Skip navigation

Black Maternal Trauma - Part 3

By Uchechi Eke

Uchechi Eke     This article discusses the impact of negative, derogatory terms and stereotypes on the psyches of mothers and their sons. Influencing policy impacting how Black boys and men are treated and perceived by law enforcement and society is central to the mission of MOBB United. At the heart of our work is the need to dismantle wrongly held views of our sons and redress racial perceptions of crime. When our sons are labeled as ‘thugs’ and criminals, how does this affect our ability to raise and protect them? Moreover, what role does stigma play on their mental and emotional health?

     If our sons repeatedly are told that they ‘never will amount to anything,’ and the only place fit for them is a prison cell, this feeds the myth that Blacks are pathologically predisposed to crime and as such, are more menacing and represented more in the prison population. The challenge to dismantle these lies is a real struggle.  

     An irrational fear of Black boys and men exists, evidenced by older White women who clutch their bags and cross the street when Black men are nearby, and ranging to accounts of police officers fearing for their life as they gun down unarmed Black boys and men.

     Being labeled as a stigmatized person and carrying the burden of being Black has substantial effects on the way people think and feel about themselves, as well as how they expect to be treated by others in their environment. The labeling theory posits that people come to identify with and behave in ways that reflect how others label them. It is most commonly associated with the sociology of crime and deviance, where it is used to point out how social processes of labeling and treating someone as criminally deviant actually foster deviant behaviour and have negative repercussions for that person, since others are likely to be biased against them because of the label.

Social conditioning not only affects how we relate to others, but it also influences the way we see ourselves. If all visuals point to a negative image, then the self-fulfilling prophecy is hard to dispel, especially for young Black boys.

     Psychological research shows that stigma -- especially when it relates to the label ‘criminal’ -- can interfere with functioning and lead to maladaptive behaviours, poor mental health and difficulty participating in the community.

According to the US Health & Human Services Office of Minority Health (2016):

  • Adult Black/African-Americans are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites
  • Adult Black/African-Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult whites.
  • While Black/African-Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, Black/African-Americans teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers.

     The data reveals a continuing trend -- that our sons face multiple mental challenges affecting their ability to be resilient and predisposing them to succumbing to psychological issues due in part to societal pressures and racial bias.

     Black men find themselves disproportionately subject to criminal punishment, for example, because society expects them to commit crimes. Black boys in school find themselves subject to labels such as ‘disruptive,’ ‘disobedient’ or requiring Special Education to temper their ‘hyperactivity’. These labels cause social stigmas, which impact not only our sons’ self-worth, but cause their peers, teachers and authority figures to view and treat them differently.

     This association of crime with Black males has been widely researched. Lisa Bloom, in her book Suspicion Nation, points out: “While whites can and do commit a great deal of minor and major crimes, their race as a whole is never tainted by those acts. But when blacks violate the law, all members of the race are considered suspect.” She further says: “The standard assumption that criminals are black and blacks are criminals is so prevalent that in one study, 6% of viewers who viewed a crime story with no picture of the perpetrator falsely recalled seeing one, and of those, 7% believed he was African-American. When we think about crime, we ‘see black,’ even when it’s not present at all.”

     If this unconscious bias is held by the general public, the same must be true of police officers – who are also members of society. There is a tendency for law enforcement to view our sons as ‘predatory'. In many cases, police are allowed to rely solely on race as a factor in selecting who they deem to be engaging in criminal activity or posing a threat. With racial profiling a standard practice, our sons are under constant surveillance. They are unable to travel freely without the risk of being held under suspicion.

     This suspicion leads to high rates of unlawful ‘stop and searches’ incidents.It leads to officers harassing, interrogating and humiliating Black and Brown boys and men on the streets and in jails, which heightens tensions and induces a climate of fear.

     In a report by the Sentencing Project, it is suggested that the entire government and media machinery is complicit in the distortion of our sons. According to the report: “Whether acting on their own implicit biases or bowing to political exigency, policy makers have fused crime and race in their policy initiatives and statements. They have crafted harsh sentencing laws that impact and disproportionately incarcerate people of colour…. Many media outlets reinforce the public’s racial misconceptions about crime by presenting African-Americans and Latinos differently than whites. Television news programs and newspapers over-represent racial minorities as crime suspects and whites as crime victims.”

     Social conditioning has led many to have inherent biases. How our sons are viewed are framed through a number of lenses and mediums – from stories and comments relayed by parents, to false and demeaning historical accounts in textbooks at school, to the vast deconstruction of Black men in the mass media.

     We must use the same vehicles to counter these narratives. We must also help our sons know that no matter how others view them, they must have a strong mind, self-worth, personal conviction and a strong value system – one that is reinforced by people who love them. They will undoubtedly face prejudice, but our role is to instil a sense of self-assurance rooted in their heritage and identity that will fortify and increase their confidence. They also need to know their rights, whether in the workplace, in school or when encountering police.

     Register at as we band together to change perceptions and challenge policies affecting how our sons are perceived and treated by police and society. Also, Moms of Black Boys United, Inc., the 501c3 sister organization of MUSC, needs financial resources to do the important work required to protect our sons. To date, our organization has been completely self-funded; but to grow and expand, we need your help. Please consider donating to Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. this month at Also, please learn more about fundraising plans and what else you can do to help.

Continue Reading

Read More