Am I Not a Mother? (Representation of Moms in the Media)

I am taking a mini-break from my Mother’s Day 2012 coverage in order to address an issue that has been bothering me this week. (I will return back to the regularly scheduled Mother’s Day gift ideas, giveaways and recipes after this little break :-) .) FYI: This post was not inspired by one particular thing. It was a series of things. However, I would say the “tipping points” were a “Modern Mothers”/ Mommy Blogger info graphic on Mashable and a movie screening that I attended earlier this week. The movie was representative of motherhood, but the presence of a brown mom in a nurturing role was glaringly absent (to me).

“Why does everything have to be about race? “ is a sentiment that I frequently read when writers point out real or perceived (depending on whom you ask) slights in media representation. To get that out of the way for the purposes of this post, let’s expand the conversation and make it about representation…which is a bit more accurate anyway. While everything is not an issue of race and representation in the media, some things are…including the general coverage of mothers in both traditional and social media. I have especially seen the disparities when it comes to coverage of moms around Mother’s Day.

It is 2012, a time when there is such a great diversity of races, cultures, economic classes and lifestyle choices among moms, yet the media still persists in primarily portraying moms as white, heterosexual, married, economically elite women. I have a major problem with that default setting for “mom”. Back in 1851, the legendary Sojourner Truth asked “Ain’t I A Woman” to both advocate for the rights of all women and to also point out that black women were no less female despite not being placed on a societal pedestal.  In 2012, I ask a similar question for each of the moms who don’t fit into the media’s stereotypical mom box: “Ain’t I a mom?” (I’m just going to have to change that to “Am I Not a Mom” just in case my kids ever happen to read this!)

As a brown woman, I see this lack of diversity in the coverage of moms most obviously in the skin color of the women who are consistently picked for the mom “lists”, paid ads, endorsements and such. It’s much more than that though. I’m sure that if I were a part of another underrepresented group of moms (young moms, single moms, moms of biracial kids, lesbian moms, moms of kids with special needs, moms from a lower economic class and such), then I would see the lack of diversity from a different lens. I’m a realist and I realize that it would be impossible to include every category of mom in every ad and every show. However, it would be wonderful if both the media and marketers would make more of an effort to show a greater mix of moms.

Sometimes, I don’t think that people realize how powerful the media truly is when it comes to perception. That is why it bothers me in particular that married brown moms with little brown kids (my reality) are rarely seen in a positive, engaged light in the media. I really believe that affects societal expectations of black moms who “mother” their own children. Personally, I wonder…

-Is that why it was so difficult for several white moms to comprehend that I was Michael’s mom and not his nanny when he was a toddler? The first time someone made that mistake, it was a little funny…not so funny after five + times. (I can give those who made similar mistakes about Sean the benefit of the doubt, because he looks like his father. Michael looks SO much like me though!)

-Is that why Manhattan business leaders couldn’t believe that I was (the original brand) “Mom in the City”? Initially, Mom in the City was an offline group and I hosted mom meetups at various spots around NYC. If I had a dollar for every time that a business owner asked me if I worked for Mom in the City when I went in to their offices to finalize event details, then I would have at least enough to buy two of my beloved Caramel Frappuccinos. In a city as racially diverse as Manhattan with its many brown moms, why was it so hard to believe that a brown mom’s “brand” could be “mom in the city”? Besides, I had a picture of (brown) me on my website!

-Is that why certain brands attempt to compensate groups of “multicultural” mom bloggers with products and/or a trip in exchange for long-term ambassador work assignments while compensating more “mainstream moms” monetarily for similar work? (Actually, I’m not positive that this one is a representation issue. This just might be an “across the women blogger board” thing!)

In any event, I know that it can be uncomfortable to question our hidden assumptions about various life roles. At the end of the day, I’m a “Pollyanna”. I think that people (in both traditional and social media) will do better when they become conscious of the messages that they send regarding the essence of motherhood. Consistently focusing on one particular subset of moms is not advantageous to any mom. Ultimately, I think that the ties that bond moms together are greater than the ones that separate us. We all love our kids. We all make sacrifices for our kids. We all “deserve” to be represented and celebrated on Mother’s Day…and every day. Are we not all moms?

What do you think? Are you comfortable with the way that the media currently represents moms?

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  1. AriannaFan says:

    I'm glad you decided to post. I am NOT comfortable with the way media currently represents moms. I agree that their idea of "successful mom" fits the description you gave…and I HATE that when they want to represent motherhood negatively, they are quick to NOW bring other races to the forefront then say "well, look here, we did include another race." My daughter looks like me…once you get pass her brown skin vs. my light skin…but 8 years later…I'm so insulted each time a person asks if she is mine and each time a white educator is "so surprised" that my child is smart, articulate, and poised.

  2. Christine says:

    It's funny that you bring this up, because, I was thinking about this as I looked at the new Time magazine article , talking about moms breast feeding their toddlers and co sleeping. None of the moms featured breast feeding their toddlers are brown. I feel strong about breast feeding. I breastfed my 7 year old until he was 3 and a half and I have a 2 and half that I am still breast feeding and co sleeping with.
    I wonder if they even looked for any moms of color. Anyway Kimberly I totally feel you on this issue! I am a brown mom with 2 brown boys.

  3. First let me say thank you for including mom with biracial children in there. :) I for one am NOT comfortable with the way moms of African/Caribbean decent are represented in the media. That is when we are represented. The catch 22 is that many “brown” mom can help revamp the image of black families and black motherhood if given the chance.

    I think some brands don’t understand the value of the “brown” influence. They want the “brown” attention for their product but their not sure how much they want to invest in $$$. It’s about a return on their investment. Which is another catch 22 because they wont see it until they take a chance and invest both time and money.

  4. Well, you know I love the Pollyanna part of you! But, there are times to be angry and demand better of the media and beyond. This is one of those issues. I’m so happy you posted this and got it out there! Motherhood is unifying in so many ways, it’s too bad so many brands and media outlets don’t understand that.

  5. Kimberly Coleman says:

    Thanks for your (constant) support Rebecca!

  6. Kimberly Coleman says:

    Thanks Onica,
    We all have different experiences…but they are all valuable!

  7. Kimberly Coleman says:

    Yes…THAT article. Actually, my friend Kimberly started a site, Black Breastfeeding 360 ( specifically geared to the black breastfeeding experience due to its lack of coverage in mainstream press!

  8. Kimberly Coleman says:

    Thank you! Don’t even get me started on the low expectations surrounding brown children…

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