The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality anthology (in which I have an essay) is being profiled in TIME Magazine all this week! Each day they’re going to publish an extract from the book and here’s the first one. It is “The Impossibility of the Good Black Mother” by Tope Fadiran Charlton and it’s a kicker.
I could never be the Good Mother; I knew this long before I had a child. Had I not, the experience of parenting my daughter under the appraising eye of whiteness would quickly have disabused me of any illusions that I could be one. From the pediatrician’s office, to the grocery store, to the streets I call my own, it is not the myth of the Good Mother, but that of the Bad Black Mother, that renders my motherhood at turns invisible and suspect.
Often the questions come from other people of color. One Ethiopian store clerk, after asking if I’m Anu’s mother, marvels at how light she is, tells me her (white) father’s genes must have “won out” over mine.
The Bangladeshi convenience store owner around the corner has forgotten at least three times that he’s already asked if I am married. He regales me with a tale of a Black friend who has six children with multiple women. “I think this is not good,” he says. I wonder what this has to do with me.
Across from the convenience store, I’m dropped off by a mom from my daughter’s daycare, a white woman. She’s seen me walking Anu to school from time to time, and generously offers me a ride. We make small talk. As I’m about to step out of the car, she asks about Anu’s dad: “And is your husband, um, partner, uh, boyfriend . . . is he in the picture?”
I want to appreciate that multiple possibilities for family are being acknowledged. But I’m keenly aware that my race is likely the reason such possibilities even occur to her.