Americans Seem To Love Huge Families, But Only If They're White
A quick click through evening television reveals America’s obsession with the huge white family. A short list would include oldies like "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," "7th Heaven" and "The Waltons," as well newer entries in the scripted and reality show genres ("Big Love," "Sister Wives," "19 Kids and Counting," "Kate Plus Eight"). If television programming is a cultural bellwether, we are really into white women having lots of kids.
What about women of color with huge families? How are they represented in our deep interest in fecundity? For the most part -- big shocker -- they’re not in the frame.
Obviously, a large part of this is general lack of black and Latino faces on the large or small screen. But even taking this imbalance into account, that still shouldn’t yield zero made-for-TV stories of big households with a darker-skinned matriarch.
The last time we saw a large black family it was named Cosby. "The Cosby Show," revolutionary in many regards, stands out for depicting a family of five African-American children in a well-to-do household. Since then, shows about families of color, like "Family Matters," "George Lopez" or "All of Us," allow the mothers depicted to have two children at most.
Even in the real real world, figures like Angelina Jolie and Madonna seem intent on doing motherhood wholesale. Apparently, it’s acceptable for a woman to parent many children of color, provided she’s white.
America has always sent us mixed messages about motherhood. It’s all apple pie and Hallmark holiday till it comes time to provide for maternity leave or prenatal care. Our attitudes about supporting white motherhood may seem convoluted. But these are quaint in comparison to our views of mothers whose skin is a darker shade.
Fecund white mothers can raise eyebrows. Mother of twins and sextuplets, Kate Gosselin certainly catches heat for not seeming maternal enough. However, when women of color make news for adventures in fertility, volume on the reaction goes many decibels higher. And the tone goes from disapproving to fierce. Nadya Suleman, mother of octuplets, faced death threats and ridicule after making headlines. Much of this is based on the assumption that she would require public assistance and thus support her large family on the public’s dime.
Suleman is an extreme case of the hatred reserved for black and brown mothers. Caricatures of public assistance like the Cadillac-driving “welfare queen” worked with unstated assumptions that women of color are unfit to properly nurture the children under their care. We persist in believing that women of color have children not out of love, or even lack of access to the means to control their fertility, but because they're calculating schemers intent to make a buck off Uncle Sam.
Undermining motherhood among African-American women in particular continues today in more insidious form. Billboards across our country declare that the most dangerous place for black babies is the womb. These are large-scale declarations that these women are unfit to do the thing our society deems the most important and natural for a female to do: birth and raise children.
The billboard creators wrap themselves in claims of having women’s interests at heart. Their stated intentions are to stop the purported targeting of African-American women’s wombs. Never mind that they propose to do this by denying them access to what are often the only affordable health services within reach.
It’s hard to decide what’s more insulting. Their outward declaration that African-American women are so easily duped into acting against their interests or the words they’ve selected to say so, implying that these women simply aren’t fit mothers, that their bodies are a danger to their children.