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How One Woman is Tackling the Underrepresentation of Black Motherhood

Can women have it all?

It’s a very common question in the mommy blogosphere and mainstream media. We can work, we can stay home, or even do both. We are women and mothers and you can hear us roar! Well, some of us that is—women of color have long been left out of the feminist movement and the critical conversations surrounding the issues mothers face.

mater mea is a website that“tells the stories of women of color at the intersection of motherhood and career.” I came across the site after hearing an interview on the fantastic parenting podcast “The Longest Shortest Time” with mater mea’s founder Anthonia Akitunde. I found the pictures, videos and stories so beautiful and compelling that I contacted Ms. Akitunde to learn more about her site. In an our hour-long phone conversation I discovered that the creator is just as thoughtful and reflective as the site she has built.

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Anthonia Akitunde doesn't yet have any children, but she created mater mea in 2012 when the conversations around working and motherhood reached a rather frenzied pitch (remember when Sheryl Sandberg was telling women to “Lean In” and Anne Marie Slaughter was telling women why we still can’t have it all?). Anthonia began to think about her own future. Her career as a writer was very important to her, but she wasn’t sure how motherhood would fit in to her goals and aspirations. As she was reading what was in the mainstream media on the topic, she didn’t see herself reflected in the narrative—the stories that were being told were those of white women and mothers who were either independently wealthy or on a career path that didn’t appeal to her.

In addition to noting the lack of meaningful conversation about Black women and work-life balance, there was also the issue of the problematic portrayal of black families and black people in general in the mainstream media. She wanted to fill a void in the media representation of black women and their families.

In fact, when Anthonia told people that she was running a site about black motherhood, people would automatically assume she was only featuring single moms.

“It’s frustrating to not see your community and experiences reflected back to you in the media, and in turn, among the general public. Black women are so stereotyped,” Anthonia says. "We're either a welfare mom or Michelle Obama, and there is only one Michelle Obama. I really wanted to show the the gray area that exists between those two archetypes, as well as the realities of what it means to become a mother and still have a life and career."

In fact, when Anthonia told people that she was running a site about black motherhood, people would automatically assume she was only featuring single moms.

At the time she didn’t realize how revolutionary it was to have a website where you could see beautiful photos of a black woman with her family doing everyday normal things with her kids. After starting the site, Anthonia learned more than just how women were managing work-life stress: She had her eyes opened to issues around motherhood that she hadn’t previously considered.

“I didn't realize until I started the site how much loss comes into play with being a mom. I used to think, oh you get pregnant and then you have a baby. I didn't realize how often women dealt with miscarriages or infertility. I just felt like the conversations weren't being had with black women in the mainstream and I wanted to create a space where we could have those conversations.”

She also recently launched a particularly powerful video series called “These Are Our Children,” which sprang from a study that found that the general public and police think black children are older than they are by 4.5 years and less innocent than their white peers. She wanted to combat that stereotype and show not only how it affects the children, but also their moms who are trying to help them navigate that reality.

Anthonia acknowledges that the site isn't necessarily for every woman. “I'm not writing content to appeal to everyone, I'm writing content specifically for black women… All women of color deserve to have a ‘seat at the table’ and a hand in creating the content that they want to see and not have it be created through white women, who definitely don't have the same experiences as we do.”

I think it's incredibly important that she acknowledges that her editorial mission doesn’t include white women. While that may ruffle the feathers of some of her white followers, it's also a great way to highlight the lack of diversity portrayed in content for mothers.

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As for how white moms can be allies to their black counterparts, Anthonia shares, “Listening and not trying to insert yourself into the conversation in a way that diminishes what someone is trying to say is one way to be an ally. When the feminist movement treats white women's experiences and concerns as the default, it becomes just as problematic as the patriarchy. Realize that just because someone is saying something that feels different from your experience doesn't mean that it's not true.”

As a mixed-race woman that identifies as black and as a mother with a very white son, I too, am seeking content that reflects my family and my experience. I love that mater mea makes space for families like mine and wants to show "the variety of black life." And as Anthonia puts it, “We’re not all the same, we don’t all look the same, we don’t all parent the same way."

Anthonia told me the first women she interviewed for the profiles were her “girl crushes,” women whom she greatly admired. As I hung up the phone, I had a bit of a girl crush myself. Anthonia Akitunde is creating beautiful and powerful content that most certainly deserves a seat at the table. Do yourself a favor and have a look at her site and give a listen to her podcast, if you’re black, you'll love seeing these gorgeous and diverse images and stories from black motherhood. If you’re not black, tune in to expand your worldview and remember—just because it’s not about you, doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful and worthwhile.

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Photograph by: J. Quazi King

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