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The Experience of Black Motherhood

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13 mins read

Are Black mothers being placed under a more intense lens and if so, what inspires this push to hold such expectations for Black women to be good mothers?

Photo credit: Getty Images

A “Good” Black Mother 

In 2014, the Times wrote an Op-Ed titled, “The Impossibility of the Good Black Mother,” by Tope Fadiran Charlton, who spoke about the experience and struggles in her position as a Black mother. In it, she recounts a car ride she received from a white mother who, at the end of the ride, asked if her child’s father was “in the picture”. A question she felt would not have been asked if not for her race. 

“I want to appreciate that multiple possibilities for family are being acknowledged. But I’m keenly aware that my race is likely the reason such possibilities even occur to her. And of course, my family situation is hardly the concern of someone I’ve only just met,” Charlton said.

Mother of two and contract recruiter Pamela Jones, who is a mother of a nineteen year old son, stated that in her experience, there is a  certain level Black mothers are expected to adhere to. She felt that because of this standard, she felt that what her son did would ultimately be reflected upon her. 

“I just felt held to a higher standard with everything just how I raised him and how he presented himself. I felt like everything he did you know, I felt like people reflected on me, you know, how he was, which, you know, may or may not really be the case. You know, that’s kind of how I felt,” Jones said.

This pressure to reflect a certain image of durability can be backed by a paper titled, “The Superstrong Black Mother,” by Sinnika Elliot and Megan Reid, which argues that Black mothers, if viewed as good, are meant to exemplify strength.

Initially emerging from Black communities’ valorization of Black mothers’ intensive efforts to raise their children and shield them from the dangers of living with racism and poverty, the superstrong Black mother image now dictates the terms of good mothering for Black women: be strong and be solely responsible,” Elliot and Reid said. 

The pressure to uphold a certain standard is something that Jones finds impacts the way she goes about existing in a predominantly white area. 

 

“I felt like I didn’t want to be the loud mom at the basketball games, or I didn’t want to speak up too much because I didn’t want to be looked at a certain way, you know, from the other parents and things like that,” Jones said.

 

April Nicole, owner of Nicole Paradigm Media(a public relations firm) and a mother of two daughters (24 and 15, respectively), stated that with the diverse education she has provided them comes diverse situations, resulting in her conducting herself in a certain way.

“You have to keep up this facade. And not even that it’s completely opposite of who you are. But even just living as a black woman, we have to adjust when you know when in the presence of non black mothers or not black families. So I’ve had to deal with it all of my life. Even before I became a mother just being in diverse situations,” Nicole said. 

 

Photo credit: iStock Photo

The Stereotypes Surrounding Black Mothers

Nicole states that to her, single Black mothers are pre-judged.

“If you’re a single black mother, there is this stigma of your single black mother, you’re on government assistance, you don’t drive a nice car, you don’t live in a nice home,” Nicole said. 

 

This is backed by the concept of the “Welfare Queen,” a stereotype that was present during the Reagan administration. This extends from the life of Linda Taylor, who committed welfare fraud through the 70’s. In an Op-Ed, LA Times writer Noah Remnick states that the “mythology,” of the bad Black Mother ignores that this is a result of the system Black women are in. 

“Like all mythology, that of the criminally bad black mother spread through storytelling — lurid tales told with bitter resentment. Haven’t you heard the one about the jaywalking mother whose son was hit by a drunk driver? Surely you know all about the homeless mother who left her two children in the car during a job interview. And now there’s the McDonald’s mother who abandoned her daughter at the playground,” Remnick said.

This same concern, or more aptly acknowledged by Charlton, who stated she felt being a “good mother,” was never something she could be.

“I could never be the Good Mother; I knew this long before I had a child. Had I not, the experience of parenting my daughter under the appraising eye of whiteness would quickly have disabused me of any illusions that I could be one. From the pediatrician’s office, to the grocery store, to the streets I call my own, it is not the myth of the Good Mother, but that of the Bad Black Mother, that renders my motherhood at turns invisible and suspect,” Charlton said.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Parenting As A Black Mother

The expectations that come with Black motherhood can also affect the way that Black mothers parent, and what is ultimately passed on to their children. As Jones points out, she had to teach her son what to do when being pulled over by law enforcement. This is referred to as “the talk,” and according to one article, this has become such a norm that one mother did not even have a discussion about what she was going to do.

“The talk” for me was — how can I put into words? — normal, which should not be normal. It’s a very sad reality. I remember not even having to discuss with my husband, “We’re going to sit down with Quintin and now we should have a talk at this moment in time.” It wasn’t something we just said we’re going to put on the family calendar and plan it out,” Querida Walker said.

 Nicole stated that an aspect of Black motherhood for her was also teaching her daughters about racism they will encounter in their predominantly white neighborhood. 

“I’ve had teachers that have been racist towards my child, I’ve had a teacher called my child ghetto. And these conversations and you have a teacher calling your child to get on your checklist, five or six years old, they have no idea what’s going on. Why are you saying this? What does this even mean? So, it’s a lot of trauma that ends up just kind of being overlooked. And you have to teach these things. You have to deal with these situations,” Nicole said. 

ShaJherika Whitfield, a mother of three and owner of Everchanging Motherhood stated that she also works to teach her children about the racism they will inevitably encounter, while still maintaining their innocence. 

“I think just, trying to teach them certain things without making them see everyone in the world as a bad place- still trying to maintain their innocence, but also wanting to teach them boundaries with other races and boundaries with themselves and being comfortable with who they are, especially with so much going on right now. Like the pandemic and a lot of police brutality. You know, it’s really hard to navigate that as a black mother-that can be a huge challenge,” Whitfield.

Photo credit: Medium

What We Can Do

As for what can be done to support Black mothers (particularly those who are single) Nicole suggests having more conversations and having therapeutic sessions, forming spaces where Black mothers feel safe speaking about their difficulties. 

“I think there’s more conversations that need to be had. I think therapeutic sessions where single black mothers can get together-doesn’t have to be specifically therapy. But, group sessions, situations where girls can gather and women can gather and they can have these conversations in a safe space and share these conversations with each other,” Nicole said.

It seems as if strides are being made towards support for Black mothers, with groups such as Black Moms Connection, a support group centered around “increasing the social, emotional, financial, and well-being of the Black family.”  There is also Akina, an app that, according to their site, was designed by mother of three Leigh Higginbotham Butler to create a safe space for Black mothers, aunts and caregivers connect. 

 Whitfield stated that she believes focusing on ingratiating diversity and being mindful of the way that we speak about single mothers.

“I know it’s like a cliche thing. You know, because businesses always talk about diversity. But I think it also means, not just talking about diversity, but actually  implementing diversity and that’s not just race, because I think being a single parent as well is a whole class of its own. There are way more challenges that a single parent is going to experience. I think it could be not automatically assuming if there’s a single mother like, “Oh, what do you need help with, money? Because it may make a successful single mother feel attacked, like, “Oh, I’m not poor just because I’m a single mother”. I think it means having people around that know that experience, and that can talk to that person. Because sometimes we just kind of talk, and we don’t really think about what we’re saying and it can come off as a microaggression and that’s not necessarily intentional. So I think implementing diversity and not just kind of putting it up on a poster board would definitely make a difference.” Whitfield said.

 

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