Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Haley Reading (Group 1) Nafissa Thompson-Spires's "Wash Clean the Bones"

[Haley Reading groups Spring 2021]

By Lakenzie Walls and Howard Rambsy II

In Nafissa Thompson-Spires's final story, “Wash Clean the Bones,” we meet Alma who's is struggling with endometriosis. Moonlighting as a funeral singer, Alma uses the money to fund her fertility treatments. Soon after her son is born, it sometimes felt “like another adhesion, a growth on her future happiness” (195).

Alma usually finds herself at the graveside of several young Black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence. This causes her to reflect on her brother's passing, whose femur she keeps wrapped and stored in her closet.

What’s one issue or question that this story prompted you to consider that you had not previously thought about as much before?

49 comments:

EvanCeleste said...

Probably because I am not a mother, I have never experienced the feelings that can involuntarily appear when faced with raising another human being. I cannot imagine the pressure and anxiety that one must feel, as well as the occasional burden and huge selflessness that comes with raising a child in this world.

Linda H. said...

I previously did not consider the anxiety someone raising a black child as someone who frequently sees them buried or hurt in senseless violence might experience. Eventually this could make it feel like it is hopeless trying to keep them safe. Alma didn't feel like she could keep her son safe, and also felt like no one could which caused her to snap.

Linda H.

LaTrina Brown said...

I am actually a mother to a 8 month old and I have not put too much thought into how life for him will be when he gets older being a black male. I have also thought about how I would raise him, but not how others would treat him because of his skin color. Black males have it harder out here and I can only imagine how Alma feels in this story.

Thomas Siganga said...

This had made me consider the mother's viewpoint more, since raising a black knowing that others have died at an early age must have caused her a lot of anxiety. There are also a lot of events that a mother cannot see which will happen as the child gets older, so I would understand why Alma feels like even she could not keep her son safe. Having first-hand experience of others getting buried around her only amplifies these worries.


Thomas Siganga

Youssef Hassan said...

I always wondered how my life would change if I were to ever take responsibility for my own kid or someone else's kid. The thought of raising someone while paying attention to there race did come to mind as I was reading "Wash Clean Bones". I would not say that it worries me even more, but, i would not likely have the same experience Alma had with Ralph.

Youssef Hassan

Anonymous said...

One realization that I have had to acknowledge is how one's work/profession impacts the way they view others around them. As a funeral singer, Alma has witnessed family members/friends grieving over the loss of young black boys, specifically due to the issue of gun violence. Seeing her baby harmed makes Alma believe that if she cannot protect her child, who will? This further increases her worry of her child's safety in a society where blacks are already being disproportionately harmed.

-Ronald A.

Samantha A. said...

I have acknowledge and thought about the fear I may have for my future children's lives as I cannot ensure much protection over them once they leave the house. That anxiety of the unknown and fear that they may get hurt can lead some parents to do terrible and regrettable things as they believe they are saving them from the dangerous world. Alma had experienced and witnessed many children be buried prematurely, which lead her to feel hopelessness with protecting her son. However, she realized that her son has a choice in his safety and should have the chance to live.

-Samantha A.

Alexis S. said...

After reading this story, it made me question all of the uncertainties and worries that comes with raising a child. The uncertainties from the mother's view point of what their child will grow up to be, how the world will treat them, and if they will be safe especially as they become more independent and no longer need supervision. These realizations helped me understand Alma's anxieties with being a mother.

- Alexis S.

Kalonji said...

There was a point in the story that where Alma asked Bette, "But how would you protect him?" to which Bette responded, "To the best of my ability". As a funeral singer, Alma has been subjected to the trauma and grief that families have endured laying their children to rest at the hands of senseless violence. This story was an impactful reminder of the immense anxiety that can weigh on mothers who have to raise their child in this world. It made me recall the times that I thought my own mother was "doing too much" whenever she'd interrogate me when I left our house. I think it's important to have faith and be content spiritually however you need to do so. The three pillars of health are physical, mental, and spiritual, and when one of these pillars is compromised it has detrimental effects on one's overall wellness.

Kenisha Townsend said...

Alma experienced night terrors of her brother and many others who have died, and she had to deal with personal health issues. While she was going through these personal struggles she still had to care for her son who had sinus issues. She was exhausted.This just made me realize how important it is to have a support system including good friends like Bette. It's not good to be completely alone .

Kenisha T.

Anonymous said...

This story opened my eyes to the fear my mother must have experienced everyday with the real possibility that I might not come home every time I went out. It's an unfair that black parents have to deal with being constantly on edge with the thought that their sons could die senselessly. I couldn't imagine having to see the unfortunate truth of society in regards to black male death rates and having to raise a black son and this story allowed me to understand why my Mom was always on my case whenever I left to do anything.

Chris W.

Ehriana . C said...

One Issue that I had not previously thought about is having to raise a child in this world. I feel like I got a different viewpoint from Alma since I am not a mother. Having to protect and look after a child and constantly being reminded of the potential danger must feel like a constant battle.

Anonymous said...

I am not a mother, but it is something I want for myself in the future. As a biracial person I feel caught between two worlds, and I often think about if my kids will have these same feelings and how people will treat them. This story made me think of the piece my ceramics classmate, who is black, made. It is a beautiful moche inspired head vessel, titled, What’s the Occasion? She made the face/head to look like her thirteen-year-old son wearing headphones and a hoodie, a seemingly innocent, yet dangerous outfit for a black male teenager. In her artist statement she explains that as a mother all she can do in educate her son and hope that they will get to celebrate graduation and birthdays instead of planning his funeral. Her piece is on display in the case outside the ceramic classroom. I highly recommended stopping to see it and reading her statement. When she read it in class it almost brought us all to tears.

Alexys Williams

Hannah Coleman said...

Alma's horrible night terrors of the people close to her that passed away was very sad to hear. Going through a problem like this requires lots of personal strength and resilience. On top of this, she has to care for her sick son which can take another toll on her own personal health. Sometimes, life can feel draining in lots of ways. It just made me realize the importance of getting help in as many ways that you can. This means going to therapy, relying on close friends, calling those close to you, and appreciating all of the good in life. My mother passed, and I still have nightmares about how it happened just as Alma does and I know how painful it truly is. Having a great unit of people around you helps tremendously.

-Hannah Coleman

Hannah Coleman said...

Alma's horrible night terrors of the people close to her that passed away was very sad to hear. Going through a problem like this requires lots of personal strength and resilience. On top of this, she has to care for her sick son which can take another toll on her own personal health. Sometimes, life can feel draining in lots of ways. It just made me realize the importance of getting help in as many ways that you can. This means going to therapy, relying on close friends, calling those close to you, and appreciating all of the good in life. My mother passed, and I still have nightmares about how it happened just as Alma does and I know how painful it truly is. Having a great unit of people around you helps tremendously.

-Hannah Coleman

Anonymous said...

This one is kind of hard for me, I’d be lying if i said I havent thought about these things before. I constantly think about how it would be raising a black child in this world, the consequences, the precautions I’d have to take, i think About the burden now of how i feel when my people are dying everyday, it affects me so i could only imagine how she feels and what she could be going through
-Tymera Washington 4/7/21

Anonymous said...

An Issue I would consider not thought about much before is noticing that the death of a family member or someone really close to you can take a toll of your life or the life of another human being that potentially you would love to bring in the world. Due to the violence and cruel world you think more from the heart and think to yourself “ do I really want to bring my child in a world or no love “ you can protect and raise your child to the best of your ability but the path that they choose will always be their choice, no matter what.
-Courteona Combs 4/8/21

Anonymous said...

I can only imagine how it would feel to birth a human being into this world and worry so much about their safety and health. She probably wanted to give up many times, but she kept pushing for her son. The book stated that she had sung at three other funerals of young men she knew. I believe that alone would have some wear and tear on her mentally. This on top of her own personal pains and struggles. I have also experienced similar issues with weight gain from the types of medicines I have been prescribed before. That type of weight gain is a difficult one to get off especially when you have to keep taking the medicine until they can find something that works better. She not only had to deal with the weight from the medication but she also had baby weight that she dealt with, which probably didn't make it any better. She is a very strong woman. I think this story was relatable to myself and to black communities that have lost loved ones at young ages due to gun violence.

I'yauna Brown

Alayna M said...

This really put into perspective to me what it is truly like to be a mother. I am not one, but I hope to be one someday. I think Alma probably felt some kind of pressure to be a mother, given women are told most of their lives that that's what we're supposed to do. I think that's why she pushed so hard, and took an unorthodox route by using her friend Danny as a sperm donor. Because of that, compiled with her personal issues she was facing, I'm not sure Alma really *wanted* Ralph. Then you add on the pressure of raising a black boy in this world, there's a whole other set of issues. I don't blame Alma for hitting a breaking point, but I'm glad she realized it before she made a terrible mistake.

- Alayna M.

Teighlor Traywick said...

I do not have children. This story really opened my eyes to the worry parents carry when they bring their children into this world because there’s always the possibility that something bad can happen to them, and it is out of their control. Children are a joy, and they often enrich the lives of their parents, but at the same time they add an entire new layer to the grievances that come with life. Nafissa worked to welcome her child into this world. She wanted to be a mom, but the dangers and pain of life are so visceral to her because she lost her brother in a violent way. The reality that the same thing or worst can happen to your own child can bring conflicting emotions. When parents picture a future of their children, it’s often filled with happy milestones and events, but that picture can become dark or gloomy quickly when they have to think about the possibility of something terrible happening to them.

Teighlor Traywick

Breana B said...

This story was an emotional one! Gun violence has been raging through the black community for many years. I understand why Alms feels the way she does. Its important to protect your children no matter what. Seeing what goes on in the world makes your worry for your child's safety. I have never thought about how gun violence can really affect someone! Loosing a loved one is never easy, buy knowing their life was cut short by a gun makes it hurt even more. One year in my hometown we lost about 3 kids under the age of 18 to gun violence. It rocked the whole community because this never happened before. Many people can relate to Alma and how she feels.

-Breana B

James Taylor said...

One issue I considered from this reading is the importance, of a people's history and culture. From the reading, we see how bad gun violence is in the black community. But also the other problems related to that community, almost all of it stems back to the days of slavery. How? In order for a nation to have a vision for the future, success as a whole, and safety and unity. A people must have their culture, language, and history. From these things specifically the culture, is where the values and morals, lessons and teachings of skills or advice come from.

When people are cut off from that, forcibly replaced with a slave mindset, several horrible atrocities happened then and out of that era. Plus the fact that that community never received mental healing from all that trauma, it's not surprising why a sad reality is still in today's time. The only way out of it is for them to regain that history, culture, possibly language. A famous quote goes like this "If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated (Carter G. Woodson)." Serious quote for serious reading, the problems faced in the black community today can be solved by following this quote in addition to regaining one's history, culture, and possibly language.

-James Taylor-

Jaydyn Zykan said...

As I was reading the story, it made me consider the anxiety that a black mother must constantly face raising a young boy in a society that disproportionately harms black men. Specifically, in Alma's position as a critical care worker and funeral singer, she must face a great deal of grief and anxiety as she witnesses young black boys facing senseless violence each day. Additionally, with the death of her brother, all of these events can take a toll on a person's well-being. She has to constantly be on edge regarding her son's safety. I cannot imagine how she feels.
Jaydyn Zykan

Danielle Hawthorne said...

An issue that I have considered that I didn’t before reading this passage is losing someone close to you and having that effect you bringing a child into this world. Losing someone close to you can effect you throughout life and make you not want to be close to others especially when several people close to your die at a young age. I personally haven’t had someone close to me have a traumatic death so I can only imagine. On top of having night terrors she is expecting a baby which is just making the situation unhealthy. Stress and sadness can effect your health and the fact that she is carrying a baby makes this situation more concerning. Overall I can’t imagine going though what she is, this reading opened my eyes due to some of her personal issues.

Danielle Hawthorne

Ayo J said...

One issue that I have not previously thought about is how difficult it can be to parent a child who has health-related concerns. In addition, being a single parent creates more obstacles. In the midst of the challenges and traumas (from her childbirth, the death of her relative and other black people, and her work life) that she experienced over time, she must have felt so insecure with the urgent need to protect her son at all costs.
As a young black male with some long-term health issues that continues to affect my studies and life activities, I wonder how hard it would be for me to parent a child in the midst of other challenges that might arise later in the future.

Isaiah Jackson said...

This story made me think about the difficulties my own mother had to go through when she was single and raising me. Sometimes I take for granted how hard it must have been in those early years and this makes me feel really grateful. I also can't imagine the kind of pain Alma must have been going through, both mentally and physically. While the end of this story was the most shocking and sad part, I can understand why it happened.

-Isaiah Jackson

Noah Jones said...

One issue that I had not thought about before this story was how seeing repeated deaths of others could affect someone. She is the singer at the funerals, so I am sure doing that job completely changed her worldview and I just started thinking about how much the specific job one does could affect the way they see everything, even things that don't seem directly related to work.

- Noah Jones

Tracy Long said...

When reading this I think about how my parents feel , the concern of the outside world and battling with trying to protect your child must wear them out. Both of my parents worked in black communities and both have seen lives taken away from gun violence. It really opened my eyes on the uncertainties of raising a child.

Kelsey McNeil said...

A question that I thought about while reading this is how are parents able to take care of themselves while also having to take care of another life? I thought about this because Alma clearly has so much going on with her physically, mentally, and with work, but then she also has another job of taking care of Ralph. There are so many things parents and guardians do for their children and so much sacrifice is made. There are also so many concerns that are faced and raising a child is understandably worrisome with the state of the world today.

Kelsey McNeil

Brooke Harris said...

An issue that I have not thought about until reading this, is the struggles of being a mother. I do not know what it is like to be a mother, but I know that safety is the number one priority especially to African American mothers. I cannot imagine losing a child, or the grief and mourning she must have went through. That is something that I have never had to think about before. I hope that as a society we can prevent this from happening so much.

Brooke Harris

William Akpan said...

I had not previously thought about the emotional stress that people live with, and more specifically, mothers in this case. In the story, she frequently sang at funerals which understandably, can take quite a toll on someone's mental health, dealing with so much sadness from the family, as well as the deaths of these young people. Her personal tragedy also contributed to the stresses she had concerning her child.

-William A.

Justin Jubert said...

I rarely think about the emotional trauma and abuse that mothers go through when they lose their child because it is impossible to understand how they feel or what they are going through. I do not have children, but I know that when I do, I will do everything in my power to keep them safe. As an African American, our community loses children and young adults to senseless violence every day, and it must be stopped if we want to advance. -JJ

Devin Ellis-Martin said...

As a person without children, I have yet to fully understand all of the new perspectives, and things to care about, having a child may give someone. I think this opened my eyes to how raising a black child in this world can be difficult, not only to the child, but to those that care for them, as well. -Devin Ellis-Martin

Phoenix Johnson said...

One of the major questions I thought about was how many women have a medical condition that causes fertility issues. My wonderful girlfriend has PCOS, which affects her fertility alot. Also, I have 2 friends that have endometriosis. I wonder if not being able to have a kid naturally affects there mentally health or make them feel less of a woman.

H. Rambsy said...

Stella N.
One issue that this story prompted me to consider that I had not previously thought about as much before was the issue of how to raise children in an imperfect world. Even though I am not a parent yet I have always thought about how I will raise my kids and topics surrounding having children. When a lot of civil rights issues pop up I don't usually think about how a parent explains it to their children but Alma feelings about protecting her child made me think about it.

Samontriona Perkins said...

Although I know that it is important to have a support system, this story made me realize just how important that is. The fact that she was already dealing with trauma as a result of her brothers death, then having to raise a son in a world that is stacked against black males is a challenge in itself. Not knowing if when they leave they will return is very scary. I say this as a black woman with black brothers, cousins, uncles etc. I cant imagine being in the shoes of the mother as I know it must be extremely terrifying.

Alliyah M. said...

One issue that the story brought to light was how sometimes parents don't consider what environment their children will be growing up in when considering having children. Sometimes, people have children for selfish reasons and don't think about what world their child will grow up in and the challenges/dangers they will face. This can cause future regret or anxiety, similar to what Alma experienced in the story.

Anonymous said...

I've watched so many movies portraying the anxiety black mothers encounter toward their children. This book clearly demonstrates that anxiety. sometimes, as being children, we feel like our parents overreact when we come out late or when we do not respond to our messages for more than an hour. But it is a reality, a stress they have to live with on a daily basis.

- Geonel M.

Adejoke Adanri said...

When black children die I grieve for them because it could be my brother, or cousins, or me, but I don't always think about their mothers, or their community, or people like Alma who see this regularly. Seeing members of the black community die due to gun violence, and hearing about it in the news again and again hurts, but it has to hurt more for the people who knew them and raised them.

Anonymous said...

This story made me wonder what’s it like to be a funeral director. They constantly have to see dead bodies and process them, but no one really talks about what it’s like being a funeral director. I wonder if they went through something similar to what Alma went through, where they would see a deceased loved one in their dream.

Alexis H. 4/9/21

Anonymous said...

I previously had not really considered what it must be like to really want children considering that your ability to have them can be limited. Then to consider what it must be like to have one that the world doesn't consider valuable is a pain that I had never really thought about. I've never had the desire to be a mother, so I never really considered the struggles of wanting to be a mother while struggling to get pregnant. It must be difficult to finally become a mother but immediately be ridden with fear for their future as there are many people in the world who would see them as less of a human solely because of their skin color.
-
Jovahna W. 4/10/21

Jasmyn Kloster said...

One issue this story brought to light for me is how truly lucky my family and I are to live in a safe environment. We very rarely have to worry about gun violence, but for some that is not the case. One of my brothers best friends was shot in the back a few years ago, and my mom had to help take care of him along with other friends parents because his mother did not really care. As the oldest with two young, black brothers, I sometimes get scared for them as they grow older that they may find themselves in dangerous situations whether it be with a random act of violence like my brothers friend, or with law enforcement. I could not imagine being a mother and losing your son to gun violence.

Jasmyn Kloster

Keaira C. said...

One clear thing that this reading made me think about was the fears and worries that Black mothers share about the safety of their child. I've watched many movies and have heard and seen this theme depicted in many popular Black forms of entertainment, and even in my experience growing up as a child. I think this is definitely a story that encompasses those fears and anxieties over Black children. This reading also made me think about how as a child, there were some anxieties that my mom had shown that I never connected to this theme, but clearly makes sense now as I reflect back. I never understood why my mom would stress certain things that seemed minor to me at the time of being a child. Like, for example, whenever I would ask to ride bikes with my friends on the block, she would make it a routine to tell me to be back in the house "before the streetlights came on". Even being a young woman that doesn't have children yet, the worries, anxieties, and fears linked to having Black children make perfect sense to me now.

gabby said...

An issue that I had not really thought about is being able to properly raise a child in this world. Alma's need to protect her child really made me think about this. In a world that persecutes black men for certain things because of their race, I think that they will have to be raised in a manner that addresses the bias that is often directed against them. Although unfair, I is necessary and will be challenging to teach!

Gabrielle Wimes

Philip Bowen said...

An issue I haven't thought about is the different obstacles and fears black mothers have to go through. Especially since having a black child there are many fears and concerns black mothers have to think about when they kid goes into the world like, is he or she going to make it home or are we doing the right things in life. I feel like being a black mother in America may be one of most difficult task.

Raillane Kamdem said...

The anxiety of raising a black child, especially in this climate and society right now, is and has always been unprecedented. Just recently there was another unjust killing of a young black men who did not resist or hold back. The fear in the black community is immense and the hopelessness only greater with each murderer the justice system lets walk away. Having a black child in America right now is terrifying.

Anonymous said...

One if the bigger issues I saw was the need for black mothers to keep their child safe. A lot of mothers in general do not think about what kind of environment their child is growing up in and how that will affect them. For example a child will act different growing up in the big city compared to those that grew up in the country. Children will act as their environment shows them is common and tend to reject anything different.

Breann Walton

Kristian Beal said...

I sometimes forget to think about what mothers go through, and situations such as losing a child are especially hard, due to me not being a parent yet. Even though I am not a parent yet I constantly think about how I will raise my kids in this world full of social injustice and chaos. When a lot of civil rights issues pop up I want to educate my children properly so that they will know how to maneuver in this world. Me personally, I feel like being a black mother in America may be one of most difficult task.

Torian henry said...

The story made me think of raising a black child from the perspective of the mothers and having to keep them safe from a world who's out to get them and want to see them fail. It made me appreciate my mother even more for doing everything she can and dealing with all these struggles to provide the best life possible for my family and I.

Torian henry