In her memoir, Motherhood So White, Nefertiti Austin provides valuable firsthand insight into what it means to be a black single mother and to reject the constraints of societal expectations.
When Austin decided to adopt her son, August, a black boy placed in the California foster care system, she was met with criticism and disbelief, especially from her own family. They couldn’t understand why she wanted to legally adopt a stranger, an outsider. For many black people, adoption is a cultural custom reserved for white people, unless you had “a connection with that child, even a tenuous one.”
As a child, Austin’s grandparents provided stability and guidance while her parents drifted in and out of her life. Her own adoptive experience had shown her that families, especially black families, didn’t need to be limited to the traditional expectations of one mother and one father, or to the demands of the white gaze.
When she decided to become a mother at 36, Austin had to first become a foster parent, as decreed by California state law. This journey, which eventually resulted in adoption, was not without trials and tribulations. Not only did she face the daily challenges of newfound motherhood, she also had to contend with America’s legacy of systemic racism and discrimination, which renders black mothers either as invisible or as tropes in a dehumanizing narrative.
Austin’s memoir is a natural response to both the erasure of black mothers and the dismissive and demeaning misrepresentation of black motherhood. She relays her experiences with equal parts candor and consideration, careful not to paint communities or motherhood with broad brushstrokes as she dismantles the notion that all “real” families must look and act alike. Motherhood So White is a testament to the power of love as a radical act and an urgent call to reclaim motherhood from institutionalized whiteness.