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‘We Take Those Lessons of Distrust’: Jemele Hill Tells Jada Pinkett Smith That Black Mothers Help Produce Mean Girls

This week, on Jada Pinkett Smith’s popular “Red Table Talk” show she, daughter Willow, and mother Adrienne Banfield Norris, came together to discuss how some mean girls are the product of toxic mothering.

The Oct. 27 episode, titled “Why Are Women Mean to Each Other?,” Pinkett-Smith welcomed friends, co-hosts, and former ESPN anchors Cari Champion and Jemele Hill to the show. Hill instantly made the connection between fractured female friendships and mother-daughter relationships.

“Honestly, some of our mothers have been really responsible for the toxic relationships we have with other women,” says Hill. “It’s like how we hear our mothers talk about other Black women: ‘Don’t trust her, she ain’t this or that,’ but we will hear them have a full-scale conversation with another Black woman that’s their friend, [and] as soon as they get off the phone they call someone else and talk about the person.”

“They calling somebody else and talking about the person they just got off the phone with!” Norris agreed.

“We see it, right?” Hill responds. “We take those lessons of distrust that are bred in our home, and then when we get out in the world and we’re looking at another Black woman, instead of celebrating her [or] finding something great about her, we be like, ‘Mmm she thinks she’s cute with them shoes on … what about this … what about that.’”

Hill and Champion both relayed difficult stories of dealing with mothers who were emotionally unavailable growing up, and Pinkett Smith joined in to say, “Well, that’s my story too. We had a lot of healing, but your childhood stays with you.”

“I think this brings up a lot,” she continued. “In the sense of what we deal with as a community. We can sit in this pain and feel it and you imagine that people that don’t have a way of working it out, you can see how they strike out at other people.

“Because a lot of people probably don’t have great relationships with their mothers. That’s where it probably starts. If we don’t really know how to relate to our mothers, how do we relate to ourselves and others?” she asked.

Hill posited that with Black women in particular, a lot of the behavior is learned.

“We buy into that strong Black woman façade to a degree that’s a detriment to us to where we think we can weather and withstand everything,” Hill said. “And she’s [Norris] from a generation of women like a lot of Black women who, that’s what they did. They just sucked it up and kept moving. And it’s really painful and hard. And we had to be the people who were unfortunately absorbing their trauma. And because we had to absorb it then we just continued to pass it down.”

Pinkett Smith agreed and relayed to the women about how she has learned to adjust that manner of thinking when coming into conflict with her daughter. “About Willow, I had to just be quiet. Because it doesn’t matter what my intention was. It’s important for me to just listen, have your reality. As hurtful as it is it’s not about making excuses or even explaining to her at that moment, it’s about listening.”

The actress praised the women for facilitating a conversation that she admitted was giving her a lot to think about.

“For us as black women even having this conversation, is giving me more understanding, giving me deeper understanding of why we as black women can be so cruel to each other!”

“We as Black women, we gotta give each other more room. Give each other more grace. If we don’t do it, if it don’t start with us, it’s done! There’s no margin for error.”

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