Angry black mom

The little girl had to be about two, not much more, and she had this little purse thingy that she was absolutely fascinated with—much more so than the high school football game her mother had dragged her to. I noticed her waving it in her mother’s face, an attempt to get her mama to play with her. The mother? She wasn’t having it.

“I don’t want to play with that,” she snapped, without even looking at her baby.

When the little girl gave another feeble attempt to get her mother’s attention, the lady was all sharp edges and thunder: “I said, I don’t want it,” she seethed through gritted teeth. “Sit it down, shit.”

Now Nick missed all this, but my heart just sank when baby girl wandered away from her mother and her two friends, and started trying to get my husband’s attention. He happily obliged her attempt to join her in playing with the purse. I chimed in with compliments on her shoes and telling her that I loved her afro puffs—something, anything, to make her smile. To deflect from the fact that her mother was acting the donkey toward her baby girl, who was looking for some motherly attention on a Friday night at 10 p.m., when she should have been home in her pajamas, in her crib, sleeping in Heavenly peace.

Peace wasn’t on her mother’s mind. Neither was kindness, particularly when it came to her daughter. Still, though I was disgusted by her behavior, it wasn’t at all surprising. I know Black moms love our babies and that we care for their every need just like any other mom—even and especially when we have to make a way out of no way. But my God, the cursing, the beating, the emotional abuse that I see some Black moms unleashing on their children in the street, at the mall, on public transportation, in school, out in public, hurts me to my core.

Now I’m not stranger to the mean mom. Y’all need to ask about my mom; she’s legend with “The Look” and, yes, the switch. With her, children were to be seen, not heard, and any misstep, no matter how slight, might incur the wrath. She was a great mom. But mean as all get out until I got older and had babies of my own. And she wasn’t alone: I grew up surrounded by Black mothers—women I loved and who loved me back—who were just plain mean. For no good reason.

When I had babies of my own, the same was true. I couldn’t help but to notice how white women and especially Latina women would coo and ooh and ahh and practically knock over shopping carts and small children to peek into the girlpies’ strollers, but Black women would damn near run in the other direction, like my daughters were shrouded in some forcefield of cooties they didn’t want to catch. This was true not only of single Black women, but of Black women with children of their own. All-too-many just seemed like they didn’t like children. That’s a feeling that’s lasted all these years later, but manifests itself in a wholly different way today: if I wrap my daughters in a warm embrace, speak to them with kindness, laugh with them and love on them in public, folk look at us as if we’re glittery unicorns—some mythical creatures caught in a Cosby-esque time-warp.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think every Black mom is like this—by any stretch. And, of course, I know that human beings can just be mean to other human beings, regardless of color, background, ethnicity and everything else that makes us uniquely us. But we seem to take it further than most.

It just leads me to ask, where is the love? Are Black moms collectively meaner than most—and is there a reason for it? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Generally speaking and not excusing mean behavior, but most BMs are playing superwoman; they have so much on their plates. Having had a hard long day at their job(s) then having to come home and still be “on” as a full time parent,often as a single parent, isn’t easy. Sometimes people are just irritated and take their frustration out on those closest to them. Location I don’t think plays a part. I don’t think people just choose to be angry in public.

  2. I think yes, and no. I see a LOT of mean moms too, even well meaning ones. I have been one at times, and when I catch myself, I feel terrible about it.
    Where I live in the Bx, there is a LOT of teen pregnancy, and in some instances, like my neighbor, there is a 16 year old mom and a 33 year old grandma. Both trying to still live their lives, date, work.
    There are the obvious stressors in our community that get in the way of parenting: economics, single parenting.. yeah Then, there is the unspoken one: comfort with how things are. I sometimes think of it as “pledging parenting”: I was beat, Imma beat you, kid. Without even processing the long term trauma that can be caused. In so many instances, folks simply do not know taht it’s wrong.They don’t.
    As for my own mean mom episodes, it’s hard to get out of the cycle. In some ways, meanness is how you prove you have your kids “in line” in certain communities. As a parent educator, I joke often in my workshops that my mom had the ability to shut me down from across the room with one glance. I actually remember when she said she loved me, because it was so foreign: in a card when I turned 18 years old. I was so stunned, I didn’t even know how to reply.
    Years ago, I saw an interview with Toni Morrison on tv, and they were asking her about raising her children and what she would do differently. She said she would have stopped trying to fix them, cleaning faces and fixing clothes when they came in, and just sat with them, talked to them, listened more.
    I think some parents think that meanness is a sign of weakness, and in a world that so often marginalizes Black people, we want to control of something, anything, and we start with our kids. I’m glad you were brave enough to ask this question and start the dialogue.

  3. Very interesting. My (black) mom said I love you so infrequently that when she says it now to me as an adult, I find it very difficult to say it back. She actually only says it when we part ways after a visit. I live on one coast and she lives on the other. My (black) dad however said it very often growing up , still says it after each conversation now- and I have no problem saying it back to him. It feels natural when he says it, but very unnatural when my mother says I love you and my reply to her is usual nervous laughter or even “ok thanks for that” ( very sad.. I know). My mother was very mean growing up and it affected me so much that I am quite frightened to have children, simply because I don’t want to end up like her.

    • I can 100% relate to you. When my mom says it I cringe because I somewhat despise her for how mean and embarrassing she was growing up. My dad use to hate coming home so he’d work all day and evening to get away from her.

  4. I’m not a mom, but it think every Mom regardless of color has her moments when something has plucked her last nerve. (lol)

  5. I cannot speak on other cultures wholly, or my own for the sake of not wanting to blanket black mamas with my opinion. However, encounters with many black mothers have lead me to feel that they were mean. That is not to say mean(er), but definitely having some ‘tude in the child rearing department. In my observation, it is an inherited behavior and I do not exclude myself from the study…

  6. At my cousin’s high school graduation several years ago, at lunch, my Mothers baby sister out of the blue, “Who has the meanest Mama?” My cousins all pointed at me. They were right. However, my aunts used my Mom to put the fear of God in their children.
    Growing up I heard, that girl is mean just like her Mama. I vowed to break that cycle. I think I did. I have children of my heart, two step sons that I raised since they were 9 and 8. They are now 17 and 16. My Mothers brother said four weeks ago, you are nothing like your mother use to be. My Mom has grown. My brother who 13 years younger me had it way easier than I did.
    Now, was she mean? Hell yeah she was mean.

  7. I have, on many occasions, told me oldest son, who is the most “ethnic” looking of all my children, that people will see him walk into a room, will read his Latino last name, will see where he is from (urban NYC), and without even knowing him, will assume who he is. Forever. It is my job to teach, and his responsibility to put forth, the skills that all parents should teach their children, but that, if failing in mine, serve many strikes against him than it would for a non-ethnic child. I grew up being called a “N”, by my own father, so I know the stereotypes all too well simply by the color of my skin. My children (BOYS) don’t have the “luxury” to act the fool or make “mistakes” the way other kids do without having to then carry the awful labels with them. So, am I strict? And loud? And stern? Hell yeah I am. But I also love my kids harder and more than I was every loved before. I love them with the strength of a million men, so that whatever life and people throw at them because of what they look like, they have that love and confidence and security that THOSE people mean nothing, because THEY are loved. My mantra with ALL my children is: “Don’t embarrass me, and worst of all, don’t embarrass yourself. Show them you are more then they will ever give you credit for. Show them you were loved and raised right.” Meet my children and you decide if I am “mean” or not.

    Also, I DON’T parent how I was raised. I am still as loud and strict with my children, but I respect them and their opinions. In my house, my children know they have the freedom to feel their feelings and, in a respectful manners, express their thoughts. I was raised through the manipulation of fear. There is no fear here. The only thing my children fear is disappointing their parents, because we tell them how much we love them constantly and they know we deserve better. I was NOT raised that way at all.

    • Exactly how I feel as a mother to a black girl and boy. Our kids have a different experience in this country and I take it very seriously as my job as their mother. I may seem mean but I love my children and want nothing but the BEST for them. This is a hard job.

    • Agree, I was beaten as a girl and I won’t be hitting my son. Spanking teaches that hitting is ok and violence works. As the mother of a brown baby, I know he can’t walk around the playground, the school yard or the community with that message without facing unfair consequences so discipline has to be strong, swift, consistent, but not violent.

    • I wanted to leave my own comment and after reading yours…i am SO thankful because you spoke my heart completely. I’m the [black] mother of six children and happily married to a black man…my children think I am mean. However my oldest just left for college and tells me all the time “I understand totally now”. She tells her younger siblings to listen and do the right thing…that mommy and daddy do everything for a reason and it’s “all about us”. I finally got confirmation that what we are doing works.

  8. I think I definitely have my mean moments, not intentionally, but because I absolutely parent from a position of authority, as another commenter on Facebook said. However, I also temper this authority with a lot of love, hugs and kisses, and tell my children regularly how amazing they are and how much I love them. I like to think I offer a healthy balance of love and authority. But when I realize I’ve crossed the line from authority into meanness, I usually apologize and explain myself to my children. I want them to realize that I am capable of failure too, and willing to admit when I am wrong.

    I think Black moms, in general, are just less permissive and more demanding of respect, because a lot of us realize that our children don’t have the luxury of being allowed to be disrespectful. So much so that we sometimes forget to let our kids just be kids. From the outside looking in, by people of all colors, this can definitely be viewed as meanness. And I think we learn to parent by example, doing things the way our parents did it, often not realizing that we’re dismissing our children’s feelings. I have to be vigilant about paying attention to that myself, but I will honestly say that sometimes I default into that “do what I say or else” type of authority. Still, I’m an adult, and have chosen to do some things decidedly differently from my own parents. I won’t say I’m completely above a spanking, but my preferred method of discipline and correction is long talks, and I’m very open with my kids about a lot of things.

  9. It might stem from our history. Black mothers needed to be strict and no-nonsense with their children to keep them alive. Historically, our children didn’t have the luxury of committing youthful indiscretions (i.e. Emit Till). So mothers needed to employ no nonsense child rearing tactics to keep their children safe in a world that didn’t afford black children the right to be children. We have likely passed those traditions down without adjusting. I have a laundromat on the south side of Chicago, and regularly have to hold my tongue behind the way little kids are berated. It’s a sad cycle, because those children grow up and communicate with others in the same manner as this is their “normal”. These mothers are also probably dealing with a lot of stresses (economically, emotionally, relationally) that are unfortunately unleashed on those closest and most vulnerable. I’m all for discipline and boundaries. But taking frustrations out on children is a horrible practice & should be stopped. I do the same thing with little kids in our store, just play and act silly in hopes that parents recognize there’s another way to communicate with their children.

  10. Good post. I would simply say yes and no. I do believe that we are more strict but in many ways that is a reaction to society. As a few other commenters have stated, we carry a heavy load, the stakes are higher for our kids after all our kids particularly our boys are at risk as we all know. I think the cumulative effects of such stressors on top of just being women creates a protective coat, a barrier that is hard to let down. I know that I am hard but the older I get, I am more mindful of it and am constantly checking into make sure that I am doing right by my kids.

    As far as other people’s babies, yeah, I definitely don’t fawn over babies especially now that I am in my 40’s. I am happy when others are happy with their babies.

  11. Raising my kids in nearly all-White Vermont, I don’t think I’m mean. But like Kristen said above, I think I parent differently than White parents. I’m not as permissive as other parents, I demand respect. I think OD’s reflection on the Scandal scene is also pretty accurate. I see many White parents parenting from a place of guilt versus the place of authority and ‘helltothemfingnawyouaintgonnadothat’ that I tend to parent from. I also believe that some of it is class-privilege. I do believe by comparison to other Black mothers I know, I am WAY more permissive as a parent than I would be if I were in a different setting. When you feel that your kids are relatively safe, parenting looks different. So, to sum my thoughts up, I think I am more firm that many of my White friends, but less so in comparison to my Black friends and relatives located in other regions.

  12. I don’t believe we are stricter. We know what our children are up against. I think most people could relate to the scene in Scandal – Actor Joe Morton, who plays Olivia’s father, scolds Olivia, Kerry Washington’s character about her adulterous affair with the president. He tells her – what have I always told you? – “you have to work twice as hard as they do in order to get half of what they have.” I’m sure other mothers are not having a talk with their sons and daughters about what not to say or do when approached by a police officer.

  13. Honestly i am really tired of reading blogs and stories on the news about how black women are mean, have attitudes or cant find good black men to marry, so on and so on…why are we always the punching bags for these topics? all women act and do what they need to to deal with their own issues and situations most of us have good lives because of it and some not so much… but we all need to stop judging the black woman in every area of our lives… we do what we can,how we can with what we have good or bad.

  14. Black Moms aren’t meaner – the Black Mom that was home rocking and kissing her daughter and missing the game you just don’t see her…because she was home doing the right thing. There is a quote somewhere about hurricanes getting more attention than rainbows!! We pay more attention to negatives. (Nice/Good/Patient/Loving Black Moms exist and I am blessed to have a group of friends (that just happen to be mostly black) and I see the hugs and kisses and love everyday at school drop off, pick up, pumpkin patch trips, playdates and library reading groups. We exist!

  15. This is what I know to be true . . . when I go to our (black) church and see the other kids sitting quietly while mine are climbing all over the seats, and the black mamas seem to command compliance with one look while I’m talking time-outs and bribes and losing my cool, I do often think they must have some skills that I don’t have. Some may call it “mean”. But I’d like to learn more. 🙂

    • Kristen, I love you and your honesty!

    • You have to let your kids think you’re a little crazy. Establish “the look” and be willing to follow-up with firm discipline (NOT the same as spanking). The thought of what you could do is sometimes a great deterrent. My favorite saying — “stop what you’re doing right now, or there will be trouble.” *flash “the look”*

      My daughter is a visual child, so phrases like that drive her nuts!

  16. I think there is a difference between a “mean mom” and a bully. A mean mom is no nonsense. She loves you fiercely, but she is not there to be your friend. For black women this can be a parenting survival tactic. Our kids don’t get to be free-range, free spirits. They don’t get the benefit of the doubt at school or in the streets if they misbehave. They often don’t get second chances when they make mistakes. Now the bully mom is another story. She is simply mean-spirited. Snapping at your child because she craves your motherly touch is bullish behavior.

  17. As the mother of two girls (16 and 6), i know that at 38 I have more patience than I would have in my teens or even my twenties and I think that lack of patience plays into the idea that Black moms are mean. Young mothers are not patience because they haven’t developed the skill nor have a majority of them experienced patience from their own mothers or anyone else in their family. And to me that is key in being a good parent.

    My mommie was stern, could give me a “look” that would freeze me in my tracks; but she also gave me hugs, kisses, love and all the attention I could ever want, and my husband and I strive to do the same for our girls.

    I’ll play dress up all day, trade nursey rhymes, talk about mindless behaviour and drake all day long so my girls will know they matter, they are valued and they are allowed to have (and use) their voice. But don’t get it twisted, we will shut down all nonsense in a nanosecond and our girls know that and act accordingly, lol. So if that means I can be labeld a mean mom sometimes, I’ll rock the title proudly.

  18. It’s easy to raise your child all bubbly and in a world filled with light and sunshine everyday when they aren’t up against challenges like racism and unequal opportunity. Our kids need a different kind of strength that requires a different kind of parenting. With that said, who’s the judge??? Who has the comprehensive knowledge of your child and your environment to judge what’s mean versus what’s necessary to raise, motivate and teach your own child in the unique way that each child requires? Because I guarantee you Mom’s in the tough inner city streets need some different parenting skills than those who sit in their lofty homes in the burbs. It’s just a fact. I’ve been in both places. But many other factors go into it as well. That’s just one example.

  19. I vowed I would not be the same mother to my children that my mom was to me. I played with my children, held conversations with them, willingly gave up time, money, and space to nurture their spirits and self-esteem. I always treated them like the treasures they are. However, when it came time to discipline them, I found myself using the same techniques my mother used with me. I didn’t see anything wrong with using a belt for discipline, as long as I spanked them on their bottom. But after one spanking, I saw the fear and pain in my son’s eyes, and it hurt me like they say “this will hurt me more than it hurts you…” I realized that all of my “good” parenting could be undone with a few minutes of bad parenting. I never used physical punishment again after that episode, but I still wonder if I did irreparable harm to his sense of self-worth with the times that I did. But I will say that black american mothers in general operate from a different paradigm than mothers whose history isn’t like ours.

  20. Not to generalize, but I’ve been a mom for 7 years and I always noticed that black women “oohed and ahhed” over my pregnant belly and my babies WAY WAY more than white women. I’ve developed this unconscious reflex of being really happy to see a black women (especially an older black women) when I’m out with my kids because they, so often, fawn over my children and when I’m having a rough day with them, I really need that kindness. Most white women look annoyed with my kids. Yes, I’ve also seen black women (and white women) be violent with their children in public. I noticed a young black women screaming “What the F*ck is wrong with you, Sh*T!!!” at a tiny child just the other day. Maybe white women are just a little better at hiding their Mom-Tantrums in public? I’ve lost my crap on my kids before – I just try not to do it where the general public will judge me for it.

    • You nailed it! Perception in public may be generally more important to white moms. I have also noticed that moms who appear to be of a lower socioeconomic background are often the moms who are cursing @ their kids in public. They may not care what others think of them. I often times wish that I am the patient mom @ home that I am in public. The love is always there, but not as patient. The cursing is definitely something that is NEVER ok!

  21. No. They are lovely. Just as me being a lovely mom of two mulatto kids.

  22. Thank you for starting this discussion.

    I understand where many of the respondents so far are coming from. Of course, it goes without saying that black mothers love their children no less. The realities of raising black children in a white supremacist society contribute to a necessity of a black mom to be “tougher” than her white counterpart. There are many, varied reasons for this.

    However, what I cannot get past, personally, is the feeling of…low self-worth my mother’s demeanor left me with. The way she used to talk to us…it was like we weren’t worthy of respect. And if my own mother didn’t feel I was worthy of being treated with respect, why should I believe I was deserving of that from anyone else? The voice my mother used with me is the voice of my mind. And more often than not, I am not kind to myself.

    I don’t question that she loved me. But I feel she helped create a dissonance in my head that I’m STILL struggling to overcome. And so for that reason, I know I HAVE to do better for my daughter. And it makes me endlessly sad when I see black mothers rationalize their behavior and deny the effects of verbal abuse on their children.

    So I guess the question is, is it possible to raise strong, respectful, capable black children without wounding their self-esteem? That is the path I want to take.

  23. On Black Moms

    No excuses for moms hurdling curse words at their children…I won’t, can’t accept any excuses. I get up at 4am and don’t get to bed until almost 11pm but every moment that I could share loving, uplifting, and empowering my children I do it. Now not everything is sunshine and rainbows and I am often exhausted but that’s life. If my “girlpies” want to talk we talk, we hug and kiss in public, give high fives on fly shoes and laugh out loud often. Our relationship is also seen as something out of a fairy tale to most but that’s just us. I do the same with my “manpies”. They know without a doubt that mama is there supportive and available. Yes I struggled with a “mean mom” in my past and because of it I vowed never to treat my children the way I was treated. They feel valued and respected when talking to me and they understand that their opinions, point of views and even their wackiness at times is ok with mama. We want our children to have self-worth and a high regard for themselves but how could they feel that when we curse at them or ignore them even in the small things?

  24. Mary Prime-Lawrence

    I don’t want to downplay the real life experience of folks with mean mothers as there are many, but I think that black moms are viewed as mean because there is a view in this country of the ‘inherent inferiority’ of our families and especially ones headed up by women. Black women are not attractive, intelligent, sexy, etc. and this view of our perceived ‘pathology’ just wraps around how we are viewed as mothers and caregivers. Our children are being raised in society that has a white supremacist past and lots of lingering white supremacy and its attendant racism. Our children are not viewed as other children are, they are seen as less lovable, likable, less than. I think in an attempt to not have us and ours seen as pathological in the eyes of others- even our own people we do the ‘strict father’ (and mother), authoritarian thing too much or too often. We don’t want anyone to have to say anything to our kids, to have to correct them, to have them stand out in a negative way, so we do it before anyone can.

    We confuse discipline with anger, or even abuse. We tell our children what not to do a lot but sometimes we neglect to let them know when they are doing things well and we are pleased and proud of them. Discipline is both stick and carrot. ‘Atta boy! The way you behaved in church today was great. Keep up the good work!’ ‘Way to go, girl! I really liked how you spent time with your annoying cousins and even shared your favorite toys. I like how you used your cooperation and self control.’

    I know I had a mom who was pretty authoritarian but very loving. I find myself being authoritarian a good amount of the time (my house is a dictatorship, a benevolent one, but a dictatorship nonetheless). I am just as loving if not more so to my children and other children (I teach elementary school), especially black or children of color. I call most kids by a pet name (champ, sport, ladybug) or call them ‘baby’ or ‘sweetface’. I smile and say something nice about them- usually about a skill they have (or I think they have) or their intelligence. I make sure that I tell my own children that I love them a million times a day. I hug them and stroke their hair and pat their cute faces. Our children get too many messages that they are not good enough and not lovable. This is not a good way to raise children to be strong, loving, and able to strive and thrive in our crazy anti-black society.

    We need to support moms who seem to be struggling to be trying to be good, better, and the best moms for their children. There are a lot of struggles that black women go through that unfortunately are bourn alone (no second parent/caregiver) and that pain sometimes is inflicted on our children. We need to work to improve the conditions- social, economic, educational, etc. of women. 75% of children are born to unwed mothers. Yes, and that same 75% are born to unwed fathers as well. Women shouldn’t bear the joy and burden of childrearing alone. Children shouldn’t have to be alone in the world with struggling moms (or dads). We need to rebuild and strengthen our village, and do it NOW.

  25. I would say yes and no..depending on the situation. For example, my childhood and teenage years were filled with verbal and emotional abuse. My self esteem was damaged severely by my mother and father. Even to this day it still bothers me and affects the way I interact with my own daughters. I tell them everyday that I love them and to keep God first. I want their childhood to be the complete opposite of mine. I encourage them and listen to what they have to say and they still respect me. As an adult now, the tormenting and humiliating way I was brought up fuels me to be a better person in my adult life.

  26. I do not think Black Moms are meaner it is perhaps patience and parenting were not about of the young woman you observed that day. As for the overall persective I think prayers for all moms and children is needed. We have so much to protect our babies from and mommy should not be one of them.

  27. Wow, This was a very interesting and wonderful conversation. I appreciated everything each of you all had to share and think we should continue to reach out and talk with each other this way. Denene, I can’t help but think beyond what the mother was displaying at the ball game. The social worker in me tells me that there was more behind the words or display of meaness. Sometimes what we see leaves us reeling but there is more underneath the demeanor. I really like how Mary Prime-Lawrence summed it up, great thank you! All of you alluded to the historical factors (race and white supremacy) that play a role in our parenting decisions . However, more importantly and some of you said it. That we need to support all women during this time and do less judging. Here in Rochester New York we have a black parenting class called effective black parenting program put on by the City of Rochester. This subject of discipline and rewarding good behavior is a main topic. Thanks again for sharing.

  28. I don’t have much to add to the discussion but to say that I think everyone is really on point with their analyses. Also, it is such a small world, Gloria Lawton: I live in Rochester too! Who knew that I would find someone in my hometown on a blog that I serendipitously found (it was recommended on another site) after I put my baby daughter to sleep! Denene, I have noticed this too, and yes, I think the individual who brought up the (lower) socio-economic factor has a point. This is not to say that poor mothers are automatically mean because that is so far from the truth, but I think as with many things, socio-economics affects so many other things in life such as education, and concerning the topic here, I know when I see meanness I think, “Well, didn’t she or he read that study from the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology that argues that early childhood neglect (the case of the child being ignored) is more hurtful than yelling?” I consider myself blessed to think this way because I had parents, and really, a wonderful mother who ensured that I put my face in the books, and didn’t let me come up for air until I had those degrees like they talk about on College Dropout! Now, with a career in the social sciences, I am even more aware of these things, and I have to keep reminding myself when I get snarky, that everyone has not grown up with the education to simply know that you don’t treat your kids like you would some enemy- you love them with your words and your actions. Whoever mentioned the patience issue is also hitting the nail on the head. For single mothers, I can see how having patience at the end of the day is very difficult. I am married, and even with my husband’s help, I am still run ragged by the end of the day with my 4 month old. Bottom line, the person who mentioned the side eye versus meanness was dead on. My mother has given me some serious side eye but she has never cursed me out the way I hear some black mothers curse out their children. Overall, a number of factors are at play, but in the aggregate, the disintegration of the black family unit over the last 50 or so years as well as greater wealth gaps within the black community have been catastrophic, and I think major causes of such behavior. Really, it’s something that someone could write a sociology, cultural psychology, or even linguistics dissertation about!

  29. That’s so interesting! I was just saying the other day to my MIL that my daughter (two) gets SO MUCH positive attention from black women (young and old)…has ever since she was a baby. Always, “what a beautiful child” and “what a gorgeous smile” and “Hey, dollbaby!” and “Isn’t she just the prettiest little baby?” “what a cutie!” etc. It really warms my heart. She is adorable, but I always thought that they give her that attention precisely because she is a young black girl and they want to lift her up. I’ve noticed it over and over again…and she rarely gets that kind of comment from white women. As far as meanness goes…I can be a mean mom, too, and I’m not black. But, I always have felt that when it comes to certain things my kids, particularly my son (he is black), don’t have that ‘wiggle room’ that white kids have. He can’t just play around and accidentally hurt a child on the playground and have that just slide. My son is particularly defiant and I try not to ever spank…and there are MANY times when I wish I could be mean, like my mom was (she spanked). I will say, however, that I do shout and make demands, just very rarely in public. At home, I am pretty strict and loud, but in public I try really hard to maintain my composure and often will just let things go until we are home later (with a little whisper in the ear ‘just wait’). I know that some of the black women in my family and our pediatricians (both black women) think I’m soft and too easy on the kids. My (black) SIL, though, has seen the iron fist and told me recently that her (also black) husband told her, ‘Wow. I didn’t know she was so mean!” LOL I kind of took it as a compliment. It is all about perception and the situation…some days are meaner than others! 🙂

  30. We all know there are a host of reasons that run the gamut for why black mothers are considered “mean”, most of which have been eloquently pointed out here already. I wouldn’t call us mean and I think we should stop allowing anyone to slap that label on us. I think we are impacted by the need to parent smart and meet the needs of our black families, while sorting through the emotional trauma that has been stamped on our own genetic makeup from the genocide our ancestors underwent, the effects of which we still feel–and have to adjust to–today. There are countless lessons that have to be conveyed to our black children, because not doing so could literally mean their death. How, exactly, can one convey this type of message while happily dancing about and singing of rainbows and unicorns? It’s a serious, hardcore message, and it requires a serious, hardcore–and no nonsense–delivery. Call it mean if you want. When a white mother has to teach her white son how to walk, dress and look at people, so that maybe–maybe–he won’t get shot and killed while walking down the street minding his own business; when a white mother has to teach her white son that he will be perceived by EVERYONE as a threat, even though he’s not, and when a white mother employs a no-nonsense delivery to convey these messages to their children, then I guarantee you, we won’t be calling white moms mean. We’ll be calling them good mothers.

    I also read a really cool article on the relatively new field of behavioral epigenetics that speaks to the actual genetic changes we undergo due to traumas of all kinds. Those traumas change our genes, and we pass it on. To quote, “…our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. The DNA remains the same, but psychological and behavioral tendencies are inherited. You might have inherited not just your grandmother’s knobby knees, but also her predisposition toward depression caused by the neglect she suffered as a newborn…” It’s interesting stuff. If anyone wants to read the article I snerched that quote from, it’s called, “Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes”. It’s on Discover magazine dot com…just google the article title and it should come up.

    My point is, I think an ongoing physical and cultural genocide counts as trauma. It’s not just the impact of our ancestors’ trauma we’ve inherited, but the impact of the trauma we experience in our daily lives. We might point to a need to break the cycle of abuse, but I think it goes deeper than that…there might actually be physical causes to our behavior, and in the future, treatments to help us “break the cycle.”

    • How exactly does whooping ass on your child and publicly humiliating them better prepare them to handle interactions with police and other threats? Better yet how does it prepare them to handle the subtle everyday racism that they encounter in the workplace, in stores etc? Our children no longer need to be dominated by control and fear to survive, they need to be reinforced by love and affirmation to thrive.

  31. There is simply no excuse for abuse. I dont care how difficult or challenging it is being a black mother in america or difficult or challenging it is to prepare a black child to the harsh reality of racism abuse is still abuse. I am not about to give black mothers a pass.

    My mother was a single parent most of my childhood, and she had limited resources. As a matter of fact, she was a sharecropper’s daughter. She was overly patient. Every punishment I received I earn every bit of it and more. She never neglected to say that she was sorry. She never cursed or verbally abused me. Nor did she humilate me in her punishments. She was a hugger and kisser who never held back on a “I love you.”

    We have to stop making excusing for poor (I am referring to quality and nor socio-economic status) black mothering.

  32. Obviously, I am coming into this thread quite late. This subject resonates with me personally. There is a grave denial within the black community, particularly among feminists, about the existence of what can only be described as chronic generational abuse.My attempts to bring this matter up on Crunkfeminists got me banned. from their site. The abuse visited upon the family by my mother has caused untold damage At sixteen,

    I had finally had enough and ran away from home. A decision that would negative consequences for years to come.So profound is the denial in my family my mother once denied she had ever hit us and no one challenged her, but me. One of the worst aspects of the abuse was the masculinity shaming, which I believe is commonly used. The denial I mention reaches far beyond my family boundaries, well into the core values of the community.

    • This subject reasonates with me as well having grown up with an emotionally abusive mother. (I am not talking about being stern, which is sometimes called “mean.”) Since when do we make excuses for abuse? There is no excuse for an adult taking their frustrations out on a child, whether its yelling, cursing, saying mean and nasty things or ignoring the child. It makes children feel worthless and unloved. It does appear to be a chronic, generational problem. (I am convinced my mother learned this behavior.) Generally, this type of abuse goes on for years–on a daily basis, which makes it very difficult to undo the psychological damage. It’s a serious problem because there is so much more that we don’t see (as in the example with the toddler trying to get her mother’s attention, but the mother is too preoccupied, even though its 10:00 at night and yells at the toddler, presumably for disturbing her). The denial that the previous commentor mentions is very real. The abusers usually employ selective memory and the community either does not recognize what they see, deny what they see, or makes excuses for it, all to the detriment of the child. We can’t begin to work on the problem until we first recognize that there is a problem.

  33. I think there is a big difference between discipline and the neglect and emotional abuse present in the example given by the writer. Refusing to make a nice comment or to at least smile at your daughter when she is showing you her purse is not teaching her anything except not to trust anyone. My mother was always warning my brothers and I of the dangers of racism and discrimination in the world, but she also taught us that home is a safe place and family are the people you can lean on. Neglect and emotional availability from a mother cannot be excused in any race.

  34. I am amazed at the courage to start this conversation! Thank you! I was at my wits end – again – when I decided to google “are black women the meanest”. This to me, seems sacrilegious! I grew up on songs like “Sweet mother, I never forget you” (West African hit song of the 1970s) and during the “black pride era”. The “hip hop” /woman bashing was too alien to my African-raised soul, but the beats were dope! Now the younger generation everywhere are imitating it. I married a West African woman and we’re raising 4 kids, two in HS. But what I’ve observed over a lifetime, is it seems black women can’t/won’t be tender/playful towards their children in any consistent way! Infants and toddlers maybe, but rarely beyond that. There’s a lot of abuse. The level of meanness that I experienced, and then see my spouse mete out routinely to our children in the name of “discipline” and “running the show” is simply absurd. If and when I intervene it starts a vicious cycle of accusations, blame, threats, “if you know better, do it yourself” etc. I have long wondered if this is the emotional/psychological source of many of us being “challenged” or “incapacitated” in some ways as adults in navigating the economic system and our relationships. I don’t fully accept the narrative of poverty/socio-economic disenfranchisement as the only source of the behavior. Latinas do experience this but are much more publicly and privately tender/nurturesome. It is true that in a capitalist society, the stress of economic poverty plays a crucial role – BUT MANY, MANY. materially poor people around the world, show love and affect and patient nurturing to their offspring (even in traditional African societies). I don’t think “black women are the meanest”. I have seen on a few occasions Asian mothers be very severe with their kids. My hypothesis is that women in the role of both “provider” – employed in the capitalist system” for low wages – and “patient nurturer” ARE PATENTLY incompatible. Now a highly paid “professional” may be able to pull it off, but rarely. Unfortunately, the history of blacks in the CAPITALIST world system has been a depressive one, and thus our women have borne the brunt of the stress, thus perhaps contributing to “mean” parenting. I am not “blaming the victim” here, I am just searching for root causes so we can change this dynamic. I am assuming of course that ALL adults are responsible for their own behavior and can’t endlessly point fingers. I honestly don’t even think most black women think they are being “mean” or callous/neglectful! They just think they are doing as good or better than their mothers in their role as parent! I would like to see a detailed study on this. I pray my daughter doesn’t behave this way when she’s a mother, but I can’t “model” that for her – she needs other mom’s to model this healthily. My wife btw is doing a fantastic job as a parent – 1000% better than what her own mom was capable of! But “tender”/patient she is not.

  35. Well I’m guessing that the majority of African American mothers are abusive and mean to their children. I’m guessing that women of all other race are nurturing and caring for their children. I surely cannot make myself believe that. I am an African American mother and growing up I use to believe that mothers of another race were a lot nicer to their children because of what I had seen on TV. My opinion changed once I started working in a preschool where the white and Latina women were very mean and cruel to the children. Most of them were just so impatient. I don’t know if I am just to soft but I hated the things that they would say to those kids (3 years old). The way that they would shove those kids around and bully them. I was so tired of the way those children were being treated that I had to do something. Let’s just say that they became unemployed not long after that. I understand that those children were not their own but the moral of my story is that there are mean and abusive mothers in every race.

    • It’s true that there are some A/A mothers that treat their own children in an unloving manner–yelling, sceaming, yanking, cursing and sometimes hitting in public. We cringe when see this because we know that if they abuse them in public, there is no telling what they say and do to them when no one is around. It’s a parenting strategy for most. More than likely, this is how they were parented. My guess is that they do not see it as abuse, but it is abuse nevertheless. Generational habits are difficult to break. I commend you for stepping up and protecting the innocent children that were being abused at the daycare. No one should mistreat children. Period. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. I challenge everyone to do something this month to prevent child abuse.

  36. Child abuse is such a serious issue nowadays. We should take care of kids and be conscious of what is going on around us, if we see a child getting beaten by a parent in the streets or at his/her home, we should signalize the authorities immediately. We are a part of this society and it is our duty to treat children with respect as they are our future.

  37. My boyfriend is African-American, and so is the rest of his family. His parents seem like they talk very respectfully to their kids. His mom seems very patient (she is a teacher, and that is pretty much required). His dad is in the military, and he seems very nice as well.

  38. I think it’s rooted in our history…slavery, how we were treated then and throughout all of the hardships. If you think about it, Black people are really hard on each other, too. We make fun of dark brown skin, “nappy” hair, etc… That mindset was passed onto our people by the masters and it’s still alive today.

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