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Black Moms and “White Motherhood Society”: African-American Middle-Class Mothers’ Perspectives on Work, Family and Identity

Abstract

African-American middle-class mothers have historically been structurally, culturally, and economically excluded from the practices related to hegemonic frameworks of mothering and parenting that have been described and critiqued by family and work life scholars. Collectively these frameworks make three theoretical assumptions: 1) mothers are principally responsible for raising children, 2) working outside of the home conflicts with being a mother and 3) middle-class mothers share beliefs about how to best raise children. Based on interviews with sixty African-American middle-class mothers, I highlight how the experience of mothering is influenced by racially situated identities, ideologies and practices. My findings challenge the view of motherhood as an exclusive endeavor and highlight that working is intrinsically linked to what it means to be a mother in the African-American community. These beliefs about mothering are also accompanied by psychological and tangible supports including encouragement from family to work and the availability of childcare from relatives. Finally, African-American middle-class mothers have additional race-based parenting concerns that relate to developing their children’s racial comfort, racial identity, and acumen in interracial and intra-racial social interactions. Overall, these findings suggest that African-American middle-class mothers recognize what I call an “integrated mothering” ideology. This ideology assumes that 1) childcare is a mother-centered, but community-supported activity, 2) working is a duty of motherhood and 3) considerations of race and racism should be consistently present in determining how to best raise children.

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