“Black women are the mules of the world.”
- from Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
One of the most enduring and devastating stereotypes ever perpetuated about Black American women is the Myth of the Strong Black Woman.
Considered as less than human, as less than woman, Black women in America have had to shoulder this burden for centuries.
Pile up all that you may on her, and stand there expecting Black women to take on the weight of the world.
Yes, Black women have had to have strength to face insurmountable odds: race-based American slavery; the destruction of Reconstruction; Jane Crow segregation which was worst than slavery; the tumultuous Civil Rights era.
But, should the Myth of the Strong Black Woman be something that Black women should aspire to?
The belief in all Black women as so strong that they should have their womanhood and humanity suffocated by others creates a prison for them.
And how can such a myth that is based on people denying Black women the right to their humanity not cause more harm than good?
I say that the Myth of the Strong Black Woman has done more harm than good.
The myth has denied Black women the right to release their tears of sorrow and frustration, without having to be castigated as weak for showing that side of their humanity.
Much of black women’s depression/obesity/diabetes/heart problems/stress/hypertension is caused from the infamous Strong Black Woman Myth, and that hateful myth is killing Black women. Hell…It has killed many Black women. That so many have taken it for granted that Black women will be their crutch to prop them up has sapped and withered the lives of so many Black women. That Black women are expected to do, and do, and do, until they are all give out—while those who have used them up stand over their exhausted and torn apart bodies and souls.
What was once a form of empowerment against the effects of racism and sexism, has become a fun house mirror for Black women; a carnival of horrors that denies Black women the most simplest of basic humanity.
“These suprahuman women have been denied the “luxuries” of failure, nervous breakdowns, leisured existences, or anything else that would suggest that they are complex, multidimensional characters. They must swallow their pain, gird their loins against trouble. . . .and persist in spite of adversity.”
-Trudier Harris, Saints, Sinners, Saviours: Strong Black Women in African American Literature
The myth of the Strong Black Woman causes those about her to look at her as less deserving of comfort, less deserving of empathy; less deserving of protection; less deserving of support; less deserving of respect.
It forces on Black women the mantle of unassailable, unshakeable, and naturally strong. It denies them the right to have normal feelings and reactions to the world around them. The Myth of the Strong Black Woman denies Black women their fears, their pains, their need for solace.
Because of the Myth of the Strong Black Woman, so many see her as a workhorse to be used up, as someone who never needs help, but is always prevailed upon to help others no matter how bad her health, financial, and mental being may be. That she needs no one, can do it all by herself and never needs the input of anyone in her corner.
That she must always have the back of everyone else, when no one has her back.
“Being strong all the time is a burden and doesn’t leave us much room for being human.”
- Julia Boyd
Time to deconstruct and eradicate the Myth of the Strong Black Woman.
Black women have given so much for others, yet have so little to show for it.
Time to do away with the Myth of the Strong Black Woman.
Time to let Black women to just simply. . . . be. . . . Human.