“I Don’t Want Dirty People Holding My Kids”

Analyzing White Mothers’ Perpetuation of Misogynoir in Born behind Bars (2017)


  • JWells


This article examines the A&E docuseries Born behind Bars (2017) to explore how misogynoir affects the construction of motherhood in the Leath Unit Prison Nursery Program, one of ten prison nurseries in the United States. These gender-responsive programs intervene in the epidemic of mother-child separation by allowing pregnant incarcerated mothers to live with their babies for a finite period. This article applies misogynoir as a framework to analyze white mothers’ efforts to regulate Donyell, the one Black mother on the unit, whom they label lazy, dirty, and a thief. Using a standard of whiteness and a discourse of maternal criminality, white mothers position themselves as the pinnacle of motherhood despite being incarcerated and, in turn, position Donyell as deviant. Grounding white mothers’ depictions of Donyell as unfit in stereotypical images pathologizing Black motherhood, this article argues that white mothers in Born behind Bars perpetuate misogynoir through language to replicate the systemic criminalization of Black motherhood and uphold patriarchal definitions of motherhood that exclude Black mothers.




How to Cite

JWells. (2024). “I Don’t Want Dirty People Holding My Kids”: Analyzing White Mothers’ Perpetuation of Misogynoir in Born behind Bars (2017). Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, 14(2), 17. Retrieved from https://jarm.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/jarm/article/view/40695