It's become a part of the American narrative to see a black mother mourning in front of millions, usually she is begging for change and for justice after her black son, husband, partner, and/or daughter was gunned down by police. The list of things you can be murdered for as a black person in America continues to grow longer and longer each day, and my own fears as a mother mount each time I learn that a black man is shot while doing exactly what he should have when pulled over, or when a woman knows her rights during a traffic stop. There is no accurate way to describe what being a black mom in the U.S. is like right now. I look down at my hands and wonder why the skin covering my body is so threatening. I look over at my children playing and notice that my son's legs have gotten longer and a new fear washes over me. He's getting bigger. Taller. Stronger. He's growing up. And that means the way people around him see him and treat him is going to shift. I hate this.
I've started to talk to my children about the dangers that could await them in hopes that doing so will help them live and will help them survive what racism has done to our country. It is so far from easy. I have a lot of days where I'm angry that I'm expected to take away my children's innocence in order to protect them. I have days where my heart is broken, where I ache for the mothers who no longer have sons or daughters to hold the way I'm still able to hold my own. I have days where I'm overjoyed because I'm surrounded by other powerful black mothers who build their children up with love, hope, and prayers. As black parents, we cloak our children in these things like armor, holding their hands for as long as we possibly can. We attempt to preserve their childhood, make their dreams a reality, help them sleep without fear. We carry the weight on our own shoulders, and every day we get up and do our best, knowing that one day we won't be able to anymore.
Romper spoke with 14 mothers around America who are raising beautiful black children on what it's like to be a black mother in America right now. I am so grateful for the thoughts and photos of them sent to me during the creation of this post. These women are warriors, my sisters. They are enriching the world, and we need them so badly.
Leslie has three children: Zollie, 5, Kingston, 3, and Kit, 1.
"Like every other mom, I can sometimes get lost in thought wondering what the future hold for my children. Will they be good people? Respectful, successful, artistic? The possibilities are endless and it makes me anxious to speed up time. And then the fear creeps in and I start to wonder about how I can protect them. Not just from peer pressure or bullying, but from racism, hate, and [from] people who will be scared be of them. Right now, being a black mom is frightening. Especially when you have three sons.
"I feel powerless, but my fear won't keep me quiet and my distrust won't make me hate or teach my kids to hate, because being a black parent means teaching my kids how to overcome adversity. My children will know that black culture is about self-empowerment and self-love. I want to build a strong self-image that will strengthen my children's confidence in their own worth, making them value not only their life but the lives of others in their community. I will not let them succumb to the negative stereotype [people] will place on them. They will learn that differences aren't a bad thing and should be celebrated. So they will be taught to be culturally diverse and culturally sensitive to others. They will learn to respect authority, while also understanding that fair treatment will not always be afforded to them.
It is my daily battle to walk through this fractured, gut-wrenching world dripping gold and being loud and laughing wildly. I want her to see my hair big. I want her to see the tears and struggle and anger. I want her to know that hurt is, rightly, a part of our heritage as well.
"And, the only response to this treatment is to fight for fairness, without becoming as unfair to the injustices they will encounter. Building a tradition of honor, love, dignity, diversity, community involvement, and honest self-expression is my responsibility as a black parent in America."
Bridgette has one son, Landon, 6.
"My little guy just turned 6 last week. He is funny, sensitive, loving, and very smart. Most of his friends are white. Most of their parents think he is absolutely adorable. I just fear that when he grows from this sweet charismatic little guy to an equally sweet charismatic man that in their eyes he will be just another black man and all the prejudices that come with his brown skin."
My daughter lives in a home that celebrates her magic and heritage and excellence, and a world which demonizes and vilifies and dismisses those same attributes.
Adrienne is mom to Pearl, 2.
“I don't know that I was ever as acutely aware of my blackness until motherhood fell upon me. I wasn't pregnant; I was brown and pregnant. I'm not a single mother; I'm a brown single mother. And when my daughter was born all blue-eyed and cream-colored? Sh*t. This sudden influx of eyes and questions and commentary [on us] forced an examination that I'd only danced around as a light-skinned woman of color, and, honestly, thank goodness.
"My daughter lives in a home that celebrates her magic and heritage and excellence, and a world which demonizes and vilifies and dismisses those same attributes. I fear the damage that will be done to her heart, her soul, her body, her mind, her image, her spirit. It is my daily battle to walk through this fractured, gut-wrenching world dripping gold and being loud and laughing wildly. I want her to see my hair big. I want her to see the tears and struggle and anger. I want her to know that hurt is, rightly, a part of our heritage as well. Black woman are all of this and more. So how am I feeling as a black parent in America right now? I imagine exactly like every black parent who has come before me, but I'm working on being the last.”
June is mom to Mason, 6 months old.
“I am worried. My son will darken eventually and and no longer look exactly like his father. He will endure the hardships of a black man and no longer get the same treat his father receives.”
Denisha has two children: Cayla, 10, and Lyrica, 6.
"Although I am well aware that I am raising 'black girls,' I don't want to raise them to simply be 'strong black women,' I want to empower them as strong women — period. I want their lives to depict their strengths [and] not have the focus be [on] the color of their skin. They are more than 'black girls' and I don't want them focused on overcoming, rather becoming."
To be their mother at a time like this fuels me to love them, nurture them, and have patience with them even more. Why? Because who else on this earth will?
Kiana D., 37
Kiana has two children, John, 7, and KeeNiyah, 5.
“As a mommy Auntie, I fear they will stand in the world without the armor of self-love to protect them from the messages society will try to feed them about who they are and who they should be because of their skin. I read stories to [my kids] with children who look like them so they can feel represented. I stand in the gaps of the educational system and teach them their history, so they can be proud of who they are and where they’ve come from."
Aisha is mom to Jorden, who's 8.
"I always tell my daughter, 'There is only one Jorden and nobody can be you like you can.' I encourage her to be who she is from her spirit, and I find ways to teach her how to get to know herself. Her foundation starts [from] within, and it's important to me that she knows that as a black woman before America or society tells her otherwise. I hope this is a blessing to all mothers as it has been for me in raising my beautiful black princess!”
Katrice C., 37
Katrice has three children: Desmond, 7, Nathaniel, 5, and Christian, 3.
"I am the mother of three kings. To be their mother at a time like this fuels me to love them, nurture them, and have patience with them even more. Why? Because who else on this earth will?"
Shawn Spears B., 46
Shawn has five children: Marquette, 25, Ronny, 23, Mari, 23, Grant, 10, and Jordan, 8.
"I am a 46-year-old black woman raised in California. I have five children. Three I gave birth to and two, I was given. My oldest daughter's father is black but my two babies' father is white and I say that because they are seen differently. Not as much as if my oldest were an African American male, but different nonetheless. I worry for the safety of my children, my nieces and nephews, and your children. I detest violence on children regardless if they came from me or not.
Will they be looked at as a threat by some? Does their passion for speaking on social justice, fairness, and equality put them at risk?
"I don't like what is going on in our country right now because I believe that we are better than this, smarter than this, and far more advanced as a human race than this. This behavior really shows how far we haven't come and with all of our technology — where the sole purpose is to bring us closer — [it] only shows how ignorant we really are. I pray over my children. I always have because my biggest fear in life is that something will happen to one of them. "
Amber P., 31
Amber is mom to Aubrey, who is 10.
"My daughter will be 11 years old in one month. She prefers baggy basketball shorts and t-shirts; she prefers her hair natural and very short; she asks a lot of questions [about] why strangers refer to her with male pronouns; she likes to perform magic tricks where items disappear and reappear.
"As her mother, I spend much of my time worrying [over] how much damage I'm causing by asking her to change her clothes and to not perform magic tricks in any store or public place. And then I remember, in 2016, her life hangs in the balance of these things."
I'm scared and frustrated. I brought a beautiful person into this rotten world.
Janea C., 34
Janea has three children: Lily, 9, and Phoenix and Zion, both 5.
"What [does] it feel [like] to be a black parent in America? It's a lot like how my non-black parent friends, but it's surrounded by a cage [filled with] the most gut-wrenching, paralyzing, and unimaginable fear you will never know. Kind of like, when you first find out you're pregnant, but you tell no one just in case [you have a miscarriage]. You love that baby so much already, but you tip-toe around life, doing everything right until the doctors say you’ve made it over the safe hump. Except there is no safe hump, instead its just 101 reasons why it's justifiable that my baby, [the one] I did everything for, is dead."
I choose to show for her and show love to her by teaching her that she is worthy of love and forgiveness. I do this by showing and teaching her where she comes from and who her people are.
Anyoso has one child, Antonio, who is 7.
"Many times I feel like the light-hearted side to parenting [has been] taken [from me], because I have to be on alert. So, instead of blowing off some racist comment a first grader says to my own brown baby, I have to explain good and evil [to him]. I find myself, instead of cultivating my son's dreams and imagination, [which is] what I'm good at, I'm trying to steel his heart and mind so he doesn't feel hurt when his little white friends don't invite him places or when they make a racist remark about black people because they can't discern that he's black.
"I also made a great mistake moving him to the South. I'm scared and frustrated. I brought a beautiful person into this rotten world — where the 'nice' people stay quiet while evil reeks havoc. That's my frustration."
Jaminah S., 27
Jaminah has one child, Taqwa Wray, 2.
"As a black Muslim mother in America currently living in the whitest city in the country with a deeply rooted past and present history in racism and exclusion of brown people, I know that I must both be grounded in my intentions in all that I do and grounded in where I come from. I am a reflection. In order to be the most responsible, loving, compassionate, and supportive individual mother and partner to myself, my husband, and my child, I've chosen a path of intentionality, leading with integrity. This is how I get free. This is my liberation. I believe that Allah blessed us with the beauty of both choice and forgetfulness. Choice, so that we are constantly reminded of the concept of accountability and the gifts we are afforded when we choose to be our "highest selves" or conscious mindful beings. And forgetfulness, so that we may know His mercy and love and extend mercy and love for ourselves and all of humanity. What a gift to reflect back to my daughter!
"And I was chosen to be her mother, what a gift. So, I choose to show for her and show love to her by teaching her that she is worthy of love and forgiveness. I do this by showing and teaching her where she comes from and who her people are. This naturally means that I prioritize myself in all of my roles and identities. I put my oxygen mask on first. No mythical supermom over here. When my daughter was born she gifted me a new introduction to myself, and so in return I am committed to gifting her, and me, and us my best self as often as I can remember to. And when I fall short, we [still] know our people, and they love us so much to hold us accountable to this commitment we've made to each other and to her.
I find myself putting on my wedding ring just to run to the grocery store sometimes... just so I'm not stereotyped as 'just another baby mama.'
"Motherhood is beautiful and messy, but a beloved friend reminded me that there is beauty in the struggle. Somedays it's harder to find than others, but it's always there."
Leilani F., 44
Leilani has three children: Sierra, 26, Leija, 18, and Jelia, 17.
"I have been blessed to be the mother of three young black women. When they were younger I was very focused on trying to provide them with a strong sense of self. To be proud of their black heritage and [to teach them] that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. While things have not changed, even in light of current events, I find myself worrying at times what obstacles they could possibly face with being intelligent, outspoken, and strong black young women in America. Will they be looked at as a threat by some? Does their passion for speaking on social justice, fairness, and equality put them at risk?
"I pray for my daughters daily. I do not want this American society that we currently live in to pose a threat to my offspring's very existence. So to sum it up, I feel uneasy and prayerful as black mother in America."
Ciji W., 31
Ciji is mom to Olivia, who is 18 months old.
"Being a mother is a roller coaster of emotions for all women. Being a black mother of a black child in America today means carrying emotions and burdens others don't necessarily understand and will never experience. As a mother, I am tasked with the job to teach, to love, to accept, to nurture, and to protect my child. And today in America, I have so much to protect my daughter from. She's only 18 months old and there are times when I question the world she will grow up in. We always want the best for our children. We want them to have more than we had. I know that there are some people who look at her and see not just a pretty little girl but instead a pretty little black girl. I just want her to be seen for who she is. I worry about her when she is not within the protection of my wings. Is she being treated fairly? I ask myself. As she grows, what will the world teach her? Will she be safe?
"I dread the day I'll have to explain black and white to her. I dread the day I'll have to explain to her how to conduct herself when involved with officers of the law. These are not conversations I should have to have with her. Our world has come so far, yet I find the news today reminiscent of a time I never knew myself. I am charged with the task of raising my daughter to be a self-reliant, strong, independent woman, and to believe in herself despite how the world around her may view her. It's hard because there are some days I'm not sure I'm exhibiting those things myself. I find myself putting on my wedding ring just to run to the grocery store sometimes... just so I'm not stereotyped as 'just another baby mama.' There are so many stigmas associated with black women. Sadly, despite all that I've said, I find myself thanking God that I have a little black girl and not a little black boy. While being a female doesn't mean she's immune to our world, I find some relief in the fact that she's not a black boy.
"Today's world is scary and for black people it can be filled with fear on a daily basis. I charge myself with teaching my daughter to see past that fear and present the world with the best version of herself."