Hair Weaves For Little Girls

I don’t know if it rises to the level of an epidemic, but lately I’ve seen a number of little girls – as in, girls under the age of 12 – wearing hair weaves, wigs and lacefronts.

As black women, our hair issues begin at birth. We black mothers study our girls’ hair texture, waiting to see if those fine baby curls are going to “nap up.” Some of us start putting that baby hair into plaits, cornrows and ponytails as soon as our baby girls are able to sit up. If there’s not enough hair to comb, we brush it as best we can and put a headband on our girls’ heads, so everyone will know the baby is a girl and not a boy (strangers still get it confused, though).

I didn’t really know how to take care of a girl’s hair when my daughter was born. My mother did my hair until I graduated from high school. Although I didn’t relax my hair until law school, I wore it pressed from age 12. I had decided my girl’s hair would stay natural, but I had no idea how to style natural hair.

I was lucky to find a wonderful babysitter, a Mexican woman who taught herself how to care for my daughter’s hair. She styled my daughter’s hair in elaborate beaded cornrows and two-strand twists. Even after my daughter started school and we no longer needed her babysitting services, our former nanny still styled my daughter’s hair.

It never occurred to me to consider letting my daughter wear her hair out, loose, free. I was brought up that only white girls and girls with a certain hair texture – what we used to call “good hair” – could wear their hair out all the time. I shunned the term “good hair” but was still trapped in its mindset. I believed not combing my daughter’s hair would result in it getting tangled, matted, and eventually falling out.

I said complimentary things to my girl about her hair. I told her how wonderfully thick and curly her hair was and how much she should admire it. I bought all the right books and said all the right things to combat my girl’s jealous feelings towards classmates whose blonde and brunette locks swung down their backs. But my actions spoke to a different belief – that her hair wasn’t the right texture.

My daughter and I began having hair battles. I kept her hair washed, conditioned, combed and braided, but I could no longer fit trips to the nanny into our schedule, and I didn’t know enough cute natural hairstyles.

I gave up and took her to the African braiding shop. I thought I’d found the answer to all my prayers. Their cornrows were so perfect! Even without extension hair braided in, the style would last at least two weeks. With extension hair braided in, they would last even longer.

And so we continued down that steep, slippery slope of “your hair isn’t good enough.”

Continue reading “Hair Weaves For Little Girls”

Mothering Without Shame

Photo credit: thinkloud65

Written by CocoaMamas contributor Rachel B.

“I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”

There is not a black mother on Earth who has not said those words to her daughter.  They are said in anger, resignation, frustration and guilt.  We, like any and all mothers, want the very best for our daughters.  We want them to explore every possibility and to experience things that were beyond our reach.  We also want them to avoid the pitfalls, the traps and the trick doors that we befell us.  Instead of imparting to our daughters wisdom, we often give to them our shame and regrets.  We tell them if only we had listened to so-and-so, not gone to that place, stayed there, or hung out with those people, our lives would be radically different.  We are so quick and so sure that the blame lies entirely with us despite many of us being aware of our unique position at the intersections of gender, race and class.  If we had turned left instead of right or had looked up instead of down, life as we know would not be so hard.

We say these words to our daughters knowing that both black and white spaces endanger a black girls’ journey to self-fulfillment.  We know we are judged by a different set of rules.  Our actions, whether positive or negative, acquire a supernatural ability to exalt or demote the entire black race.  We are also keenly aware of the pervasive double standard that still in full effect in our own communities regarding the actions of black men/boys and black women/girls.  Black respectability politics have placed black women as the gate keepers of our culture although many of us resent it.  While teaching our daughters how to navigate a world that has a morbid fascination with our degradation, we seem to follow one of two paths; hanging our heads in shame or distancing ourselves from our pasts.

“I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”

What are those mistakes?  More often than not, they are sexual in nature.  We feel that we gave it up too soon, too easily, to the wrong person at the wrong time.  We tell our daughters’ we were hard headed, naïve, foolish, stupid and spiteful.  We found ourselves in a position where our private vulnerabilities became public shame.  We are so quick to assume and claim responsibility; we ignore the other very real circumstances that lead to make those choices in the first place.  It is painful to even remember that we had to have sex for survival, that those were in positions of power and authority took advantage of our lesser position.  If we had just listened, we never would have been in that car, in that room, at that party, with that boy, with those men.  If we had just listened, everything would have been ok.

If we are not using our shame to deter our daughters, then we are holding up as an admonition to our daughters those who seem to shamelessly embody the loose morals and decay of our culture.  The baby mamas, poor women, junkies, and the sex workers are plentiful and disposable warnings to keep our girls on the straight and narrow.  We point to them to illustrate what will happen if they don’t heed our warnings.  We may have pity, arrogance, condensation, disgust in our voice but the end result is that for our daughters these women and girls cease to be complex and complicated people and become caricatures.  Their “mess” highlights our accomplishments, refinements, education and position.

It is tempting to believe that if you just follow the rules, somehow you will be protected or at the very least buffered from the sexualized racism that is so omnipresent now.  We see the billboards stating that we are a danger to our children, read the “studies” that declare with  authority that we are not desirable, hear at any given time “hoe” and “bitch” out of thumping cars, while walking down the street, or as a “joke”.  We feel the pain, hurt, confusion, and helplessness though we do our best to be as dignified as possible.  We have to be dignified because we know that we are always being watched.  We look into our daughters’ eyes and see sweetness, innocence, intelligence and curiosity.  We watch them as they run and laugh impervious at the moment to the harsh realities of the world.  We as mothers want nothing more than to let our daughters have those moments but we also know the world will not allow such frivolity.  We don’t mean come off as harsh.  We don’t mean to be so judgmental or to suck our teeth at the girls who we determine to be “ghetto”.  We really don’t mean to hiss that “she” is a “fast ass” and predict she’ll end up in “trouble”.  When communications between ourselves and our daughters is at its worst, we yell out in frustration “You want to end up like her?!”

The reality is that no matter what we do or don’t do, black women and girls will continue to be under attack.  Although Mrs. Obama is accomplished in her own right, she continues to be exposed to some of the most vicious racist and sexist attacks.  A maid who was recently sexually assaulted in New York by one of the most powerful men in the world, bravely reported the attack, and underwent an invasive exam afterward has had her honesty questioned, her identity and that of her daughter exposed in French media and her role as the victim questioned.  Even where she resides has been tarnished as an AIDS building.  Even in death, black women and girls have to prove our worth to have justice served.

Our daughters will be the next generation that will be under attack.  They will be the ones who march, speak, protest, write, dance, paint, sing, and pray in creative protest.  They will have at their disposal their own talents that will enable future generations of black women to reclaim their narrative.  What will not help is shame or separation from their sisters.  When we insist that the fault was all ours, they internalize our shame.  When we use those who are the most vulnerable to as a deterrent, we make those girls the other.  What our daughters need is for us to be tender with ourselves.  When we look at our past with soft eyes, we do the same to others.  Our daughters will see that and not accept debts that they did not incur.  When our daughters are witnesses to our healing, they in turn will learn to do the same for themselves and others.

My Brown Boy?

Written by new CocoaMamas contributor HarlemMommy.  Welcome her to CocoaMamas!

As a Black woman, I was prepared to nurture my brown child.  Showering her with love for her complexion. Empowering him with the strength of his heritage. I had so many books about African-American heroes and trailblazers. Seriously, my grandmother got me a complete set. Lena Horne, Crispus Attucks, Oprah. My kid was gong to love himself, his people and his color.

My husband loves Dave Matthews Band. He played high school lacrosse. Yup, he’s white.

My son? Handsome as all get out and a smile that’s out of this world. Brown? Not so much. He’s Black. He must be; he’s mine.  He’s also my husband’s child. How do I nurture that?

In The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, the main character, Rachel, is often asked where she got her blue eyes. The question is intrusive, but not completely unexpected. The way her grandmother answers however is poignant. “You know Roger’s granddad had these eyes.” This is a lie. A lie told to “protect” Rachel from the white mother who tried to kill her as she herself committed suicide.

Rachel, however, sees the lie for what it is; an attempt to remove her mother, her whiteness, and her complications from her new life. This obviously pained Rachel. If you have to deny a parent, you have to deny a part of yourself.

There’s the rub. You can’t deny a child’s parent and expect the child to be unaffected. Whether you deny the Mom because she’s white or say negative things about Dad because he’s always late with child support.

So where does that leave me? Before meeting my husband, I had a good beat on the world. Biracial people are Black. Yes, race is a social construct, but if you’re Black and something else, then you’re Black. It’s cool to be Black and that’s how society will see you, so that’s who you are. Duh.

It felt good to know so much and not feel ambiguity about race. Then I met this white guy. Then I fell all in love. Now we have this impossibly adorable munchkin we get to raise into a man. A Black man?  Can I call him my little brown boy if he’s not that brown?

Would it be fair to my Scooba to tell him that he’s Black because that’s how society will view him? What if, because he’s so light, people view him as white? How would I feel if he identified as white? Is that “passing”? I would be devastated if he identified solely as white, regardless of how society views him. I would have failed him as a Black woman; as a Black mother. It would mean he was ashamed, that he felt Black was less-than. That he felt I was less-than.

Children are not carbon copies of the parent. You can set a foundation for a child, but he ultimately must get in where he fit in. But how would any of us feel if a part of us that we felt was fundamental to our being was not fully reflected or embraced in our child?

Can I expect him to identify solely as Black? To deny either his Black or white side would be unfair. So when he asks what he is, we’re going to say he’s Black and white. As for how society sees him? That’s society’s problem. Scooba has the right to define himself; as do all of us. President Obama identifies as Black and his white mother approved of this. Am I a jerk that I can’t be selfless and let my son identify as white if he wants to? I’m gonna be that jerk.

Husband and I need to work twice as hard to ensure he sees both parts of himself represented in books we read to him and the media he sees. This means we read Whose Toes Are Those and sing Sweet Honey in the Rock. He’ll see plenty of images of white people, so we’re covered there. We’re going to be extra vigilant not to put him in a box or let others do so either. Scooba determines who he is and where he wants to stand in the world. Is that naïve? Perhaps, but we are not post-racial, so race still matters; and I at least want to have a plan when it comes up. I will fortify my son to stand up for who he is and allow him the space to establish that for himself.

HarlemMommy is a breastfeeding, cloth diapering mother of one. She works with middle schools and loves to read. Her husband is very funny and they love to travel. She also writes at www.BoobsAndBummis.wordpress.com.

Black Teachers are Umm…Black Too

My mother is a teacher. She has been a teacher all my life, first at day cares and preschools, then at a family day care in our home. A few years ago, she began teaching in the public school district in Philadelphia. She teaches in an elementary school that is 96% black, with 95% of the children eligible for free or reduced lunch. The school is located in a high poverty, as well as high crime neighborhood. Children come to school with no supplies, sometimes no clean clothes, and often hungry. My mother and her colleagues often not only teach the children, but they feed and clothe them. My mother did not have to become a public school teacher. She chose to because she loves black children.

So when Joel Kline, the former head of the New York City Public Schools, and DropOut Nation, a blog that covers school reform, both criticized the NAACP for joining forces with the American Teacher Federation in their effort to close 19 NYC schools, I instinctively gave pause. Both sources made the claim that effectively said that the NAACP were “hurting black children,” who, in their opinions, the group was supposed to be protecting. The teachers’ union and the NAACP say the lawsuit is based on the fact that the City should be fixing the schools, rather than shutting them down. In their view, the City’s process of gradually phasing out the schools means that the students left behind inherently get a worse education than the students in the schools that replace the shut down schools. The City is also allowing charter schools – which notoriously do not have to hire unionized teachers – access to the facilities previously held by the phased out schools. The City argues that the unions and the NAACP is standing in the way of reform and meaningful student, and parent, choice, and that all the union cares about are teacher jobs. They consistently express their “disappointment” at the NAACP for failure to protect black children.

But aren’t black teachers black too? Continue reading “Black Teachers are Umm…Black Too”

Kids and Money

A few years ago, while visiting the home of a friend, I noticed a book on her kitchen counter about raising kids without a sense of entitlement.

It made sense to me that this friend would have such a book. She and her husband, both professionals, are doing well financially. I didn’t think to copy down the name of the book, because I didn’t think I’d ever find myself in their situation. I was still suffering the financial constraints of the newly divorced. “My kids know we operate on a budget,” I said to myself – and by budget, I meant we generally were living paycheck to paycheck. It never dawned on me that my kids would see our situation as anything other than a struggle.

Fast forward five years. My oldest child, my 14-year-old daughter, is now a teen. Like many teens, her tastes exceed my budget. She wants to wear designer jeans. Shopping is a hobby or a fun pastime. She also loves good food (no Mickey Ds for this kid), concerts and Broadway shows.

Nothing wrong with any of that. I raised her to have good taste. Still, there are practical limits to how much of this I can fund. Continue reading “Kids and Money”

From the Crates: These Are My Confessions

originally posted January 2010

The following is an abridged and edited version of a post I wrote more than a year ago, but I thought it was fitting for a Mother’s Day post.

I am not a good mother. At least not by the standards that have been set up for the current generation of a certain ilk of  mothers. A generation who is expected to place their children at the center of their universe, and make all decisions about their adult life revolve around what is supposedly best for the child. A generation that is expected to sacrifice their own happiness to make sure their children are happy. A generation that has been fed the idea that having children is a choice, therefore if you choose to do it, you must accept all the self-sacrificing consequences that go along with it. Continue reading “From the Crates: These Are My Confessions”

Is the high black abortion rate a problem?

I’ll spare you the suspense: I think not. Now read on for the rest.

Here’s my position: I’ve never had an abortion. And I don’t think I ever will. I have friends and family who have. I am staunchly pro-choice. I was kind of pro-choice before having children. I am even more so after having children. It’s a responsibility only those who truly want to do it should take on. We don’t support parents in this country. And arguments about all the people who want unwanted kids are BS. Look at how long kids stay in foster care. 

So here’s the deal. As I regularly troll the internets for stories about black children and black mothering, I came across this op-ed from Dennis Byrne, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, commenting on the billboards across the country that try to shame black women into not having abortions. Although he is neither black nor a woman (his words), he thought it his (duty? calling?) prerogative to comment on the “high abortion rate among blacks.” Here’s the gist:

Political correctness and ideological dictates discourage discussion of the culture of some black communities as explanative of violence, ignorance, high rates of abortion and other dysfunctions. But for those communities, culture is described by the growth of a matriarchy, as displayed by the many grandmothers raising their daughters’ children. By the absence of men in child rearing. By men who prey on young women who have never learned what to expect from decent, caring and responsible men. By the collapse of the family and the destruction of men’s and women’s traditional, balanced roles in making children strong enough to resist the challenges of today’s broader culture of irresponsibility, casual sex, substance abuse and other plagues.

In this op-ed, Byrne rehashes an old, but reborn, theory: that there is something intrinsic to black “culture,” independent of any outside factors, that accounts for the disproportionate numbers of abortions in black communities.

This makes my blood boil. One, because as a scholar who studies culture, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

First: on culture. Byrnes defines culture as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group.” Um, not quite, homie. Where do these beliefs and behaviors come from? They don’t just spring forth from the middle of the earth, waiting for people to adopt them. Culture is not “created” nor does not exist in a vacuum. Culture is both responsive to and part of shaping structure; many sociologists, such as myself, explain culture as the opposite side of the coin to social structure. The growth of a matriarchy (which is largely a myth, I believe to demonize black women) and the dearth of men available to actually father their children are events, happenings; they are not culture. Nor did not happen outside of the influences of social structure. Many factors colluded to affect that outcome: collapse of manufacturing industry; subsequent high rates of black male unemployment; mass incarceration; felon disenfranchisement; the crack cocaine epidemic.

Culture reflects options available within a given social structure. Yes, people make choices, and they have agency. But agency is not what we think it is as total free will, ability to choose anything and everything. Culture reflects what one BELIEVES to be their options, what one can do with what one is given. So black “culture” can never be defined as one thing, one way of being, one way of behaving. Because we live in a myriad of structural positions, and some of us have options that are not available to others and vice versa. And among the options, some of us choose #1 and others choose #4 and so on.

THIS is not all there is to black culture, despite the moniker...

The “collapse” of the family structure is less to do with any possible independent effects of culture than with the structural effects of class. As I’ve discussed here before, a class structure that allowed for families of any configuration to make a decent living would have more time for child rearing. A school system that did not grossly and blatantly favor wealthier children over less wealthy children would be one in which all women could be educated enough to take care of themselves, and not fall “prey” to vicious and violent men.

If you want to change how people behave, you need to change their options. You need to change what is available to them. You need to change their structural reality.

And two, if the pro-choice side is the “right” side, why should we care about disproportionality?

Making arguments about cultures connection to disproportionality makes clear that true intentions are to get rid of the option to abort altogether. For if you are pro-choice, do you even care about disproportionality? Or rather, should you? If you believe that anytime a woman gets pregnant but for some reason – any reason – does not want to go forward with that pregnancy, she should have the right to choose to end the pregnancy, then every abortion should look the same to you. Regardless of the race of the woman. Disproportionality then appears to be that black women are having more unwanted or mistimed pregnancies, but are also using this option, the option to terminate, more than other women.

This can be interpreted multiple ways, but I’ll offer two that I find the most liberating. First is that black women are more aware of their reproductive rights, are more in tune with what they do and do not want, and are more willing to choose to abort. If you are pro-choice, this doesn’t seem to be a problem – black women are, in not the best language, taking advantage of exactly the right Roe v. Wade stood for – the right to make a decision about your body without anyone else second-guessing you or interfering. Calling these numbers a problem feeds into the idea that black women are not capable, or are somehow ignorant (or culturally deficient), of making this decision for themselves.

Second, this can be interpreted as other women – white, Latino, Asian – are not as gender liberated as black women. Bryne in the article above – as do many men – lament the “matriarchy” in the black community as a disruption of “balanced” gender roles. Who said gender roles had to be balanced? Instead of considering that black women are having too many abortions, maybe women of other races are having too few. In other words, women of other races are less willing to have abortions when they actually would choose to under different structural circumstances. Again, with culture as the flip side of structure, women of other races may feel as though their options (culture) are limited, despite Roe v. Wade, given their structural position.

This is not to say that black women do not experience and live under patriarchy. They absolutely do. But the facts are that black women are less likely to marry than other groups. Not being legally bound to your oppressor is sure to make a difference.

Spoken from a sociologist who studies culture: If you want black women to stop having abortions, if that is your true goal, you need to change their world. You need to make it so that there are no reasons for why a pregnancy would be unwanted or mistimed.

A billboard does not change the world. It just pisses people off.

Hey Michigan: These Are Children

Are you: Homeless? An ex-con? Pregnant? A single mother? BLACK? POOR? In foster care? Well, then watch out – you are a prime target for being denigrated, disrespected, and dehumanized in Michigan.

Not only are homeless women being arrested and charged with larceny for enrolling their children in the wrong school district in Connecticut, but several states away in Michigan, single, pregnant, and Black teen moms have been arrested in Detroit for staging a sit-in in their school to protest the fact that it will be shut down at the end of the school year.

Sarah Ferguson Academy is one of the only schools in the country that educates pregnant teens and teen moms. This schools raises its own money through its agriculture program – a farm, in the middle of Detroit. 90% of its students go to college – any college, somewhere, anywhere, and get money to go there. This school makes sure that these children – because they are still children – are getting an education, learning how to be parents, making a better life for themselves and their kids.

But now that Michigan state has taken over Detroit – yes, they’ve taken over the entire city – a “dictator” has decided to close a bunch of schools, including this one, unless a charter organization agrees to take it on. And the charter can do with it whatever it wants, which means either way, this school will probably close. But these girls value their education SO MUCH that over Spring Break they organized a sit-in, and occupied their school to protest the dictator’s decision.

And what does the state do? Arrest them. (Please watch the video here. Watch the police officers manhandle pregnant teens and turn on their sirens to drown out their shouts.)

***

It’s not only in the schools. A state senator, in order to save money, recently introduced a proposal to restrict foster children in their apparel choices. For their clothing allowances, which nationally are only about $200 a YEAR, Sen. Bruce Casswell would propose that this money could only be spent in thrift stores.

Yes, you read that correctly. Foster children would only be allowed to purchase used clothing. Apparently since this Senator never had anything new as a child, neither should children who are not living with their biological parents and are in a limbo state of extremely stressful uncertainty.

[pause]

Update: After the story went viral, the good Senator amended the proposal to say that the children could buy new clothes, but wanted to make sure the gift cards they received would only be used for clothing and shoes. Because of course, foster kids can’t be trusted to only by clothes. They might spend it on candy and soda.

I’m sorry, but Michigan is coming off like a state that hates children. Poor and/or black children to be specific. And it pisses me off. What about you?

What you can do:

Donate to cover the girls’ legal fees

Contact the good senator

Mama Media Monday

There is a lot going on with cocoa mamas in the news every week, so I’ve decided to set aside Mondays to talk about a few of them. Here’s what’s up this week:

Many Moms Have Kids With Different Dads, U.S. Study Finds

Apparently over a quarter of all women who have two or more children have these children with two or more men. For black women, this rate is 59%. And, according to the article, the trend is across demographics of income, education and marital status – even married women who work and are not poor have more than one father for their children. But what irks me about this title, and the rest of the article, is how mother-centric it is. It does take two people to make a child, does it? I mean, if this is true for women, mustn’t the same be true for men? Why isn’t the title “Many Parents Have Kids With Different Partners”?

Almena Lomax dies at 95; civil rights activist launched Los Angeles Tribune newspaper

I’d never heard of Almean Lomax, and I think that’s a damn shame. This trailblazer was a journalist unlike any other, who is notable not just because she started a black newspaper of incredible importance to black folks in the 1940’s and 1950’s, but because she was unafraid to do what others would not.

“She was a terrific writer…the only one of all the black newspapers at the time who really was fearless about exposing things as they were. She didn’t soft-pedal anything,” said veteran civil rights lawyer Leo Branton Jr.

Not only was she fearless in her writing, she was fearless in her life. After her divorce in 1959, she moved her SIX kids – ages 4 – 16 – from L.A. to the deep South so she could cover the height of the Civil Rights Movement from the ground, much like war reporters do now. According to the article and her children she regretted it later, because of the trauma that such racism left on her kids. But I admire her willingness to get in the trenches, so to speak. Often I wonder about the impact we can make from the outside looking in. While we want to protect OUR children, are we losing something – being selfish even – by not being in physical solidarity with the most oppressed among us? Or is our selfishness justified, as long as we use our outsider status to the utmost in service of those in the war? What does that utmost look like?

What’s Really Behind Black Child-Abuse Stats

A new study debunks the long-held belief that racial bias by those who report abuse is behind the disproportionately high numbers for black children.

I don’t read The Root on a regular basis, and this article* is an example of why. The article is about a report that  supposedly debunks a myth that racial disproportionality in child abuse statistics are largely driven by racism or racial bias. The report is supposed to say that instead black parents are disproportionately more likely to be cited for child abuse because black parents are more likely to be poor.

But the problem with this Root article is that it never tells you how the report debunks the myth. How did the researchers get from “there is no racial bias in how professionals judge was is/is not abuse” to “it’s all about poverty”? The article gives me no reason to believe the report, except that the Root says that the report debunks the myth. Isn’t the point of the news to digest the information for me, so I don’t have to read the report? The Root has this kind of shoddy “reporting” and writing consistently; I really cannot understand why black folk continue to read it or take any stock in what they have to say. I understand that media outlets for black news are few and far between, but we have to be able to do better than this.

Do you all have any news about black mothering or black childrearing to share? Send it to me or post it in the comments!

Have a great week,

LaToya

*I actually have a lot to say about the report itself, but I’m going to save it for another post, later this week.

Reclaiming the Narrative

Written by CocoaMamas contributor Rachel Broadwater; a version of this first appeared on Love Isn’t Enough here & here.

After years of black motherhood being equated with abandonment and neglect, it was pure joy to see the Obamas walk across that stage to accept the nomination and then the results of the election.  Those nights – and those ever since – have been an affirmation for those of us who were what they are: A strong, loving, playful, and spirit filled African American family.  The Obamas, of course, are not the first nor will they will be the last, but they are in the here and now, tangible and concrete.   It is important to note the Obamas – including Marion Robinson, First Lady Obama’s mother who has been hailed by both of them as being instrumental in the development of their daughters – deserve every bit of praise.  It is clear that they not only are extremely devoted to their children but also to their own relationship.  If there were to be a soundtrack for the Obama family, it would be Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me off My Feet”.

They are the flip side to the many single black women – grandmothers, aunties, sisters, and every other in between – who are indeed mothering under siege.  These examples seem to be the only dots on the spectrum.  For those of us who seem to embody the Obama model it can be a lonely, isolating and conflicting experience.

I am a 34 year old mixed race woman – Puerto Rican father and African American / Cherokee mother – who identifies herself culturally as an African American- who mothers 2 amazing little girls: my daughter, 8, and my niece, 9.  I have been married to an awesome guy for 10 years and on our second wedding anniversary our daughter was born.  I work in pharmacy, a profession where there are more women than men.   Because of this, I would find myself in conversations with the pharmacist- sometimes white but frequently themselves or their families hailing from the Middle East or South East Asia – about parenting.  There was almost always a look of surprise and wonderment when I would talk about the regular every day struggles of mothering.  I could almost see the thought bubble: “Oh my God she is just like me!”  Usually at some point in time they would admit to being pleasantly surprised at how devoted I and my husband were to our girls.  I was different, you know, unlike “those other” parents.  Meaning “regular” black people.  I would insist that every mother regardless of race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, socioeconomic or marital status wants the best for her child whether they have the resources or not, and I was not, in fact, an anomaly.

But I admit that I do feel invisible. There are very few mediums where black mothering is normalized.  Normalized brings to mind for many a two parent, heterosexual, often Christian family.  That is not what I am talking about.  I mean I want to see black and brown mothers in advertisements for safety systems, breastfeeding campaigns, and educational enrichment pitches.  I want to see sensitive portrayals of black and brown women as being nurturing, caring, responsible, patient and concerned about their children.  I would no longer have to endure a picture of a black child automatically followed by these or any combination of words: challenge, crisis, chaos, dangers, death, neglect, and dysfunctional.

To black and white people I did right.  I got married then had children.  “You are a good mother” they nod approvingly.  It’s like because I married when I married that I automatically get 500 points on the SAT’s of parenting.  Why should that be?  There is so much discussion concerning the ills of out of wedlock mothering in spiritual, economic, and emotional terms.  Single mothers have their actions shredded apart.  People feel it is justified by pointing to the high incarceration rates, poverty, violence etc. but is it any more right for a married woman to have a baby to save a relationship? Is it right for a married couple to bring a child into a household where the father is emotionally distant or even cruel because of their own unresolved demons?  There might be a temptation to point out that society “pays” for out of wedlock children but don’t we “pay” when children are conceived under the matrimonial fairy tales that don’t work out.  But there are a whole lot of ways to pay for a baby.

There seems to be a concerted lack of nuance in the discourse in both white and black spaces. If white spaces don’t acknowledge my presence black spaces insist only on the respectable.  In a way I can’t say that I blame them.  Slavery did not allow for slaves to be recognized as humans much less families.  Even if an enlightened slave master allowed for slaves to be married, it was never legally binding.  At any time these two people, who chose each other despite the pure hell of slavery, could be separated and sold along with any of their children or told to mate with another salve who had their own family or did not and simply had no desire to breed.  When freedom was won the majority of slaves legalized their marriages.  They may not have had much but they had each other.  Literally.

So against that backdrop it is no wonder when pastors look out into the pews of their church and see the couple sitting next to each other, an arm draped across their partners back, maybe with a child or two on either side, maybe in between, they are not necessarily seeing patriarchy and submission.  What they see is a stone in the eye of the naysayers who use charts, polls, and studies to prove that these people sitting in church on a Sunday morning don’t exist.  There is no doubt that something pulls at you when you see a couple married for 40 plus years helping each other put their coats on.  It is pride, love, joy, hope, an abundance of every bit of positive energy in the world.  It is also tempting to stay rooted in that energy.  It is so warm and wonderful.  It makes me believe that I too will be in that number.  To believe that this is the right way, the only way, the best way.  But I can’t and I won’t.

Poor mothers do not automatically equate poor mothering.  The No Wedding, No Womb and Marry Your Baby Daddy/Mama movements although conceived with good intentions have left so many important threads blowing in the wind and it seems like few are interested in catching, examining and then tying them together.  Lack of comprehensive, fact based sexual education, the denial of mental health services (both in idea that it is needed and actual services), the lack of safe spaces or even language for men and boys to discuss their own feelings that are not steeped in patriarchy and the sustained unwillingness to deal with the effects of physical, mental, sexual and emotional abuse and how that affects interpersonal relationships all impact both parents and children alike.

The first step to correct this is the insistence that black women take back their own maternal narrative.  Take it back from whoever is mishandling it, whether the person is wearing a three-piece suit, a black dress with pearls, pastoral robes or jeans and t shirt.  This is your story.  You and your child’s.  There will be laughter and tears.  There will be slammed doors and cuddles on the couch.  There will be fear and certainty.  There will be clarity and bewilderment.  These things will happen at different times or maybe all at once.  Doesn’t matter really.  When you tell your story I will sit down and make myself comfortable, ready to listen to you.