*BEST of mamazine.com* Making Sure Mamas of Color Are Seen and Heard:
An Interview With Mommy Too!'s Jennifer James
by Amy Anderson
Jennifer James is the founding editor of Mommy Too! Magazine, an online magazine for mothers of color, and the director of the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with her husband and two children. In May 2005, I spoke to her about Mommy Too!, the mothers movement, and being a black mother in the United States today.
mamazine.com: You're a homeschooling mother of two daughters and the director of a homeschooling organization for black parents. With all that on your plate already, what made you decide to start Mommy Too! Magazine?
Jennifer James: Well, I don't sleep! What happened was I was looking for information about motherhood for women of color. Other sites didn't speak to me as a black mother. Even though there are topics that are universal to all mothers, you know when you're reading something and you're not the target demographic. So I decided to just put Mommy Too! out there in August 2003, and see what the response would be. It's grown tremendously [12,000 subscribers as of March 2005]. Because I manage a web-based organization and a web magazine, I can do it all from home, and that helps. I want to reach beyond the 12,000, though. What's encouraging is that people hear about Mommy Too! through word of mouth. Moms spread it to all their friends.
mamazine.com: On the Mommy Too! website, you write, "It is vital for mothers of color to begin breaking free from false mothering stereotypes; those stereotypes that say we, as mothers of color, do not value mothering and motherhood and that being a mom is not important to us." What are some of the stereotypes you see black mothers dealing with, and what are the realities for black mothers you know?
Jennifer James: The reality is, as mothers, we value mothering as much as any other mother. Others don't realize that about black mothers because if you look in the media for representations of black mothers, you see stories about welfare mothers, about single mothers, about the working mother who has no time for kids. In Essence magazine's May issue, their Mother's Day focus is a guide for single mothers, for instance. In the mainstream parenting magazines like Parenting, Parents, and Child, the majority of mothers of color are found in ads, and they tend not to be shown with children. Mothers of color are rarely featured outside of the ads in those magazines.
There's a historical context for how black mothers are viewed, too. In slavery days, we were stripped of the role of motherhood; we weren't allowed to raise our own children. Even today, 200 years later, that history still affects mothers of color.
mamazine.com: How do you see the current mothers movement affecting mothers of color?
Jennifer James: Well, like the earlier stages of the feminist movement, it seems like it's coming from white, upper-middle-class women, and it seems to be leaving mothers of color out. To be honest, I don't see Latina and black women embracing the mothers movement yet.
mamazine.com: Do you think that's partly because of history, that black and Latina women tended to not be able to stay home with their children, and now some are welcoming the chance to do so?
Jennifer James: Yes. However, the mothers movement is fun in the sense that it gets everyone talking about motherhood, and mothers of color want to be recognized as caring deeply about mothering.
mamazine.com: You've chosen to homeschool your children. Do you think black families who choose to homeschool do so for different reasons than many white homeschooling families?
Jennifer James: Well, I see a few reasons for why more black families are homeschooling. One is they're noticing that it's more mainstream these days, and it's not just for white, upper middle-class families. The second is that so many public schools are failing black kids, and parents are saying, "I'm going to erase this achievement gap. I can't do it for the whole world, but I can do it for my child." Many parents have experienced both subtle and overt racism in the public schools, too.
mamazine.com: What issues affecting mothers of color do you think the mothers movement needs to address to be truly representative of all mothers?
Jennifer James: There really isn't a unique set of issues that pertain specifically to mothers of color that relate to the mothers movement as a whole. All mothers, regardless of race, can greatly benefit from the collective agenda of a mothers movement. There's no question about that. The mothers movement, however, simply needs to be open and welcoming to all mothers. Mothers of color must know that they are a valued part of the movement and that their voices are important and are not a part of the periphery but instead a central part of the movement.
For mothers of color, we want to be genuinely acknowledged and recognized as valuable voices to the movement, not as token afterthoughts. We also don't want to feel the mothers movement is relegated only to issues pertaining to white motherhood. It is important for the motherhood movement as a whole to understand that although mothers of color are traditionally stigmatized, generalized, and depicted in a certain way, we are the same as all other mothers. Although we do face certain issues that white mothers don't, like ensuring our children don't fall prey to the achievement gap for example, in general we really don't have a unique set of issues that the motherhood movement must tackle on our behalf. This interview, in fact, is a step in the right direction.
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