Black mother and daughter. “Untitled” by 5540867 from

On a Tuesday afternoon, over a Zoom video call, Shannon – the mother of two sons (24 and 17) and one daughter (10) – begins to explain what being a mother means for her. Her smile widens as she discusses the happiness her children bring to her life, while also highlighting her role as their mother consisting of attending parent-teacher conferences, assistance with schoolwork, providing financially, and overall making sure that they feel loved and supported emotionally. While these aspects of mothering are consistent with dominant notions of motherhood, the tone of the conversation shifted when I followed up to ask: “how does being a mom differ by race?” With her once joyful smile no longer visible, Shannon looks at me and says: I think for African American mothers, I think it’s pressure and the worry. We always had to fight. We always had to advocate. We always have to be ready. Shannon continues discussing how there is a constant preparation and hyperawareness surrounding the realities of anti-Black racism and the mistreatment of Black children, specifically as a Black mother, is central to how she mothers her children.

Black mothers have long carried the burden of protecting their children from institutional and interpersonal racism in the United States. Because of the incessant threat of anti-Black racism and racialized violence, racism and motherhood intersect to create a racialized context for Black women, specifically the utilization of hyperawareness – acute alertness of what it means to be racialized as Black for their children. Black mothers have developed a number of strategies stemming from their hyperawareness around their children’s experiences, such having “the talk.”

Black women, knowing all too well how race and anti-Black racism are inseparable from their mothering, engage in what Patricia Hill Collins refers to as motherwork – efforts to protect and empower their children in the wake of multiple forms of racism. Because the lives of mothers are so intrinsically tied to their children’s, Black mothers prioritize the protection of their children in efforts to mitigate the consequences of these experiences of racism. However, while Black mothers are being held up as pillars of bravery and strength, there is little recognition of the toll that their children’s experiences are having on the mothers themselves. Specifically, what is the cost of the hyperawareness of black mothers?

My research explores this question through in-depth interviews with Black mothers across the United States with children in adolescence and emerging/young adulthood (ages 10-24). From 2019 to 2021, I interviewed thirty-five Black mothers to discuss their children’s experiences of anti-Black racism, and how they perceive these experiences shaping the mother’s own well-being. In a recently published paper, I argue that hyperawareness surrounding their children is a major source of stress for Black mothers in the study. Additionally, this hyperawareness is not solely in the presence of tangible experiences (actualized), but also surrounding experiences of racism that have not come to fruition (anticipated). The stress that mothers identified experiencing would manifest through either an actualized event and rumination – replaying an instance of racism over in one’s mind, or an anticipated event and hypervigiliance – preparation or defensive action taken to mitigate children’s experiences of racism. Mothers identified the stress of this hyperawareness shaping their emotional, mental, and physical well-being. For example, Shannon (discussed above) described how having to constantly be aware of the racism her children have/will face impacts her mental health due to feelings of anxiety. Shannon says, “I think it’s stress. I think it’s anxiety…. You’re not relaxed…. I think that’s things that other people don’t have to experience.” Other mothers in my study described having crying spells, sleeplessness, and sweaty palms surrounding their children’s experiences of racism.

What is key to take away from this study is that, regardless of whether the experience was actualized or anticipated, mothers identified hyperawareness as a source of stress that shapes their overall well-being. Additionally, because many of the mothers in the study had multiple children and discussed the role of hyperawareness at various life stages (childhood, adolescence, and adulthood), the stress experienced could be chronic. Where much of Black maternal health and well-being conversations have focused on pre- and post-natal outcomes, this project more broadly suggests that we expand our understanding of Black maternal health to recognize the role of children’s experiences of anti-Black racism in shaping the stress burden of Black mothers over their life course. The chronic and persistent nature of anti-Black racism in the lives of Black families reveals the burdens of motherhood for Black women.

The hyperawareness Black mothers possess is a double-edged sword, allowing them to protect their children, but at the cost of their own well-being. In highlighting the burdens of Black mothering that often go overlooked, I hope to reveal the insidiousness of racism in the lives of Black families, and the pervasiveness of racism on overall Black maternal well-being.

Mia Brantley (@_MiaBrantley) is currently a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Sociology at The Ohio State University, and an incoming (2023) Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University. Her scholarship lies at the intersection of race, gender, and family within the context of health. Using a Black feminist lens, she provides insight into the multiple ways racism affects the health and lived experiences of Black families.