Mothering While Black: Are Black Moms Held to a Higher Standard?

August 15, 2014  |  

I don’t know about anyone else, but as a Black mom it feels as though I’m always mothering under a microscope. As a solo parent, I’m keenly aware of the stigmas I face simply by walking into a classroom, playground, or any public space with my son. At times, I feel like I need to assure folks that I’m not a stereotype—I’m educated, a professional, not on public assistance, and my super-bright child isn’t out committing any crimes. But the fact that I even feel it’s sometimes necessary to roll out my parenting (and life) bone fides is problematic at best and downright tiring at worse.

Let’s face it, Black moms often get a bad rap. Many—both inside and outside of our community—seem to take pleasure in passing around disparaging memes, trotting out stereotypes of loud, ghetto moms, and wagging their fingers at the out-of-wedlock birthrate, which conservative columnist George Will said was Black folks’ “biggest impediment” to success (I guess underfunded schools and structural racism don’t count, good to know!).

While many would accuse me of hyperbole, one look at the recent spate of news stories about Black mothers tells a different story.

Back in March, Shanesha Taylor made national news for leaving her two children—ages two and six-months-old—in a car during a job interview. Although Taylor tried to secure childcare for the day, her plans fell through and she took her children with her. Taylor was arrested and her children were put into child protective services, a move many found unfair. After national outcry, the charges against Taylor were dropped, but not before many questioned her parenting abilities. Like many women, she was trying to make the best of a myriad of bad options and it cost her dearly.

Another Black mom who found her way into the media spotlight is Debra Harrell. Harrell, a McDonald’s employee, was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to play in a park unattended while she worked nearby. While many shared Harrell’s story, adding that their parents also let them roam around alone, she was charged with neglect and her daughter was removed from her custody. Like Taylor, Harrell was trying to do the right thing and provide for her child. Instead of being connected to childcare programs and child services for intervention, her child was taken away and thrown into an already overcrowded foster care system.

Parenting is not easy, and mom guilt is something many mothers deal with every single day. But Black mothers are often placed in boxes that inform the way they’re supposed to behave. To non-Black folks we’re often seen as subpar moms responsible for producing society’s problem children. For Black folks, we’re told to be strong, rigid, belt-wilding parents lest our children fall victim to the worse stereotypes about our community.

From the rampant criticism of Beyonce for her daughter’s hair to the outrage over Jada Pinket-Smith allowing her children “too much freedom,” it seems like Black moms—both married and single—are often held to unreasonable standards by Black folks and non-Black folks alike.

But what happens when you just want to define motherhood on your own terms? 

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