Diversity Training.

How often do white women consider ways that motherhood differs for black women in the United States?

 

Watching Soledad O’Brien and CNN’s “The Black Woman and Family” made me consider this provocative question – and it’s one reason why you should watch it.

 

I thought motherhood was color blind until the first day I dropped my child at Johnson & Johnson’s employee daycare center. He’d been on the wait list since I was three months pregnant, so I was thrilled. But I was torn, too, to be leaving him with total strangers for what felt like the rest of his life. Especially since he’d been home with me, and then a nanny, since birth.

 

Outside the classroom, I befriended another mom also dropping off her firstborn for the first time. Marcus had been born three days before Max. His mom was my age and worked in a division near my office. The only difference between us seemed to be skin deep – she was black, I am white.

 

“Are you sad about leaving him here?” I asked, smiling at Marcus gurgling in his car seat.

 

“Are you kidding?” She answered. “I had to go back to work when he was only six weeks old. I’m a single mom and the only daycare I could find until his spot opened here was a place where they kept him strapped in his car seat in front of a tv for 10 hours a day. Some days they didn’t change his diaper. Today is one of the most joyous days of my life.”

 

What a reality check -- more like a punch. Here I had been, immersed in what was suddenly obviously an elite white mommy guilt sandstorm. I was close to tears – why? Because I had to leave my child at what is arguably the finest daycare center on the planet – a 22,000 square foot, I.M. Pei designed facility with a cafeteria, security desk, two nurses on staff full time, and a master’s degree requirement for all teachers. And did I mention the company subsidized 50% of the cost?

 

Marcus and his mom helped me realize how lucky we were. That was the beginning of my education into the different realities of motherhood in America. After writing Mommy Wars, I delved more deeply into the specific differences between the two majority ethnic groups in our country. The result was “Women in Black And White,” a survey created with a black colleague, Paula Penn-Nabrit.

 

Our findings were fascinating: Black and white women were eager to discuss issues of race and motherhood, with over 1,100 responding within 24 hours and 24% adding personal comments in addition to answering 100 survey questions. (It’s important to note that this survey reflected an educationally and economically elite set of black and white women: respondents self selected to take the survey and had to have Internet access to do so; 96% were college educated, and 82% had household incomes over $50,000. All statistics quoted below refer to this privileged slice of the U.S. female population.)

 

leslie morgan s...
07.30.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Justice Fergie, I do want to contact you directly. Can you send me your email? Mine is leslie@lesliemorgansteiner.com. Thanks.

Thebe
07.30.08

I am not a woman of color, but I feel the economic disparity sometimes. My husband and I make decent money, but have heavy debt and live in a tiny apartment to pay it off. I see a real difference in priorities and attitude between myself and other parents at my son's very desirable urban preschool. On the first day of school, there were other parents agonized with guilt while I was so intensely grateful to have our son in such a school and not have to send him to the loving but lower-quality day care way across the city. We are the only parents at the school not to own our own home in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. The other school parents are so friendly and hard-working and fun, but occasionally I'm reminded of our differences.

leslie morgan s...
07.29.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Teaching our kids about diverse races and cultures is it's own complicated subject. I think the best way is exposure and immersion. You can talk all you want about acceptance and appreciation of people's differences, but there is nothing like being one of a few or the only XYZ child on a team, a camp, a school, a neighborhood, a country, etc of people who look and behave somewhat -- or completely -- differently.

CrewJulie
07.29.08

Great article. I have thought about this a little, but Marcus’s story hit me in the gut – some days without a diaper change, 10 hours in front of TV? I live in the deep South and 99% of my son’s caregivers are women of color. Some of them have children, but none of their children have gone to the day cares my son has attended. I have wondered who is caring (or did, in the case of older mothers) for their kids when they are taking care of mine.
I have wondered sometimes too if my son is going to think that all teachers are black. At least in his current day care (a university sponsored one) it isn’t all white kids. His first day care (religious affiliation) was all white kids with a token Asian, and the discrepancy between the workers and the kids bothered me. Now, while there is only one white teacher, he has black, Asian, and mixed race friends.

mkowalewski
07.28.08

This was a great article! I think that white women take for granted our experience, because it has been the majority experience. It's kind of like white men "forgetting" because they have the ultimate entitlements - race and gender intersects in their favor. Thank you for posting this!

I had a professor in law school that used to talk about this a lot. She is white, but had adopted a black male child, who, at the time that I was in law school, was 17. She used to talk about how she had to teach him about his interactions with the police - how if he was pulled over, how to act and how to explain what he was doing as he was doing it because sometimes cops are prejudiced against minorities, and black men in particular.

leslie morgan s...
07.28.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

JF -- Did you watch the CNN documentary? I'm watching The Black Man segment right now. It's excellent too. And I was glad to see that Soledad broke out male and female issues somewhat separately. Research sometimes just focuses on "black issues" without a finer scalpel.

leslie morgan s...
07.28.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

God JF, you are totally right. I think this happens often - that a supposedly concerned white person stereotypes black women. And that is definitely not what I wanted to do with my story of my interactions with one single black mom. (She is just one of dozens of black women who have helped me see my life, and American culture, in richer, more balanced ways.) That is one reason Paula and I created the survey, so that we could share many women's stories and opinions, not just our own limited views. Mocha Moms is a fabulous group -- and such a fine way to support women's right to find work/family balance in their lives. Black women, like all women, don't deserve, and don't benefit from, stereotyping. We are all individuals. Thanks for speaking up. And I agree, Soledad is very cool!

justice fergie
07.26.08

thanks for this article. i think you raise important points. at the same time, you make it sound like all black moms are single parents who are struggling financially, which isn't the case. there are many, many mothers of color who are married and choose to stay home to raise their children. if you would like to learn more, or survey some of those moms, feel free to contact me, or the organization Mocha Moms Inc., directly. it's a national support group for stay at home mothers of color (www.mochamoms.org)

i also applaud soledad for continuing to shed light on these types of subjects!