The traits of being fierce and indestructible are said to be running through my terrifically tough superhuman veins. Society says that since I am a woman who is Black I am immune to all forms of feelings and emotions.
Though I am not a superwoman.
Well, I am here to inform you that, that is not the case nor is it me, it’s what has been passed down to me unwillingly. I will no longer take the back-handed compliment of strong. We need to acknowledge that ‘strong’ is a word used to justify the repeated abuse of black women and children.
I have to sacrifice my voice
For me being a strong Black woman is dehumanising, it restricts me from speaking out as a result of society’s usage of tone policing.
Because of my skin colour, I have been taught to contain my emotions in order to please those around me and make them feel more comfortable.
I cannot openly speak about the microaggressions that pester me weekly, without being called dramatic or sensitive.
Society paints me as a villain for speaking out on the blatant misogynoir I have to face in the workplace.
My classmates say I am angry when I call them out for their light ‘jokes’.
The issue with being strong as a Black woman, in particular, is that we cannot be seen as everyone else because society has been conditioned to see us as unbreakable and resilient, which prohibits us from being able to talk about our lived experiences and inform those around us what we have to endure for just being Black in this world. This is vastly damaging to our mental wellbeing because at times some of us feel that we feel that it is wrong for us to feel like we are in need of extra support, therapy and counselling. Leaving our emotions caged for generations to come.
I feel pressured to put on a front
The media has carved us into these superhuman beings. TV shows and movies have a tremendous effect on the way society shapes culture. These prominent tropes have heavily perpetuated what behaviour and characteristics are expected from us. The angry black woman depiction was started in the 19th Century and has a long trail of prevalent existence in America.
It’s like a mask we’ve been trained to put on and wear for the rest of our lives.
In the 1970s, the Black woman evolved into the ‘Jezebel.’ Black women were portrayed as sexually insatiable and animalistic, as a way to justify the sexual abuse that they endured during and after slavery.
Yet, another example that dates back to the trauma’s we have had to endure being played down. This trope is the pinnacle example of a Black woman having to contain their pain. The blame is shifted onto them by the creation of this incredibly toxic trope. In instances like these, our strength is displayed through having to fight through these tropes as the tables are constantly turned onto us, in order to portray us as the antagonists.
Furthermore, forcing us into the habit that has painful effects of us masking ourselves into these unrealistic costumes of expected strength, lying behind a soul that should be allowed to be vulnerable. This has the long-term effects of damaging our mental health as we are not taken seriously when we express the adversity we have had to face because of being a Black woman.
It is used to justify the repeated abuse of our women
This trope has become a device for society to use to defend against their abuse of Black women, making the abuse heavily normalised. Creating toxic notions such as: ‘She is a Black girl, she’ll eventually get through it” or that just because we are Black women we don’t feel any kind of pain; that we are invincible. Moreover, justifying the abuse overtime under the guise of us being able to withstand ill-treatment.
Consequently, due to this everlasting custom, society has led Black women to internalise this abuse and stay silent. There are Black women who have faced sexual abuse and domestic violence who are less likely to speak out and seek help due to the presumption of Black women being able to take more pain’ than others.
From this we can see how damaging this trope is to our mental health, proving its degrading nature. An article published in the Psychology of Women journal revealed that there is a direct association between the internalization of the strong Black woman trope and loneliness, anxiety and depression among Black females. Black women who felt the pressure to be strong reported more instances of maladaptive perfectionism, a higher lack of self-compassion and other harmful psychological coping skills.
Upon all of the harmful effects of the ‘Strong Black Woman’ trope, you may wonder where I draw my strength from and how I perceive strength.
Personally, I draw my strength from fighting for what’s right amidst all the injustices we are faced with. Speaking out on societal issues is what motivates me to write and express my opinions and educate our society, in pursuit of bringing about change. So, future generations to come don’t have to endure what I and many other Black people have had to undergo.
I do not like to view my strength as putting my mental health on the line and silencing my voice. For me, my strength is on full display when I fight for what I believe in.
My strength stems from seeing change and societal progression. It is what makes me feel motivated and empowered because for once I feel that we are headed into the new age of breaking away from these systemic and oppressive stereotypes.
As a woman, I do take pride in my strength and ability to overcome adversity. However, I realise that I have to separate being a strong woman from being a strong Black woman because those are two different matters. Women in history inspire me to overcome the battles that are presented to us as women as a whole, although my Blackness adds another layer to that. I still have to live through experiences such as colourism, texturism that are specific to me being Black.
Thus, the reason why I don’t take being a strong Black woman as a compliment, because ‘strong’ stems from the hardship our community has had to face throughout history. The strength that is associated with being a Black woman is rooted in acting as a protective shield to the discrimination that has been handed to us.