Strong Black Woman: The “Compliment” that Destroys the Image of the Black Woman

General examples of the “Strong Black Woman”:

The strong black woman archetype has been popularized in black culture and in the world overall (particularly, America) despite the fact that it does harm to the black woman image. This woman is aggressive, independent to a fault, has highly masculine traits, places the needs of others before her own, and carries the entire world on her shoulders. She is unbothered and masks all of her emotions. She never complains or tries not to. She is the woman who doesn’t need a man and can do everything alone, even if it kills her. This woman is very belligerent. She’s that ride or die chick who adores struggle love and misery. If a black woman is shy, quirky, dainty, sweet, and soft, she may be told to “toughen up” and to “be hard and strong”. She must be loud to get her point across. She never asks for help in any way. She works two to three jobs, attends school to earn a master’s degree, and is all about her career. Her only concern is working, even if her job is miserable and driving her crazy. Her health isn’t a priority at all. The strong black woman can take pain both physically, mentally, and emotionally. She begs for attention and affection from those not willing to reciprocate the same energy. She screams out for help, but many fail to notice signs because of her constant strength. She’s the starter girlfriend and wife who builds up a man and his career while she’s well established and he’s a dusty man with no career, goals, job, and ambitions. Not only may she drive a BMW, but she is the BMW, build a man workshop. On her sickest days, she puts a smile on her face and pretends as if she’s good and well. She can be toxic to those around her, but most importantly, to herself. The strong black woman can be so many things. The list just goes on.

Strong Black Woman in Monochrome by Samantha Estrada - Stocksy United

Strong Black Woman Film Example:

Precious | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Unfortunately, the strong black woman is the primary representation of black women. All black women are expected to take whatever is thrown at them in life and are heavily masculinized. In film and typical everyday lives of blacks, depictions of the strong black woman are seen repeatedly. One example in film: 

In director Lee Daniels’ 2009 film, Precious, 16-year-old Precious Jones suffers verbal and physical abuse by her mother, Mary Jones. Precious is illiterate, obese, boy crazy, and a fighter. She does make an effort to change, which eventually pays off once she earns her GED and improves her reading and writing skills. Her mother, Mary Jones, takes her frustrations out on Precious through abuse and an unforgettable jealous rage. Jealousy on Mary’s part occurs due to Precious having two babies by her biological father. Precious’ father sexually abused her for years, beginning when she was a baby. Young Precious is expected to take care of her mother and endure continuous hardships. Later in the film, Precious learns that she is HIV Positive. She has a support team behind her in a counselor, new friends, educators and even a male nurse. 

*Mo’nique’s outstanding performance in this film won her several awards including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and an Academy Award. Black women, in the history of film, have only been recognized by the Oscar’s and the Academy Awards for mammy-like roles, aggressive roles, and savior roles (Hattie McDaniel being the first back woman to win an Oscar for her portrayal as Mammy in Gone with the Wind). 

The Matriarch…Grandmothers, Mothers, Aunties, and Sisters:     

Over Ten Years Later and the Movie Soul Food still gets on my nerves |  Draco Photography - Life and Times of Janine A

In black families as a collective, matriarchy is pushed more than patriarchy. Families look to grandmothers, aunties, mothers, and sisters to keep everything together. This contributes to the role reversal in the black community. While equality can be a positive thing, across the board it starts to diminish traditional gender roles, leaving women in masculine positions and leaving men to feel emasculated (some people don’t have an issue with this, and that’s their prerogative). The matriarchal figure is expected to be everyone’s savior, yet many fail to look after her and her well being. Family members go to her to complain about their issues, yet neglect the matriarch’s feelings and stressors. She has to be strong and put everyone else’s needs before her own. The matriarch can be very overwhelmed and exhausted, but still manages to rescue loved ones. The matriarchs are very special in black families’ lives, but they are not strong, supernatural heroes that can handle everyone’s problem along with their own. She’s human too and isn’t unbreakable. Matriarchs can get sick. She doesn’t want to be the strong one of the family, she just wants to be. Matriarchs need just as much support as the family members do. Loved ones shouldn’t complain about issues to matriarchs too much because this creates more stress for them. Be sure that she is going to the doctor regularly and is investing in self care as much as possible. Ask her if she’s having a good day and see if she needs anything. Listen to her not only when she gives advice, but also when she reveals deep, personal issues and struggles. Treat her to something valuable such as the spa day (not a drink) and take her out to dinner. Just treat this lady well, love and cherish her, and take care of her because she may fail at doing so for herself.      

    

In praise of Whitney Houston and the cast of Waiting to Exhale | BFI

Dark-Skinned Strong Black Woman:

Dark skinned black women as a collective are masculinized from childhood. Analysts have concluded “that within minority groups, darker-skinned girls are disciplined more harshly than light-skinned ones” (The New York Times). This same study concluded that girls of dark complexion are three times more likely to be suspended from school than girls of lighter complexion. In June of this year, young Wynta Amor-Rogers (age 7) led a Black Lives Matter protest in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many others due to police brutality. People of all races, ages and genders were at the frontlines of the protests. However, this was one of the only times dark skinned girls and women received recognition and praise, especially in the mainstream media. It was inappropriate for children to be involved in protests that could’ve potentially put them in harms way. Not to mention that we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic and protestors could be violent. Being that children are so young, there’s no identity for them and they’re innocent beings. Protesting at an early age robs young black girls of their innocence and helps to adultify them. Black girls deserve the right to just be children and enjoy youth without interference. This alone was and still is an outrage. Parents can educate children on injustice in other ways that won’t require their young lives to be put at risk. Being the “warrior” or “rider” or “soldier” is the only time when dark skinned girls and women are validated the most, along with being overly sexualized, exhibiting self hate, and being seen as objects rather than people. Dark skin can be associated with aggression, strength, sex appeal, masculinity, harshness, and a bad attitude. When a woman of any race says she has a “preference” for dark skin black men, in most cases, this subconsciously is because dark skinned men are seen as more masculine than lighter skinned men (there’s no such thing as “preference” for a certain complexion, it’s just plain colorism). So, dark skinned black females are automatically associated with the same preconceived notions. Dark skinned females can be seen as the fighters and aggressors more than their lighter skinned counterparts and are often believed to be stronger in their abilities to take pain. 

Health Stats:

Black women are at a disadvantage in terms of health. This group is greatly affected by diseases and illnesses. Complications during pregnancy and birth are common. According to Black Women’s Health Imperative, “Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and 3-4 times more likely to suffer from severe disability resulting from childbirth compared to White women”. The stresses of financial instability, family issues, poor dieting, and so on can be contributing factors to long term mental health issues. It’s common for the black woman to feel the pressure of putting the needs of loved ones before her own, so she lacks the ability to care for herself. “Black women are especially vulnerable to wrestling with their mental health, consistently reporting higher feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and the sense that everything is an effort than white women do” (self.com). Sexually transmitted disease cases in black women including chlamydia and gonorrhea have decreased in recent years. Despite the decline, black women continue to surpass other race groups in contracting STDs and STIs (sexually transmitted infections). “Besides black men, black women comprise a majority of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses per year (although the number is thankfully falling)” (self.com). “Black women have a 1 in 9 chance of developing breast cancer” and have higher chances of dying from the disease (self.com). Chances of having strokes and developing heart disease and diabetes are higher for black women compared to other races of women. At one point in time, medical professionals were trained to think that black skin was thick and that black people, particularly girls and women, had a high tolerance for physical pain and that the group didn’t require much medical attention. “Half of white medical trainees believe such myths as black people have thicker skin or less sensitive nerve endings than white people” (Janice A. Sabin of AAMC). Please follow the self.com link provided below for further information.

Comic: We need to take the mental health of Black women far more seriously  - The Black Youth Project

My Stance:

Being called strong can dehumanize us depending on the context it’s used in and we can be strong in various aspects of life that won’t compromise our feminine energy. We can be strong minded individuals when it comes to decision making. We can be strong by devoting to lifestyle changes that will benefit us in positive ways. We can be strong by standing in our beliefs and values. Being a woman alone is powerful and we don’t have to adopt masculine traits to show that we are powerful beings. I’m not strong in a masculine manner, but very delicate and soft. “You’re a strong black woman” and “I just love the strength of a black woman” are simple phrases that can have in depth meaning and in a sense, are backhanded compliments. The phrases mean that we have no feelings and are numb to pain. The truth is, we do experience pain, heartbreak, hardships, and we are very bothered by things. We don’t have answers to everyone’s problems; sometimes, we don’t have answers to our own problems. We need people to listen to us, too. We are the most disrespected and unprotected group of people and we need support and protection. We are afraid of being harmed as well. For example, domestic violence is a huge issue in our community and some of our male counterparts help destroy us when they should be protecting us from danger. It’s always been said that “black men are born with targets on their backs”. Black women are targets, too. Sacrificing it all for others without gaining benefits won’t get us ahead. We are under stress and can’t handle everything alone. It’s also important that we learn to stop masking our emotions and acting as if everything is okay when we know that’s not the truth. Being so strong is a contributing factor to the demise of black women; like high blood pressure, it’s a “silent killer”. Choosing not to be strong doesn’t mean that you’re weak. It just means that you’re a person. There are traumatic life experiences, persecutions, health issues, major and minor obstacles, and dramatic turns of events that we face and have to acknowledge how those occurrences take tolls on us physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s actually normal to be vulnerable and express feelings. It’s not normal to bottle up emotions inside and never discuss them. Some may be perfectly fine with the “strong black woman” title. However, I realize that it’s detrimental to the lives of black women and there should be a change. There are so many negative stigmas associated with therapy, but I think it can be a great start to black women opening up about everyday life issues. It’s overall great to have a professional available in a secure place to just listen without judgement. Some may say the following about therapy: “it’s only necessary if you have severe mental issues”, “black people that go to therapy are crazy”, and so on. People may argue, “all you need to do is go to church, pray about it, and the Lord will handle your troubles”. It’s great to pray, but prayer without work is failure and God made therapists for a reason. I encourage women to also have a creative outlet: writing, drawing, sewing, cooking, hair, makeup. This can be awesome ways to relieve stress. Venting on social media isn’t healthy and I don’t recommend it. Blacks are a very divided group of people and black women can be very competitive and petty amongst each other. We should learn from each other instead, unite, and respect differences. Learn how to say “no” to family members and friends when they constantly need favors: favors that will cost you your job, favors that will cause you to put dents in your pockets, favors that will get you in trouble with the law, and so on. Take some time off of work and do a self care/treat day. Please don’t feel bad about prioritizing self-care and treating yourself well. Also, learn how to take gifts and allow others to treat you well. Stay up to date with doctor appointments. No one knows your body better than you, so seek medical attention when you initially notice that something is wrong. Granted, if you’re in a situation where you’re battling a disease, are injured, need to defend yourself and so on, fight for your life, take a stance, do what you have to do. Just be in touch with vulnerability and sit in your feelings, don’t dismiss your feelings. Consider lifestyle changes:

Exercising

Cutting toxic people out of your life that don’t benefit you 

Eating more fruits and vegetables than meat and starches 

Cutting out excessive intakes of alcohol and avoiding drugs or leaving them alone

Learning to stay on code 

Picking up new skills

Attending affordable schools  

Avoiding debt and cleaning up finances (learning how to budget, save, invest, etc.) 

Setting goals 

Loved ones and their well being is highly important, but your well being comes first. I understand that strength is the only option in many cases, but never be scared to ask for help because there are various resources available: organizations that support what you need, trusted friends/family members, trusted neighbor(s). Do yourself a favor and work on being the best version of yourself, not for your family, friends, job, or spouse, but for you.  

A message to mama Paula…

You’re precious and I’m blessed to have you for a mama. You’ve been deemed as the “rock” of the family since grandma’s passing; Grandma Daisy will forever be missed… her spirit continues to live on. You aren’t a rock, you’re a human being with a heart and feelings. Know that you are very special, important, respected, appreciated and that it’s okay to say no. Place yourself on the front burner, not the back burner. Love yourself as much as the family loves you, unconditionally. I love you more than words can ever express!

Source Links:

https://www.thelily.com/black-women-and-girls-deserve-better/

https://www.self.com/story/black-women-health-conditions

blackyouthproject.com

www2.bfi.org.uk

pghcitypaper.com

draco1967.wordpress.com

Policy Development

https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/how-we-fail-black-patients-pain

Videos to watch:

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