What This Journalist Wants You To Know About Black Motherhood
Tomi Akitunde, founder of mater mea, shared how her site is supporting Black moms on their motherhood journeys.
Everything we're working through as a country right now is layered. The realities of the Black Lives Matter movement go deeper than ending police brutality. For true change to happen, we must also address the systemic racism that's pervasive in all aspects of Black lives, and motherhood is no exception. While we strive to provide diverse voices that represent a wide range of motherhood experiences at Mabel + Moxie, we're also realizing we need to do better, especially when it comes to sharing the perspectives of Black moms.
Accordingly, we set out to connect with a site that's empowering Black women on their motherhood journeys. We'd come across mater mea in the past and felt inspired by its content, so we knew this is where we wanted to reach out first. And, graciously, Tomi Akitunde, the founder of mater mea, agreed to talk with us about how (and why) her site was started, as well as the realities facing Black moms in our country. She left us with a wider lens on Black motherhood and meaningful thoughts for the future.
We hope you'll read what she has to share here and also visit mater mea for more.
Mabel + Moxie: First, tell us about your site, mater mea — how and why was it started?
Tomi Akitunde: I started mater mea in 2012 when people were encouraging women to lean in and asking if we could have it all. I was really interested in these conversations, but noticed that mainstream media wasn't asking women who looked like me to weigh in on their experiences. I was at the age where you're supposed to be on the career track and in the relationship that will lead to kids, and wanted to hear what Black women had to say.
The site started off as an online magazine highlighting women from all walks of life to get honest and transparent answers about how they make their lives as working mothers work. But over the course of two years, the community that was growing around mater mea had questions about other aspects of parenting: "I want to have a home birth, but I'm not seeing Black women in home birthing spaces. How do I do it?" or "My child is the only Black kid in his school and has a complex about his skin now. How do I handle that?"
I'm not a mom yet, so I felt like that, along with my career as a journalist, gave me more space to find answers to those big questions. So now I call mater mea "Black mom Google": if you have a question, most likely the answer is on the site—or you can reach out to me and I'll write an article about it or connect you with someone who knows.
M+M: What is the state of Black motherhood like in our country right now? What are the biggest challenges? The biggest areas of hope and/or success?
TA: There are the things all moms can relate to about the hard and fun parts of motherhood. But with Black moms,
there's an additional stress of loving your kids hard enough to mitigate the harmful effects of racism while you're experiencing it as well. And sometimes it feels like an impossible endeavor because of how insidious racism is.
Black moms don't have the luxury of not knowing about racism because it shows up at their doorstep in very hard-to-ignore ways: the wage gap and unconscious bias affect your ability to move up at work, the specter of the maternal mortality crisis haunts your pregnancy, and police brutality lurks as you raise your kids.
This question reminds me of a quote from an interview I did with Dr. Stacey Patton about corporal punishment: "Imagine what Black parenting would look like without the specter of white violence. Imagine what it would look like without all of that fear. Without all of these traps everywhere. We’ve never had that opportunity."
Black moms are constantly making space for joy to exist in their and their families lives, so I don't want to paint a dismal, Ken Burns documentary picture of that experience. Black moms love their kids — that's their source of joy, success, and hope. There is a lot of laughter, love, and positivity. But there's also pain that we need true actively anti-racist allies to help us address.
M+M: When we had the opportunity to chat on the phone, you extended the conversation about Black motherhood to include Black infertility. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and as discussed on The Atlantic), black women are nearly twice as likely to have infertility problems as white women (among married women ages 25-44). Can you shine some light on why this is the case?
TA: Black women are more likely to have a lot of the health issues that lead to poor fertility. We're more likely to have fibroids, be overweight, and have polycystic ovary syndrome, which all affect fertility.
Why is that? The short answer is racism. The long answer is racism affecting access to wealth and health. It's an intricate web that has many different iterations, but I'll share a few:
These factors and more creates an ecosystem that make Black women more likely to have fertility problems, even though that's not what the media depictions of infertility would have you believe.
M+M: mater mea "opens the ongoing 'Can women have it all?' conversation to Black women." What have you found through these conversations?
TA: I was so naive when I first wrote that in 2012! I very quickly learned that "having it all" is a trap to make very-overwhelmed women feel worse about not reaching something that not many people can say they have. One mom put it this way: Yes, women can have it all — just not all at the same time.
I now consider "having it all" the motherhood world's version of women's magazines thigh gap or cellulite-free bodies. Like, how many of us actually have thigh gap and no cellulite? It's just an agenda being pushed on us to make us feel bad! The more honest everyone is about just how hard things are, I think the more we'd see that, hey... we should probably rally together to do something about it. Affordable childcare for all! Flexible work schedules! Close the wage gap! Then maybe we can have it all.
M+M: Many moms who aren't Black are working harder to listen right now, what would you most like them to know or hear?
TA: This awakening some non-Black people are having right now is jarring because Black and brown people have been saying these things very loudly for years — centuries in fact. There will be people who don't trust your intentions, and the discomfort you're feeling is part of your anti-racism work. Imagine the discomfort Black people have felt this entire time waiting for you to finally hear and believe us. It makes me think of a quote from author Catrice Jackson: "Becoming anti-racist is a marathon. Don't expect to be coddled; in fact, expect to be unnerved. If you don't have an anti-racism plan, you plan to be racist."
A lot of white women are reaching out to me to ask how to raise anti-racist kids, and it starts with being anti-racist yourself. You have to be in order to model that behavior for your kids to follow. So sure: support Black businesses, buy books and dolls for your kids, watch diverse television shows. But do you have Black people in your community? Does your kids' school have Black kids there that they socialize with? Know that being anti-racist beyond this moment requires that you do the work of recognizing your biases. It requires that you unlearn white supremacy every day and parent from that space. It is deeply uncomfortable work... but that's the point.
People want to be seen as good people, and this movement forces you to recognize ways you haven't been "good." All you can do is atone and do the work to make that atonement more than lip service. The people you want to be an ally for can't do it for you.