Once upon a time in human history, children were raised in a group setting, and parents could turn to other members of their community for advice and support. That is, essentially, the kind of community parenting groups try to re-create, both in person and online. There are many flaws with this model, as we’ve seen from recent reports about how race discussions are splintering mom groups on Facebook. It’s made one thing clear to us: Keeping this form of communication alive — for the many benefits it’s provided so many parents — depends on us making them feel like safe places for people of color.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, many of us non-Black parents have taken a good hard look at ways we can do better to be anti-racist. We’re also seeing how current and former employees are calling for media organizations and other corporations to fix their leadership and discriminatory practices that happened behind the scenes, even as they purported to support the fight for racial justice. In this atmosphere of reckoning, a conflict between the members of UES Mommas gained national media attention.
As Insider first reported over the weekend, Black members of the Facebook group, which had about 38,000 members as of last week, said their posts and comments about racism and police brutality were being taken down. This was happening before Floyd’s death but after the incident in which New York woman Amy Cooper weaponized the police against a Black man asking her to leash her dog in Central Park. Administrators said that the conversations violated the group’s terms, which prohibited “divisive” conversations. When members asked for the group to add administrators or moderators of color to the group (one existing administrator was a Latina woman), things got more heated.
Some members who wanted to keep the status quo suggested unhappy members start a new group dedicated to “more political” conversations. The ones advocating for more diverse representation argued that racism isn’t a political conversation, it’s a human one, and one pretty essential to parenting too. In the fight, many left the group and others were kicked out.
Eventually, UES Mommas shut down temporarily. Now it’s back up, and a Black woman and an Asian woman have been added as administrators, according to the New York Times. When joining, members are now asked whether they have an issue with the fact that the group believes that discussing race is part of parenting.
The UES Mommas Facebook group is back in action now with different moderators and the commenters on the first post since are now explaining the definition of "OG" in case you're wondering how things are going over there!!! https://t.co/9jk2mqSLVX pic.twitter.com/vC2SpNFrx4
— Madison Malone Kircher (@4evrmalone) June 4, 2020
UES Mommas isn’t the only group facing this type of conflict right now. Moms we speak to all over the country are having conversations about racism and police brutality in their groups, and not all of them are harmonious. We all know that people are much less inhibited (and much less polite), when engaging in online debates. This isn’t the first time groups have become splintered and eventually disbanded over race of course. Every time it happens, all the other conversations those parents were benefitting from have been lost — particularly the ones that were most valuable when a diverse group of parents were participating.
But we also believe that having these difficult conversations is making groups take positive steps toward change. Rather than telling nonwhite parents to form their own groups, and also rather than asking POC to explain racism to the white folks, there are white members talking to each other about how to do better. There are threads sharing reading lists, places to donate to support racial justice, and ways to involve kids in activism. We’re even heartened by seeing mothers in a group in a particularly conservative part of the country reach out to Black mothers to have playdates. (That’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start!)
We don’t blame anyone, particularly not women of color, for leaving toxic groups. This isn’t a time when you need to be taking care of anyone but yourselves and your families. But if this is happening in your groups, white parents, look around and see what you can do to make everyone feel safe and free to speak. Just think of all the helpful, interesting online friendships you might miss out on otherwise.
When you log off those groups, here are some beautiful children’s books by Black authors to read to your kids.