I am not a strong Black woman. It feels really liberating to write that sentence down as I rarely have chances to say it in my everyday life. Yesterday I went shopping. I was carrying a bag I had from another store and immediately felt on edge as soon as I walked in. Why? As a Black person I know I am automatically being watched by security, and feel uneasy when shopping inside any store. Being followed by security is a normal experience for Black people. Normal as in it always happens to us and has been apart of our lives since childhood, which did not make me stronger, but instead gave me massive anxiety. When I walked into the store carrying a bag from another store I felt scared, and when I walked out having not bought anything I slowed my pace down because I didn’t want anyone to think I had stolen something. I am not a strong Black woman.
While my mother was dying from cancer I took care of her. I would go to work in the morning, and directly to my parents house at night to care for her, which included spending the night on her really hard days. For four months I smiled at work for the teachers, parents and kids, while simultaneously crying in my office bathroom in-between office visits. I couldn’t eat and my five-two frame became extremely frail. My emotional and mental state had gotten so bad that my size four jeans were falling off my waist. One coworker noticed. She had lost her father to cancer some years before. My coworker would bring me into her classroom and cry with me at lunch. She would bring me food and make me sit with her and eat. The front office and administrative staff knew what was going on in my life and never once showed me the care my coworker did.
After my mothers passing I became caretaker to my father who has a myriad of health issues. In 2019 his heart stopped and I watched the ICU team try several times to shock his dead body back to life; they did. He lived and I help. From doctor visits, emergency room stays, hospitalizations, grocery and medication pickup, nightly reminder calls to take meds and everything in-between…I help. My father and I have a strained relationship, but I am still there every day to take care of him. Once, while speaking to my cousin I commented about the toll all of this had been taking on me and he responded with, “Yeah, but you were built for this. You’re strong.” When I told him I was never given an option not to be strong he said, “I don’t believe that.” Unfortunately, when it comes to Black women most people don’t. They believe we were built for this…whatever “this” is but honestly, no one was built for this. I am not a strong Black woman.
The strong Black woman trope and/or stereotype has long caused harm. Black women are not given the space to cry, feel sad, not smile, or need a break without being told we are angry, aggressive or come across as unfriendly. We cannot cry at work when we are having a bad day. Our tears don’t work in our favor, and alternatively are not believed or constantly questioned. When rapper Megan Thee Stallion survived a violent shooting done by a fellow male rapper most blog/tweet/comment sections etc. were filled with hate against her. As a Black woman she was not seen as the victim, and was instead viewed as someone who must have done something wrong to deserve to be harmed. Singer Rihanna fared the same fate when she survived a heinous domestic abuse attack. Not only was she the but of jokes, but also blamed for the attack against her. Snapchat created a filter making fun of her. Imagine your pain constantly being used as fodder. I am not a strong Black woman.
The list goes on of Black women being seen as impenetrable pieces of steel who are made to just take and take, but never given room to receive. Serena Williams called out an official on court during a match and had cartoons depicting her as an ape, angry, aggressive stereotype that flooded online and print. When Serena’s non-Black counterparts do the same they are seen as railing against the system in brave ways; they are rewarded for their emotions while Black women are constantly punished for ours. When can we stop being “strong”?
Black women in relationships on film are almost always depicted in tropes of struggle love. The man in the film beats/cheats on/emotionally or mentally abuses her, and she stays in the relationship! This makes us viewed as women who have to bear the brunt of abuse just to be loved. Make it stop, please. Black women deserve to be pampered, loved, cared for, and held just as everyone else does.
I do not want to always have to be strong. I need to be able to cry, and feel sad without my emotions being weaponized against me. Black women are inherently strong in so many ways because yes, we have to be strong to endure the daily pressures that come with our existence. From being followed in stores, systemic racism, job discrimination, income equality, and people trying to touch our hair etc. We also need to be seen as humans that feel the same emotions everyone else does and be allowed to express them without having to hide in the bathroom during lunch to do so. We are not all strong Black women and that is okay.