I laugh to myself thinking about the brief period in my life when I was ignorant of the inherently political experience of Black motherhood. In retrospect, I might even say I was oblivious to my surroundings.
Our history books and (hopefully) our school curriculum each hold firsthand accounts of Black motherhood through the centuries. There is no shortage of slave movies depicting a mix of abuse along with a cocktail of forces and stolen motherhood. So again, I don’t understand how anyone can say they missed it.
Black motherhood often feels like the inverse of “general motherhood.” In the United States, motherhood equals white motherhood. And that can be so damn alienating.
A lot of that is because we think the marginalization of the past ended with slavery. If you don’t see the ways Black women are still disproportionately impacted by legislation, you aren’t paying attention.
There was a time when I thought my blackness was the problem, not the racist ways motherhood is depicted. I believed that if I could just stop talking about race, the mainstream images of motherhood would welcome me with open arms, and I’d be grateful and happy.
Years later, I understand just how impractical a goal that would be. Not only is my blackness shaped by my motherhood, but my motherhood is also equally shaped by my blackness. There are moments when I look into my children’s eyes and realize that, had I been born at another period in time, they would have been taken away from me immediately after birth. And that realization shakes me to the core.
Let’s be honest, there are no shortage of barriers even today. We’re still at risk. Headlines of unarmed pregnant Black women being shot down by the police, and others of Black women being arrested for seeking the best education for their kids at any means necessary, show that we still don’t have the same benefit of the doubt given to white mothers.
I’ve always felt like the lack of perceived value for Black mothers grew out of narratives that suggested Blackness was a problem to be solved. Naturally, it makes sense the barriers and backbone of Black life — Black mothers — are continually criticized.
I wonder about a lot of things now. I wonder what experiences will rock my children’s world and leave them thinking, “If only I hadn’t been born Black…” Because I promise you, every Black person has at least one of those thoughts in their lifetime.
But when you have children the pressure is higher, from partnering to parenthood, every level of the process strongly impacted by systemic oppression. You have fewer options, you have fewer resources, and you have more fears.
Even those of us who consider ourselves “lucky” are constantly treated according to others’ perceptions of who we are. We are acutely aware of just how much race impacts our kids and, as a result, motherhood.
It’s knowing your child is more likely to be suspended. It’s remembering that your kid can’t play too loud, even in their own front yard, because people don’t expect a Black couple to live around here. And it’s knowing that mistreatment in the healthcare system leaves you at a heightened risk for dying while bringing them into the world.
It’s being aware that it’s assumed I’m doing it alone, even though I have a hardworking and present husband. It’s the assumptions that I’m “leeching” off the system and that Blackness has been tied to criminality.
However, the hardest part of Black motherhood is when you’re aware of all this and have to force yourself to parent and be fully present for your kids like none of this matters.
At three years old, my son loves saying “hi” to everyone around him, but there have been many times his excited “hellos” have been met with angry glares. I don’t have the strength to break his heart just yet and let him know how the world sees him. But it’s a fact that is always firmly planted in the back of my head. Would they have said hi if he wasn’t black?, I often think.
Black motherhood is having done everything that society tells us to do, but being afraid that it’s still not enough and that people will continue to make racist assumptions. Black motherhood is also internalizing those assumptions, and being angry, because those lies couldn’t be further from the truth.
Black motherhood is knowing that people assume you’re a single mom, ignoring the fact that you’re at home alone most of the time as your Black husband fights every day in the military for a nation that hardly sees him as a person.
Black motherhood is sitting by anxiously as your husband leaves to play card games on the weekends but having a nervous stomach due to fear that the smallest incident could cost him his life or his freedom, leaving you to do it alone.
Black motherhood is sitting in isolation as those you love don’t understand the mental and emotional consequences of living while Black.
But it’s not all bad. It’s also watching the excitement in your children’s eyes as they learn of the persistence and power in their bloodline for the first time. Not to mention watching as they choose to aim for the top in a society that counts them out shortly after birth and cheering as they make it.
It’s singing Black classics loudly when you visit loved ones, where everyone knows the notes to hit without cue and watching the kids in awe after seeing it for the first time. It’s seeing kids’ delighted smiles after you’ve transformed their crown of gorgeous hair.
And it’s love. An unwavering, persistent love that has grown from a place love was never intended to exist. But it’s not always strength, because there are many times it hurts.
Black motherhood is knowing that your ancestors would be tearful over the access you have to your kids. Black motherhood also means realizing that your ability to work from home, while challenging and annoying, allows you to interact with your children more hours than your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents probably got to do with their children combined.
As a Black mother, I take the good with the bad. I understand that while I am alone, I am fortunate to have been born at this moment in time.
And although I cannot single-handedly change the world that I live in, I can do my best to stop my fears from limiting my children … one greeting at a time.