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February  27

A Mocha Mom

Kuae_mattox Kuae Mattox lives on a nice upper-middle class home, on a nice upper-middle class block -- right across the street from the Montclair Kimberly Academy tennis courts. She grew up in an upper-middle-class home, went to college and spent 14 years in journalism. Then she decided to quit work to take care of her kids and family full-time. In theory, she's just like any other stay-at-home mom you might see dropping off a kid at Tae Kwon Do.

Except for one thing. Kuae (pronounced Kway), wife of Montclair councilman Ted Mattox, is black.

Forty-two years after the publication of "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan, the decision to drop out of the workforce to raise kids is still a difficult one. "Being at home can be very lonely and very isolating," Mattox says. But when a highly-educated black woman decides to drop out of the workforce, it goes beyond personal, into the political. After all, Mattox is keenly aware that people of her parents' generation fought for her right to achieve -- both as a woman and as a black person. "To many relatives, it kind of flies in the face of what they fought for," she says.

Then there's the problem of what society sees. "The stereotypical image of a black woman at home is someone who's collecting a government check," Mattox says. "To set the record straight: believe it or not, there are two-parent families of color."

A few years ago, Mattox heard about an organization called Mocha Moms, which describes itself as "a nationwide support group for at-home mothers of color." In Feb. 2002, she started an Essex County chapter, which now holds weekly meetings every Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church at 24 N. Fullerton Ave., from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. Now, she's national director of media and publicity for the organization, a volunteer post.

Although she and her husband love Montclair for its diversity, Mattox is quick to point out that there are limitations to Montclair's racial inclusivity. "There's a huge difference between diversity and integration," says Mattox. "This is not a very integrated town." The overwhelming majority of Montclair's black residents live in the 4th ward.

One of Mattox's main concerns is teaching her three children (pictured above, are Cole, 5, and Evan, 21 months; another child, Teddi, is 8) to be "comfortable in their own skin" -- making sure that Teddi, for example, doesn't "covet long blond hair."

Although her children listen to rap music and hip-hop, as well as classical music, Mattox shudders at the idea of her children coming home from school speaking black street language. "My mom was a speech therapist," she says. "There was no question that everyone in my home had to speak clearly and enunciate."

Another discussion, perhaps, for the Mocha Moms. For more information on Mocha Moms, visit their website or check out their Tuesday meetings.

February 27, 2005 in Major Dudes | Permalink


I must admit after reading this, I am quite offended with the name of the group, "Mocha Moms". Mocha implies lighter skinned African Americans, I can't help but feel that this was to suggest that lighter skinned African Americans are more educated and cultured than darker skinned African Americans. I simply do not understand this.

Posted by: Margot | Feb 27, 2005 9:57:20 PM

it is my understanding that the word mocha simply describes a combination of chocolate and coffee.

Posted by: fran | Feb 27, 2005 10:41:35 PM

Many people share Kuae Mattox's concern that Montclair is "diverse" but not "integrated". The Montclair Civil Rights Commission began the Conversations On Race program to improve communication and understanding between the races in town. The "conversations" are 5 week sessions with a diverse group of up to 10-12 people, with trained facilitors. A choice or times and days is available. Participants have found the conversations to be a great experience. A new round is just starting, but it might still be possible to participate. If anyone is interested, contact Katherine Joyce at [email protected]

Posted by: Lois Donegan | Feb 27, 2005 11:37:53 PM

Yes, it is a description, and it may be just be a description in this case, but it is often used to suggeset that African Americans with a lighter complexion are naturally more superior than their darker counterparts. When I saw the title I was reminded of the paperbag test that used to be a tactic to exclude people with darker skin from churches and social clubs.

Posted by: fyi | Feb 28, 2005 12:35:37 AM

I think that the phrase "Mocha Moms" is simply a play on words and a way to let curious moms know that this is a group for women of color. It's also an example of alliteration. I like it and do not find it exclusive. Note: despite my Irish sounding name I am a part-time stay-at-home "Mocha Mom" myself.

Posted by: Denise O'Shea | Feb 28, 2005 8:20:34 AM

The name Mocha Moms definitely gets your attention. When I moved here, I wanted to join the club; I thought it was a group for work-at-home slacker moms like me who survive by drinking lots of mocha lattes.

Posted by: Liz | Feb 28, 2005 10:17:31 AM

I think it comes down to intention vs. interpretation. It may not be intended as a put down, but since shades of brown are often a contentious issue among people of color, I can see how someone might be offended. After all, the picture is of a woman who seems to be the actual color of mocha.

It seems to me that people rarely intend to be offensive, but sometimes what is intended is beside the point.

One person's alliterative and, if I might add, a bit too precious moniker is another person's insult. Now, I'm not suggesting that the group is wrong for choosing this name or that they should change it, but they should be aware of it how it might be perceived. And I have a very difficult time imagining a group of African-American women who are unaware of skin politics. It’s not impossible, I know, but it seems unlikely.

Posted by: fyi | Feb 28, 2005 2:35:12 PM

I find it rather interesting, and quite sad, that the primary topic of discussion surrounding this article about me centers on the interpretation and perception of the word “Mocha.” Mocha Moms is an eight-year old, national, non-profit organization whose mission and purpose is to support the at-home mother of color. It’s four founders, moms in the Maryland area, who, by the way, have beautiful skin tones ranging from very light to very dark, named the organization “Mocha Moms” to reflect the vast spectrum of mothers of color. They are, I can assure you, quite comfortable with the name that they chose. So, I can’t help but believe that those of you who raised this issue would not have, had you seen a picture instead of our national president (and one of our four founders), who has beautiful chocolate brown skin….or had you not brought your own “baggage” to the Barista’s table.

Our organization has 100 chapters and more than 2,000 members across the country. The beauty of Mocha Moms is that while our mission is to support at-home mothers of color, it is entirely inclusive, meaning ANYONE and ANYBODY can join…there is no requirement, no litmus test, and certainly no “paper bag test”…just an understanding of the mission, a willingness to support and be supported, and $20 dues for the year…and if you took a peek at any one of our support group meetings you would understand just that. Our members are African-American, Biracial, Hispanic, Asian, and yes, Caucasian. There are Mocha Moms, working and non-working, and believe it or not, Mocha Dads. Just about everyone (and I say that with great confidence) has come together for a higher cause, to make the most of this time we have chosen to take time out from our careers to raise our children. Across the country, our moms are sharing and exchanged valuable information and giving back to their communities in ways too numerous to mention. As founder of the Essex County chapter of Mocha Moms and its president for its first two years (and now as a National Board member and Director of Media and Publicity), I can tell you first hand that our moms are doing good things. For our pregnant moms, we put together a food chain, so that they receive a complete, home-cooked meal every day for the first two weeks they are home from the hospital. We support our moms through happiness and heartache, and give them space to “exhale” when they need to. Among other things, we are registering voters, giving gifts to children of incarcerated parents, gifts to foster children through the court appointed special advocates program and working on a breastfeeding pamphlet with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies in Newark.

Even though we live in the 21’st century, it is a mistake to assume that people in this world have moved beyond “colorism”. Not only is it divisive, it is most often misguided. Many of those folks equate skin color with class, probably because race is an easier prism through which to view things than class. The caste system is alive and well in this world, but, and let me make this CRYSTAL CLEAR, not in the world of Mocha Moms.

Our organization has been featured among others, from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Newark Star Ledger to Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show and this week, ABC’s Nightline. This perception of the word “Mocha” in our title that a few of you have alluded to, is certainly not, to our knowledge, a widespread or growing perception, either internally or externally. It is clearly shared and perpetuated by an isolated few.

Are we aware of “skin politics?” Heck, yeah. The “light skinned, dark skinned” issue has divided many in our culture and beyond. But we don’t practice it, buy into it, or perpetuate it through any of our actions. Historically, African-American women have not had the opportunity to stay at home to raise our children. Thanks in part to the rise in the black middle class, this is the first generation of African-American women who have been able to make the choice to stay at home. This is new frontier for us, and it speaks to the level of success, or equality shall I say, that black women have achieved in our society. That, to me, is the greater issue, and one that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. We realize the need to support each other, not only as moms, but as women of color raising our children in an often uncertain world, still full of racism and institutional oppression.

Our moms come together to feel comfortable about the choices and decisions they are making. Much of what they discuss is universal, i.e.…discipline, healthy eating, breastfeeding, how to get our babies to sleep through the night. But many discussions are targeted toward the specific issues and concerns of moms of color, such as the minority achievement gap, images in the media and pop culture, home schooling and holistic lifestyles.

So as you can see, we are proud Mocha Moms and we’ve got bigger fish to fry here. We’ve got many more important things to deal with than the tone of our skin or the texture of our hair. We’ve got children to raise, values to instill, manners to impart. We have examples to set for our children, tools to arm them with, so they can go forth in this world and face the often harsh realities of life. As moms, particularly moms of color, we’ve got to be strong, smart and bold…and for those of you who feed off perception rather than fact…well, we will always be here to set the record straight.

Posted by: Kuae Mattox | Mar 3, 2005 7:55:26 PM

I could not have said it better. As I read the comments, I couldn't believe that it centered around the interpretation of the word "mocha". This is sad. Concerning skin color,
let's move on....

Posted by: Aretha Best | Jul 10, 2005 9:32:13 PM

Just happened to come across this one. Like it or not, constructive or not, color still counts in virtually any context.


Posted by: nels | Jul 26, 2005 4:46:28 PM

Hi All:

I am a Mocha Mom in GA. I am very light skinned and I am hurt by the comments by the people on this discussion board. I have been fighting people with your perceptions all my life. People always thought my nose was in the air before I ever had the opportunity to speak.

I LOVE MOCHA MOMS. I LOVE THE NAME MOCHA MOMS. It is the best support group I've ever belonged to.

Think outside the box. I agree with Kuae. Some of the people who are bringing the "racial baggage" need to leave it where it belongs--at home.

Mocha Moms of South Gwinnett supports every platform (i.e., healthy lifestyles and marriages, etc). Many of you have forgotten the most important aspect of this group - Support.
We have caucasian members, Philipino members, African members and african-american members.

Many of you need to check your thoughts about African american groups.

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