Amongst the endless news reports and uninformed statistics, it's hard to get a clear picture of the resilience, dedication and nuances of Black motherhood. But those of us who understand Black motherhood deeply, know that were it not for our mothers, our lives would not be as rich, full or even possible. Anthonia Akitunde co-created mater mea to portray a different side of black motherhood that has largely been missing from mainstream media's conversation. The debate of work-life balance and "leaning in" has primarily been centered on white women with white privilege. Mater mea fills that void by addressing and celebrating the beautiful complexities and joys of Black motherhood. It has featured single, married, gay and adoptive moms in the most honest, visually stunning settings. (EBONY.com Senior Editor, Jamilah Lemieux was the subject of a recent profile.)
For Akintude, who hopes to be a mother one day herself, giving women a platform to share their stories and hopes as not only mothers, but as women, is critical. She has funded the site out of her own pocket since 2012, and is currently running a campaign in hopes to generate revenue that will allow for the site to expand. EBONY chatted with her about the site’s evolution and where she hopes it will provide for women now and in the future.
EBONY: Why did you create mater mea? Was there a particular personal experience or need you saw for it to be created?
AA: mater mea was created to fill a void in the ongoing work-life balance and “Can women have it all?” conversations that have dominated the media in recent years. Women of color are largely absent in the media’s portrayal of working motherhood, even though they are dealing with the same issues and concerns as white women: how to manage the demands of their careers with the demands of being present and loving mothers and partners.
As a young Black woman who wants to have a career and a family of her own, I felt like the women who I could relate to and who could speak to my experience as a Black woman navigating today’s workforce were missing from the media. I knew there were thousands of women who had stories we could all learn from that gave a more realistic and relatable understanding of what being a working mom is actually like. mater mea is a platform for those stories to be told and shared.
EBONY: What do you think the narrative around black motherhood has been in the past, and how do you hope that it changes?
AA: I think the narrative around black motherhood is pretty dated and reductionist. It’s one that’s still very much steeped in the fear of welfare mothers from the 1980s — single women who are neglectful, breeding the next generation of criminals/drains on society, or who see their kids as just a source of income. There isn’t much in the way of nuance or complexity in the way Black motherhood is depicted today: you’re either that welfare mom or you’re Michelle Obama (and no one can be Michelle Obama but the FLOTUS herself). Neither extreme is accessible for the everyday woman trying to find herself when she turns on the TV or goes online.
I hope the narrative around Black motherhood becomes more inclusive to different experiences and different types of women. What I love about mater mea is that all kinds of women are represented: single mothers, women who have been married for 20+ years, lesbians, women who have adopted, blended families…It shows that B;ack people aren’t monolith: we’re all different and informed by the different life experiences we’ve had.
I would love for someone to go to mater mea and not assume that because it is a website about Black motherhood, that all the mothers are single, which is something I’ve been surprised to hear from both Black and non-Black readers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a single mother, but it just points to this very narrow viewpoint of black motherhood, which can be hurtful and damaging.
EBONY: mater mea portrays such a wide range of diverse, driven, Black mothers. What common themes do you think many of the women featured on mater mea share?
AA: Every woman I spoke to, from the chief marketing officer at Amway to a mom who started a home goods line on Etsy say the exact same thing: “I can’t do it by myself.” There needs to be a network in place to help a woman achieve her goals in her career and to be able to mother the way she wants to mother, whether that be a babysitter, a nanny, her mom being a block away, or even working at a place that lets her bring the kids in when school is closed. There are so many moving parts to being a mom, but they all need that network to be solid or it all collapses.
EBONY: What do you hope these stories will provide for mothers who read the pieces?
AA: mater mea’s readership is pretty evenly split between women who are mothers and people who aren’t. I hope both of these groups get the same thing: comfort and support. As one mom recently told me, “Black mothers aren’t invisible. We do exist.” I think it’s important to see people who look like you in the media because it validates your experiences, even if they’re different. The site also goes into how these women got to their careers, so it can also offer guidance to working mothers and professional women who are trying to get to that same place for themselves as well.
EBONY: You are looking to raise funds for the site in order to continue telling these beautiful stories on a more regular basis. Where would you like to see this site go within the next few years?
AA: I would love for mater mea to become a daily website that provides the same focus on beautiful visuals and compelling stories written for and by women of color across different categories: career, style, beauty, culture, health and wellness, and parenting. There really aren’t that many places that are telling our stories in such a visual way, and my hope is for mater mea to continue doing so for years to come. I have so many ideas but, as with anything, it will take some money to get there. But once I’m there, my hope is that mater mea will help mainstream media see that black women are more than the current stereotypes we’re being shoehorned into, and that we deserve more than what is being created “for” us.
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