Nefertiti Austin didn't want to write another book about how to find happiness as a mom juggling work and home life or about how not to hate your husband after giving birth. To write about her own experiences, she had to tackle some of the most uncomfortable yet urgent contemporary parenting challenges, including the mounting difficulties of raising children of color in an increasingly divided country. Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America uncovers what it means to be a single, black mother of adopted black children in an America that primarily views motherhood through the perspective of white women.
Austin makes no attempt to sugarcoat the realities of being a black mother in today's America. She opens with a scene in which she brings her adopted five-year-old son, August, to a Black Lives Matter rally in Beverly Hills, where she lives. Beginning her memoir in the midst of a racially charged rally was a calculated move. "I wanted to situate the reader in the hearts, minds, and souls of black mothers," Austin says. "Many of us worry that something catastrophic will happen to our children just because they are black. This fear is unique to black mothers of black children and necessary for our survival. White mothers of white children do not have these concerns, and this speaks to the heart of racial disparities among mothers. Whether someone had experienced this or not, I wanted the reader to take this walk with me."
In addition to her story, Austin's book includes interviews with fellow African-American mothers who have created families on their terms. "I live in Los Angeles, home of celebrity adoptions," Austin says. "However, my goal is to normalize mainstream ideas about who adopts. The presumption that adoption is for rich white people, upper-middle-class white couples, and devout white Christians makes black adoptive families invisible, and that's why I highlighted everyday black women who answered the call to adopt."
Austin also includes the story of a famous black woman: Serena Williams. She describes how the tennis star encountered unconscious racial bias after giving birth in 2017. Austin points to a BBC article that portrays Williams as otherworldly, almost superhuman, instead of focusing on Williams's ability to successfully juggle a career and motherhood.
"Women of any race shouldn't have to be superstars for our status as mothers to be respected," Austin writes in Motherhood So White. And yet, for women of color, hard work inside and outside the home must be constantly proven to be acknowledged. "We live in a white patriarchal society where the needs of men come first," Austin says. "Every mother I know is an amazing multitasker and makes life easy for everyone around her. This ease is deceptive, because much of a mother's work occurs behind the scenes. Money talks in our nation, and a dollar figure on such an important job would finally raise all of our worth as mothers."
In telling her and other black mothers' stories, Austin hopes that Motherhood So White offers something for people of all skin colors. "Black mothers will see themselves as central to a discussion about all facets of motherhood, as opposed to in anecdotal stories found, or not found, in white mom narratives," Austin says. "Black men who read my memoir will see how destructive hypermasculinity is and why I think love and affection are needed between black boys and men, especially those who want to parent or mentor. White parents may begin to understand how their privilege has blinded them to the freedoms they have in raising their children and use this new information to establish genuine friendships with black parents and teach their kids how to support their black friends. Together, we can all be better parents, better people, and better citizens."