For decades, the Black woman has been acclaimed for her strength and fortitude in the face of both personal and societal challenges. The conceptual ideology that Black women can (and should) handle anything thrown at them is a common misconception. This is not to say that we are not strong. We are indeed some of the strongest creatures on this planet. Adversely, we are also weak in moments, we hurt, and contrary to popular belief, we too get tired.
Inception of this Misconception
The above meme has been making its way around social media. Where did this notion come from that we have this prodigious amount of emotional and mental strength? Maybe it commenced in the 17th and 18th centuries when negro slave women spent their days being wet nurses, cooks, hairdressers, midwives, servants, and rape victims of so called “Masters.” Maybe it was when Black women got up early everyday to take care of White homes and then came home to do it all over again for their own families. The catalyst could have been during the Civil Rights era- when Rosa Parks decided that she would rather deal with the repercussions even if it meant jail time rather than moving from her seat.
It’s not easy to pinpoint when the Black woman became the poster child from perpetual strength, but historically, the Black woman’s experience has been an accretion of racial, societal, and political exclusion. And somehow, through it all, we managed to cope without appearing haggard.
For context, the 19th amendment, which would grant women the right to vote in the United States, was introduced into congress in 1878. The amendment was passed on June 4th 1919, but was not ratified until August 18, 1920. Even then, Black women were systematically* suppressed from casting their votes. (Check out much previous post for context).
How This Affects Our Mental Health
Researchers have suggested that health disparities in African American women, including adverse birth outcomes, lupus, obesity, and untreated depression, can be explained by stress and coping (Woods-Giscombé, 2011). Simply said, being the Strong Black Woman is literally killing us.
Somewhere down the line we decided that we have to keep pushing no matter what and that being strong is our only option. We work when we are sick, we take on or are given extra tasks in the workplace because it’s often suggested that we “can handle it.” We pour into our friends and families even when we don’t have anything left in our cups and we rarely miss a beat.
As Black women, we must normalize self-care in an effort to reduce stress. We must normalize saying “no” at times when our plates are too full. We must normalize taking time to recharge and we must normalize being weak and vulnerable sometimes and knowing it’s ok to cry. It’s ok to admit when we are overwhelmed. The true strength lies within how well you take care of yourself and not how much you can take before experiencing burn out. It’s ok to not be the Strong Black Woman all the time.