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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.

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.


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