In Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood and Community (Rutgers University Press, 2016), Riché Barnes, assistant professor of Africana studies at Smith, explores why African American women have traditionally prioritized work and children over marriage, and how that approach may be changing for today’s mothers. From the introduction:
Since slavery, Black women have had to work: first, labor was a condition of their bondage; later, they helped support their families in an economic system structured around racialized discrimination that made it nearly impossible for Black men to support their families without assistance from their wives.
Black women have historically been doubly stigmatized by discrimination based on race and gender, rendering them unable to make the decision to be “at home” without some economic and social penalty, from either white employers or state policies. In response, the Black community has emphasized a strategy of education and professional credentials for Black women; that is, if Black women had to work, these credentials could allow them better control over where they worked and over their work conditions.
Correspondingly, Black families have historically been seen as more gender equitable in terms of work and family responsibility when compared to white families.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, professional African American women and their families are experiencing a shift from older cultural models of marriage and parenting that privileged matrifocal conceptualizations of Black family life to a more nuclear model that privileges companionate marriage and biological children.
SAQ, Winter 2015–16