About Being A Strong Black Woman…
I don’t know at exactly what age I got the message that, as a black girl, my destiny was to grow up and become a “Strong Black Woman.” My guess is probably around 4.
By that time I had come to know strong black women as survivors. They struggled. They endured. And they didn’t show weakness. They were the women in my family, and while I was proud of them, being a strong black woman didn’t necessarily come easy or get as much respect as I would have thought.
Outside of our culture, I observed that strong black women were perceived as aggressive, inflexible, contentious—hardly the type of women that needed to be protected. Intra-culturally, they shouldered too much responsibility, their emotional needs went unrecognized, unexpressed, and they were often left alone to fend for themselves when they needed help the most. I concluded that being a strong black woman wasn’t what I wanted to be. I resolved to avoid the circumstances that I believed made black women have no choice but to be strong. There would be no making uncommitted men the center of my world; no entering motherhood for the main purpose of getting a commitment or to fill a void; and I would not continually take more than my fair share of responsibility in any endeavor. I wanted to develop an identity apart from the SBW standard, one built upon authenticity and self-actualization.
As an adult, I would often reflect on why I was so adamant as a young girl to not be perceived as a strong black woman. What was I really scared of? Strength is an admirable quality. Why did I not want to make this my story? What did my instincts detect about the precariousness of this female archetype?
The answer came one day as I was on a train casually listening in on a couple’s argument. The girlfriend was furious at her boyfriend because he boarded the train before her. She expected him to usher her on first. Initially, I thought this woman was acting ridiculous, even behaving something like a spoiled brat, but when they exited at their stop, he was sure to escort her off like she had asked. Being assertive about demanding respect without having to be emasculating or ugly taught both this woman’s partner, and myself, a lesson. I marveled at her expectation to be protected. This feeling of protection was something I had always felt was lacking in my relationships and something I desperately wanted to experience. However, I never expressed this need because I was afraid of appearing weak or possibly too overbearing—a true hallmark of a strong black woman–make that a strong woman in general.
Luckily for me, I have since come to recognize vulnerability as strength and, as a result, have experienced greater depth in all my relationships. Being a strong black woman, though it might not always be appreciated by others, is something I definitely have a new appreciation and renewed respect for.