Photo of a black woman holding a black child on her shoulders.
Photo from Max Pixel CC

Black women have faced decades of public scrutiny for their mothering practices. From their reproductive health decisions to their selection of romantic partnerships, Black women are often deemed responsible for disrupting the traditional (patriarchal) Black family. In a recent essay in The Nation, writer Dani McClain argues that these cultural wars against Black mothers have led to the politicization of Black motherhood, where Black mothers socialize their Black children to resist tropes around Black criminality, laziness, and undeservingness. In fact, according to research cited in the article,

“out of 17,000 families with kindergartners, parents of color are about three times more likely to discuss race than their white counterparts. Seventy-five percent of the white parents in the study never or almost never talked about race.”

McClain further draws from Black feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins to illustrate how Black mothering resists white expectations of the traditional middle class nuclear family. For example, politicians and policymakers alike have used higher rates of non-marital births in Black communities to suggest the real social problem is Black women’s lack of marital commitment to Black men. Yet, Collins argues that Black mothers instead rely on “other-mothering” as a form of social support. “Other-mothering” involves “a system of care through which black mothers are accountable to and work on behalf of all black children in a particular community.”

The intergenerational message among Black women, then, is one of patriarchal rejection, where social welfare policies such as improved work conditions and quality healthcare (rather than heterosexual marriage) become the strategies to counter the effects of poverty. On this point, Collins writes,

“Since Black mothers have a distinctive relationship to white patriarchy, they may be less likely to socialize their daughters into their proscribed roles as subordinates.”