My mum burst into my room one day after reading this book and was adamant that I needed to read it next.
“I’ve followed Candice Brathwaite on Instagram and I even sent her a message.” She said breathlessly. “You have to read this. EVERY WOMAN has to read this.”
If I’m being honest, I still wasn’t sure. It was still on my TBR list but I didn’t feel the urgency to read it. Until one day I picked it up off my bookshelf and figured why not.
Two days later, I felt like I hadn’t breathed in the last 48 hours as I turned the last page.
I Am Not Your Baby Mother is Candice Brathwaite’s experiences as a Black British mother. The good parts and the horrific parts. Most importantly, the horrific parts are something a lot of Black British mothers can relate to.
Because whilst motherhood is a joyous occasion, it is still stained with racism.
And I say stained because I truly believe it is something that needs to be washed out completely when it comes to pregnancy and motherhood.
Brathwaite emphasises how motherhood is displayed as very white and so, she struggled to find representation when she was pregnant. She wanted somewhere where she could read someone else’s experiences and be like ‘oh, that’s something I’m going through right now.”
Something a lot of Black British mothers won’t have apart from family members and friends that are mothers themselves. They don’t have the benefit of the media, magazines, podcasts etc. That recognition they crave isn’t readily accessible.
I Am Not Your Baby Mother will resonate with a lot of Black British Mothers because it provides that bit of representation within motherhood that is missing. If in every culture, the women are expected to go through pregnancy and motherhood – why is there any kind of separation? Surely as women this is something that should be unifying. Isn’t this now where feminism comes into play? Unfortunately, racism means this simply isn’t the case – please check out my review on Hood Feminism for why.
Raising a child is not easy but Brathwaite emphasises that raising a black child is a different experience because of the way the world is today. As much as we argue it shouldn’t be the case – that is the simple reality of life currently.
What I loved the most about this book was that it wasn’t a hard read. Brathwaite utilises this book to really appeal to everyone and it was beautifully quick to understand despite the very difficult topics it talks about. At the start we’re introduced to Brathwaite’s family living in South London. She then goes on to talk about some very triggering topics such as money, abuse, post-natal depression, single parenthood, sexual harassment/abuse and taking up space online. However, these are all topics that aren’t discussed openly within Black communities, so it was very refreshing to read this honest dialogue.
In particular, Brathwaite’s experiences with the NHS weren’t joyous at all. In fact, it was traumatising.
TRIGGERING STATISTICS BELOW:
Black British women are five times more likely to die in childbirth compared to white women (2018 MBRRACE-UK)
Black babies have a 121% increased risk of being stillborn and a 50% increased risk of neonatal death (i.e. dying within 28 days after birth) compared to white babies. (Government response to a petition put forward to Parliament on 22nd October 2019)
If you aren’t disgusted, outraged or horrified by these statistics, I’m not entirely sure what to say to you. This is a blatant example of institutional racism and how DANGEROUS it is to minorities.
What makes it worse is that so many Black British Mothers have had horrific experiences with the NHS – my mum included.
The first instinct is to ask why? Well, it stems from stereotypes perpetuated from slavery – the portrayal as black females as more masculine has damaged the ability for them to actually be heard when they claim something isn’t right. Doctors are less likely to believe a Black mother is in pain compared to a white mother.
The entire time you read this novel, you tend to contemplate why more isn’t done. A country that is adamant that racism doesn’t exist have statistics for Black women that are scarily high. Black women shouldn’t be fearful of what should be one of the most joyous experiences for a woman. Motherhood should be accessible and safe for everyone.
Now, I’ve seen reviews that have suggested that Brathwaite generalises for all Black British mothers – which I personally can see why. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. She simply invites a new outlook to a community that hasn’t been explored yet. Yes, not everyone has had a bad experience with their pregnancy or even with the NHS. However, there is someone out there that can relate to this book – and to me, that’s all that matters.
Whilst Brathwaite’s novel is to explore motherhood in all aspects for women of colour – she describes her experiences with micro aggression and racism. She goes into detail about knife crime in London and also mentions Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor – both were young black men ruthlessly murdered because of the colour of their skin. She reiterates that London’s knife crime, in particular, was a deciding factor that made her move out of London once she had her young son. However, she is quite clear knife crime cannot be a race issue neither can you blame the music genre ‘Drill’.
“Poverty has had a massive role to play in all this destruction…” – pg. 162
Whilst, she goes into further detail I do believe Natives by Akala depicts this entire debate rather well. I’ve also done a review on Natives so please do go and check that out!
Braithwaite also talks about the smaller and less volatile examples of racism that Black people may experience – a simple movement such as the slight gripping of a handbag as we pass or the ignorant remarks about the way we speak or the names given to us. For instance, my name was given to me with the knowledge that it may give me better chances in life.
“I didn’t want anyone to know that he was black until he had the chance to prove himself.” – p.g. 96
Sad, right? I love my name but it would have been nice to know that wasn’t a factor in the decision. Unfortunately, it’s the case for many Black parents. There is a conscious decision to choose names that aren’t reflective of past cultures. Racism plays a part on Black children’s lives before they’re even born. I don’t want to be naïve and perhaps my mind-set may change as I get older but I do hope that this doesn’t play a part in choosing names in the future.
Nevertheless, no-one tells you about the double takes you get when you enter interviews. At first, it throws you off. You’re unsure how to handle the situation because it’s quite apparent that they weren’t expecting you to look the way you do. However, I’ve learnt to be thankful that it gives me a chance to prove myself – which I guess is the whole point of having a racially ambiguous name.
It’s a privilege that shouldn’t even exist.
However, not even a racially ambiguous name can protect your child from experiencing racism. Brathwaite talks about her experience with her daughter, who was a victim of a racist incident at her primary school. Not only do we see how much of an incredibly storyteller Candice Brathwaite is. We also see just how badly the school system will handle racism when faced with it. I’ve experienced it as a young child and my mum has even mentioned she wished she had this book when she was raising my siblings and I.
It all comes back down to what I’ve been shouting about ever since I began this blog. Representation matters. It matters a lot. More than you can ever know. Not only does it help those who can relate but for those that can’t, it’s a chance to read someone else’s perspective. It’s a chance to learn empathy and understand other people’s experiences and even their cultures.
With that being said, thank you Candice Brathwaite. You wrote a novel that resonated with thousands of Black British mothers. Yes, there may be those that may not have experienced everything you went through but they have sisters, mothers, aunties and grandmothers that did.
We salute you.
Damilola Taylor Trust is committed to providing inner-city youths with opportunities to play, learn and live their lives free of fear and violence, and with optimism for a future where opportunities flourish.
The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust run high impact programmes in the built environment, schools & further education, and the community and are dedicated to transforming the life chances of disadvantaged young people and improving the world in which they live to enable them to develop and nurture their talent.