Black womanhood as of late has received a much-needed and long-overdue boost. Increased conversations and initiatives among black and mainstream media alike have moved the needle on the gauge of black women’s images toward change and positivity. Now it’s time to expand the dialogue to include black motherhood.
Defying black motherhood stereotyping is not just so that we can look better on television and in films. Our living above others’ ignorance will break down the walls dividing all black mothers, release us from the mental and emotional strain of constantly defending ourselves, and empower us to bring large-scale change to this country—all for the health, safety, and success of our precious and beautiful children.
It stands to reason that the public image of black mothers is an extension of the opinions held about black women. The Jezebel stereotype of black women being sexually promiscuous yields the stereotype of all black moms being hyper-fertile baby-making machines. The reality is that we have a proportionate share of women who struggle with infertility. Similarly, the prevailing misconception that black women are angry, masculine, and sharp-tongued translates to an image of black mothers being emotionally distant and stoic, harsh disciplinarians, and understandably unmarried or without committed relationships. And just as the perceptions of black women are complicated, so they are also of black motherhood. Kimberly Seals Allers, founder of the mom and parenting site for women of color, MochaManual.com, and national black breastfeeding advocate, accurately describes the true paradox of the black maternal role: “…[B]lack women are somehow viewed as perfectly capable and desirable for taking care of other people’s children, but yet viewed as incapable of taking care of our own.” Mammy, not mommy, seems to be others’ preferred label for us.
Much of the stereotyping of black motherhood stems from the prevalence of single mothers in our community. Public discourse often reveals that black motherhood is assumed to be single motherhood and thus any pathology thought to be associated with single moms is automatically transferred to moms generally. “…[N]on-blacks don’t know who we are. So they think women like Michelle Obama—educated, married, devoted mother—are anomalies, instead of understanding that there are scores of black mothers who are this norm and a relative minority who have been amplified into the stereotype”, says Seals Allers. This type of over-generalization has caused internal divisions to arise within the black community itself. Married moms don’t want to be collapsed into the stereotype, and single mothers are tired of having all the ills of the black community laid at their feet. Even the black church feeds into the negativity projected onto black motherhood. Undoubtedly, it is right for the church to speak truth about non-marital childbearing, but in the case of our single moms, the traditional adage, ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ doesn’t seem to apply, as illustrated by Pastor Marvin Winans’ refusal to bless the child of a single mother in the church’s dedication ceremony. Charity Grace could bring her child for a private blessing ceremony but was informed that Winans “does not bless children of unmarried mothers in front of his congregation.” Considering Winans’ own challenge of having to address allegations of infidelity and fathering a son out of wedlock, the irony of his pronouncement was not lost on many, including Stacia Brown, founder of Beyond Baby Mamas, a blog and initiative that provides a space for conversations among single mothers of color. Ms. Brown understands the stigma surrounding black motherhood, especially single mothers, and offers this insight:
A woman’s circumstances around single motherhood rarely [matter]. …I think the conversation about single mothers in the church should start there. Do we know who we’re stigmatizing? Do we know her story? Shouldn’t we extend grace regardless?
Indeed, a powerful starting point for changing public perceptions and stereotypes of black motherhood is an honest look at our own minds and hearts. How can we credibly critique others’ mishandling of us if we mishandle, judge, and excoriate ourselves? Do we believe our mothers are lazy, neglectful, and inept? Some of us might be, but aren’t we allowed diversity within our ranks, just like any other demographic group? We won’t all be Claire Huxtable; some of us will be Mary Lee Johnston. Showing ourselves grace, kindness, and compassion is an important self-care tactic in an overall resistance strategy. Another prong of our strategy should be to actively rebut the misrecognitions where, how, and to the extent we can. Brown makes a good point when she says, “Taking on all critics can be exhausting and it makes for a relentlessly defensive life. My personal approach, outside of my Beyond Baby Mamas efforts, is to be the absolute best mother I can be. Providing your child with a great family life won’t completely silence critics, but it’s the best counter-argument we can make.” Seals Allers echoes a similar sentiment when she suggests that we are experiencing image management fatigue and just want to focus on being the best mothers we can for our children. Personal excellence is a workable strategy to relieve the internal stress, and this is important because chronic stress seriously impacts our mental and emotional health, thereby affecting all of our relationships. But allowing so much wrong information and degrading imagery about our lives to persist is also damaging and hinders our needed involvement in critical cultural conversations and policy development.
If in fact, black moms are tired of waging the everyday battles we face and wondering if we can make any difference, we have contemporary examples of powerful advocacy being done on a national and international level by moms of color to inspire us. On the international stage, Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and co-founder and leader of Liberian Mass Action for Peace, led a resistance movement that ended the 14-year Liberian civil war. In her provocative memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation At War, she clearly connects her groups’ effectiveness, motivation, and source of influence to their status as mothers. Speaking to then Liberian president Charles Taylor during a pivotal negotiation summit she said, ““…[T]he women of Liberia…, we are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for [food]. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, ‘Mama, what was your role during the crisis?’”
Stateside, grief and devastation over repeated and unrequited injustice against our children was on national display when Trayvon Martin was murdered and when his killer was subsequently acquitted of his murder. Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton provided a stereotype-shattering display of grace, poise, and resolve as she lamented his death and is now advocating for common sense gun reform and the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws. She reminded black mothers everywhere that we don’t have to limit ourselves to the common black mom stereotype of private, but impotent grief—cathartic for the griever, but lacking transformative power. Ms. Fulton demonstrated that we can transition our grief to public influence and power. Other noteworthy models of effective black mom-based activism include: Mocha Moms, Inc.’s Occupy Schools™ education initiative, led by Kuae Mattox; Kimberly Seals Allers’ innovative Black Breastfeeding 360 campaign to educate and raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding among moms of color; Tonya Lewis Lee’s spokesperson role for the Office of Minority Health’s Healthy Baby campaign to reduce black infant mortality; and 1000 Mothers to Prevent Violence, a non-profit created by Lorrain Franklin-Taylor, who lost her 22-year-old twin sons, Albade and Obadiah Taylor, to gun violence. And there are other potential issues for high-impact policy and cultural involvement of black mothers, including disabilities, sexuality and sex education programming and funding, mental health, childcare, criminal justice reform, and employment issues like a living wage and maternal leave policies.
Black motherhood needs to be humanized and re-conceptualized. We are more than grief and shame and hardship. We are also joyous and communal and emotionally available and wise and intellectual. It benefits us and our society to lean in to the full spectrum of our mothering.
Tree imagery appears throughout Scripture when describing human beings. When Jesus began to heal the blind man in Mark’s Gospel, He asked him if he saw anything. The man responded and stated: “I see men like trees, walking” (see Mark 8:24, NKJV). Jesus Himself used this imagery to describe the interconnectedness of human beings. One of the most profound statements that He made was connected to something we try to figure out all the time in this life—relationships: “…for a tree is known by its fruit” (from Matthew 12:33, NKJV).
The “Job Interview”
One of the most frustrating things I notice in unhealthy or failed relationships is the lack of accounting when it comes to examining another person’s fruit. Sadly we mistake the honeymoon phase of dating relationships as the true nature of another individual. Anyone can go on a job interview dressed up and ready to answer questions impressively. This is precisely what dating tends to look like. The one thing the job interviewee knows? Putting one’s best foot forward increases his or her chances at getting hired.
I’m willing to bet you that a man will not reveal on the first date that he’s possessive, jealous, and insecure, and has expectations that you treat him like his mother treated him. I’m also pretty confident that a woman probably will not reveal that she is looking for someone to treat her like her last boyfriend or someone who knows exactly what she’s thinking without her saying it. Nor will she reveal any other emotional baggage she may carry. Let me give you a simple secret to help you see through that “impressive resume” on the first couple of dates: Time!
Taking Some Time
I know. I know. It sounds elementary and simple. I am pretty sure the heavens didn’t open up after that revelation. Sadly, this truth is avoided like the plague when it comes to entering relationships and causes more frustration than most people would like to admit. In addition to a tree being known by its fruit, Jesus also revealed that “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18, NKJV).
Let me put it this way. Entering a new relationship is like planting a seed. When you begin to water that relationship seed, it will begin to break through any dirt (i.e., any unrevealed vices) that either one of you have and reveal one another’s true nature. Of course, that watering occurs by means of the “living water” (see John 7:38). Afterward, things will begin to bud in the relationship and eventually trees will emerge with accompanying fruit. Here’s the key. Whether or not the other person’s tree bears good fruit depends on their response to your watering.
Please hear my heart on this. Developing a healthy relationship requires an effort on behalf of both parties. If you begin to feel like you are the only one attempting to develop your relationship, then you will begin to feel unattended to and lacking nourishment.
The Fruit Test
Once you’ve overcome the time obstacle, you can begin to properly evaluate a relationship and look for fruit. The good thing about this process is that everyone produces fruit of some kind. The only difference is the marketability of that fruit. Would you go into a grocery store and buy rotten apples or oranges? Why would you do the same thing as it pertains to a relationship? Here are some things to look for when evaluating relationships: “Now the [fruit] of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery… murders…” (from Galatians 5:19–21, NKJV).
Ask yourself: Is this person adulterous? I know what you’re asking. Isn’t this supposed to be an article on dating? What does adultery have to do with dating relationships? I’m glad you asked. Jesus says that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (see Matthew 5:28). Do you find them looking at other people when you two are together? This is an indication that they are adulterous, at least as far as their heart is concerned. This bad fruit can help you when you examine the relationship.
You might also want to ask yourself: Is this person a murderer? I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I am not talking about people who may be imprisoned for taking the life of another person. I am talking about people who are locked up in a different way. Scripture is very clear when it says, “whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (from 1 John 3:15, NKJV). Does your significant other have disdain for other ethnic groups? Does he or she make disparaging remarks about others that are hurtful? God saw fit that this issue was serious enough to warrant mentioning and should lead each of us to examine the people in our leaves for this potential bad fruit. Those are just two items on a long list of what Paul deems to be bad fruit. Check out the others on the list in Galatians 5 and determine whether your significant other shows signs of bad fruit.
The Good News
People can exhibit things you should be looking for in a significant other. The Apostle Paul calls this good fruit. Some examples of good fruit? Love, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (see Galatians 5:22–23).
Take time out now to examine past relationships in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Have you seen any of the fruit mentioned above at work in those relationships? More importantly, can you take lessons learned from those situations and move forward with a new conviction? The important thing about the blind man seeing “men like trees” in Mark’s Gospel was that his healing was incomplete. He needed a further touch from Jesus. With that touch he was restored and saw everyone clearly (see Mark 8:25b). Although examining the fruit of others to evaluate our relationships is important, there is still a need to rely on and allow Christ to place His hand on those relationships for full clarity and direction. If you keep these things in mind, your relationship will truly become like a tree planted by the rivers of water (see Psalm 1:3) and flourish in Christ.
It’s not easy to be hated by the person who is supposed to love you most, and unfortunately, being toxic has become normalized in our culture.
Many see misdirected aggravation, gaslighting, physical abuse, and more as “love tactics.” When a child only knows pain as a source of love, then they too love in that way and any other form of healthy love seems abnormal.
However, the question is, can a person ever love authentically if they were raised to be toxic?
The assumption is no. When someone is exposed to consistent, toxic stress, they are vulnerable to mental and physical illness that can sometimes develop into a genetic trait, according to Hey Sigmund; therefore this behavior is biologically passed on through generations.
However, despite the science behind the effects of toxic love, there is always hope for a better life.
Fighting for Love
“I just felt like I wasn’t loved by my mom, says Monique, a woman in her 40s who was often told she wasn’t good enough. “I felt growing up in my mom’s house I wasn’t allowed to be me, an individual.”
To suit her mother’s perfect image of a family, Monique, was to participate in certain activities without any consideration of her talents or desires. While at the same time, her brother was given free reign to participate in activities of his choice throughout their childhood.
And to make matters worse, Monique’s father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would often abuse her. She recalls him touching her to satisfy his physical desires and severely beating her when she reported it to her incredulous mother.
Fortunately, Monique found refuge in her grandmother’s home, where she found the kind of love her mother envied. Monique remembers her mother punishing and verbally abusing her as a result of the love she received from her grandmother.
Like many girls, Monique found herself looking for love in empty relationships during her teen years that lead to a forced, terminated pregnancy and physical and emotional abuse similar to the treatment she received from her own father.
Eventually, Monique met a gentle and caring man named Laz. However, Laz’s compassion and gentleness were unfamiliar to her, which ultimately lead to Monique returning to one of her previous, toxic relationships.
She went on to marry a former flame named Xavier and stayed in her abusive marriage for eight years.
“Towards the end of my [3rd] pregnancy, I found out he was cheating and when I confronted him, he hit me,” says Monique who recalls her toxic relationship that mirrored her childhood. “He asked, ‘Who are you to question me?’…It felt like because of the way I grew up, if I wasn’t getting hit, then it wasn’t love,”
After her divorce, Monique fought against her toxic past. She made the decision to rise above her father’s mental illness, her mother’s jealousy and apathy, and their collective effort to make her their emotional punching bag for their marriage troubles.
Although the struggle did not end after her marriage when it came to love, her children, and health, she remains hopeful enough to fight for the love she deserves. She charges her will to carry on to God, because without Him, she would have taken the final blow to end her suffering.
Turning Off the Gaslight
Bella was born to a Catholic family that rejected her mother for having a baby with a man that she later learned was married. The rejection caused her mother to make multiple attempts to prove her worth to the family by making Bella seem exceptional, but in private her mother was spiteful and unloving as the list of accomplishments grew.
“[My mother] did everything for me to prove herself, but not for the love of me,” Bella explains. “She worked hard to put me through private school and extracurricular activities, but at home I was repeatedly told I was nothing; sometimes she even called me a waste of a human being. To this day, she has never told me she loves me.”
Whenever something would go wrong in Bella’s life, she would automatically blame herself as a result of her relationship with her mother. Even when her husband and father of their two children committed adultery, she took the blame.
As time went on, Bella lost the love of her life, her job, and believed that she would never be loved which drove her into a suicidal state .
Until one day, Bella decided that she had enough and began to fight for her life, beauty, and self-love through therapy. “Once I figured out that I wasn’t this awful, unlovable monster that I was made to believe as a reality by someone who was unloved, it turned my world upside down in a great way,” Bella says. “It never would have happened without me doing the work in therapy.”
As a result of her treatment, Bella was led to a love that she has been enveloped in for the last four years. Even though the pain of rejection transcended through two generations, love won in the end.
“In the middle of all of this, I met a man who just rained love on me,” Bella joyfully exclaims.
Is there hope after a toxic upbringing?
“But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of [your abuser], which I also hate” (Revelations 2:6, NIV).
In the beginning of this article, the question was, can a person love authentically if they were raised to be toxic? The answer is yes, but you must fight for it.
It is easy to nurse the scars of someone that you love, because love is to be unconditional, right? But what good is unconditional love when a person’s pain has replaced the spirit that you desperately want to love?
That is spiritual warfare and it is best to back away and allow God to handle it if they are unwilling to get help. It is important to recognize the signs of someone who has been abused and trying to regain power, which can include verbally sharing memories of their toxic loved ones.
Fortunately, Bella and Monique worked past those painful memories found a way to defeat them so that the tradition of toxicity ended with them and a reign of love could begin.
What healing advice do you have for someone who grew up in a toxic environment? Share your thoughts below.
The first memory I have of watching pornography is when I was 11 years old. It’s amazing that I didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe what I was witnessing, yet the innocence of my brain and body were gone in an instant.
I didn’t know it then, but my body and mind were awakened to a world of sexual stimulants that I was never made to endure. According to an article by the New York Times, 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during their adolescence. This is an issue that goes beyond the church walls.
Porn addiction is more than mere videos or online seductions. Pornography is defined as the “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.”
It can be easy to say, “Well, since I don’t watch these videos or go to these websites, I don’t have a problem.” Wrong. How many times have I written off the absurdly graphic sexual encounters described in various books as pure literature or even worse, entertainment? They are stimulants that create a very real reaction.
My sexual education came from an awkward 5th grade class, an even more awkward 8th grade health class, pornography, and friends who were sexually active. The only times I can remember hearing about sex in church were once in a Sunday School class where the teacher said she could tell just by looking who has had sex, and a few relationship/marriage talks.
As the good Christian girl, I pledged to stay abstinent until marriage. However, my seemingly perfect chastity was made murky by the secret I kept.
When I was 19, I had an encounter with God that changed my life. Long story short, I decided enough was enough and I had to give my life to Jesus—my entire life. I knew I would be different from that moment on. I mean, Jesus had my heart so all of my bad habits left immediately, right? Wrong.
A few months after that, I found myself in a room by myself watching porn. Although something had changed… I realized there was a pattern for why and when I watched porn.
Shame. Fear. Control.
There’s an amazing ministry called Restoring the Foundations. They are trained to identify and help mend different hurts one collects as a byproduct of being a human.
One of the things they examine is the cycle of shame, fear, and control. The cycle goes something like this: A person feels shame for something they’ve done, they’re afraid of being discovered, so they try to control the situation themselves.
The clearest example of this is Adam and Eve in Genesis. They ate the fruit they were told not to eat, they were ashamed, they were fearful of being discovered, so they tried to control the situation by fashioning for themselves makeshift clothes to cover their nakedness.
Shame, as opposed to guilt, attaches itself to a person’s identity. It’s the difference between saying “I made a mistake” and saying “I am a mistake.” This is how I approached pornography.
There would be a trigger, mainly an emotional trigger, something that made me feel lonely or afraid. Then, I would engage with porn. Afterwards, I was ashamed.
I wasn’t the good girl everyone thought I was. I tried to control the situation myself. I tried so hard to be perfect on the outside to veil the mess that was inside. I could only control the situation until another emotional trigger set the cycle off over and over again. This pattern also illuminated that porn was just the symptom of a bigger problem.
Where do we go from here?
Learn your triggers. After I recognized the triggers that sent me running to the counterfeit embrace pornography offers, I could preempt my reaction to run to porn. Instead, I ran to God.
Ask for help. This will never get old. The thing about shame is, it breeds in darkness. It festers in your deepest thoughts. It feeds off of the lies you believe about yourself. Identify safe people you can ask for help. You weren’t made to live life alone. Above all, ask God for help. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in you. That’s a pretty stacked deck.
Accept the fact that you are loved. I elevated the shame I felt over the truth of God. According to Him, nothing can separate me from His love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). According to Him, I am chosen. According to Him, I am forgiven.
It is often said that the church house is like a hospital, and the believers are the patients searching for healing. If you believe that to be at least somewhat true, then I think we should talk about what spiritual services are—and are not—being provided in the church.
We often talk about how to deal with finances, sickness, employment issues, death of loved ones, and even relationships, but one of the things that we rarely, if ever, talk about in church is sex.
Of course, the church has a biblical interest in advocating that sexual relations occur within the confines of marriage. However, church folk have gotten so good at phrases such as, “just say no,” “not until you’re married,” and “save yourself for that special someone,” that when Christians do get married, especially young couples, some may find that members of the church are at a loss for words about what to tell them when they have questions about sex.
So many people, especially young people, who wait until marriage to have sex get to their wedding night, honeymoon, and beyond and have no clue on what a healthy, sexual relationship with their spouse looks like. (And that’s not even considering the weird, sexual comments and questions that church people do feel strangely comfortable discussing. I can’t tell you how many times church folks have asked, “So when are you all going to give us some babies?”…as if our children will be theirs. It also seems as if they should dictate when we should have offspring and as if when my wife and I do decide to try for children – which involves sex – is any of their business! But I digress…)
Plenty of married couples have problems in their sex lives and want to talk to their pastor about it or have a forum about what sex means for their Christian walk. But, too often, neither the pastor nor the church want to talk about it.
Believe it or not, sexual intercourse could be considered a holy act between a husband and wife. Sex has the power and potential of drawing the bride and groom closer to one another and to create life. If that isn’t holy, I don’t know what is.
So why should the church have responsible conversations about sex? Here are a couple of reasons:
Sex is natural. It doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
Too often when people try to bring up sex, the inclination is to tell them to stop talking about it because it’s “taboo,” “dirty,” “fast” or (worst of all) “unholy,” and it quells a much-needed conversation. However, these conversations need to be had – or avoided – at the appropriate level and age of those in question, including teens.
The church has to realize that if we’re not educating teenagers and young adults on godly principles about sex, then someone somewhere is educating them about sex. And, more than likely, God has nothing to do with their teaching.
We do married couples a disservice when we avoid talking about sex.
Many church people have no problem talking about and encouraging married couples to have babies, but they like to pretend that the magical decision to start a family comes without sex. Well, it doesn’t.
In fact, many would argue that sex is just as much a part of the list of marital issues as budgeting, child-rearing, career conflicts, intimacy, not spending enough time together, bad habits, and other common marital problems. Of course, sex conversations, like all other marital conversations, should be initiated by the couple. However, if they have an issue that they raise with other members of the church community, we should be willing to tackle it—including sex.
Ultimately, sex is one thing about humanity that I don’t imagine will go away anytime soon. (And if it did, we’d be in trouble.) God created and ordained sex as a blessing for married couples and we shouldn’t shy away from that. Another thing that I don’t think will be going away anytime soon is sin. Yet, I think that the church needs a reminder that sex itself is not sinful. Sex is blessed and ordained by God and too often we foolishly conflate sex with sin and we shouldn’t.
Why do you think sex continues to be a topic that’s off limits for married couples in the church? Share your thoughts below.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which can sometimes be difficult for single women who are still waiting for their “Boaz” to come along and sweep them off their feet. The story of Ruth and Boaz is arguably one of the greatest and most popular love stories in the Bible. It’s the story of Ruth, whose heart was broken after the death of her husband but healed by her faith in God. Ruth met the wealthy and kind Boaz while working in his field to “glean behind the harvesters” (Ruth 2). In addition to being protective of Ruth, Boaz admired her loyalty to her mother-in-law and her love for the Lord. As hardworking women of God, so many of us often dream of meeting our hard-working, loving—and sometimes wealthy—Boaz, but what are we doing in the meantime? Here are several things you could be doing while waiting on your own Boaz to arrive:
Complete Unfinished Projects
We all have them. Whether it’s that book you’ve been meaning to write or the new business you’ve been planning to launch, now is the perfect time to regain your focus and get it done.
Enjoy Time with Family and Friends
While in a relationship, it is so easy to spend all of your free time with your partner, leaving little room for time with family and friends. Call up your loved ones for a fun movie night, an impromptu girls night, or even a weekend road trip. Tomorrow isn’t promised, so spend those precious moments with your loved ones while you can.
Personal and Professional Development
There is always room for personal and professional growth, so why not start now? Sit down and make a list of all of your personal and professional goals. Perhaps your goals include going back to school to get your college degree, strengthening your relationship with God, receiving some sort of certification in your industry, or losing weight. Whatever your goal is, it is important that you also write down the list of tasks that must be completed in order to achieve those goals.
Read a Book
Yeah, we know. This may sound like an easy task, but in this day and age, taking time to sit down and read a book is easier said than done. Not only does reading serve as a stress reliever from our day-to-day lives, but it also allows us to educate ourselves on a variety of topics that we may have never taken the time to explore had we not been single.
Spend Time with Yourself
When was the last time you took yourself out to dinner? What about going to see a movie alone? Perhaps you should give it a try. Spending quality time alone is actually a great way to build self-confidence in addition to changing your mindset about needing a partner in order to have fun.
Take Time to Explore What You Really Want
Before jumping into your next relationship, now may be a good time to sit down and really figure out what it is that you really want in a partner. There’s a reason why none of your past relationships worked out, so perhaps it’s time to hit “pause” and really figure out what it is that you not only want in a partner, but what you actually need in a man.
What about you? What are some things you recommend doing while waiting on Boaz?