If Google predicts its auto-completed search terms based on their popularity with users, one has to wonder just what exactly black mothers have done to the world.
When you Google the phrase "Black mothers are..." the first autopopulated result is "...the worst," followed by "...abusive," and then two questions wondering just how many of those black mothers were single. (There is no equivalent for white or Asian mothers, though the term "Hispanic mothers are" pulls up "in Hispanic families mothers are respected as healers.")
The results are telling of the dated perceptions around black women and their families. They slap of racist rhetoric and stereotypes that can be traced back to the Reagan era's trumped-up welfare queen -- the myth of single black mothers who saw their numerous children as nothing more than taxpayer-subsidized paychecks -- and "crack babies." Add to that a number of other race-based social phenomenon that stole the headlines in the past (inner city violence, black-on-black crime), and you can begin to see just how the idea that "Black mothers are the worst" came to be.
Sadly these caricatures haven't grown dusty with age and disuse over the years. We've seen them pop up again and again, most recently in viral "news" stories such as the swearing "thug baby" video captured by Omaha, Nebraska police and cellphone footage of a woman tossing her daughter aside to fight a complete stranger on a bus.
These disturbing cases should be treated as the outliers that they are, and not indicative of who black mothers are. mater mea, a website I founded, was created to provide a more realistic picture of black motherhood. By highlighting the stories of women who are managing the work-life balance question plaguing many women today, the site hopes to show that black mothers aren't the best or the worst -- they're just simply mothers.
When I asked Jodie Patterson, the co-founder of hot beauty startup DooBop and the married mother of five children, to fill in the "Black mothers are" blank, she said:
"Black mothers are real women with a vision for their families... We see ourselves as hardworking, loving [and] intuitively smart. We are protective of our families and we are explorers of the world. I can't give you any words for how society sees us, but I can write a book about how we feel and that may or may not be in line with society. The most important answer to that is 'How do we see ourselves?'"
So here are a few new and more accurate choices to fill out that sentence:
Black mothers are devoted.
Crystal Davis-Black, entrepreneur, married, mother of Elijah.
Black mothers are playful.
Timberly Whitfield, television personality, married, mother of Raina and Gabriel.
Black mothers are serene.
Mengly Hernandez, stylist, single, mother of Ousmane.
Black mothers are joyful.
Kamara Thomas, musician, married, mother of Cherokee Moon.
Black mothers are capable.
Christal Brown, dancer, single, mother of Gabriel.
Black mothers are present.
Staceyann Chin, poet, single, mother of Zuri.
Black mothers are wise.
Wangechi Mutu, artist, married, mother of Neema and Wathira (not pictured).
While it took decades to create the "bad black mommy" portrait, perhaps showing black women as they truly are will go a long way in filling the blank with something good.
How do you fill in the "Black mothers are" blank? Tell us in the comments.
All photos by J. Quazi King