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Keke Palmer is the latest Black mother facing backlash over what she wears

The beloved actress was shamed by the father of her son for wearing sheer dress at Usher’s Las Vegas residency.
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Darius Jackson, the father of Keke Palmer’s son, is facing heat after shaming the beloved actress for a sheer dress she wore while attending Usher’s Las Vegas residency. Jackson re-tweeted Wednesday a video of Palmer being serenaded by the R&B singer, adding a seeming criticism of Palmer’s choice of wardrobe. 

“It’s the outfit tho.. you a mom,” he wrote. 

He later doubled down on his statement, writing, “We live in a generation where a man of the family doesn’t want the wife & mother to his kids to showcase booty cheeks to please others.”

Fans quickly came to Palmer’s defense, mocking Jackson, a fitness trainer, for being known mainly as her partner. Amid the uproar, some Black women said Jackson’s statements represent how motherhood and respectability are rigidly linked in the Black community.

One of the earliest representations of Black motherhood is the “Mammy trope,” said Adria Y. Goldman, an associate professor of communication at University of Mary Washington in Virginia. The so-called mammy character was “a huge maternal figure, especially for white families, and she was “presented as asexual,” Goldman said. “The focus was on her mothering skills.” 

“Generations of Black women have been taught that when you have a baby, your life is not your own,” said Yasmine Jameelah, the founder of Transparent Black Girl, a digital wellness brand. “That we are the caregivers and nurses of our families.”

Recently, Goldman said, the pendulum has swung further to define some Black mothers negatively for their sexuality. There is “the stereotypical ‘welfare queen’ or ‘baby mama,’ the person who was portrayed as being so sexually irresponsible that she just had all these children and now she’s on assistance.”

The contrast in the “Mammy” trope and hyper-sexual mother stereotype produces a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” tension for Black mothers, Goldman said. “They can never win.” 

A recent video of Palmer surfaced where she was twerking with Jackson present. “The fact of him being a part of the video,” shows how “what’s considered respectful for Black women or how those expectations for Black women change based on the situation,” Goldman said.

Palmer also has been transparent about embracing her more curvaceous postpartum body, which is not always the case as new parents often struggle with body image or feel “insecure in their bodies” after giving birth, Jameelah said. Additionally, famous and nonfamous Black mothers alike are disproportionately impacted by myriad adverse health outcomes including postpartum depression, polycystic ovary syndrome and maternal mortality. 

Given these health disparities, the fact that “Keke is thriving post-baby” is an “amazing thing” that should be celebrated, Jameelah said. “It could be a whole different story.”

Jackson and Palmer could not be immediately reached for comment. Palmer posted a TikTok Friday afternoon dancing to audio with the words, “you ain’t stopping what’s going on with me, sweetheart.” It’s not clear if she was addressing the incident.

Online spectators are not privy to the inner workings of celebrities’ relationships, but the magnitude and range of reactions on the Palmer incident speak to tensions around how women and mothers are expected to behave.

“That freedom that we see Black women have, like Keke had at the concert, it challenges people,” Jameelah said. “It makes people think like, ‘Who are you to feel like you can have this life?’ When Black women start to do well, we try to find ways to humble them.”