As a psychologist, much of my clinical work goes beyond the therapy session. I spend a decent amount of time offering diagnostic evaluations for adults and children with various cognitive, learning, and behavioral problems. This means, I spend anywhere from 1 to 4 hours with a client engaging them in various standardized or projective activities that give me information about their various abilities, social skills, strengths, areas of growth, and behaviors. Most recently, I have spent time in local schools with children who have been identified as having problems with learning or behaviors due to a number of reasons. Many of the children referred are black boys, for a number of reasons. Research tells us that many childhood disorders are more likely to be observed in boys. However, research also tells us that black boys are more likely to be targeted for behavioral problems, labeled as less intellectually gifted as their peers, and given harsher punishments than their white counterparts. This is not to omit or contribute to the theme of erasure of black girls from this topic, but to specifically highlight the foundation of what many of us know as the school-to-prison pipeline.
If you've read my previous posts, you know that I discuss the history of the silencing of the black voice; this trend is just as present in the school system for black children and parents. Many parents are not aware of their rights as it relates to schools, especially as it pertains to their children being identified as "problematic/aggressive/behind." When you add in the factors of being black, perhaps challenged with economic and geographic barriers, and having your own history of trauma as a parent, it creates a stressful, helpless, feeling to not be able to understand and advocate for your child's needs. As a parent, you expect to trust the school to teach your child, keep them safe, and effectively communicate any concerns related to your child's progress. Unfortunately, that is not always the case for black parents, often in the hands of the mother to navigate for the family system.
We must pause and reflect briefly about the history of black women and black mothering in America; it is an extremely profound experience to consider. Black women were relied on to take care of the households of white slave-masters, raise and nurse white children, in addition to their own, and maintain their own family system. Many African cultures are collectivistic in nature, positioning black women to take on the responsibility of the wellness of those around them. The experience of black women is often taken for granted, minimized, and silenced causing black women to take on the invisible 'superwoman' cape from the beginning of their existence in this country. Black women were expected to take on the world, with ease, minimal support, and without complaint. The resilience of the black woman has been passed down for generations affording the ability to seemingly handle stress and chaos without skipping a beat, when historically other options were not available. It is because of this history that black women have a unique, immeasurable perspective on the needs of their families and especially their children. To undermine, ignore, or discredit the black mother, is a moral and ethical violation.
In my clinical work, I approach my work from a social justice, anti-racist perspective. I see many black clients and families and specifically keep in mind the perspectives of black history in this country, while gathering information about their unique familial history. I am aware of the research that shows that black children are more likely to be mis-diagnosed and more harshly diagnosed by non-black mental health professionals. I am aware of the research that shows that the school-to-prison pipeline begins as early as pre-school, as non-black teachers are more likely to discipline harsher and engage young children with biased ideals about their abilities. It is because of this that I take very seriously my approach and work with black children as I see myself as an advocate for not only that child, but the family system.
Most recently, I had the honor to be invited into the space of a local group of black mothers, "We, the Motherhood," who have formed to begin supporting one another and working through the trauma of being a black mother of a child with a disability and to help support and advocate for their unique needs. One mother specifically shared that she observed my work as being filled with "love and respect" which she felt has been lacking from the mental health professional community when interfacing with black children who may have differing learning styles. It was truly a humbling remark to receive, but also sad as I am very familiar with dominant mental health culture in the U.S. They discuss their trauma from their own individual pasts, the trauma that is often experienced for black women during pregnancy and birth, and the trauma experienced being black mothers interacting with schools who often do not take them seriously or properly advocate for the needs of their children. They have joined together with intent to be a community presence as a means to protest the racism and trauma they know all too well that is inappropriately projected onto their children experienced in the education system. These women are not only mothers, but by their own circumstance have become experts on the educational system. They are a powerful force actively planning creative ways to continue inviting community partners and allies into their space with the intent on breaking down racist barriers within the education system that directly impact the well-being of their children and the ongoing tragedy of the school-to-prison pipeline. They know the sad reality that the possibility of schools re-opening during the COVID-19 pandemic will disproportionately affect their families more than their white counterparts.
Black mothers have always been a silenced, under-appreciated, force within this country. They have not only looked out for their own children, but for the children around them. Black mothers have to parent from a position of constantly being on defense; they not only have to instill the typical lessons taught to children, but also anticipate the possible experiences that their children and families will experience from white America in schools and local communities. We, the Motherhood is a perfect example of black mothers moving towards a place of healing by use of their voice, their protest, their unity, and their resilience. They are moving past the former narrative of black women and creating their own platform to advocate for the needs of the black children in their communities. Black mothers must now remember that they are the experts of their children and are worthy of being heard and respected, now more than ever.