The epitome of black motherhood for me is Claire Huxtable, the beautifully accomplished matriarch of The Cosby Show. Her no-nonsense parenting style reminded me of my own Haitian mother and aunties. Now that I am a mother to two toddler boys, I find myself applying many of the same tactics I learned from my role models.
That’s why I am channeling my inner-Claire Huxtable to respond to the New York Times Opinion piece, “What Black Moms Know.” The article contends that we black moms, unlike our white peers, have done better jobs at raising our children because we’ve somehow escaped the pressures of the “mommy wars” and the frantic quest to make our children happy.
White mothers are to be pitied because they lack common sense, according to the article, while we black mothers are sitting pretty, assured that we have found the holy grail of good parenting. Oh, really now? By the second paragraph, the article had me arching my eyebrows over the apparent attempt to pit white moms against black moms.
The articles does all mothers a disservice in its attempt at race baiting. And I’m sad that the author squandered such a great forum — The New York Times! — that could have allowed for a nuanced discourse on black motherhood.
At a time when our country is shaking its collective head in sorrow over the loss of our young black boys and girls to police brutality, racial profiling and countless other traumas being inflicted on black families, we should be talking about the real issue facing black mothers. And, from my perspective, the real issue is this: as a black mother, I am scared for my boys.
I am scared for their safety at the hands of the police – many of whom risk their lives each day to protect and serve, but with outcomes that don’t always match their stated mission. I am scared my boys’ hearts will be broken when someone denigrates their talents and questions their brilliance because of the color of their skin.
It pains me to know that there’s a double standard for my boys. The numbers back me up. If they act out in the classroom, my sons are more likely to be punished, labeled as ADD, and needing remedial intervention, compared to their white peers. And once they’ve entered puberty, they are more likely to be perceived as threats – whether they are shopping at a department store or walking down the street of our own neighborhood.
Like all mothers, I pray for my children to be healthy, good and kind people. But as a black mother, I also pray for their survival. It’s not lost on me that this is why I am often prone to be more authoritarian in their discipline, and why I dish out the tough love to them, even as toddlers. I have to teach them self-respect, and self-preservation.
I am instilling in them the same work ethic my Haitian parents instilled in me, and which got me to where I am today, with an Ivy league degree and an MBA. But I also need to teach them that these middle class trappings will not protect them from the cross-hairs of racism.
We don’t live within the confines of a TV show like the Huxtables, and our collective trauma won’t be resolved after the next commercial break. That’s the real issue here. So let’s stop with the race baiting, and start a real conversation about black motherhood in America.
Marie Dauphin holds an MBA in Marketing from the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and a BA from Columbia University. She is a Management Consultant in Chapel Hill, NC, where she lives with her husband and two sons.