A private Facebook group intended for New York City mothers has imploded over accusations of racism.
UES Mommas, founded in 2011, is one of the largest Facebook groups for New York moms, with nearly 40,000 members. It was created specifically for those living on the largely affluent Upper East Side to discuss local schools and nannies. However, women from all over the five boroughs and the greater New York area have since flocked to the group to talk about child care, breastfeeding, marital problems and more.
Pearl Brady, 35, who lives in Queens, used the group to find a night nurse nearly two years ago and has frequently found its forums helpful. Last week, she saw a shift from the usual resource sharing and conversation.
In one thread, there was a heated discussion over Amy Cooper, the white woman who called the police on Christian Cooper, a black birder who had asked her to leash her dog in Central Park. Then, members began posting racist comments on another thread about the death of George Floyd.
Ms. Brady noticed that often, when black women weighed in on such topics, their comments would quickly disappear. When she brought this up to the group, she saw her comments vanish too.
“I commented on a few different posts, ‘the silencing of black women is not OK, the admin needs to apologize and stop,’” she said. Shortly after, she was kicked out of the group. (The incident was previously reported by Business Insider and The New York Post.)
As Ashley Carman, a reporter at The Verge, recently wrote, Facebook groups of all kinds have faced censorship, infighting, attrition and shutdowns over recent conversations about the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation and the deaths of Mr. Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Facebook groups operate at the whim of their moderators, and in groups designated for mothers those are often white women who may be uncomfortable with conversations around race, police brutality and privilege.
Several Facebook groups for moms in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York have temporarily shuttered following backlash from members over their handling of discussions about race. Groups in the New York area, including those for the Upper West Side, Brooklyn and Jersey City, are struggling to figure out how to make women of color feel welcome. All-white moderation teams are facing a public reckoning.
These issues rose to the forefront of the UES Mommas group on May 30. After repeated blowback, Addy Spriggle, a 38-year-old on the Upper East Side, asked Lindsey Plotnick Berger, the group’s administrator, to consider adding a black moderator. UES Mommas had three moderators at the time: Ms. Berger, another white mother and a woman who identifies as Latina. Many black women in the group felt that Ms. Berger had censored their conversations, removing posts about colorism and police brutality.
Ms. Berger asked Ms. Spriggle to message her privately, which she did. Ms. Spriggle then received a series of hostile messages from Ms. Berger and was booted from the group after Ms. Berger falsely claimed Ms. Spriggle had “threatened” and “harassed” her. (Ms. Berger later apologized for the claim.)
For women of color in the group and their allies, this was the final straw. They piled on Ms. Berger with criticism. “A black woman shouldn’t be falsely accused of harassment for assertively (not aggressively) saying they will follow up later on the issue of better representation in a large group. I think you owe her an apology,” one mom commented. Ms. Berger responded by deactivating the group.
By Thursday of last week, the group was back up and two new moderators had been added: one black woman and one Asian woman. However, any discussion of racism, racial issues, or “controversial” topics like police brutality was discouraged. Members of the group were frustrated and began to leave in droves to join and form splinter groups.
“The UES Mommas group has been the worst, but racism and the silencing women of color and their allies is pervasive throughout these mom groups,” said Amanda Fialk, 42. Several groups such as UWS People of Color Allies and Anti-Racist Parents of NYC have begun recruiting members from UES Mommas and other New York parenting groups. The goal of these groups is to provide a safe space to discuss parenting issues without fear of racist comments or censorship.
“A lot of people of color on Facebook have to join groups that are focused on being a parent of color, because we aren’t safe posting in groups that are majority white,” said Nevette Bailey, 39, who was kicked out of the UES Mommas group for supporting Ms. Spriggle’s campaign for a black moderator. “With Black Lives Matter and the stuff I have to talk about with my 6-year-old son, there’s no way anyone can still question whether this is a parenting issue.”
Ms. Spriggle said she believed that the current national conversation around race set the conditions for members to lobby for UES Mommas to be more inclusive. “I thought, right now would be the right time to talk about everything,” she said, “with George Floyd and the protests happening in our country, now is the time people are listening.”
But UES Mommas as a whole has remained reluctant to change. Members said they hoped the recent group controversies would at least spur more widespread awareness on racial issues in Facebook groups for moms. “The problem is really systemic,” said Ms. Brady. “You have all white or majority white admins silencing black women.”
This is also not the first time that UES Mommas has been caught up in controversy. In 2017, the group shut down temporarily after a fight escalated over a children’s book titled “P Is for Palestine.” Eventually, the group resurfaced and a new moderator was put in place.
“There’s a lot of white fragility,” Ms. Bailey said of the group. “This is not something that can be ignored just so we can focus on strollers.”