As Black History Month comes to a close I’ve been reflecting on the history of black women as mothers. Thinking about our legacy as the women who tirelessly carried our families and communities. Mothers who didn’t listen when the world said we were thoughtless breeders and our children were mere commodities to be bought or sold.
In more recent history, black mothers have been publicly shamed as crack mothers, welfare queens and the face of "baby mama drama." Black single motherhood is blamed for all sorts of social ills from crime to drugs to "wilding" teens. And black mothers are often represented in popular culture as neck-rolling domineering household managers who run circles around our men.
Let’s face it. The historical misperception of who we are has not been very flattering.
But I’m asking you to stay true to what you know: These stereotypes are very far from the truth. In truth, black women today have redefined black history and created a new conversation about our roles as mothers. For example, when I watched the Brady Bunch and Happy Days and reruns of Leave It To Beaver, the subtle messaging was that being a stay at home mom and catering to your child’s every need was a white woman’s pleasure. Black women have always worked–as slaves, as cleaners, as teachers, as doctors, as lawyers. Even our TV mamas (Claire Huxtable included) always worked outside the home.
Today more and more black women are stay at home or work at home moms (myself included), we have robust national organizations like Mocha Moms http://mochamoms.org/ to support women who are making motherhood their career (even if just for a few years or so).
We have a First Lady who epitomizes everything modern black motherhood is about, career success, loving partnership and commitment to being the mom-in-chief of your own family command center.
This shift in our motherhood experience may seem subtle, but in the framework of our history, it is groundbreaking. And thrilling. It not only speaks to how far we have come as a people, but how far we have come as black mothers, who went from having no control over our children to taking control of our children, our lives, and our families’ financial future. We now have varied and different motherhood experiences yet we still know we are doing important work that goes well beyond our home.
Yet, there is much work to do. We still need to increase our breastfeeding rates, to give our babies the healthiest start in life and improve our own health as mothers. We need to demand answers to why our maternal death rate is double and is some urban cities seven-times that of our white peers, and start questioning the quality of care we receive.
As we celebrate our history as black Americans, we must protect the next generation of black history-makers currently growing in wombs across the nation. And we must demand better care for the mothers who bring them into the world.
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