The title “strong Black woman” is as misappropriated and tossed around as the word “hater.” If you simply continue to exist in the face of some great personal challenge or tragedy, someone will call you a strong Black woman (see: Chris Brown referring to his mother as one on “Larry King Live”). If you don’t have any very obvious inability to support yourself, or some glaring character deficiency, someone will call you a strong Black woman. Joan Morgan runs the voodoo down on the SBW madness quite lovely in When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost. Do yourself a favor if you haven’t already and read that, sis/bro.
I never wanted to be a “strong Black woman”; in fact, I bristle when people call me one. I’m Black and I’m a woman and I happen to have a number of things about me that are strong: my mind, my personality, my resolve, etc. But putting them all together under that title reduces us to some sort of monolithical fembot who’s able to shoulder all burdens because she’s unable to feel. I don’t know about all of you, but my shoulders aren’t always broad enough for all your stuff and mine, and feeling? I like to feel. I need to feel.
Those three words form an umbrella that isn’t big enough to cover all that I am and all that I do. I decided this long ago. I allow myself the space to mourn, to ache, to emote. I’m sensitive when it comes to my own feelings as well as to those of others. I don’t do emotional auto-pilot. When my stuff is out of sorts, you gotta let me cope with that and be all in. While I’m no fragile flower, I have found that when “I need a space to fall apart” (c) Cree Summer, it’s best for all parties involved to let me have that.
Yet I am constantly expected to be unbroken and hard. And I see so many other women who are willing to do it all and hold everyone down no matter what is going on with them. So many of our people have sipped the strong Black woman Kool-Aid and we don’t seem to realize that it’s all sugar, no supplement. It goes hand in hand with the dehumanized caricature of Black womanhood that was used to justify our enslavement, and it continues to make it too hard to breathe.
I have back-slid into strong Black woman territory a few times. Worst example: I was sexually assaulted a couple days prior to moving to New York back in 2007. Instead of sitting my ass down and taking a little time to process and heal, I was at a new job and in the midst of an apartment hunt four days later. No one around me seemed bothered by this. In fact, I even got props for being a strong . . . you know. I can’t help but wonder: if I were a White woman, would this have been the case?
By making “strong Black woman” so much a part of our identity, by having that “I got this” (“this”=everything) attitude, we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. We deny ourselves the ability to be human. How many of our matriarchs have wreaked havoc on their physical, spiritual, and emotional health by trying to be “strong” enough to manage everyone’s burdens? Soul food isn’t the only thing making Big Mama’s pressure sky rocket.
Call the NAACP and tell them we need another word funeral. I never want to hear the words “strong Black woman” again. I want my sisters to feel as free to be publicly and privately strong or weak or both as they please without feeling that they are somehow required to put on a front of infallibility.
“…finally being real/ No longer colored and impervious to pain…” Ntozake Shange- For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf