How Black Mothers Participate in the Development of Manhood and Masculinity: What Do We Know about Black Mothers and Their Sons?

Article excerpt

The role all women play in raising sons has received very little scholarly attention. Moreover, and more germane to this article, discourse on Black women and sons in this regard until fairly recently, was almost nonexistent. With this in mind, the present review examines the emerging research concerning how Black mothers participate in the development of manhood and masculinity. An analysis of the recent and nascent body of literature exploring Black mother-son relationships (a) suggests that Black mothers play a significant role in the healthy development of manhood and masculinity, (b) demonstrates how Black mothers participate in healthy development of manhood and masculinity, and (c) challenges notions about mothers and fathers, males and females, and masculinity and femininity by blurring traditional lines of separation.

There is a significant volume of literature that addresses the many variables that contribute to the construction of manhood and masculinity, such as the role of families (Billingsley, 1992; Boyd-Franklin, Franklin, & Toussaint, 2001; Cones & White, 1998; Franklin, 1984; Freud, 1976; June, 1991; Sigel, 1986), the media, including television, music, film, and written material (Boyd-Franklin, Franklin, & Toussaint, 2001; Comstock & Paik, 1991; Cones & White, 1998; Dines & Humez, 1995; Stroman, 1991; Winbush, 2002), religion (Billingsley, 1992; June, 1991; Stearns, 1990), schools (Murrell, 2002; Winbush, 2002), biology (Bush, 1998; Lewis & Weinraub, 1979), and peer groups (Boyd-Franklin, Franklin, & Toussaint, 2001; Cones & White, 1998; Franklin 1984, 1988). However, after examining the literature, it became strikingly evident that scholars have virtually ignored a significant variable in the manhood development process. The role all women play in raising sons has received very little scholarly attention. Moreover, and more germane to this work, discourse on Black women and sons until fairly recently, was almost nonexistent.

During the 1980s, White feminists (Arcana, 1983; Forcey, 1987) began to examine how mothers participated in the reproduction of chauvinistic and sexist paradigms with respect to raising their sons. Looking at mother-son relationships from this perspective also continued to be the work of White feminists more recently (O'Reilly, 2001; Smith, 1995). However, largely left out of this discourse were the unique dynamics of Black mother-son relationships?

Although there are some overlapping aspects and issues concerning Black mother-son relationships and White mother-son relationships, there are some salient differences. Having to forge and maintain a relationship in the context of white supremacy is the major factor that differentiates the mothering of Blacks and Whites. In addition, the following related conditions make the study of Black mother-son relationships unique: (a) 50% of all Black households with children under age 18 are headed by Black women, (b) Black women are held responsible in some academic literature and in the popular press for Black males' maladaptive characteristics and behaviors, and (c) catastrophic conditions exist that cause some observers to view Black men as an endangered species (Bush, 1996).

Both with the uniqueness of Black mother-son relationships and the dearth of social science literature in mind, this article looks at how Black mothers participate in the development of manhood and masculinity. The following works are examined to shape our understating of this relationship and process: Black Mothers to Sons: Juxtaposing African American Literature with Social Practice (King & Mitchell, 1990), Can Black Mothers Raise Our Sons? (Bush, 1999b), Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males (Hrabowski, Maton, & Greif, 1998), and Black Sons to Mothers: Compliments, Critiques, and Challenges for Cultural Workers in Education (Brown & Davis, 2000). In addition to three out of the four aforementioned texts being based on empirical study, the four works were also selected because they seem to be the only texts where Black mother-son relationships are the primary focus. …