We subscribe to things we do not quite understand and endorse them without fully realising how detrimental those things can be. The concept of “self fulfilling prophecy” is powerful and accurate especially with regards to stereotypes because we tend to become the labels placed on us. We begin to imitate the stereotype, often times wearing it like a badge of honour, never fully appreciating the damage caused by the stereotype. Once I became fully aware of the message behind the concept “strong black woman” I decided to never use it to describe myself again.
For the past few days I’ve been battling with the concept of a “strong black woman”. Being a black woman I am very familiar with the phrase in fact for a long time I considered myself to be a “strong black woman”. I identified with other “strong black women” mostly women who were playing the role of both father and mother to their kids and I wore the label with pride. Then one day I began to abhor the concept because I could not see the benefits of being a “strong black woman”. All the “strong black women” that I had ever known were sad women, bitter women, women full of regrets and they often carried so many burdens. I wanted to withdraw my membership of the strong black women’s club because I wasn’t happy with the package deal.
The terms “strong” “black” and “woman” are not in anyway contentious in their ordinary and natural meaning but when placed together I believe they denote a negative image. It is a custom of mine to define the subject matter before moving on to the main body of the text but when I was thinking of how to construct my article I was struggling to define the statement. Many questions came to mind: How exactly do we quantify the strength of a black woman? Where does she derive her strength? Is her strength determined by her race and or her gender? Where is the white equivalent?
What then is a strong black woman?
The phrase is difficult to conceptualise as already suggested however the article would lack clarity if it did not attempt to define it. Through my own personal experience I have learnt that a “strong black woman” is one that has been through it all and yet possesses the qualities that makes endurance possible. She toils for her family(often leading the family) and does so showing minimal emotions. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders whilst carrying a sad smile on her face. She is emotionally bruised and whilst those bruises heal, they leave scars. She is a strong black woman because she struggles but overcomes.
The strong black woman image is admirable but damaging.
There is danger in making women feel as though they have to carry unnecessary burdens to fit in with this image we have created. She now feels as though she has to fulfil obligations that were not hers to begin with because she is a “strong black woman”. She doesn’t require assistance because she is a “strong black woman”. She can do it all on her own and to lean on somebody besides herself would be to go against the “strong black woman” persona. She is unaware that she is being hardened by the statement. Life consists of beautiful exchanges between people and she limits her experience when she rejects assistance choosing instead to be a “strong black woman”.
The statement has created a gulf between the black man and the black woman. Where two individuals are not prepared to give in to each others needs enmity is the end result. There is a need for a man to feel wanted, to take care and to provide but the “strong black woman” is so hardened by the need to do it all on her own that she creates this gulf. I am in no way suggesting that a black woman should not want to do things on her own, on her own terms, void of any assistance from anyone but I am urging all women to simply drop the heavy load.
Another reason behind my scepticism is the white equivalent does not exist. Strength is not limited to race and yet I have never heard the statement “strong white woman”. This only reinforces my notion that the black woman is placed with an unrealistic standard of strength because such strength is not common across other ethnic groups. The black woman has thus become an archetype thinking she can cope with every situation because she is expected to. She is expected to because no other woman can and will, again demonstrating how the image works to place a heavy burden on black women, compelling them to carry load too heavy for them.
The strong black woman image robs a black woman of her humanity. The strength dehumanises her. She becomes this superhero, always saving but never being saved. Further, the image robs the black woman of a subtle tenderness that I believe a woman should carry. Society equates tenderness with weakness but that is where the real strength lies. Again I am not suggesting that a woman has to be excessively emotional because that would go against everything I stand on but I am saying that the tenderness that a woman carries is one of the most beautiful things and should be preserved.
I am a black woman defying the “strong black woman” image because I should not be expected to deal with everything life happens to throw at me because I am a black female neither do I want to carry unnecessary burdens to demonstrate my strength to society or to even validate my existence and significance as a black woman. I do not want to be a “strong black woman” at the expense of my happiness. I am saying no.
Love Cris x