I am not a strong Black woman.
“You’re so strong, you’ll be alright.”
“Girl, I don’t know how you do it. You’re so strong!”
“I imagine you’re used to getting what you want because you’re so strong.”
These are variations of the commentary I have heard throughout my adulthood and Black womanhood from colleagues, friends, family, and strangers. I am here to say they all could not be more wrong.
Surprise! I am not a strong Black woman. I feel pain. I live in fear. I hurt. I cannot take it all on and survive. Yet, despite the ongoing racial and social injustices Black people experience in America, I am still expected to persevere. To outlast the trauma of police brutality I have always had to live with; the continued injustices of Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines, Bianca Nikol Roberson, and the countless other Black women, Black trans, and Black men for which this society allows their (police) murderers to walk freely; the lack of safety psychologically at work where I will always experience microaggressions, racism, and sexism because I am the only or one of few, which makes my White and non-Black POC colleagues so uncomfortable — since they never step outside of their privilege and supremacy (or the pandering to such) to consider how I feel about being there, just trying to do my job; and the lack of safety even in Black America where I still need to be cautious among skinfolk who sometimes show themselves not to be kinfolk and, instead, full blown predators; and Karens, Chads, and much more are thrown at me daily thanks to the duality of being Black and a woman.
So why am I always seen as strong? Who could possibly maintain that descriptor while living through and in the above? I am expected to make a dollar out of 10 cents. My #BlackGirlMagic is supposed to give me invincibility as I struggle to find a job, place to live, financial stability, and maintain my dignity, values, and “worthiness” at the same damn time. Yes, I have been on my own since I was 18 years old. Yes, I put myself through four degree programs to receive peanuts compared to my White counterparts in life, work, and status—who likely haven’t or didn’t work for the feast they enjoy. Yes, I have found my way into pockets of “privilege” that temporarily afforded me access to a lifestyle and a career I have always fought for. Does any of this negate the fact that I am still not a strong Black woman?
When I eventually find myself employed again — of course, still underpaid by approximately 40 cents to my White male counterparts and 17 cents to my White female counterparts — should I stop and exclaim to the mountain tops “Yassss Queen! You are strong after all!” Or is it that I should be grateful to then be able to see doctors for my medical needs with a comfy $20 or $30 copay, or to sleep in a space that is my own, with my things, with my essence, because a broker/landlord sees me as less of a risk thanks to verifiable 6-figure income (notice: I didn’t even try to discuss ownership of property)? No one has ever handed me, or any other Black woman, the handbook on this supposed innate strength we embody as the least protected, cared for, and believed group in America — dare I say, the world.
Exactly when do I live up to this forced archetype of the strong Black woman? Better yet, when I am inevitably unable to do so, how will I be treated then? There isn’t a part of me that finds my situation in life easy. I love being who I am. I would never change that for anything in the world. To lie and say I have never thought about how much more I would have in mental, emotional, physical, and financial wealth if I were born White (and male), I cannot. Without my disadvantaged life experiences — I refuse to call them “hardships” any longer — in a system designed against me, would I be able to value all that I have achieved and the more yet to claim? I would like to believe my very existence as a Black woman is strong but I don’t feel that a creator could possibly think existing, rather than consistently thriving, evolving, and living, is what they had in mind as the qualifier of “strength,” Blackness, or womanhood.
I come from a community of the most amazing people. I want us to win. I want us to be greater than we ever imagined. I want to see this promise that is quietly attached to being the strong Black woman come to fruition. The reality is it isn’t likely in a world hell-bent on maintaining White supremacy, evoking White fragility, and utilizing manipulation or temporary White privilege access/adjacency—that I, we, are praised for being so strong against and within.
Where do I go from here, now that I have laid this realization/honesty/acceptance out into the world? I don’t know — and it’s about time you all stopped expecting this Black woman to have all the answers, figure it out, make it happen, and do it all with a smile on her face because she’s so strong.