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Black Mothers Missing Once Again from Palin Debate

Whenever there is a mommy issue in this country, be it working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, maternity leave options that aren’t from the Dark Ages, or parenting advice, black women are decidedly not in the mix. Lately, as you know, there’s been a lot of brouhaha over McCain’s vp pick, Sarah Palin. She reportedly went back to work three days (oh lawd!) after giving birth to a special needs baby and now has a pregnant, unwed teenage daughter. Now I won’t even get into the fact that if this was Michelle Obama, not even someone actually on the Obama ticket, that it would be bye-bye Barack. That’s another blog. Or the strange fact that even with the teenage pregnancy issue very few media outlets have sought out a black voice–you know how they love to come to us on that one. What’s most disturbing for me is that while the Palin debate over work/life balance, family values and what makes a “good mother” has easily crossed party lines, it hasn’t crossed racial lines. Black women are once again not included in this nation’s Mommy conversation. Trust me, I sit here everyday trying to break into the club, and it ain’t easy. I see it as my job to bring our voice to that conversation, and many days it feels like a losing battle.

So what’s the problem? For one, as I see it, while many white mothers have the luxury to debate the work or not work thing, we are simply too busy working. We don’t have time to engage in philosophical wrangling about being a mother, we are just doin’ the thang, often juggling single parenthood or our many civic commitments too. And until very recently, black women have not even been afforded an opportunity to choose between staying at home or working. And those relatively few of us who are technically “at home” are still working our tails off–trying to get our side hustles off the ground or giving our all to our businesses.

But more strikingly, I fear that black women are still viewed as breeders not nurturing mothers, women who “end up” mothers and not those who choose and embrace the path of motherhood. Hey, we’re too busy rolling our necks, cussin‘ or smacking up our kids to take part in esoteric conversations about enacting legislation that supports mothers. We aren’t seen as the thinkers in this mommy movement, much akin to the views about why black men can’t be good quarterbacks. We’re just the runners on the field, trying to catch a ball and score our personal touchdown.

Instead of being respected as an important perspective in shaping the future of all mothers in this country, working or not, they’d rather us stay focused on what we should do: make sure our children don’t become future criminals, gangsta rappers, dog-fighters, teenage mothers, or welfare recipients. Our hands are full, let’s leave the policy making and big picture idea-shaping to someone else.

Heck, we’re not even in the research. Last year, I co-authored a book for a west coast non-profit, Giving Notice: Why the Best and Brightest Are Leaving the Workplace, (Josey Bass) and spent an inordinate amount of time studying the research of Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who’s done a lot of highly-regarded work on working women using “off ramps” and “on-ramps”, that is, choosing to leave their careers to care for family responsibilities and then coming back. As I analyzed the data and studied the anecdotes, it was obvious that it was woefully lacking the black woman’s perspective.

The last bit of blame falls on us. We have to speak up. We too want the best for our children, better maternity leave options, and flex-time schedules that aren’t career killers. We can learn a little sumthin‘ from our Caucasian sisters here–if they have an issue they will create a community, live or online, in a minute. They will speak up, they will march, they will be heard. Maybe Hewlett invited a bunch of sisters to a focus group and we didn’t show up (too busy trying to pick up the kids and get dinner on the table, I suppose). We can start by viewing our voice as important and demanding to be heard. We can start by rallying together.

Ladies, I’m starting a black mommy movement. And I hope you will join me. Stay tuned.


7 Responses to “Black Mothers Missing Once Again from Palin Debate”
  1. s0uls1sta says:

    I am with you 100%. Whatever we have to do to get our perspective included in the discussions, please count me in!!!!!

  2. Bossy1 says:

    I think that we have gotten so used to not being heard that we sometimes forget that we have a voice. We have to first realize that our voice is not being heard and then, we have to speak louder and more often to be heard.

    I am fortunate to be expecting my first child and it was amazing to me how many people I work with asked if it was a “surprise”. A surprise? Do you know how long I have been trying to get pregnant. But, that feeds into your point that our world is still so stereotypical. Regardless of my achievement, I am still seen as a Black woman and Black women “end up” pregnant instead of planning a pregnancy.

    I will probably never be a “Hockey Mom” like Gov. Palin, but I might be a Soccer Mom or a Gymnastics Mom or even a WalMart Mom, but whatever type of mom I become, I want my voice heard. I have the same concerns all other moms have. I want my child to be a productive citizen that will do good in the world. I pray that Barack and Michelle make it to the White House, because that will force the world to see how “we” do it. With the Obama’s as an example, I HOPE the country will see that we are no different than any other families.

  3. Joyce The Writer says:

    I am so glad that you brought up how invisible Black mothers are in these broader conversations about really much of anything in the media. They’re always running to us when the topics are about something super-negative or stereotypical (mothers on welfare, mothers of children killed by gang violence, you know). But like you said in your Mocha Manual blog (which I LOVE), when it comes to issues like healthcare, education, and the war in Iraq, we’re either considered unimportant or we’re not considered at all. You would think that with visibility of Michelle Obama being the type of involved mother that she is and with the numbers of black mothers who are holding it down by themselves at home, there would be more outreach for our opinions about issues that would improve our lives. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that while there has been progress in the most visible areas of media, in many cases the real decision makers are still not as diverse. If you’re not at the table, you don’t get heard. So, while some of us have been trying to get our voices heard for years, more of us have to not only understand that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but act on that knowledge and get out there and advocate for the issues that are important to us. Thanks for raising this issue.

  4. venecia says:

    I’ll join you! You are completely right about the whole Palin issue. As quickly as I heard about Palin’s pregnant teenage daughter is as quickly as I didn’t hear about it anymore. I’m a single mother myself (mother of an 8 month old) and I made the decision to work from home as a freelancer for McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. so that I can stay home with my daughter. I was very fortunate to be able to this, but because I am not guaranteed work on a consistent basis I started my own business from home as well. We black mothers can do anything we set our minds to do!

  5. modernmom says:

    I totally agree with you on this. Black moms are so misrepresented!
    I am a stay at home mom of a 2 year old. I recieved my B.S 3 months before she was born. I have been staying at home with her while my fiance supports our household and when I tell people that I don’t work they look at me like the idea is just unheard of. If a white women stays at home she is applauded for giving up her career to focus on her kids. I personally hope that black moms working or not will join together to make a positive impact on our society. Please count me in!

  6. TeeJaysmom says:

    Let’s do it. It is very refreshing to read your blog. As a new mom, I want the best for my child and I want my black voice to be heard. I have opinions and ideas too. Thank you!

  7. irreplaceable says:

    I’m in! Let’s do it! I’m ready to be heard. I’m just as concerned about sustaining my career and being completely available to my family.

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