By: Domonique Henderson
Many Black mothers worry that if they do not raise their children perfectly along with teaching them how to maneuver inside and outside of Black spaces, their children will never be safe. When African American mothers have concerns about having children because the depth of their melanin brings about fear, discrimination, inequity, and hatred, we have to step back and conceptualize how America is failing Black mothers. How often do you hear a white mother say she’s afraid to have children due to concerns that they may be gunned down in the street for walking to the liquor store or pulled by their hair and slammed to the ground in class by an officer? These are not the primary concerns of those outside of the African American community, and to some, not a concern at all. Most African American families explain to children how to interact with the police in elementary school or the early years of middle school. However, we do not hear much about white, Asian, or LatinX families having discussions about how to act or respond when around officers to ensure they arrive home alive. Conversing about racism, discrimination, and inequity are topics that often come up within African American homes. Black mothers have to teach their children how to respond to the ugliness in America, but are other ethnic groups teaching their children how to end it? The Black mom should not be alone in teaching their children how to respond to racism. Mothers of other ethnic backgrounds should join in restructuring our social system where Black people are not alone in defending themselves or others who experience racism. They can take the first step, by teaching their children why racism, discrimination, inequity, and stereotypes are absolutely unacceptable.
It is imperative to recognize that the introduction to stress on African American mothers does not begin after seeing two pink lines on a white stick. It begins in their childhood, observing their female identifying mother(s), grandmother(s), aunt(s), and cousin(s) around them exhibit strength, power, and resilience. If we take each Black mother in America and envision their childhood, we would color a picture that depicts them experiencing psychological/emotional victimization at 31.6% and sexual abuse at 42.1% (Pereda et al. 2009). This vision of their youth would color 40% of those Black mothers experiencing sexual coercion by the age of 18 along with heightened levels of arousal, hypervigilance, and symptoms associated with anxiety and depression due to racial trauma (Black Women & Sexual Violence – National Organization for Women 2018; Henderson et al. 2019). Their childhood would sketch oppressive messages which lead to internalizing negative attitudes about themselves, which has been associated with symptoms of depression (Davis Tribble et al. 2019; Jerald et al. 2017). The trials of their childhood would paint complex hues of red, black, blue, and purple to highlight the pain, loneliness, sadness, and resilience faced by their ancestors from slavery which led to detrimental effects from generational trauma passed down to them biologically and socially as children. Living through some of these trauma statistics, stereotypes, struggles of being a double minority, inequities, and outright neglect from society is a lot to process before motherhood and only exacerbates following motherhood. Giving birth to a child with a golden chocolate complexion and childlike dreams to become a crime stopping veterinarian also comes with the fear that society will view them with adultification bias, as less valuable, unworthy of life, dangerous, ghetto, ugly, and unintelligent. That mother then asks, how could society continuously refuse to give Black little kids with dreams of becoming a crime stopping veterinarian, Black Panther, or the president of Disneyland an equal chance to succeed? How can I, as a Black mother, protect my child and prepare my child for a life in a country where they are not valued even as a basic human being?
The answers to these questions can only be answered through the actions of all people in society, especially those in the position to influence change. Society has had decades of dialogue
about how to support the African American community, especially Black mothers, but at what point to tap into our courage where we shift from dialogue to action? Supporting African American mothers can be as small as mothers of other ethnic backgrounds teaching their children why racism, discrimination, inequity, and stereotypes are absolutely unacceptable. Supporting Black mothers can also look like providing spaces and groups for them to lean on other Black mothers for support and advice. Advocating for Black mothers can look like speaking up for them or their child when a co-worker, friend, or family member, participates in the cycle of racism, discrimination, inequity, and stereotypes. Encouraging doctors to listen when pregnant or current mothers with children express physiological and psychological pain is a great way to support Black mothers. Advocating for policies that protect and include Black mothers is a great way to support Black mothers. Another way to show support is ending the expectation that they can or want to do it all alone while on their motherhood journey. What society contributes to Black mothers; they will receive from Black mothers.
Despite the weight placed on African American mothers, we still see them show up and display resilience time and time again. There may be hardships and fear about raising a Black child in America, but one thing that can always be said about Black moms is their unyielding determination in raising Black men, women, and gender queer folks who are unapologetically Black. Black mothers have raised children who have graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), become physicians, nurses, attorneys, inventors, educators, activists, community leaders, CEOs, non-profit organization founders, actors, musicians, researchers, and the list goes on. Although society is failing Black mothers, it does not mean Black mothers are failing their children or in society. Historically speaking, America has always needed Black mothers and will continue to do so because their power, strength, originality, and presence is unmatched.
This literature is dedicated to Tracy Zimmerman, Norma Johnson, Mary Louise Henderson, Shanika Hood, April Irving, Katovia Reeves, Ramona Zimmerman, and Erica Causey.
Below is a link to a dedication video by Domonique Henderson, to Black mothers, for Mother’s Day:
Black Women & Sexual Violence – National Organization for Women. (2018, October). https://now.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Black-Women-and-Sexual-Violence-6.pdf.
Davis Tribble, B.L., Allen, S.H., Hart, J.R., Francois, T.S., & Smith-Bynum, M.A. (2019). “No [right] way to be a Black woman”: exploring gendered racial socialization among Black women. Psychology of Women Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684318825439.
Henderson, D. X., Walker, L., Barnes, R. R., Lunsford, A., Edwards, C., & Clark, C. (2019). A Framework for Race‐Related Trauma in the Public.
Jerald, M. C., Cole, E. R., Ward, L. M., & Avery, L. R. (2017). Controlling images: How awareness of group stereotypes affects Black women’s wellbeing. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(5), 487–499. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000233.
Pereda, N., Guilera, G., Forns, M., & Gómez-Benito, J. (2009). The prevalence of child sexual abuse in community and student samples: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(4), 328–338. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2009.02.007.
Photo credit: Norma Johnson and Domonique Henderson.
Photo credit: Tracy Zimmerman and Domonique Henderson.