My mother deserves to be retired and living on a luxurious resort island where she's pampered from morning to evening--especially after all my siblings and I put her through. Yet, at the ripe age of sixty-two, she continues to work multiple jobs and refuses to accept any financial help from friends and family. I love her, but I wish she’d realize that she doesn’t have to be everything all the time. Born in the generation where the “strong black woman” trope was at its prime, it has never occurred to her to be anything other than the nurturer, backbone and breadwinner of the family.
While my mother does allow herself to feel and to cry, I wish she’d also allow herself to relax and have fun and be carefree. Unfortunately, my mother is not the only black woman who tries to take on everything and be everything to everyone. Black women are experiencing an epidemic. It’s called “strong black woman-itis” and it’s time to start talking about it. Here are some reasons why the “strong black woman” trope is harmful and why I don’t want to be one:
Being Strong Is A Damaging Stereotype
Black women are not invincible. We are not incapable of breaking down and feeling pain and suffering. And if you think about it, it’s quite sad that many of us measure our self-worth based on how much suffering we can endure. It’s almost like black women enjoy being martyrs, and that’s not okay. We deserve better. We deserve to live happy, carefree lives. Not only does this stereotype encourage us to take on more than we can and should be expected to handle; it’s having adverse effects on our health too.
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford (licensed psychologist and founder of Therapy For Black Girls stated in The Thirty magazine, “[black women] have been conditioned to be afraid to admit that we’re struggling. The idea of being a ‘strong black woman’ keeps a lot of women from actually reaching out for help.” Bradford continues, “We’re so busy taking care of other people that we miss taking care of ourselves. We’re tending to family members and friends, which makes us miss symptoms that are going on for us.”
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
The strong black female stereotype also feeds into the trope of black women being overly masculine and manly. As a result of both myths about black women, our femininity is often overlooked and underrepresented. It’s kind of a cycle actually: the media doesn’t represent us as beautiful, feminine and worthy of protection and in turn, black women don’t feel beautiful, feminine and worthy of protection. Because of this, we tend to take on more masculine roles in society and often reject any labels of femininity because we don’t feel worthy of it. On the contrary—despite what society says—there is beauty in femininity.
There is value in femininity. Black women should be allowed to express and enjoy that side of ourselves as much as any other woman. Moreover, black women can be shy, quiet, depressed, anxious and we need more representation for the wide range of black women that exist.
The “Strong Black Woman” Stereotype Justifies Our Abuse
On her Instagram story, Ayesha from the Grapevine wrote, “Strong is a label historically given to certain groups of women to dismiss their humanity” and she’s completely right. Black women are often told we’re strong and touted for our “ability” to withstand loads of abuse. This is not truly done out of admiration for us, but instead, to justify our continued mistreatment. After all, strong things don’t have to be handled gently, kindly or softly. Strong things aren’t vulnerable; they don’t have valid feelings. If black women are strong, then we don’t have to be treated respectfully because we can “withstand” the pain.
This explains the sentiment behind Kevin Hart’s 2010 tweet, in which he remarked that darker skinned women are able to “take a punch” in the face better than light-skinned women. This explains the reason why black women face higher levels of domestic abuse and higher rates of suspension and even expulsion in schools. Everyone thinks we’re “strong” and indestructible and this stereotype is not only harming us; it’s placing us in danger.
It’s also the reason why society expects so much from black women (especially dark-skinned black women), from demanding that we be above average at all times, to demanding that we carry on heavy workloads and never fail. And when we achieve this incredible feat, we still only receive a fraction of the acclamation and respect we deserve.
All in all, it's simply not worth it for black women to continue to expend so much of ourselves and give to others, without receiving in return. Let's stop allowing society to benefit off of us and to thrive at our expense.
"Grace is a freelance writer and blogger from Canada. Her work has been featured on HerCampus, 21Ninety, Read Unwritten. She is a voracious reader, a dog-lover and a self-professed pop culture junkie. Her other hobbies include watching sappy romantic comedies, consuming too many strawberry-filled doughnuts and people-watching. Grace currently attends university, where she is working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Pre-Law."