Black Mothers Fear for Their Children’s Safety, Study Shows

Black mother holding her son in her arms

Jose Luis Pelaez / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Black women identified universal themes of living in daily fear for the lives of their children.
  • To live with fear, some reported focusing on staying strong by having faith and giving their sons tools to navigate a potentially threatening world.
  • Healthcare providers need to hold space for Black parents to discuss such fears for their children.

Racial disparities in maternal health, both mental and physical, continues to be a pervasive health justice issue in the United States. The research is far-reaching but a recent study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing highlights the impact of these concerns and found that Black mothers constantly fear for their sons’ safety.

While many became more aware of the reality of systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd, his death was not a rare case of police brutality.

Unfortunately, despite extensive discussion of an alleged ongoing racial reckoning across the country since his unjust killing, White and Hispanic support of the Black Lives Matter movement has decreased since June of 2020.

Understanding the Research

For this study, seven Black women were asked about their recent and ongoing experiences of pregnancy and parenting in the U.S., through a combination of in-person interviews and focus groups.

The most memorable theme from participants was the experience of fear, including living in fear in terms of concern that a future Black son may be killed, and trying to keep them safe, as well as living with fear.

A limitation of this study was the small sample size, but healthcare providers can still utilize these insights to better support Black childbearing parents given the stressful impact of this daily experience of fear.

Research Requires Diversity

Jamil Norman, PhD, RN, CNE, academic coordinator for Walden University’s RN-BSN program and lead researcher for this study, says, “‘Insights into fear: A phenomenological study of Black mothers’ is about understanding the stressors that may contribute to poor maternal outcomes for them.”

Norman notes that it is important to know that Black women are dying at an alarmingly higher rate than White and Hispanic women and the U.S. is one of the only countries where these rates are growing. “I believe our research plays a significant role in the body of research on Black maternal outcomes. We wanted to hear the voices of Black women,” she says.

As researchers, Norman explains how they wanted to know what it is like to experience pregnancy and parenting as a Black woman. She highlights that pregnancy should be viewed holistically to understand what may contribute to poor maternal outcomes for Black women. “One caveat of the findings that I want readers to be aware of is that the theme of fear was just one of multiple themes that were identified. We felt that this theme needed to be shared, especially in the context of current events,” she says.

Jamil Norman, PhD, RN, CNE

Are Black women’s concerns heard? Are Black women cared for in the same way as white women? Does racism play a part in maternal outcomes?

— Jamil Norman, PhD, RN, CNE

Having lost a previous nursing student to maternal mortality, Norman admits this research is very close to her heart. She explains how this student did not fit the characteristics usually associated with poor maternal outcomes, as she was educated, healthy, and received prenatal care throughout her pregnancy until her low-risk term delivery. “This made me want to learn more about what is really happening,” she says.

In terms of what she hopes for, Norman says, “Are Black women’s concerns heard? Are Black women cared for in the same way as white women? Does racism play a part in maternal outcomes? This is what I want care providers to think about when they are reading this research study.”

Norman explains how her White colleague was taking field notes when she asked a question and the interviewee looked over to her before answering, and they both felt that her answer was measured, so it would be best for her to conduct the interviews and take notes alone moving forward. “My colleagues understood the importance of having a Black woman conducting these interviews and participating in this research,” she says.

Empowerment Through Research

Keisha Henry, MSW, LCSW, says, “The fact that this is the first study to involve the voices of Black women who are affected on many levels associated with systemic racism is empowering. It provided a space for Black women to express what has been repressed for quite some time.”

Given themes of fear, Henry highlights how this can impact physical, cognitive, emotional, emotional, and spiritual well-being. “This is truly living with fear, being a Black woman raising black boys, parenting, and Black women living with implicit bias in the context of her healthcare,” she says.

Henry notes how this study gives Black women the opportunity to utilize and maximize their voice in this experience. She drew connections with a Black theorist, Édouard Glissant, who said, “When the oral is confronted with the written, secret accumulated hurts suddenly find expression; the individual finds a way out of the confined circle. He makes contact, beyond every lived humiliation, a collective meaning, a universal poetics, in which each voice is important, in which each lived moment finds an explanation.”

Keisha Henry, MSW, LCSW

This is truly living with fear, being a Black woman raising black boys, parenting, and Black women living with implicit bias in the context of her healthcare.

— Keisha Henry, MSW, LCSW

What This Means For You

As the research demonstrates, Black women are living in daily fear regarding the safety of their sons. While some may have moved on from the headlines in the summer of 2020, Black parents likely remain in fear. This public health crisis deserves further efforts across the country to address inequitable outcomes for Black lives to matter.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dormire SL, Gary JC, Norman JM, Harvey IS. Insights into fear: a phenomenological study of Black mothers. J Adv Nurs. Published online July 10, 2021. doi:10.1111/jan.14963

  2. Statista. Number of people shot to death by the police in the United States from 2017 to 2021, by race.

  3. Pew Research Center. Support for Black Lives Matter has decreased since June but remains strong among Black Americans.

  4. Glissant É. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia; 1992.

By Krystal Jagoo
 Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice.