Abstract: "Ain't I a Mother?" Exploring Black Motherhood through Collage-Making (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

"Ain't I a Mother?" Exploring Black Motherhood through Collage-Making

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Supreme Court, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Nicole Corley, PhD, Doctoral Student, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Britney Pitts, MSW, Doctoral Student, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA

The beauty and complexity of Black mothers’ experiences have been lost in the scant and often deficit-based social science literature. More research is needed that captures the subjective experiences of Black mothers. Given the few studies that have centered their subjective experiences, the aim of this qualitative project was to join alongside Black mothers to create critical space wherein they can speak on their own lived experiences.

The main assumption underlying this study is that Black mothers interpret their experiences differently than what is presented in prevailing social science research and mainstream discourse. More research is needed that centers Black mothers in a holistic manner. This paper helps address this gap by using collage as a method to capture the stories of Black mothers. The guiding question: What does it mean to be a Black mother?


This qualitative project, guided by Collins’ (2009) Black Feminist Thought and Dillard’s (2000) endarkened feminist epistomology, used collage and unstructured interviews as data collection methods to engage the stories of 20 Black mothers. Purposive sampling was utilized as the project sought to gather information from a specific group--Black mothers. Mothers were recruited through posted flyers on social media and sharing with networks. Art-making kits were provided to Mothers either through mail (if out of state) or local delivery. Upon completion, Mother’s returned their collage and virtual storytelling sessions were conducted with no more than three mothers. During sessions, Mothers shared the story that emerged from their collages. Virtual sessions were audio and video recorded. Audio recordings were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using thematic analyses. Collages were analysed using a modified version of Butler-Kisber and Poldma (2010) visual analysis.


All participants shared that engaging with their stories in this way was restorative. They expressed thanks for offering the opportunity to reflect over their lives in such a creative way.

Visual analysis revealed the varying ways Black mother participants journey through and make meaning of their experiences. The images, objects, and colors on the collage often represented growth and a shifting of what they presumed motherhood to be and how they understand it now. In many ways their collages served as love letters to themselves.

Thematic analysis revealed an intentionality in their mothering journey that reflected an ongoing practice to “make something out of nothing” and to mother (e.g. positive parenting) in ways that were different than how they were mothered. A deliberate process to parent their children in more affirming ways.

Conclusions and Implications:

Collage as a story-telling technique can be an important tool in social work research to explore the lived experiences of Black mothers because it values multiple realities and intentionally incorporates nondominant ways of knowing (Vaughn, 2005). Collage making also reflects the creative ingenuity necessary to investigate the subjugated knowledge of Black women. This creative process can assist participants explore and express who they are and their histories. Identifying, cutting, arranging, and pasting discordant objects can serve as a way to (re)connect with one’s self, to include the researcher.