The hidden burden of being a strong black woman

strong-black-woman

Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

“You are really strong”

A personally frustrating ideology of being self-reliant and self-contained is such a burden it’s damaging. Day to day the expectation is to assume multiple roles (mother, career woman, housewife, personal chef, personal assistant, cheerleader plus any other attached to their person or gender). This is often to the point that being anything other than strong about things is responded to negatively. The huff when a black woman asks for support, the rolling of eyes when she expresses hurt. These are all signalling that to be anything less than strong is unacceptable. An expected strength to such an extreme when compared to that attached to isolated roles such as “housewife”. (Roles which involve sacrificing all other roles to fulfil one)

The negative implication of wanting help and support, whether it’s with bills, the house or workload, then culturally you aren’t a true “strong” black woman. This unrealistic expectation coupled with the absence of support means there’s no other choice but to be “strong” even in times of desperate need. The perceived strength is a suppression of weakness, such as sadness or pain.  

There are many examples:

Not having enough resources but the expectation to give or share with others for their success or comfort

Not asking for help and doing it all yourself irrespective as to the workload involved

Not displaying upset despite whether you’re hurt both physically/emotionally

Being expected to defend yourself because you are the strong one

Not expected to feel pain in childbirth resulting in higher death rates

It is easy to understand that this level of overwhelming pressure causes a lot of physically and emotional damage. Emotionally in terms of the breakdown of interpersonal relationships with significant other, extended family members and wider community. Physically, this stress can lead to exhaustion, hypervigilance, glucose intolerance, stiffening of the arterial system, to name a few. Using strength to conceal trauma is silently suffocating so many black women yet still it goes unchecked. It is said that in Britain black woman have the highest rate of untreated depression, presenting itself in other forms (substance abuse, comfort eating).

The stereotype that black women feel less pain emotionally and physically stems from centuries of biological racism. This was used to justify the experimentation on black women and where the strong black woman stereotype of today originates.  

Yes, we should admire the strength utilised by black women to support themselves and their families however it should be acknowledged that this is when no one else would. Additionally, we should offer help and acknowledge the strength which comes with showing vulnerability. There is nothing wrong with a black woman asking for help not all battles should be taken on by her alone. We should also remind them that they are respected and believed when expressing themselves. Rather then assuming there’s no need to worry about her because she is so strong, find out if she is okay. Defend her when you have the opportunity to do so and be there for her emotionally. It’s sounds so simple but often the simplest of things are over looked.

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