However, it is the nine-volume 1919 edition of a precursor of that dictionaryThe New English Dictionary on Historical Principlesthat resonates with the meaning on which this study is founded: "Success: the attainment of one's desire" (1919, p. 77 ).
In a more contemporary setting, White (1976) defines competence as the concatenation of alert perception, substantial reflection, and prompt, confident initiative. He purports that a sense of competence is an active view of ourselves, how we perceive ourselves acting within the environment. For the purposes of this study, success, and achievement are used as synonyms.
To the extent that studies noted in this chapter have a distinct gender focus, this review can be considered as belonging to the feminist tradition where women's choices and voices have taken center-stage of the discourse. Jacquelyn Eccles (1987) notes that defining competence, success, or achievement is, at best, a value-laden enterprise, and one steeped in issues of gender and contextuality. This is all the more relevant here since this inquiry focuses on females exclusively. Maggie Mulqueen posits: "Rather than holding either women or men up to a single norm' which does not represent their experience, it is useful to explore the possibility that a variety of norms' may exist depending on the factors examined" (1992, p. 10). Underlining the importance of context, she asserts that a woman's sense of mastery is greatly influenced by those roles, tasks, and behaviors that society associates with competence.
Hinders (1994) agrees, arguing that formulating a specific dream, making choices, letting goes of fears, seeking support through relationships. and meaningful work are the essential components of women's success. She sees discernment as a key component, particularly as it relates to the identification of fears and the respect of personal boundaries.
Working with choice theory, Glasser (1998) asserts that attaining one's desire is a matter of personal choice. He insists that being free to live our lives the way we choose while still getting along well with the people we need to function in life is the essence of successful living.
Narrowing the focus and positing the definition for women, Helen Astin
and Carole Leland (1991) maintain that success is the achievement of leadership positions.
Miriam Polster (1992) argues the development of what women intuitively know are their greater possibilities.. Others (Bandura & Zimmerman, 1994; Betz & Hackett, 1981; Eccles, 1987) claim that it is derived from self-efficacy beliefs and from making choices independent of others' pressure, though often empowered by it.
Clearly, the process of success development is an intricate continuum of determinants and consequents which need not be limited to achievement, competence, or positions of power. It also involves constructs of self-efficacy and personal choice.
Over the last 20 years the literature on success and dreams
of achievement has swamped both popular and scholarly bookshelves.
Albert Bandura (1977b, 1995) discusses achievement striving in
terms of cognitive social theory: self-efficacy and the degree
of control we have over our lives. For him, self-efficacy refers
to our feelings of efficiency, adequacy, and competence in dealing
with our lives. In other words, self-efficacy is one's perception
of one's ability to regulate her life so that she can attain her
dreams of achievement. He posits a connection between efficacy
expectations and mastery outcomes in personal experiences. A history
of past successes, he argues, raises mastery expectations. In
the same fashion, "repeated failures lower them, especially
if the mishaps occur early in the course of events" (Bandura,
1977b, p. 81). He insists, however, that much of our behavior
is regulated by evaluation which is both personal and external.
"Levels of self-satisfaction," he theorizes, "are
not determined only by one's accomplishments but also by the standards
against which the accomplishments are judged" (1977b, p.
139). Achieving success is clearly a self-regulated process which
is also dependent on persistence in the face of difficulties,
and an ability to withstand competing attractions (Bandura &
In a volume he edited recently, Bandura elaborates on this thesis. "People strive to exercise control over events that affect their lives. By exerting influence in spheres over which they can command some control, they are better able to realize desired futures and to forestall undesired ones" (Bandura, 1995, p. 1).
Building on the foundation that Bandura (1977b) laid, and speaking in a feminist voice, Jacquelyn Eccles (1987, 1994) developed a model which legitimizes women's choices. Success, she claims, depends on more than the concatenation of the elements which Bandura (1977b) had previously defined: self-regulated reinforcement, a history of past successes, vicarious experience of similar models, and verbal persuasion. She argues that women's choices are mediated by three critical factorsthe value they place on their choices, and the value they perceive that society places on that choice, and their estimate of the probability of their success. For her, success is enmeshed in issues of choice and self-perception. Women who achieve success, Eccles (1987) contends, almost as a footnote, do so through a process which is inextricably linked to self-imagewho they are and who they would like to be.
More than 20 years ago, Mattina Horner (1972) posited that link to be a part of the fear-of-success rubric in a society which dichotomized femininity and achievement. In her study of female behavior in mixed-gender groups, Horner discovered more evidence of conflicted feelings about success in females than in their male counterparts. This feeling,
she argued, is expressed by a heightened perception of the other side of competitive success and the emotional costs it accrues.
McClelland (1975), whose theories of achievement were initially based on the study of men's lives, explored people's need (n) for power and need for achievement. In the chapter "Power and the Feminist Role," he argues that the difference between male and female in terms of these two issues, power and achievement, is one of focus. Women high in the need for power, "n Power," develop a sense of strength within themselves. Men, on the other hand, express their "n Power" by acting assertively or aggressively. "Women are concerned with having and sharing; men more about pushing ahead" (p. 75). Further, McClelland notes that while men are concerned with freedom from established authority, women seek freedom for controlling their own lives.
In her trail-blazing work almost a decade later, Carol Gilligan (1982) argued that girls are as academically successful as boys until they hit the wall of prohibition' in their early adolescent years. Achievement, she insists, does not have to mean competition. Citing Piaget (1978) and Erikson (1968), she posits that success is a transitional process that need not be mediated by good times or by antecedent success. Disaster-laden turning points can be equally effective in developing the strength that many women need for success. "The studies of women's lives over time portray the role of crisis in transition
and underline the possibilities for growth and despair that lie in the recognition of defeat" (pp. 108-109).
For many women, Gilligan writes, gaining success is more often than not a function of their self-perception. Their context within human relationships, their sense of responsibility and their ability to care support their self-perception.
In summary, the theories noted above emphasize self-behaviors and personal evaluation. Feelings of efficacy, self-regulation, and the value of past and future successes are foundational to achievement development. Women regard crises as transitional and many often consider critical negative events as turning points or motivators for success.
Studies of Achievement
Helen Astin and Carole Leland (1991) report on a descriptive,
longitudinal study that began in 1984 and examined the achievements
of three generations of successful and highly visible women leaders
who were active from the 1960s to the 1980s. They posit success
as a primary outcome of one aspect of the formative yearsa
family climate which transmits a powerful aspiration-supporting
message that daughters can achieve in any sphere they choose.
They note that self-esteem and independence were developed in
an atmosphere which called attention to education, assertiveness,
Although many of the 77 women in the study identified strongly with their fathers, most valued the role of the self-actualized women in their lives. The participants, the study reveals, were inspired by role models and mentors who gave them permission to transcend prescribed gender roles. "The most important role models for the positional leaders were either their parents or their teachers in high school and college. . . . The teachers were women with ability who were in leadership roles themselves" (1991, p. 51).
Narrowing their focus on the world of education, Astin & Leland noted that early opportunities for leadership roles and experiences, which often included public speaking, student-government positions, travel and early workplace opportunities, were frequently acknowledged as triggers or enhancers of the women's leadership styles (Astin & Leland, 1991).
Maggie Mulqueen's (1992) longitudinal study of four women scholars brings much insight to light in terms of redefining the competence/femininity dilemma. She reshapes the historically accepted definition of competenceonce viewed as an ever-increasing force to perform certain tasks, exhibit certain behaviors, or fill certain rolesand argues that while competence-motivation patterns are culturally imposed, the subjective assessment of competence is much more important than the objective display of it. Competence and femininity are not mutually exclusive, Mulqueen contends. "The opportunity to isolate, and potentially denigrate, women's experience as opposite or not applicable to men's, can only be avoided by allowing women to tell their own stories" (p. 10). She posits balancingthe creative internal capacity for self-assessment and self-approval to increase their self-esteem regardless of the specific components of their livesas the desired modus operandi for women.
DeFour and Paludi (1995), having surveyed 80 women ranging in eight discreet 10-year strata from the late teens to the mid-80s, offered a different perspective on the familial environment. Achievement striving, their study reports, is particularly evident in women younger than 50, or in those who were reared in dual-earner families, or whose parents reinforced and encouraged their achievement efforts, or who were themselves younger than 50. What they also found was that although some of women's achievement goals were relationalhaving a successful relationship with a mate, being a good parentgraduating from college, and being self-actualized and independent were equally important.
Based on the findings of a 14-year study of high-school valedictorians and salutatorians in the Illinois Valedictorian Project, Karen Arnold (1995) began the discourse on understanding academic success, its antecedents, and rewards in pre-college students. The 81 young men and women in her study, as their academic histories indicated, showed great promise. She discovered, however, that promise often was not enough for the achievement of occupational attainmentsociety's measure of success. "Fourteen years after high school, at least three-quarters of top students do not appear headed for the postschool achievement world" (p. 244). The few African American and Hispanic American students she tracked encountered severe difficulties. Some dropped out of college because they did not feel part of the college community, or lacked the tacit knowledge on which the policies or programs of White colleges and universities were based. Others appeared to fail because they had no contingency plans. Many women in the study fared poorly in terms of occupational attainment, primarily, Arnold reports, because "they lowered their career aspirations in favor of future parenthood and began pursuing achievement paths that society values very little" (p. 132). She posits a yet-unformed identity, a dearth of affirming mentors, and nonacademic professional experience as the causes of the poor showing. She admits, however, that her measures of success may need further review since for many women life achievement is anchored in interpersonal and relational success.
Jean Baker Miller (1976, p. 83) concurs. "Women stay with, build on and develop in a context of attachment and affiliation with others." She insists that women's sense of self become organized around being able to make and maintain affiliations and relationships. Eventually, for many women, the threat of disruption of an affiliation is perceived as not just a loss of a relationship, but as something closer to a total loss of self.
Peterson (1992) notes that a distinction in the African American woman's context:
For Black females, the will is where that which is human and that which is spiritual meet. The strength of Black women comes from the knowledge that above all else we have the power to be in a relationship with God and then to act with God in the creation of the world to come. (p. 88)
Power, she insists, has to do with relationships with one's
family, friends and community, and with God. Power is also developed
in the belief that no human has the right to define another.
Beverly John (1997) suggests that a two-stage master plan is essential for the Black woman. "We must first know ourselves, love ourselves, and define our boundaries and commitments . . . then transform the intellectual and physical spaces we occupy"
(p. 61). While agreeing with this mandate, Renee Peterson (1992, 1997) goes a step
further and insists that inherent in each of us lies a will to power and a will to succeed that
affects how we are perceived.
Self-will has been defined in terms of power, self-determination, and freedom. It relates to the amount of power we have as humans to determine a course of action and then act on it. Self-will also relates to how we see ourselves and how others see us. (1997, p. 88)
Supporting Assagioli's (1973) thesis that will can change a
person's self-awareness and view of the world, she insists that
willing is an extended process which begins with a motivation-based
goal and is followed by deliberate choice. Assagioli spoke for
himself (1973, p. 110). "The desire and willingness to push
on and challenge life comes from the experiences we have and how
we interpret them."
In her book Eve's Daughters: The Forbidden Heroism of Women, Miriam Polster (1992) fights against the cultural womb' which has for centuries filtered society's injunctions down to women to their detriment. In seeking to find a place for women heroesher term for successful womenshe suggests that they are characterized by four basic traits: a profound respect for human life, the sense of personal choice and effectiveness, their courage, and their ability to see the world within the context of future possibilities. Her descriptive addendum on the unpublic women heroes is poignant.
But the grandness of these celebrations [of public heroes] can sometimes overshadow a far more pervasive and important factor in the lives of most people: The heroes of the intimate setting. The actions of parents, teachers, relatives, neighbors . . . provide an immediacy that profoundly colors each person's life. (p. 30)
To summarize, success development in women, therefore, is the development of self which emerges as the interweaving of themes of agency, independence, self-reliance,
self-determination, resilience, relationship with God, and courage within a context of
freedom, mutual respect, and affirmation earned particularly, but not exclusively, during
the early years. However, the fact that a woman did not have a positive experience early
on is sometimes a trigger for her determination or will to succeed regardless (John, 1997;
Situating the Inquiry in the Immigrants' Adaptation Process
Canada is a nation of immigrantsimmigrants whose arrival in the country is, for the most part, a matter of choice. In the decades spanning the time frame between 1960 and 1980, the immigration influx was significant (Anderson, 1993). Often, Caribbean immigrants come to Canada to seek a better economic future or better educational
opportunitiestheir stated idea of success (Edwards, 1992; Ramcharan, 1982; Winks, 1971), but some indicate that they come to seek adventure (Anderson, 1993).
Kinship patterns of newly arrived West Indians do not follow the Canadian norm of legal nuclear family relationships. Because a stable father figure is absent in many families, the mother's role is typically strong. Indeed, the matrilineal link continues to be strong until adulthood (Edwards, 1992; Ramcharan; 1982, Winks, 1972). West Indian children grow up surrounded by positive female role models (Barnard, 1995) who require their respect and obedience (Anderson, 1993). Religious associations and church membership retain a high value especially in established Protestant denominations. "Religion is of immense importance for any group of migrants arriving in an unfamiliar and hostile environment. . . . It provides a form of social integration for most West Indian immigrants in a situation of relative social and culture anomie" (Louden, 1977, p. 48).
Adaptation is often accepted as the shortest means of gaining access to the resources of the adopted land. The mandate, "Immigrants are transplants from Motherland to Adoptedland. They adapt, blossom and flourish. Adaptation is a must" (Edwards, 1992, p. 17) exemplifies the contemporary mindset. Since assimilation could not be forced on a visibly different group, voluntary adaptation was often practiced. Schooling was one of the most frequently employed approaches geared to preserving the majority culture (Friesen, 1985).
As soon as the question of ethnicity appears, however, the question of identity follows. "The most crucial factor identified as having a decisive impact on the level of black self-esteem is the general attitude of significant others towards the adolescent, i.e., what the adolescent believes his significant others think of him or her" (Louden, 1980, p. 19).
While it speaks most accurately of the adolescent children of West Indian emigrants in England, Louden's (1978, 1981) typologySojourner, Mainliner, Precocious Independent, Ambivalentalso describes the identity-development stages of the first-generation newcomer to Canada. Referring to the insulated racial environment' of adolescents and young adults, Louden (1977) notes that the major aspect of the
immigrants' childhood experience is interpersonal communicationusually within a consonant racial context"listening and talking to people of like distinction" (1980, p. 31).
Emphasizing self-esteem and locus of control, Louden (1978) asserts that the sojourner is low in both constructs, whereas the mainliner and precocious independent, in contrast, are high. While the mainliner is often concerned with the presentation of self and is assertive and aggressive, the precocious independents, despite their high scores in self-esteem ratings and internal locus of control, often display no sense of being able to control their destiny. Louden uses an educative evaluation to differentiate between the two types. In general, he insists, teachers find it easier to work with mainliners.
Wolfgang and Weiss (1981), testing a sample of 477 middle-school West Indian children from Jamaica, Trinidad, and Ontario, Canada, also found that their great internality is a characteristic Caribbean style. They report that West Indians attribute their successes and failure more to their own doing (internally controlled), than to luck or chance.
Cross (1971, 1991), describing the pathology of the Black conversion experiencefrom negritude to negressence, postulated a multi-phase process which begins with the pre-encounter phase. This occurs when the individual's world is suddenly shifted from an insulated racial environment and moved to one dominated by an Euro-American frame of reference. Anderson (1993) suggests that most school age Caribbean Canadian children experience a phase similar to the pre-encounter phase when they first attend school. In contrast, Phinney (1989), speaking for majority groups, argues that ethnic awareness does not develop until adolescence.
Cross's (1971, 1991) second phase, the encounter period, is often triggered by a startling personal event which challenges the old frame of references and causes the person to be receptive to a new interpretation of Black identity. The third stage, the immersion-emersion experience, comes with minimal internalization of positive attitudes to Black culture.
A person arrives at the final phaseinternal commitmentof Cross's (1991) model when she has high achievement motivation, engages in autonomous self-actualizing behavior, internalizes Black culture, transcends racism, and fights general cultural oppression.
Although Cross's model is based on the African American experience, the similarity between the minority experiences in majority societies, such as is found in Canada, suggests theoretical coherence. Despite all the theoretical constructs of his analysis, however, Cross concluded that the best way to discover the meaning of the Black experience was through the poetry and plays of Black people (Cross, 1991).
Roger Herring (1995), responding to the demographic changes in the United States during the last 20 years, posits a five-stage model of bicultural ethnic development which displays some similarity with Cross's model. He suggests that young children's identity derives initially from their primary reference group. In adolescence, they choose an identity from the ethnic group with the most status. The third stateenmeshment/denial is characterized by confusion and guilt at having to choose one identity that is not fully expressive of one's background. At the appreciation stage, youth begin to appreciate their multiple identities. Integrationthe final stagemarks the development of a secure, integrated identity. Both Cross's and Herring's theories advise this study.
In summary, personal identity development is a multi-staged process for minority youth. It begins when the individual encounters a reference group visibly different from her own. The adjustments they make to cope with this new reality are both developmental and psychosocial, and have as much to do with their own behaviors as with their metaperceptions of their significant others' response to them.
Situating the Inquiry in the Literature on Maternal Influence
on Adolescent Daughters
This section is organized in much the same stair-stepped fashion as Spradley (1979) advises ethnographers to followa move from the universal to the particular. To begin this review, mothering on a universal scale is discussed, using the works of Margaret Mead (1977) as a lens. The focus shifts with the second stage when we are transported to the North American scene by noted researchers (Chodorow, 1978; Dally, 1983; Friday, 1987; Rich, 1986; Rubin, 1984). On the third level, the emphasis is on Black mothering particularly as it is mediated by African American women's lived experiences (Angelou, 1991; Collins, 1991; Walker, 1983). Narrowing our perspective to the Caribbean American scene, we look at essays, novels, and poetry (Barnard, 1995; Kincaid, 1996; Lorde, 1984; Marshall, 1981) for the final stage of this review of the mother-daughter relationship.
Mothering is one of the few universal elements that cuts across time and culture. Focusing on the cultures of the seven South Pacific islands, Mead (1977) posits a tentative universality in the mother-child bond.
It is possible that there may be deep biochemical affinity between mother and female child, and contrast between mother and male child of which we now know nothing. So, at birth itself, whether the mother kneels squatting holding on to two poles or to a piece of rattan hung from the ceilingwhether she is segregated among females or held around the waist by her husband, sits in the middle of a group of gaming visitors or is strapped on a modern delivery tablethe child receives a sharp initial contact with the world as it is pulled, hauled, dropped, pitched, from its perfectly modulated even environment into the outer world, a world where temperature, pressure, and nourishment are all different, and where it must breathe to live. (pp. 61, 62)
In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir chimes in with elegant
ambivalence. "Maternity is usually a strange mixture of narcissism,
altruism, idle day-dreaming, sincerity, bad faith, devotion and
cynicism" (1972, p. 528).
Sharon Hays (1996) brings her brand of reality to the oft-celebrated images of the nature of motherhood:
Images of children, child rearing, and motherhood do not spring from nature, nor are they random. They are socially constructed. Their natural quality is refuted not only by their variance across persons and places but also by their ever-changing character. And these variations are largely explained by the fact that ideas about child rearing, like all ideas, bear a systematic and intelligible connection to the culture and organization of the culture of the society in which they are found. (p. 19)
Psychiatrist Ann Dally (1983), tracing motherhood after the
impact of the feminist movement in the late 1960s noted that motherliness
is a complex quality and is based primarily on contextthe
developmental stage of the child and the mother's sense of society's
expectation. "Motherliness is warmth, caring in a sensitive
way, together with a desire to protect and enhance the child"
(p. 198). As the child develops however, setting boundaries takes
priority. "No one," Dally insists, "can have a
good sense of boundaries without a good sense of self and this
is part of motherliness" (p. 199).
Adrienne Rich (1986), strident in her rage against a patriarchal society which nullifies daughters by silence or infanticide, elaborates on Dally's hypothesis. "This
cathexis between mother and daughteressential, distorted, misusedis the great unwritten story" (p. 225).
Mothering more often than not is taken for granted (Chodorow, 1978; Rubin, 1984). It is, Chodorow insists, a way in which women try to fulfill their need to be loved and girls fulfil their need to be feminine. Arguing from a psychoanalytic perspective, she suggests: "Girls' identification processes are more continuously embedded in and mediated by their ongoing relationship with their mother" (p. 176).
Rich (1986) gives a gloomier but equally realistic thesis and postulates that the learning may be matrophobialthe antipathy towards one's mother and the fear of becoming like her. "But where a mother is hated to the point of matrophobia there may also be a deep underlying pull toward her, a dread that if one relaxes one's guard one will identity with her completely" (p. 235). Alice Balint (cited in Chodorow, 1978, p. 130)
argues that this separation is, in essence, a part of learning. "The amicable loosening of the bond between daughter and mother is one of the most difficult tasks of education."
Nancy Chodorow (1978) puts the focus back on the female self in relation to others. "Because of the infant's absolute physiological and psychological dependence, and the total lack of development of its adaptive ego faculties, the mother must initially make
total environmental protection' for her infant" (p. 83). This control, however, must be relaxed as the infant develops. Eventually the mother's role is to guide her adolescent child's separation from her (Rich, 1986; Rubin, 1984).
Nancy Friday (1987) picks up the separation theme and argues:
We tend to think that girl friends, the men in our lives, our school, college, or job are paths away from mother, alternatives and sources of support for our independence. Sometimes they are. Often they are not. Society, other people, and institutions reinforce what mother taught, adding their pressures to the unconscious residue of her we carry in our minds, making our ties for selfhood that much more difficult. (p. 309)
Edelman (1994) and Lowinsky (1992), on the other hand, argue
that this tie is invaluable in identity formation. "A woman
achieves her psychic connection to generations of feminine wisdom
through hearing her mother's and grandmothers' narratives about
women's physical, psychological, and historical changes"
(Edelman, 1994, p. 200). Without awareness of her own experiences
and their relation to her mother's experience, a daughter is snipped
from the Motherline (Lowinsky, 1992) and ripped from the connection
of generations of women in her family.
All human beings, whether or not we have children, are children of the earth, rooted in the Motherline; all of us need access to our biohistorical sense of continuity to be fully, creatively alive, to face our own mortality and to honor life in all its forms. It is essential in this historical moment that we become conscious of our roots in the natural world when so many species of earth's rich, biological lifeincluding our ownare threatened. (p. 18)
Arguing that because of the fierceness of maternal feeling,
the Motherline connection may often threaten a daughter's individuality
and strengthen the collusive bonding, the Jungian analyst explains
to the mothers in her readership: "As daughters we may have
been terrified of being devoured, taken over, sinking into an
undifferentiated swamp of yin. . . .We should have firm boundaries,
always know what is them and what is us" (Lowinsky, 1992,
p. 54). Balint argued that thesis almost 4 decades earlier.
The mother's ambivalence, too, is apt to manifest itself partly by an exaggerated (because guilty) tenderness, and partly in open hostility. In either case the danger arises that the daughter, instead of finding the path away from the mother towards men, remains tied to the mother. (cited in Chodorow, 1978, p. 135)
In general, mothers fulfill their own and their daughters'
need to be loved, to be informed and to continue the psychic connection
with generations of feminine wisdom.
The Black Mother-Daughter Experience
There is no doubt that motherhood is for most African people
symbolic of continuity and creativity (Christian, 1985). Paula
Giddings (1991), speaking of the legacy of African mothering as
handed over to Black mothers on this continent, notes that it
was originally practiced with nurturing precision. Mothers in
Africa once reared their children with a precise balance of discipline
and indulgence sufficient to sustain self-respect, she insists.
To support her thesis, she quotes W. E. B. Dubois: "The great
Black race in passing up the steps of human culture gave the world,
not only the iron age, the cultivation of the soil, and the domestication
of animals, but also, in peculiar emphasis, the Mother idea"
(cited in Giddings, 1991, p. 253).
Alice Walker celebrated what she feels is typical of a Black mother's need to balance the needs of ensuring a daughter's physical survival with the vision of encouraging her to transcend the boundaries facing her.
Our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see; or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read. . . . So many of the stories I write, that we all write, are my mother's stories. . . . I have absorbed not only the stories themselves, but something of the manner in which she spoke, something of the urgency that involves the knowledge that her storieslike her lifemust be recorded. (1983, p. 243)
Johnetta Cole (1991) talks about the turbulence and tenderness of the Black mother-daughter relationship as women live out their lives. "Mothers and daughters can be competitors or conspirators. Their relationship can be synergistic or parasitic; they can be adversaries or the closest of friends and allies" (p. xiv). Gloria Joseph (1991), reporting on her data concerning daughters' feelings and attitudes to their mothers, speaks in much the same vein.
The daughters showed tremendous respect, concern, and love for their mothers. The positive feelings that were expressed did not imply that all was sweet, kind and loving between them. Rather what was expressed was an undeniable respect and admiration for their mothers' accomplishments and struggles against overwhelming odds. (p. 95)
Despite the ambivalence and the struggle for control, many
women talk about their "mama" in the words of bell hooksa
mixture of eulogy and reality. "She is the one person who
looks into my heart, sees its needs, and tries to satisfy them.
She is also always trying to make me be what she thinks is best
for me" (1991, p. 149).
This is the Black mother, the poets (Angelou, 1991, 1997; McKay, 1953; Walker, 1983) write about, and for whom so many women still yearn. Marie Evans (cited in Angelou, 1997, p. 41) celebrates this woman.
In her essay explaining the Afrocentric ideology of mid-20th-century
Southern motherhood, Patricia Hill Collins (1991) notes that Black
mothers are not White mothers with a touch of color thrown in.
She argues that Black women rarely raise their children within
the confines of a private nuclear family. Collins describes the
constraints of the good mother who is often the chief provider
for her family, and is thus prevented from making motherhood a
full-time occupation. Harking back to the tradition of our West
African sisters, she notes that mothering was not a privatized
occupation reserved exclusively for biological mothers. Defining
"othermothers" as women who assist blood mothers by
sharing mothering responsibilities, she insists that the centrality
of "othermothers" is often of great importance in African
American culture. Othermothers and the strong network of blood
kingrandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousinsand "fictive
kin" (Stack, 1974) work with blood mothers to provide a sense
of connection with Black womanhood, and a sense of affection many
blood mothers are too busy ensuring the survival of their families
to emote. Othermothers also play a vital role in shaping the Afrocentric
worldview of Black adolescent females. By displaying their own
self-reliance and assertiveness, othermothers work in combination
with biological mothers to offer a range of social and occupational
role models for Black girls unlikely to be seen as subordinate
Black mothers do not socialize their daughters to be passive or irrational. Quite the contrary, they socialize their daughters to be independent, strong and self-confident. Black mothers are suffocatingly protective and domineering precisely because they are determined to mold their daughters into whole and self-actualizing persons in a society that devalues Black women. (Wade-Gayles, 1995, p. 12)
Narrowing the focus to Caribbean Canadian mothers, Mendoza
(1990) found that most subscribe to the notion of mixing some
of their traditional Caribbean practices such as scolding and
flogging, for instance, with the more liberal Canadian traditions
to provide a well-rounded upbringing. Mendoza noted that Caribbean-born
mothers put more priority on instilling values such as respect
for one's elders, obeying parents, and personal cleanliness than
did Caucasian Canadian mothers.
Noting that the Caucasian norm of legal nuclear families applies only to upper- and middle-class West Indians, Ramcharan (1982) describes the pattern of lower-class Caribbean Canadian families which is strongly matrilineal. Familial relationships are often affected by women's heightened earning power, job, and income security which reinforce the centrality of their role in the household.
Like their counterparts in the Caribbean, mothers believe in providing their children, regardless of gender, with as much education as possible. They urge their offspring to take advantage of the secondary and tertiary education not available to the lower classes in the Caribbean (Lowenthal, 1972; Mendoza, 1990) since education symbolizes mobility aspiration for both parents and children (Foner, 1975). Parents, and mothers in particular, are often willing to make sacrifices to ensure that their children receive the best education possible but are hesitant to interfere with their career choices (Mendoza, 1990).
Mothers in Caribbean Black fiction are strong and devoted but rarely affectionate. In describing the Caribbean American mother-daughter relationship in Paule Marshall's (1981) novel Brown Girl, Brownstones, Rosalie Troester (1991) illuminates this phenomenon. Using the metaphor "building high banks around their young daughters" to
explicate the mothers' strategies for unwitting "suffocating protectiveness," she explains that religion, education, family, or the restrictions of a close-knit community are the most common dikes implemented to ensure a daughter's well-being in a hostile environment.
In summary, the literature reviewed suggests that Black mothers are often role models of self-sufficiency. African American mothers bring up their daughters to be independent, strong, and confident, and rely on othermothers to fill the affectional and role- model gap. Caribbean Canadian mothers, on the other hand, focus on obedience and respect for others within the context of sacrificing to provide the protection and upward mobility education will bring. The studies cited describe these mothers as rarely expressive women. "Suffocating protectiveness" is embedded in the concept of both African American and Caribbean Canadian mothering themes Religion and community are often cited as exemplars of the protective banks used in their mothering styles.
Situating the Inquiry in the Educational Experience
As the pages above indicate, education is a vital part of the
modern woman's life. It is the protective bank mothers use to
build dikes of suffocating protectiveness against the onslaught
of society (Troester, 1991; Wade-Gayles, 1995); a trajectory for
immigrants' success (Mendoza, 1990; Ramcharan, 1982; Winks, 1971);
an elevator of social standing; a site for imitating role models
(Astin & Leland, 1991), developing the freedom to alter situations
by reinterpreting them and finding alternate possibilities of
fulfillment (Greene, 1988), and developing competencies (Moses,
Supporting Freire's (1982) and Piaget's (1978) interactionist view of learning, Donmoyer suggests that "educational practice should not be built around predetermined student learning outcomes. . . . Teachers should engage in dialogue with students, and rather than transmitting a predefined curriculum to students, teachers should work with students to construct jointly the curriculum for the class" (1990, p. 180).
Edley (1996) moves a step further and argues that unless an opportunity agenda is embedded in the curriculum, education may be of little value. Gardner (1997) suggests a co-intentional paradigm shift in purpose for education. He postulates that unless we return to the original purpose of educationperfectabilitycited centuries ago in the cradle of the Nile River, we will flounder on the banks of competition. He urges that teachers and students, acting as reconstructionists, enter the landscape of learning with heightened expectations to recreate a curriculum of values so that the pedagogical focus is shifted from consuming knowledge to creating knowledge.
In elegant style, William E. B. DuBois proclaimed the purpose of education almost a century ago. "There must be a loftier respect for the sovereign human soul that seeks to know itself and the world about it; that seeks a freedom for expansion and self-development, untrammeled alike by old and new" (1997, p. 665).
It is Knowles's (1984) more pragmatic description of the ideal educational climate, however, that sets the tone for efficacious instruction. He posits the need for a climate of warmth and caring; of mutual respect and trust; and one conducive to dialogue. Two decades earlier, Piaget (1978) had made the same plea when he insisted that educators and learners alike construct knowledgebuild linkages and make connectionsrather than learn from mere instruction alone.
Situating the Study in Narrative Inquiry
Narrative research is fast becoming a conspicuous methodology
in human studies research. "The only way humans make sense
of their experience is by casting it in narrative form" (Gee,
1985, p. 1). For Turner, it "is the supreme instrument to
bind the values' and goals' which motivate human conduct
into situation and structures of meaning" (1980, p. 167).
The ultimate aim of the narrative is to interpret experience because "story provides the partsmotifs, plot, connections, feelingthat make understanding and meaning possible" (Atkinson,1998, p. 74). Mishler (1986) argued for a more instrumental structure, insisting that narrative must include four componentsthe abstract often encapsulates the point of the story; orientation which contextualizes it; the complicating action which defines the plot; and resolutionto be analyzed satisfactorily. Labov (1972), describing narrative as a way of recapitulating past experience in temporal sequence, adds two additional features in a fully-formed narrativeevaluation and coda. "A complete narrative begins with an orientation, proceeds to the complicating action, is suspended at the focus of evaluation before the resolution, and returns the listener to the present time with coda" (p. 369). He goes on to explain the significance of stopping the action while the story is in process. "[It] calls attention to that part of the narrative and indicates to the listener that this has some connection with the evaluative point [of the story]" (p. 374).
Hones (1998) includes a hermeneutic description of narrative and argues that people understand and explain their lives through stories which feature plots, characters, times and places.
Insisting that story-telling strategies are often gender-based and race-dependent, Mary Gergen (1988) posits that traditional White male narratives demand an end point or a goal. In women's narratives, by contrast, the end point is more frequently described as a comma. Hauser (1995), in defining the resilience narrative, notes that women are likely to describe a rich narrative, laden with themes that demonstrate self-reflection, persistence, and self-esteem. Their stories identify how they constructed a new foundation for the development of their psychological well-being.
Narrative research came into focus for research methodologists some 2 decades ago. Some argue (Eisner, 1991; Fine, 1991; Greene, 1988), however, that it emerged even before Dewey (1934) stepped onto the scene with his thesis that the purpose of exploiting language fully is to help readers come to know, to understand. Researchers in academe have entered the field of narrative (Atkinson, 1998; Josselson, 1995, Labov, 1972; ) for a variety of reasons. It is used for action research (Carter, 1993; Casey, 1993; Connelly & Clandinin, 1990); social science research (Camarena, Sarigiani, & Petersen, 1997; Richardson, 1993) and therapy (Josselson, 1996; Widdershoven, 1995), primarily because of its attention to particulars (Garman, 1996). It is often at critical moments or times of crisis that story is of greatest interest and assistance (Atkinson, 1998).
It is, however, the researchers' ability to convey social scientists' arguments in a storyteller's voice that makes narrative compelling. Narrative builds on the search for meaning in experience and allows the researcher to retrace ground previously trodden (Clandinin & Connelly, 1994). Story gives us context and lived experience in its purest
and rawest form (Atkinson, 1998). Camarena and her cohorts cite the efficacy of story, particularly as it applies to women-tellers.
Psychological well-being was something that developed because of experiences across adolescence. . . . This openness to learning from experience was consistently reflected in both how women integrated particular events into their story of adjustment and in generalized assessments of the importance of self-reflection. (1997, p. 193)
Autobiographical narrative is often therapeutic and revealing
for the teller. "It is to articulate a life story in a way
that enables a woman to know perhaps for the first time how she
has encountered the world and what she desires to do and be"
(Greene, 1988, p. 57).
Often qualitative researchers are challenged about the personal validity of the dialogic interview. Luisa Passerini's ambiguous response speaks volumes. "All autobiographic memory is true. It is up to the interpreter to discover in which sense, where, or which purpose" (cited in Personal Narratives Group, 1989, p. 261). Maxine Greene (1978, p. 213) uses a quotation from Muriel Rukeyser to posit another obtuse perspective on the consequences of truth:What would happen if one woman told the truth
about her life?
The world would split open.
Catherine Kohler Reissman (1993), who regards narrative as
an appropriate methodology for research, describes the viability
of the collaborative interview process. "Interviews are conversations
in which both participantsteller and listener/ questionerdevelop
meaning together, a stance requiring interview practices that
give considerable freedom to both" (p. 55).
Holstein and Gubrium (1995) concur. "Respondents are not so much repositories of knowledgetreasuries of information awaiting excavationas they are constructors of knowledge in collaboration with interviewers" (p. 4). Rejecting the conventional approach to interviewing which appears to view subjects as "passive vessels of answers for experiential questions" (p. 7), they argue for formative interviewsin direct contrast to mass interviewswhen conducting life histories primarily because of the degree of freedom participants have in choosing both the topics and the way in which they are discussed. Sally Helgesen (1998), using the archetypal gathering mode once attributed to women, transfers the metaphor to the research arena. She notes that women's role is "gathering information from everywhere, making sense of it, rearranging it in patterns, and then beaming it out to wherever it needs to go" (p. 10).
Women's stories, which are rich in themes of self-esteem, resilience, and persistence, are often told after much reflection. The purpose for telling the story is sometimes veiled from the audience. To understand the story often requires more than cursory listening; it involves almost total participation.
Shared stories provide significant ways of understanding the world. In oral cultures, elders tell life stories for the edification and socialization of children in the
community. . . . To understand one's own life in light of these stories is to be a full participant in a particular culture. (Personal Narratives Group, 1989, p. 261)
Central to the construction of a narrative, however, as Clandinin
and Connelly (1994, p. 416) insist, is the "multiple researcher
I's: the I who speaks as researcher,
teacher, man or woman, commentator, research participant, narrative critic and theory builder."
In summary, using narrative as methodology is particularly appropriate because it provides fresh insights to previously trodden ground. It is also noted to be especially valuable to women because of their openness to learning from experience. The collaborative interview is often the method of choice in oral narrative research where the researcher uses multiple roles.
Oral Narrative Research With Black Women
The peoples from the African diaspora have a rich oral tradition.
"Black communication goes well beyond matters concerning
lexis, grammar and phonology to a range of non-verbal and paralinguistic
features" (Callender, 1997, p. 153). Oral cultures, according
to Tannen (1980), emphasize a high-involvement style in which
overlap is frequent. Indeed, she declares "it is valued as
a way of signaling conversational involvement" (p. 3). Long
before our ancestors learned to read, they heard shared stories
which guided and shaped their worldviews. According to Walter
Ong (1979, p. 2), "Speech wells up out of the unconscious
supported by unconsciously organized grammatical structures that
. . . can never all be surfaced entirely into consciousness."
Black folks have a real facility with words. We like the sound of words in ours mouths, we like to tell stories and hear our own voices. . . . . The oral tradition is a part of our culture as black people but it is also something we excel at. (Carroll, 1994, p. 18)
Christine Callender (1997) noted that the rhythmic manner in
which Caribbean stories or messages are told is similar to the
chanting of a song. Smitherman (1977) opined that the use of proverbs
and wise sayings is an important feature of Black discourse. Proverbs,
as she describes them, are short, succinct statements which have
the sound of wisdom and power and are often used in child-rearing
("If you can't hear, you must feel") or the expressions
of religious ideas and philosophies. Walter Ong (1979) cites an
example of the serviceability of proverbs in the Annang culture
in Nigeria. "The law is lodged in the proverbs or sayings
of Annang culture" (p. 5), or it was until their laws took
on written form. Proverbs often transmit the wisdom of a primarily
oral culture by identification and participation. "There
is a deep humanity in the poetic processes of primary orality"
(Ong, 1979, 5). Achebe (1980) goes one step further, "Proverbs,
" he insists, "are the palm-oil with which our words
are eaten" (p. 7).
Dandy (1991) argues that African American communication is not simply a speech code. It is a complex system of communication. He notes three additional categories of their communication stylesociolinguistic rules for speaking: (1) inversion, (2) avoidance of certain words, and (3) speech acts.
Callender (1997) also noted that similarity in Caribbean discourse. Like African American speech, she insists, it includes complex componentsmoral teachings, speech styles, speech codes, and paralinguistic behaviors which include oculesics, proxemics, kinesics, and silence. Describing oral and literate discourse strategies, Deborah Tannen (1984) notes that for speakers of a high-involvement style, changes in intonation are typically used to cue listeners of imminent topic shifts.
Hermeneutic interpretation is imbedded in African storytelling. On this continent and across the diaspora, preachers, teachers, and storytellers have used it to communicate complex ideas to their audience. "The ability of a speaker to 'break it down' is considered a gift" (Peterson, 1997, p. 159).
Dramatic repetition is a frequent pattern in Black communication. Key words and sounds are repeated in succession both for emphasis and effect. Repetition is effective primarily because it stimulates involvement, intensifies suspense gives the rhetor an opportunity to gather thoughts before continuing, and reminds the audience of the talk that has gone before (Callender, 1997; Labov, 1972) "Believing that meaningful sounds can move people, the Black speaker capitalizes on effective uses of repetition" (Smitherman, 1977, p. 142).
In her essay "Nappy at the Roots: Speaking/Writing a Woman's Life," Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis (1993), who champions Black-on-Black research, uses the hair metaphor to illuminate the challenge of the interaction between Black participants and White researchers. "Like permed or color-treated hair, the texture of their narratives is often different above and below the surface. Above the surface, there is acceptable public appearance, but close to the root core is a more natural appealing form" (p. 155). Carroll (1994) and Brown (1991) describe this as window dressing, a uniquely Black conversational style used when dealing with White researchers.
In critiquing the work of Zora Neale Hurston, Brown voiced the Black
anthropologist/novelist's stated dilemma.
Folk-lore is not as easy to collect as it sounds . . . . Black folk were most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by . . . [and therefore used the tactics of] setting something outside the door of their minds for researchers to play with and handle without allowing them to read their minds. (Brown, 1991, p. 78)
Greene (1988) suggests, however, that this concealment is more
a function of women's ways of speaking than the particularity
of Black women's expression.
Concealment does not simply mean hiding; it means dissembling, presenting something as other than it is. To unconceal [the researcher's function] is to create clearings. . .to break through the masked and the falsified, to reach toward what is also half-hidden or concealed. When a woman, when any human being, tries to tell the truth and act on it, there is no telling what will happen. (p. 58)
Using oral narratives for expanding and transforming knowledge
about Black women is invaluable because of the salient beauty
of story, which in its utterance, connects with the audience (Peterson,
1997), touches the researcher (White, 1997), and begins to heal
the teller (Etter-Lewis, 1993). "Learning and absorbing from
other black women is
part of the process of oral narrative research as carried out by black women" (Vaz, 1997,
Renee White (1997) argues that the traditional ways of addressing sociological questions appear to fall short of bringing to a public forum truly revelatory accounts of people of color. She suggests that oral narratives can capture the essence and
complexities of life if we learn to ask questions and listen carefully to the responses.
Kim Vaz notes:
Oral narrative research, whether at home or abroad, leads to powerful transformative experiences for researchers. It can extend and broaden our identities; it can refashion our hopes and dreams, our very ideas about what is possible. Ultimately, it is a research methodology that is profoundly personal. As we challenge ourselves to extend the boundary of the self, we are prepared to challenge academia to do the same. (1997, p. 248)
In summary, repetition, concealment, and interpretation characterize much of Black dialogue. Edifying proverbs are as embedded in Black communication as is the notion of emotion-laden silences and rhythmic image-filled poetry. The multilayered works of many womanist scholars (Angelou, 1991; hooks, 1995; Wade-Gayles, 1995) rely on poetry to synthesize their discourse and reveal unspoken truths in the spaces between the words. Exemplifying this style, Alice Walker (1983, pp. 242, 243) concludes her essay In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens with a poem she crafted honoring ancestral mothers in the tradition of African America: