As A Black Woman, I’m Over Being The Bigger Person
It’s not uncommon for people – especially Black women – to be told to “be the bigger person,” after being disrespected or abused in some form or fashion. A co-worker lies on you at work — be the bigger person. A friend betrays your trust — be the bigger person. A man calls you out of your name on the street — be the bigger person. I cannot disagree more with the ideology that wrongdoings are best left ignored.
When someone steps to a Black woman in a public and disrespectful manner, instead of responding or even addressing said disrespect, we are often told to “move on,” to go on living our lives without even acknowledging the wrongdoing, much less correcting it. The whole premise behind being the bigger person is problematic because it places the burden of the situation on the abused instead of the abuser and the environment that says such abuse is okay. On top of that, the person abused can’t even express their emotions about the abuse because they are constantly advised into silence. Meanwhile, those who do go against the grain and share their feelings are dismissed as complainers.
While it may seem like this saying is a small thing, it represents the larger issue at hand: that Black women often get the short end of the stick when it comes to justice in all of its many forms. When we are told and shown that, despite all we do and represent, we are “not enough,” when we are expected to suck it up, not show any hurt, and go on about our days as usual, we’re being broken. We’re told our experiences don’t matter and that we’re weak for admitting our hurt. On the flip side, if a Black woman responds to mistreatment with anger or emotion, it is socially seen as overreacting. This is even worse in professional settings where we’re handed the scarlet letter of “angry Black woman” because in corporate America it has become more than expected that we stifle our pain for the good of someone else’s reputation — or wallet.
This is how we get to a point where Black women are dealing with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety at increasing rates and in secret with little-to-no support from the communities we help build. These women become shut out and suffer all in the name of “being the bigger person.”
Instead of spending time telling Black women how to handle abuse, I suggest we open up a dialogue to, perhaps, stop people from being abusive. Harmful language like “be the bigger person” implies that a person expressing feelings on being attacked is showing weakness and the strength is in letting abuse go. This creates a dichotomy of the abused as “powerless,” and the abusive as “strong.” Being on this imaginary higher moral ground gives Black women who have been wronged the responsibility to be a saint or satan and diminishes the attention that should actually be placed on the character of the wrongdoer.
Now, I am in no way saying that going around being petty is a-okay. But refusing to address pain discredits self-care and forces abuse victims to believe our hurting is happening in a vacuum. I am tired of having to be “hush hush” about being emotionally and physically injured. I am tired of being force-fed the ever-painful “strong Black woman” narrative that convinces folk that we have some innate ability to handle a bigger fraction of violence therefore we don’t have to address it when it happens. “Black women are made of the strength of 1000 suns,” may sound cool, but we are not Iron Women. We are allowed to be vulnerable. We are allowed to be vocal. We are allowed to be human, not some trope loaded with misplaced respectability.
I will be ecstatic when it is no longer unthinkable to call out my abusers on their foul behavior and expect support from those I know and love. I will be just as excited when Black women experiencing and dealing with our emotions and mental health is something that is openly expected and even encouraged. We are not to be ostracized. No, we are to be loved and told, “I am here for you.” Because even the most historically loyal demographic could use some solidarity every once in a while.