Beyonce stands with the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown on the VMAs red carpet.

Beyoncé, Black Motherhood, and the VMAs

On Sunday, August 28th, Beyoncé walked the red carpet of the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) accompanied by several cast members featured in her visual album, Lemonade, including the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and Michael Brown. The presence of these women on a national stage helps challenge the racist myth of careless Black mothers.

Beyonce was joined by Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner;  Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; and Lesley McSpadden-Head, mother of Michael “Mike” Brown, Jr. These four mothers are amongst countless Black women who have built and led movements to fight for justice for their children – and the safety of others.

But showing Black women as they truly are is rare in our society: instead we’re constantly told that Black women are horrible mothers. Black women are criminalized for our decisions as mothers. We are blamed for the deaths of our children. Our reproductive freedom is seen as dangerous. Beyoncé, herself, isn’t exempt from these stereotypes. Her pregnancy was questioned; she was deemed to be too sexy as a mother on her album, Beyoncé; and her choice to not straighten or style Blue Ivy’s hair was highly critiqued. All of this is perpetuated in media. Even Google fills in searches about Black mothers with “Black mothers are the worst.” As Anthonia Akitunde writes over at the Huffington Post:

[These perceptions] can be traced back to the Reagan era’s trumped-up welfare queen — the myth of single black mothers who saw their numerous children as nothing more than taxpayer-subsidized paychecks — and “crack babies.” Add to that a number of other race-based social phenomenon that stole the headlines in the past (inner city violence, black-on-black crime), and you can begin to see just how the idea that “Black mothers are the worst” came to be.

Beyoncé’s choice to highlight and include these mothers disrupts this narrative. It celebrates Black mothers and it forces us to acknowledge their reality: parenting children who are hardly ever seen as innocent. Their presence and visibility causes us to confront the grief caused by anti-Black state violence. While this grief is an all too familiar feeling for many of Beyoncé’s Black fans, her access to wide audiences sheds light for other people who need to be made aware of the lived realities of Black mothers impacted by state violence.

Header image via Cosmopolitan

Quita Tinsley is a fat, Black, queer femme that writes, organizes, and overall is working to build sustainable change in the South. She holds a B.A. in Journalism with a minor in Sociology from Georgia State University, and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from her alma mater. She is a member on the board of directors of Access Reproductive Care – Southeast, and is a former content creator for the The Body Is Not An Apology. As a femme, feminist, and queer Black woman, it is through her lived experiences and complex identities that Quita has come to believe in the power of storytelling and the validation of lived experiences.

Quita Tinsley is a fat, Black, queer femme that writes, organizes, and overall is working to build sustainable change in the South.

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