The title “strong Black woman” is as misappropriated and tossed around as the word “hater.” If you simply continue to exist in the face of some great personal challenge or tragedy, someone will call you a strong Black woman (see: Chris Brown referring to his mother as one on “Larry King Live”). If you don’t have any very obvious inability to support yourself, or some glaring character deficiency, someone will call you a strong Black woman. Joan Morgan runs the voodoo down on the SBW madness quite lovely in When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost. Do yourself a favor if you haven’t already and read that, sis/bro.
I never wanted to be a “strong Black woman”; in fact, I bristle when people call me one. I’m Black and I’m a woman and I happen to have a number of things about me that are strong: my mind, my personality, my resolve, etc. But putting them all together under that title reduces us to some sort of monolithical fembot who’s able to shoulder all burdens because she’s unable to feel. I don’t know about all of you, but my shoulders aren’t always broad enough for all your stuff and mine, and feeling? I like to feel. I need to feel.
Those three words form an umbrella that isn’t big enough to cover all that I am and all that I do. I decided this long ago. I allow myself the space to mourn, to ache, to emote. I’m sensitive when it comes to my own feelings as well as to those of others. I don’t do emotional auto-pilot. When my stuff is out of sorts, you gotta let me cope with that and be all in. While I’m no fragile flower, I have found that when “I need a space to fall apart” (c) Cree Summer, it’s best for all parties involved to let me have that.
Yet I am constantly expected to be unbroken and hard. And I see so many other women who are willing to do it all and hold everyone down no matter what is going on with them. So many of our people have sipped the strong Black woman Kool-Aid and we don’t seem to realize that it’s all sugar, no supplement. It goes hand in hand with the dehumanized caricature of Black womanhood that was used to justify our enslavement, and it continues to make it too hard to breathe.