It is nothing but the truth when people say that Black women are resilient. Knowing all that we have gone through and continue to go through, what could be a better word to describe us? The stereotype of the Strong Black Woman is one that is heavily endorsed within society, but it is something that many Black women are beginning to reject.
The stereotype of the Strong Black Woman is not what society tries to paint it out to be, in fact it is a misrepresentation of Black women. The Strong Black Woman is characterized as emotionally restrained, hyper-independent, nurturing and resilient, and she is not fazed by anything or anyone. While one may argue that these are positive characteristics, once weaponized, it becomes a detrimental stereotype against Black women. This stereotype reinforces the idea that Black women can withstand everything therefore they should and they must withstand everything. It is a false narrative that has real life consequences.
I see the internalization of this misrepresentation within many Black mothers, especially the immigrant ones. They take the whole world upon their shoulders and forget to take care of themselves. Even when the weight of the world feels heavy, they pile on feelings of guilt and shame for failing their loved ones and ultimately themselves.
Society heavily endorses this image of the Strong Black Woman. Consequently, this results in societal compliance, which in reality is oppressive. The fictional image of the Strong Black Woman is used to dehumanize Black women in reality. It does not allow Black women to be fragile like their non-Black counterparts. When was the last time you read a book about Black woman fragility? Black women are prohibited from expressing their emotions and vulnerability. We are often censured and gaslighted so that our feelings become invalidated. Black women are told to put everyone first before themselves. The expectation of our boundless strength ultimately takes a toll on our mental health.
We must be strong, but do it out of sight and out of the limelight. The Strong Black Woman activist, often at the frontline of Black power movements, but hardly on the frontpage. The Black Lives Matter movement is a good example.. This movement was created by Black women, but many would not know unless they do the research themselves. Though Black women spearheaded this movement it is Black men that have become its face. A movement that is meant to include the advocacy of ALL Black lives has been used to disregard the lives of Black people who are not cis-gendered hetereosexual men. When Black women make the front page for their activism it is in an infantilized form - little Black girls not the women. This can be seen with Gianna Floyd, Little Miss Flint, and the little Black girl who was marching in the BLM protests chanting “no justice, no peace”. While seeing such young girls take part in activism gives us hope that the children will continue to fight the good fight, it also shows the paradoxical oppression of Black girls into the Strong Black Woman narrative. Images of Black girls already fighting the good fight deny their fragility and need for care and protection.
When a little girl is cast into the role of the Strong Black Woman her childhood, innocence, and vulnerability are erased. Black girls are being told that they must be strong instead of simply being children.
The Strong Black Woman narrative is unrealistic and can result in Black women feeling less than. Due to the ongoing stigma of mental health within the Black community, Black women are less likely to seek help when experiencing mental health issues due to the fear of being labeled as weak. In the age of social activism, Black women are constantly bombarded with images of people being abused and murdered who look just like them and the people they love. This has adverse effects on their mental health. During the height of the BLM protests in 2020 I remember feeling drained with all the images and news of people who look just like me being senslessly murdered and abused. It made no sense to me as to why people would share these images of dead Black bodies as if they were posting a picture of their new puppy.
While being bombarded with these images and news I realized that my mental health was being compromised. I wanted to take a step back from social media, but I had this fear of not being informed or being able to participate in online activism. I felt as though I was failing myself and my community at the same time. Just as society expects you to be strong, you must equally expect society to be careful of how it treats you. As Black women we must know that it is okay to take a break and unplug, you cannot save, help, or care for others adequately when you are not doing the same for yourself. You are allowed to take off your cape and you can choose not to put it on ever again.
Remember: You do not have to be strong 24/7. Your emotions and feelings are valid. You are allowed to ask for help, you do not need to fight everyone’s battle.