The strong Black woman myth: A good or bad thing?Sep 20, 2023 12:00PM ● By Gift Joe
Who is the Strong Black Woman?
The strong Black woman remains strong, does not buckle against all odds, and sacrifices herself for others. She’s unbreakable, enduring, resilient, almost superhuman. She is expected to navigate through pain and discomfort, enduring all forms of physical, mental, and emotional hardships. This stereotype suggests Black women are capable of shouldering any burden without showing vulnerability. They are celebrated and admired for this. But is it a blessing or a curse?
It is a double-edged sword, posed as a compliment but often used to heap more responsibilities on women. Several Black women in America and other parts of the world seem to be tired of putting on the superwoman cape and projecting themselves as strong. They are tired of sacrificing for everyone else and putting themselves last.
Its impact on the mental and emotional well-being of Black women
The “strong Black woman” label can be exhausting on mental health. It has the potential to affect African American/Black women both positively and negatively. The damage of the stereotype starts long before a Black girl becomes a woman.
The belief that we can do it all takes a toll on Black women's mental health. While strength may be an admirable virtue, the expectation to always stay strong no matter what can be a burden. While they try to stay strong for everyone else, suppressing their vulnerabilities, they may be dealing with anxiety, depression, and high levels of stress. They may continue to suffer in silence and not seek the needed support because of the stigma surrounding mental health within their communities.
Thanks to women’s tennis star Naomi Osaka and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles who reminded Black women in 2021 that it’s okay to put our mental well-being first. They both courageously defied the strong Black woman mandate by choosing not to compete to care for their mental health.
Whether it's family or work, Black women are constantly faced with situations where they are expected to be there for others while suffering in silence. A Black woman can be working more than two jobs, going to school, and raising the kids, with a smile on her face even though on the inside, she is crying for help. Most times, it is not because she wants to but because she feels like she has to. You hear phrases like “If I don’t do it, nobody will.”
Helen shared her struggles of schooling, working, and taking care of three children under the age of seven at the same time. According to her, the tag, strong Black woman, is just an excuse for overworking oneself and carrying on more than one can bear.
“I always take offense when someone calls me "strong", especially when I’m complaining about the stress of living abroad with three young kids with no help while my husband is away in Nigeria. I don't consider "strong" a compliment, nobody should give me that tag. I am human, I want to rest and I need help.”
Despite being discriminated against in the workplace, schools, and society at large, Black women are expected to just “toughen up” and keep shouldering whatever challenges come their way. In most cases, they have to shoulder multiple roles and responsibilities in the household and within their communities.
Naya has always worn the strong Black woman badge with so much pride.
“I felt like I could do it all until my body couldn’t handle it anymore. I was working three jobs, taking care of the family, helping kids with their homework, and keeping the house clean. I wasn’t resting until my body forced me to. I started to break down. I couldn’t function properly. I would cry myself to sleep most nights. I had to seek help before I ran myself to an early grave.”
The 'Strong Black Woman' myth has deep roots, stemming from a history of resilience in the face of adversity. The strength exuded by Black women has always been a source of inspiration from way back. But how long will women continue to suffer in silence? Being strong for yourself is already a challenge on its own, so why add the burden of having to be strong for everyone else?
Being strong is the only thing Crystal has ever known. She has to work twice as hard, taking more shifts because she has family back home in Ghana to cater for. She also wanted to prove her value to herself and others by overachieving.
“Growing up as a child, I never saw my mum or any other woman ask for help. I grew up with the notion that I have to be strong and asking for help is not an option. Over time, I realized that I was doing myself more harm than good. The burden of doing it all by myself started to take its toll. I had to learn to delegate. I stopped being the strong Black woman.”
We can all agree that overworking and excessive stress are not good for anyone’s mental health. It is high time Black women stopped suffering silently with the mental and physical health consequences of carrying the weight of the world. They need to free themselves from the burden of family, work, and community responsibilities and prioritize self-care without guilt.
Simple ways to avoid the strong Black woman stereotype
Ask for help: There is no shame in asking for help. No man is an island. If you need help, do not think twice about asking for it. Don't hesitate to seek help from family and friends, or even mental health professionals when you need it.
Embrace vulnerability: It is okay to express a range of emotions. Give yourself permission to feel and acknowledge your feelings. You can be strong but also have your moments of vulnerability. Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. Don’t die in silence because you do not want the world to see you crack.
Set Boundaries: It is important to establish healthy boundaries in your personal and professional life. Learn to say "no" and prioritize self-care and your well-being without guilt. Take care of yourself, you deserve rest too.
Challenge stereotypes: Don’t be afraid to challenge the strong Black woman stereotype when you encounter it. Remember that every Black woman is unique, and you are not defined solely by societal expectations.
Talk and share: Have you ever heard of that old saying stating that a problem shared is a problem halved? Bottling up your problems and worries will only kill you slowly. It is better to talk to someone about your feelings. It could be a family member, a close friend, or even a therapist. This can help lessen the burden.
More Black women are redefining what it means to be strong by saying No to bottling their emotions, No to overworking, and No to neglecting themselves.
It is okay to admit that you may be dealing with too much and cannot handle it all. It is okay to slow down instead of constantly putting on the superwoman cape while struggling emotionally and mentally.
Black women are not superwomen, and neither are they robots. They are humans with emotions and can not always be strong. They need to be able to take some time off without feeling guilty or judged.
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