Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Unsung Motherhood

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It is rather unusual for me to tear off on roaring, spontaneous tangents. In fact, I am fairly level-headed about most things, although I am known, by those who know me best, to go full-throttle into too many projects that I have too little time for. I am the venerable multi-tasker, mistress of my own design, insomniac mommy numero uno -- and also a black, stay-at-home mother who has discovered yet another societal glitch that needs monumental fixing.

Everything commenced innocently enough when I decided to do a simple online search for print magazines that focus on black motherhood. I readily admit, near-snobbish bibliophile that I am, that I do enjoy, from time to time, hunkering down with a blithe glossy replete with all the fixins: bold, bright fonts and banal titles, airbrushed photos, and even cliché celebrity interviews.

I was attempting to track down some magazine -- any magazine -- that centered on black motherhood irrespective of the trite "superwoman" archetype heavily promulgated by mainstream magazines sized for black women. I was looking -- now, I know, naively -- for a printed publication that emphasized the tenderness and nurturance of black motherhood, not the tenacity and savvy of black womanhood. After hours clicking away in search engines (I do not give up easily), developing swirly eyes the size of tea saucers, and discovering that black mothers are still devalued in our society, I folded and came away empty.

I do realize that it is a rather heavy assertion to make -- that black mothers are not valued in America. But my findings, although scant, do not conclusively prove otherwise. In fact, my recent foray into search engine purgatory yielded nothing less than failure and irritation on my part, as well as a sobering absence of magazines and even websites for black mothers.

To my credit and to quell all suspicions, I did attempt several basic, yet presumably on-target keyword combinations to locate black mothering magazines and, yes, I also did advanced searches. I literally found nothing except a few black parenting magazines that turned up in the rubble.

Those who are familiar with parenting magazines understand that they are an entirely different genre and have an entirely different focus than publications that center on mothering and motherhood. Parenting magazines tend to be bright, overly informative, and nauseatingly optimistic, while motherhood magazines tend to be smooth and subtle in a romantic-maternal-reflective sort of way (precisely the thing I was looking for).

Even after performing a basic search for information and websites for black mothers sans any mention of "magazine," I still unearthed nothing. But I did find enough information to complete a PhD on everything from low-birth rate and HIV black babies to the desperate state of black welfare and single black mothers. Oh, and lest I forget, the plethora of porn sites that kept popping up without ceasing. There were probably more porn sites than anything else that came up in my many searches, but I suppose I should have expected that, given the history of black women and racial-sexual stereotypes.

What I am getting at is there is a noticeable dearth of positive information, resources, books, periodicals, and websites about black mothers on the Internet, save a few random, self-published sites by a minute smattering of black mothers and a few books that show up in online bookstore inventories. When I simply searched for print magazines for black mothers, I found nothing. That I can handle. But when I searched for websites tailored to black mothers, black mothering, and black motherhood (something that in my mind should exist), I found mostly academic studies and statistics about what is wrong with black mothers and how "bad" black mothering adversely affects black children.

I will venture to say that my Internet findings are a mirrored representation of what is available off-line, in the real world, as well as a direct indicator of the devaluation of black motherhood in our current culture. I have to rely on my findings, then, that what I am asserting is indeed true; that because there are no websites or even basic information about black mothering on the Internet, then that must mean mothering for black women is not only disparaged in our society, but even to some extent, degraded.

This is not true for black womanhood, however. The catalyst that really flared this entire tirade is when, for curiosity's sake, I typed in a search for black women. I found a mass of seemingly endless sites about black women scholars, black women's health, black women entrepreneurs, black feminists, black women corporate leaders, black women writers, black women physicians, black women entertainers, black women's magazines, and everything else in between.

This plainly says that while society has elevated black women as strong, tenacious, and firmly in control of their own lives, it has conversely relegated the role of the black mother to the back seat of the bus, and since I am one -- a black mother -- I'm fairly upset about it. Being elevated and esteemed as a black woman means nothing, if as a mother, I am marginalized. I am not a lettered scholar, but as a conscious observer of the state of black motherhood in America, I can say that black mothers are neither lauded nor praised, but -- based upon society's perceptions -- perceived as being kept in a box riddled with hurt and despair.

Being a black mother in today's society is fraught with an overwhelming prevalence of negative connotations and crippling stereotypes, the likes of which probably cause most black women to embrace the "superwoman" image of black womanhood and reject the perceived vulnerable image of the modern black mother. I, for one, am an ordinary black mother. I am not enmeshed in baby-daddy drama nor am I navigating the court system trying to collect on long overdue child support (two classic Black family dynamic stereotypes). Both of my children (gasp) even have the same father, to whom I am loyally married.

There are tons of ordinary black mothers out there just like me although they do not all stay at home full-time. We listen to, read about, and watch dynamic black women in our society all of the time. But we perceive them as women first and as mothers a far distant second, when we should perceive them as women and mothers simultaneously.

History tells us that ever since black women stepped foot in America we have never been regarded as mothers in the ideal and pristine sense of the word. During slavery, we were valued only for our labor and reproductive capacity. After slavery, we were valued largely for our necessity to be domestics and mother other people's children. History and society working in tandem, therefore, expelled black mothers to a state of unsung motherhood; a place where black women could not afford nor had the time to revel in the exhilaration of motherhood or even reflect upon it. They were too busy working and playing mother to others.

To a large extent, black women are still only valued for labor and productivity purposes. Even today in many cases, as in generations past, it is not until black women become grandmothers do they have the time to enjoy the rich simplicity of nurturing a child, but that is far too late.

My opinion may seem awfully exaggerated and even an assessment based largely upon the role of black mothers seen in Toni Morrison's novels, but it is not. What I am saying has merit. The only difference is, modern black women, with the incessant urging of society, black pop culture and with an excess of opportunities at their feet, are so bent on exalting womanhood and sistahood, even parenthood, that they are content leaving motherhood behind.

I want to read black mothers' birth stories and black mothers' take on bonding, baby carriages, bed-sharing and breastfeeding, not always how to maximize your 401K or how to recognize if your man has a penchant for cheating. Ideally, I would love to see a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly magazine about black motherhood. I'll even settle for a semi-annual.


Jennifer James is a stay-at-home, freelancing mother of two living in North Carolina. The founder and director of the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance, Jennifer has appeared on BET Nightly News and the Korean Broadcasting System and has been interviewed by Reuters, The Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, and The Boston Globe. Jennifer is also the publisher of Mommy Too! Magazine, an online magazine for at-home mothers of color. She hopes to one day see it in print.


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