Photo by Anna Shvets/Pexels

The Dallas Examiner

Nearly 60% of Black women are mothers. And on average, Black women have 2.1 children. In recent years, Black women have experienced a decline in fertility rates from 70.8 to 62.0, with the highest fertility rate being between the ages of 25 to 29 years, according to CRESTS Program.

Black mothers have also exhibited a decline in marriage rates but have nearly doubled their rate of co-habitation from 36% to 62%. Additionally, Black mothers have higher rates of poverty, housing insecurity, etc., than their White counterparts, the group also reported.

CRESTS stands for Culturally Responsive, Evidence-Based Strategies for Traumatic Stress. The organization offers culture focused workshops and complete credentialing programs in various disciplines, such as mental health and education.

Recently, the CRESTS Program held a webinar – Quiet as it’s kept: Black mothers, transgenerational trauma, and resilience – that discussed the experience and impact of transgenerational trauma on Black mothers; the profound resiliency of Black mothers, and factors associated with their resiliency; and culture-centered trauma-informed interventions of Black mothers. Panelist included professor Cirecie West-Olatunji; Dr. Constance West, psychologist; and Dr. Ashlei Petion, mental health counselor.

“When we think about Black mothers, we can consider that they are both women and they’re people of color, so they’re subjected to both sexism and racism,” West explained, as she opened the discussion. “People who are experiencing social marginalization, based upon more than one or being members of more than one marginalized group, the grade is greater than the sum of its parts.

Stereotypes of Black women and Black mothers

West talked to the main stereotypes associated with Black women and Black mothers, listing the following: 

• Sassy – loud, aggressive threatening, uneducated, dark-skinned, having short and very kinky hair or “nappy” hair, masculine, overweight, never married, women with bad attitudes, multiple children with different fathers, and receiving welfare and other forms of public assistance. Often referred to as a “welfare mom” or “Sapphire.”

• Highly sexualized – promiscuous, light-skinned, having long hair, artificial nails, false eyelashes, colored contact lens. Often referred to “Jezabel.”

• Passive – asexual, nurturing, unthreatening, highly religious, long suffering, self-sacrificing, completely self-reliant, accommodating. Often called “Mammy” or “Strong Black woman.”

It’s important for Black women and Black mothers to set their own beauty standards, West emphasized.

West-Olatunji reflected on the story of Sarah Baartman and how the woman was presented to the public as a freak show attraction.

“I don’t think we really understand how that impacts how we’re viewed today in our body shape. When you start with Eurocentric values at the center, we’re always going to come up short. We’re always going to be viewed as abnormal,” she said. “We can’t leave it up to other people to defend what our beauty is. It’s important for us to be able to capture that, to share that, to be able to present our own world view of what it is that we consider to be beautiful.

“The idea of being able to love ourselves, define ourseles for ourselves and being able to say what people say you are verses who you actually are. We can’t spend our lives trying not to confirm a stereotype or thinking poorly of ourselves,” West added.

Historical and transgenerational trauma

Stereotypes have affected the self-esteem of Black mothers, their parenting, and their ability to function in a society that is adverse, negative and dehumanizing toward them.

“What we need to do is to understand how these issues in the past are impacting us. How we have been raised and socialized to respond to the circumstances or racism or sexism or any combination or those, has to do with how our parents dealt with it, how our grandparents dealt with it. What kind of experiences they had and how those things are being passed on to subsequent generations,” West-Olatunji said.

Historical trauma is defined as trauma that is experienced intergenerationally despite the absence of direct exposure to a traditional traumatic stimulus. Symptoms of transgenerational trauma may include depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and behavior, substance abuse and violence.

Sources of transgenerational trauma include:

  • Familial trauma – parents, grandparents, and other relatives
  • Historical trauma – community, regional, national, international, and global levels

Examples of historical sources of trauma for Black mothers and Black people include enslavement, colonization, segregation, mass incarceration, sexual abuse, medical trauma and mental health being stigmatized.  

Resilience in Black women, mothers and girls

Black women are obtaining higher levels of education and are closing the racial academic achievement gap in many areas. As many as 59% of Black women have attended college, compared to 63% of all women. And 24% of those Black women have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

Black adolescents consistently report having higher level of self-esteem related to racial and cultural identify than their White counterparts.

A higher percentage of Black women are in the process of starting or running a new business – 17% for Black women compared to 10% for White women and 15% for White men.

“Black mothers are really, I say, the cornerstone of the Black community. Lifting them up, they are often the work or the doers behind the ministers in our churches, doing a lot of the background work, keeping the church together, keeping it flowing,” West-Olatunji said. “Black mothers are often teachers in schools. They are the ones educating everybody.

What can you do now?

Educators should consider transgenerational trauma and factors associated with resilience when dealing with Black mothers, fathers and children.

Parents should acknowledge and assess their own level of transgenerational trauma and enhance their resilience through engagement in culture-centered self-care activities; learn to recognize signs of trauma in their children; and adopt their parenting strategies in order to foster resilience in their children.

Mental health clinicians should enhance their knowledge and skills related to culture-centered theories and interventions for Black people, particularly Black mothers.  

“Black mothers are resilient. Black mothers, what we often say, make a way out of no way. We see the resilience of Black women, Black mothers, Black girls every single day. It is just often not remarked on. It is not observed. It is not commented on,” West-Olatunji said in closing.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *