I Am Not a Strong Black Woman
You may not control all the events that happen to you,
but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
The late, great American poet laureate and civil rights activist acclaimed audiences with her ability to unravel the complexities of womanhood, cultural disparities and the human condition through poems, essays, movies and television shows. Many argue Maya Angelou’s talent for capturing the essence of pain, grief, strength, freedom, and hope was the result of being a strong Black woman grappling with the effects of being raped as a child in the Jim Crow South.
Unfortunately, this argument and the ever increasing blanketed use of “strong Black woman” to describe any respectable Black woman in America, focuses and immortalizes the singular aspect of prevailing struggle while failing to acknowledge all of the phenomenal soft, feminine attributes we as Black women innately possess; thus negating any positive praise the assumed compliment could provide. As such, it is with great self-love, ancestral pride and conviction that I say, I am not a strong black women.
Before you go revoking my Black card or throwing me out to the proverbial pasture with the likes of Candace Owens and Stacey Dash, I know and have experience in the strength required to even make it to feminine adulthood while Black. A Georgetown Law study found presently and throughout this country’s history, Black girls are believed to be more mature, independent, and aware of adult subject matters to the extent where they need less protection, nurturing, support and comforting than their same aged white peers, (law.georgetown.edu). These damaging beliefs serve as an adultification that produces a lack of empathy for Black girls which shortens their childhood innocence and threatens their overall lives.
My childhood innocence came to an abrupt stop at the tender age of six, even though I grew up Huxtable Black in a two-parent household with a retired U.S. Army drill Sargent father and an active duty Lt. Colonel mother. Picture this, Alabama, 1989. All the kids on my street walked home from school together and one of the girls asked if I wanted to come over to her house to play, as we often did a couple times of the week.
I made my way two houses down to my friend’s house only to find her tall brown wooden fence locked from the inside and the unmistakable sound of giggling girls trying to quiet themselves as though they were under the cloak of invisibility. I knocked on the fence as hard as my delicate six-year-old hand could for what felt like an eternity. To my surprise, the voice of the mean girl that nobody played with anymore because we all moved on to first grade while she repeated kindergarten said, “We don’t play with n***ers”!
As the only Black first grader who lived on the street, I walked home bewildered yet inquisitive like any other child who tried to figure out the meaning of a new word without asking its definition. My mother, suspired to see me return from my play date so soon questioned my arrival, to which I nonchalantly asked what the strange and unfamiliar term meant. The next hour was spilt between my parents trying to explain 400 years of hatred and white supremacy while trying to hold back the tears of repeating a lecture they received entirely too early as well. After that intense hour of anguish and loss of progressive hope, years later the “sex talk” was a breeze.
I was one of the lucky ones though. My parents were able to protect me from the perils of adultification and over sexualization most Black female teenagers face by sending my sister and I to an all girls international college prep boarding school ran by St. Benedictine nuns for all four years of high school. Maybe it was the school’s mantra of “Preparing Young Women for Leadership”, or just the incessant scent of Herbal Essence proliferating the dormitory halls that softened my spirit. Either way, it was the first and only time I was free and comfortable enough to exist in my own femininity not as a girl, not yet a woman, (#FreeBritney).
I was comforted and supported as homesick tears fell down my face. Detention and other punishments were given to me for what I did instead of who I was and represented. I was gifted the ability of self-exploration to define what femininity meant solely to me and how to nourish the gentle, delicate, emotional realms of my beautiful womanly nature like a Disney princess singing in a forest with no need or reason to be strong.
That’s why I am so confident in knowing I am not a strong Black woman. I am so many other splendid characteristics that the need to be strong is as necessary as Prince Charming swooping up to take me away to a life condemned with male fragility and misogyny. I have no desire to be labeled as such because it is a dehumanizing tool of manipulation that weaponizes the experience and emotions of Black women.
Consider the way we as humans over fill anything we associate with being strong. We will sit on a smaller suitcase and break a sweat to zip it instead of just getting a bigger a one because the little one is strong, can handle the extra strain and the added convenience of not having to check a big bag. Everything is fine until you remove it from the TSA conveyor belt and the handle rips right off and becomes more of an inconvenience than the proper big suitcase. Now you’re in the airport cursing the day you bought the bag instead of taking responsibility for putting too much on it.
This is what it is like to be called a strong Black woman in America. The overfilled luggage did not over stuff itself just as Black women did not ask to be diminished with criticism and scrutiny while merely trying to exist. To make matters worse, the unfair and false assumption that Black women can handle whatever this country throws at them, only serves to then punish Black women when we resist and try to
change this narrative. Usually the long standing abuse, pain, exhaustion and lack of support this produces, naturally rise to the surface and we are then further reduced to the only other role Black women seemingly have in this country: The Angry Black Woman.
Hence why inclusion is so important. We all need the ability to determine the narrative for ourselves in order to preserve our peace of mind and mental health. Which is why it’s imperative to us all that we not only recognize and respect each other as individuals, not merely apart of a particular group, but also to rewrite narratives with an antiracist feminist approach. This includes having conversations with female POC and asking us how we want to be perceived. I do not speak for all Black women, but I can guarantee “strong” will not be in the top five or even ten adjectives used. We do not need to reduce ourselves to the countless unjust and unwarranted experiences we have no other choice to delicately overcome.
So the next time you see a bright-eyed Black girl simply being a child or a Black woman brimming with self-love and confidence, implore antiracist feminism rhetoric to your thought process. Push past any ideas that look to characterize her through the nation’s history and underserved negative stereotypes. Seek to understand her as she understands herself, whatever that may be, and give her the grace to take up space as who she is and not by the uncontrollable factors she was forced to overcome. Allow the Black girl to exist in the fleeting joy of childhood innocence. See that woman as the divine and sacred being that all women in this world naturally are at birth. More importantly, start a conversation and revile in the refined graceful elegancy you both share. I promise, you will not be disappointed!