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Is My Mommy Experience Like Yours?

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While you may hate me for saying it, my life as a black mother may be way different from yours.

mother and daughter

Kimberly Seals Allers: Last week, Essence.com published an interesting commentary on whether or not black mothers have a harder time raising their children than white moms do. It was a great read. For some time now, I've been declaring that our experience as black mothers is indeed very different. It's been an often-unwelcome statement -- as you may know if you frequent my postings here. (I'll never forget my first memo on the matter to the momlogic community -- and the, er, colorful responses I received.)

But my passion to help black women become powerful parents (even given our unique challenges) is real. It's what inspired me to leave my fabulous job and become a champion for black moms by building MochaManual.com -- the ultimate parenting resource for black women. So I'm ecstatic to see more voices joining the discussion.

I loved this comment by Lawson Bush, author of "Can Black Mothers Raise Our Sons?": "There's certainly less room for error when raising a black child. The need to be more precise and correct is more pressing to us. You can't let them go off to school without having a conversation about what the school is telling them about themselves. We have to be in charge and vigilant on every level because they're constantly being bombarded with negative concepts: 'Think badly of yourself; think of yourself as a gangster. Think of yourself as dead by 25 -- or in prison.'"

As black mothers, we have a lot of extra work to do combatting negative stereotypes, teaching our children our complete history and preparing them for the world. And for us, the stakes are extremely high.

When you look at some of the statistics (especially the eye-popping ones presented in the Essence piece), you can clearly see what the challenge is. Statistics such as, "One in four black men will enter prison at least once, compared to only one in 23 white males." Or, "Three in 100 black males entering kindergarten will go to college." Or, "Sixty-nine percent of black children in America cannot read at grade level in the fourth grade." You know that something needs to change. The truth that our children's reality is very different from white children's is a truth that must be told. It must be shouted, accepted and addressed -- not criticized. 

I was even more excited to see the robust commentary that followed on the Essence site. There were comments on all sides of the issue, and some tough love on the single-parent epidemic in our community. That's real, too.

At the end of the day, the solution is multifaceted and cannot be squarely blamed on single mothers, deadbeat dads, politics, racism or any other societal ill. Finger-pointing will get us nowhere fast. When one of our black children fails, it is our collective failure and the ripple effects can reach you regardless of whatever gated community you may live in. I hate to go all "High School Musical," but we're all in this together.

But what I am most delighted about is the conversation. All I ever wanted to do was to start a conversation about our motherhood experience -- and there are times when I've felt like the Lone Ranger on an unwelcome mission. But as long as the dialogue keeps going, there are sure to be collaborations and solutions that follow. I can only hope that others continue to join in.


26 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous March 6, 2010, 5:18 AM

Actually, don’t feel like the lone ranger. You do have unique challenges that us Anglo moms don’t always have. I teach in a school with both black and white children almost equally mixed. I have some wonderfully behaved, educated black students. It’s an endless battle to keep these angels on the straight and narrow path. There are so many black children with challenges and struggles based on not the way they are born but rather on the environment in which they are raised. They come to school with the attitude that you described… try to be a gangster, school is for losers, etc. You get the idea. They try like heck to get the black children with a positive attitude to turn to their way of thinking. It’s almost like a game to them. And I’m talking about seven year old kids. They make fun of the kids if they “act” smart or respectful. These poor kids are caught in the middle of wanting to respect the values of their parents and teachers and wanted to be accepted by their black peers. More often than not, the peers win out. It breaks my heart because I know how hard their parents are trying to break this cycle of “learned failure” and they have so many obstacles. My heart is with you on this one.

marie March 6, 2010, 10:44 AM

Alone?? No. I just found your site and boy am I grateful. The challenge to raise African American children that are smart and respectful not only to others but to themselves in a society that tells them they are not worthy is difficult For my son in school the bar is set low. We want him to aim high. The expectations that he will fail are obvious from his teachers. My daughter is represented in school as a high achieving African American student versus just a high achieving student.
Their race is recognized before anything else about them including their personality or intellect. That experience is unique to both the African American and Hispanic race. Keep championing your cause regardless….it is both necessary and essential to our children’s future.


jeanne March 6, 2010, 2:58 PM

Don’t feel like the lone ranger!

It’s slightly off toppic, but as a white mom, I was recently paging through books for my daughter and realized that so many of them featured blue-eyed, blonde children like her. I was struck by how difficult it must be for parents of color to find books their children will identify with when every single face staring back at them from the shelves is white. Considering how much we turn to books to help teach our children life lessons, how important it is to raise readers … it’s yet another reason I agree with your post!

Alise March 6, 2010, 7:25 PM

Why do you hate to go all “High school Musical”? Because it’s about smart white kids?? Get real.

Anonymous March 6, 2010, 10:40 PM

To Marie- you said “My daughter is represented in school as a high achieving African American student versus just a high achieving student.” I am a white mom, but that ticks even ME off! I would see no reason to bring her color into the equasion… Makes it sound like instead of being a high acheiver among all of the students, she is simply a high achiever among ‘her group’. I would definitely not be pleased with this!!

And to Alise- I think your comment is ignorant. I don’t get the impression AT ALL that that was what she meant by it… Not to mention HSM is hardly an all white cast… I think you just wanted to find something to turn into a racist slip on her part, I also think you failed.


Mandy March 6, 2010, 10:41 PM

To Marie- you said “My daughter is represented in school as a high achieving African American student versus just a high achieving student.” I am a white mom, but that ticks even ME off! I would see no reason to bring her color into the equasion… Makes it sound like instead of being a high acheiver among all of the students, she is simply a high achiever among ‘her group’. I would definitely not be pleased with this!!

And to Alise- I think your comment is ignorant. I don’t get the impression AT ALL that that was what she meant by it… Not to mention HSM is hardly an all white cast… I think you just wanted to find something to turn into a racist slip on her part, I also think you failed.

Carissa March 7, 2010, 2:28 AM

I’m not a mom yet but I think I can speak for my mother on this one. I was raised in a small pretty much all white town. The only black kids I knew were my cousins who lived two hours away.
My mother used to have to spend hours consoling me after visits to our family because of how they treated me. Both kids and adults in my family would comment on how I “talk funny”, “act too white”, or say that I was too stuck up (I was really shy around them for obvious reasons). Some of them even had the nerve to try to “teach me how to speak.”
I know it couldn’t have been easy for my mother trying to make me feel better about myself and keep me focused on what’s really important in life. So thank you to all the moms out there trying to do right by their children!

Monica March 7, 2010, 1:56 PM

I agree with Carissa and Anonymous Mom on comment # 1. I grew up in South Central LA but was always bused out to better schools (college prep) on the west side of town. The schools weren’t all white but mixed. Some of my black peers did think that it wasn’t cool to use proper grammar or to be smart. I got teased because of it. Not that I was that smart but I always believed in using proper grammar. One time I remember talking on the phone to a friend of a friend who I hadn’t met in person and getting asked if I was a white girl. I told them “no, that’s not what I see when I look in the mirror.” It was an insult that always followed me around. Anyhow, I noticed in school that some of the smartest people were the one who would always act up in school. While getting in trouble they always managed to have A’s and B’s. So really it was just a rouse to look dumb and still stay cool. And for some reason I still don’t understand where that mentality is coming from. Who is teaching them this? Does it come from parents? Does it originate with some parents. It can’t all be from their peers? I never understood what was so bad about being a educated young black scholar? Black parents do have a tough job of breaking that old mentality (‘Slave mentality’ is what I call it, in this case that showing other people that you are smart is not cool. Whereas in slaves days showing white people that you are smart could get you in trouble or dead. Same thought different perception.). They have to show them that they are just as good as anyone else and that being smart and using proper grammar is not a matter of ‘acting white” but being human.

michelle March 8, 2010, 10:32 AM

Great commentary. You are a forgiving person, Ms Allers! I’m a white mom and I am so embarrassed and mortified by some of the comments on momlogic. I cannot believe how many white people are perfectly ready to start crying “reverse racism” at the drop of a hat, as if somehow African Americans now have the upper hand in society and are busy victimizing white people. Or they will get offended that race is being brought up at all — insisting that racism is not the issue at play and people are just making it up to get special treatment (because God forbid any white person should ever confront any sort of reality or feel the least bit uncomfortable). This is preposterous on every level, as well as painful to witness.

Anonymous March 9, 2010, 6:26 AM

Kimberly, so much of your writing is just racist. As a Jewish mother I have issues you Kimberly will never understand. White mothers have issues you will never understand. Latina mothers have issues you will never understand - We could do this all day long. SO instead of being devisive why not say the truth - being a mom, of any race, color or creed is no easy task!

As for this quote:
One in four black men will enter prison at least once, compared to only one in 23 white males.” Or, “Three in 100 black males entering kindergarten will go to college.” Or, “Sixty-nine percent of black children in America cannot read at grade level in the fourth grade.”

If you don’t want your son in prison, raise him not to commit crime. If you want your child to go to college, raise him to go to college. If you child cannot read, get him help. DO NOT BLAME RACE. Seriously, I was the ONLY white kid (jewish on top of that) in my neighborhood - pretty much if you were black in my neighborhood you were going to college because it was free. In my office now if you are a minority and less qualified you get the job because in government work you have to have the right percentages. Why don’t you write about your advantages instead of all your poor me it’s so hard trope you write in EVERY article you put out? I’m just tired of every one being a victim and put upon but not taking any responsibility for themselves.


Jamie March 9, 2010, 10:41 AM

Amen to the last Anonymous post!!! As a white mom…with a white daughter…who has a white father…she was literally taken out of a HUGE range of scholarship possibilities because her white parents were still married. HOWEVER, on every single scholarship application we filled out…if I were a black single mom then the opportunities were endless for financial help. So my child has learned that being married, making good grades and having both parents live in the house will go unrewarded… But be a single minority mom and the world is your academic oyster.

Miss Jay March 9, 2010, 10:44 AM

Jamie, we went through the same ordeal two years ago with our son when he applied for college. If you were a minority, and from a broken home, you were “awarded” tons of financial packages. But God help you if you were white and your parents were still together. It was so frustrating we ended up taking a loan out on out house to not deal with the bureaucratic nonsense. Affirmative action is alive and kicking, and it is ridiculous.

anonymous March 9, 2010, 10:46 AM

Michelle and Mandy, wake up.

Leah March 9, 2010, 12:11 PM

Amen to anonymous, Jamie and Miss Jay
Being a mom is hard period.

I like anonymous am Jewish. I come too was one of the few white families in my neighborhood and when it came time for college I was even told by student loan officials that because I was Jewish I couldn’t possibly need money. There were no scholarships for me, even though I got excellent grades (4.0 plus college level courses). In college I had women in my class who because they were “minority” (aren’t all women?) by showing up they were guaranteed a “pass” - regardless of the work they did.


I’ve read a lot of the writers articles and they really are quite racist and poor me. But seriously, how many of us are getting paid to sit around and write a blog? I just wish she would take a look at how many opportunities she and her children get simply because of the color of her skin.

Anonymous March 9, 2010, 1:25 PM

Did anyone in the last few comments really look for and apply for scholarships? There are so many out there that are NOT based on race or disadvantage. I did a quick search on a scholarship website before posting this. An 18 year old female Caucasian senior in high school with a 3.5 GPA who doesn’t work, belong to any clubs, etc, can get 56 different scholarships. And that was a quick search without anything more specific about them.
Yes, race has it’s unique challenges that anyone outside can’t imagine. However, don’t be so quick to judge others just because you didn’t do your homework! The writer was pointing out the struggles of black mothers not everyone else under the son.

Anonymous March 9, 2010, 1:39 PM

To the Jewish mother above: Yes you have to teach and raise your children but you forget one thing. Parents are not the only people children learn from. You could never swear around your kids but they are sure to come home one day and say a curse word. When you ask where they heard that word from it’s going to be a kid a school or the guy across the street or whatever. Parents have very little control over what children are exposed to once they leave the house. My mother raised me very well and I still did things that if she found out would shock her.

Jamie March 10, 2010, 5:07 AM

“An 18 year old female Caucasian senior in high school with a 3.5 GPA who doesn’t work, belong to any clubs, etc, can get 56 different scholarships”

This is untrue, as a recent college grad I can assure you - if you are white, you are NOT getting scholarships regardless of you GPA/Activities. I had a 4.0 (plus college-level courses during high school), president of two clubs, played a sport, extensive volunteer activities and worked part time. There are ZERO scholarships specifically for caucasians only - because that would be *racist*. There was a time and a place for minority specific help but those days are loooooooong gone.

Julie March 10, 2010, 5:16 AM

Since causasians are now the new minority (go check out msnbc - 2010 minorites are the majority) does that mean as a white mom I can write an article about everything black and hispanic moms wouldn’t understand? Nope. I hate this separatist attitude - all moms have a very difficult job. I think its the child (since they are all different) that determines your parenting experience- NOT the color of your skin.

michelle March 11, 2010, 1:21 PM

Aaaand you all just proved my point: that you are so uncomfortable and angry when it comes to race that you will do whatever it takes to claim that it either doesn’t matter or you are just as much a victim. Such BS. BTW, to all the Jewish moms, I am also Jewish and I am embarrassed for you. I’m smart enough to recognize that my experience as a mother is going to be profoundly different from Kimberly Seals Allers’s. In this country in this age Jews are considered white and we rarely experience prejudice the way African Americans do. So spare me the whining and the false equivalency. By the way, I’m white with married parents and I still managed to get plenty of scholarships, plus need-based financial aid. And the minority kids at my Ivy League college did not get a “pass” for showing up to class. WTF? Phi Beta Kappa does not have racial quotas.

Imagine Mom March 11, 2010, 1:25 PM

Can you even imagine if there was a Miss White America??? There is a Miss Black America…that is perfectly ok. But IMAGINE the uproar if it were the other way around.


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