Dr. Tubbs educates Parent Institute about misrepresentation of Black mothers 

Hannah Katzke, Staff Writer

Author, activist, and educator Dr. Anna Tubbs discussed the misrepresentation and erasure of mothers, especially Black mothers, despite their critical influence on their children, at the Parent Institute (PI) BookTalk series event on Tuesday January 25. Julie Lythcott-Haims, a member of the PI’s advisory council — a council made up of experts in parenting, education, psychology, and psychiatry — moderated the event, Director of the PI Wendy Reiter said.

Tubbs is a New York Times Bestselling author and educator whose work focuses on issues of gender and race, according to her website. Reiter invited Tubbs to speak about her bestselling book “The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation” at the BookTalk event, she said. 

Tubbs’ book tells the stories of the mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin, and discusses how many people deny their contributions as mothers by disregarding their impact on each of their children, Tubbs said.

Discussing mothers in writing gives Tubbs the opportunity to teach others and shift their perspective on motherhood — thus creating new representation for mothers. “In order to address all the policies and resources that mothers desperately need and deserve, we have to first shift our perspective on motherhood and it starts with a fuller and more accurate representation of what mothering entails,” she said. 

Reiter chose Tubbs for the event because as Black History Month approaches, she wants to hold discussions on the diversity that are representative of the schools’ community, she said. In her work, Tubbs uses an intersectional lens to advocate for women of color and to educate others, according to her website. 

Margot Lee Shetterly’s book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race” inspired Tubbs’ book, Tubbs said. “I was inspired, but I was also very angry that this was the first time I was hearing these women’s names. It was not a mistake that they’d been kept from our history.” Like Shetterly, Tubbs wanted to find and tell the stories of “hidden figures,” she said.

The event consisted of a conversation between Tubbs and Lythcott-Haims and was then followed by a discussion between the attendees and Tubbs, giving the parents an opportunity to ask her questions. 

Reiter chose Lythcott-Haims to moderate the event because, in addition to being a member of the PI advisory council, she has a history of working with Tubbs, Reiter said. Lythcott-Haims was Tubbs’ Freshman Dean when she attended Stanford University. Preparation for the event was easier for Reiter because of that existing relationship, she said.

During the event, Tubbs addressed the misrepresentation of mothers and the lack of recognition they receive for their influence on their children. In particular, society often erases Black mothers from history, misrepresents them, and takes them for granted. “If even [Alberta King, Louise Little, and Berdis Jones Baldwin] who birthed giants in history are being kept from their due recognition as if their children popped out of thin air fully formed with all of these ideas on how to save the world, it is clear to me that motherhood more generally is not being given the representation, attention, and therefore the support that it deserves,” Tubbs said.

Tubbs is often asked, “if they were as important as you say they are, why were they erased?” she said. She credits this lack of understanding to people not knowing or recognizing the patriarchy’s workings in society. “[The erasure of women in history] was very intentional because it didn’t fit the patriarchal notion of who the heroes of our stories are, and therefore we just left them out of it,” she said. 

Tubbs’ focus on the unsung nature of motherhood and how it is often an unexplored topic intrigued Erica Keirstead P ‘23, she said. 

Tiffany Trunko P ‘25 was most interested in the independent identities of Alberta King, Louise Little, and Berdis Jones Baldwin, she said. “Anna’s talk really opened my eyes to the fact that each of the mothers of these famous men had such strong identities, independent of their sons,” she said.

Karen Ogundimu P’23 attended the event because she rarely finds books about Black motherhood and parenting as a Black mom, she said. She enjoyed learning and reflecting on the stories and experiences of Alberta King, Louise Little, and Berdis Jones Baldwin. Despite the important roles they played in their children’s lives, the world never hears about them, she said. This led Ogundimu to think about how mothers are often not given the support that they need, she said.   

Lythcott-Haims encouraged attendees to watch movies or television shows with their families that promote critical thinking, like Hidden Figures, Black-ish, and Crazy Rich Asians. “These movies that are centering the experience of people who have historically been ignored, are opportunities for us to sit down and engage our kids,” she said.  

Reiter chose Lythcott-Haims to moderate the event because, in addition to being a member of the PI advisory council, she has a history of working with Tubbs, Reiter said. Lythcott-Haims was Tubbs’ Freshman Dean when she attended Stanford University. Preparation for the event was easier for Reiter because of their relationship, she said.

With her son, Ogundimu often introduces erased figures within topics that he loves like math, she said. She introduces him to mathematicians from different parts of the world. “It is something I’ve been doing with my son since he was little, just trying to let him be aware of individuals who are not necessarily in the forefront,” she said.

Trunko often tells stories about the women in her family, she said. She believes it’s her job as a mom to make sure that the stories of the women in their family are known by her kids and are meaningful to her kids.

Reiter hopes that the people who attended the event will take away a much richer, deeper understanding of the mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin, she said. She also hopes that the attendees will understand the incredible influence these mothers had on their respective children as they evolved into such prominent leaders.