This is a piece I performed for the Bleux Stocking Society back in February of 2016.
I know, awkward. You know, since I’m a woman who is black.
Before you light my ass-up on social media or I get misquoted I have a disclaimer to read:
I do not represent all Black People, Black Culture, African-Americans, Afro-Americans, or any group of people or culture.
I do not represent all women, cis, trans, or otherwise.
My thoughts, opinions, and rants are not universal truths, but my truths as of this moment. I reserve the right to think and reflect and even change my opinion.
I DO NOT think any views that oppose and/or challenge my beliefs are wrong.
For more information or if you want to fact check me, my piece is on my blog: melissabarnes.agnesscott.org
Now that the formalities are out-of-the-way, allow me to speak passionately to you for about 5-7 minutes about the strangeness and absurdity of the phrase “Strong Black Woman.”
So, what is a Strong Black Woman?
Generally, when discussing strong Black women Beyoncé, The First Lady Michelle Obama, Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, Grandma comes to mind. These women are awesome. Their title as strong Black women is very rarely contested.
So being compared to these women isn’t a bad thing in our culture. On its face the term is meant to be a compliment; arguably the highest form for Black women.
What are the traits and attributes of an SBW?
- takes shit from no one
- hard working
- overcomes adversity (All the time. Like the life of an SBW is just adversity after adversity she needs to overcome.)
- nurturing but stern
- mental health is never anything less than 107%, + or – 4% for a margin of error
- is never a victim (Even if she has been assaulted or abused. She is strong enough to overcome this unfortunate event [refer to 4] without drawing negative attention to herself and more importantly and especially the community she represents even if the victimizer is in her community.)
- Of good moral standing (See Claudette Colvin)
- Isn’t “fast”, promiscuous, or a “ho.”
- SBW make the best single parents (refer to 1,3,4, and 8)
So this is where it gets confusing. Apparently there are side effects to being this magical. It’s not a good thing to be too strong and too successful as a Black woman. I call these the ‘Terrible Toos’:
- She can become too educated.
- Which causes her to be too independent.
- She runs the risk of being unhappily single because of 1 and 2.
- She doesn’t know how to keep a man.
- She typically is not the best single parent because she is ‘career driven.’
Pause- Remember my disclaimer? Yeah, pause. If you would oblige me, I want to talk about the voices that perpetuate this notion of SBW. Steve Harvey is an entertainer who has made quite a few dollars writing books and movie teaching women, women of color specifically, how to ‘Act like a lady and Think Like a Man.‘ First Steve, what do you think I’ve been doing all this time? Are you even aware that we live in a Patriarchal society? Do you even know what that means? Why do you think I want, need, and demand equal pay?! So yeah, it is appalling that a man is making money telling me how I should think and behave as a woman. Meanwhile in ‘Merica, employers want recent college graduates with 15 years experience in management and 5 Olympic Gold Medals for an entry level job.
In an article in Essence Magazine, Robin Thicke said in response to a ridiculous question about whether or not Black women were better off dating White men: “Maybe the women have to take better care of their men. Maybe you’re being too stubborn. Maybe you’re not saying you’re sorry. You have to take good care of him, too. You have to give love to get love. “. The most disheartening part, the publisher of the article is a prominent Black women’s magazine. It’s the last place I would expect to see this type of message.
Historically Black women have had to wait their turn. We’ve had to wait our turn in Women’s Rights and the Civil Rights, and we continue to wait our turn today.
Marissa Alexander – Sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in the air during an altercation with her abusive ex-husband. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was not enough for her to avoid conviction but it worked for Trayvon Martin’s killer a year later.
Renishia McBride – Shot in the face after knocking on someone’s door.
Cece McDonald – Served a 41-month prison sentence because she simply defended herself after being attacked by a racist, transphobic bigot.
The thirteen women raped by a police officer – All of the victims were, from the 17-year old teenager to the 57-year old grandmother.
PFC Lavena Johnson – While serving in Iraq PFC Johnson was found beaten, raped, and murdered in her tent. The U.S. Army ruled her death a suicide.
Were these women not strong enough? Is that why they don’t get the same kind of support as the Black male victims of police violence and systemic oppression? Or, were these women strong enough not to warrant the support and attention of the Black community? Four of the six women I named are dead so it’s probably not the latter. My next logical question is painful: Do all Black lives matter? Because from where I’m standing I can’t tell.
So what does the phrase “Strong Black Woman” mean to me? It means Superwoman. A woman who is a pillar of the community in the figurative and literal sense. When was the last time you noticed or thanked pillars, support beams, and walls? When you’re walking in and out of a parking structure, do you tell the pillar labeled ‘Blue R-7’ “Thanks for being informative, reliable and strong.”? No. We don’t notice these things until a building collapses. Then we’re like “That <explietive> structure! Built like crap.” I say this to say, we only notice the pillars of the community when something goes wrong.
If you’re Black, successful, and single well that’s the side effect of being a Strong Black Woman or there’s something wrong with you. Our society ignores any and all possibilities like… maybe you don’t want to be in a relationship or you don’t like dudes like that. I have heard of that happening.
The phrase ‘Strong Black Woman’ is dehumanizing and makes a woman less feminine, which is the justification for us waiting our turn. We’re strong enough to.
We can’t be complex emotional beings, We can’t be victims. Which is probably why the stereotypical victim in a horror/slasher/thriller is a white woman. Not that is a goal of mine…to get killed in a horror movie.
I don’t want to be a Strong Black Woman because I don’t want to wait my turn. I’m tired of waiting my damn turn. I don’t want to be a Strong Black Woman because if I died a senseless death the only people who would care would be my family and friends. I don’t want to be a Strong Black Woman because I believe in the “over-education” of women.
I don’t want to be a Strong Black Woman because: yes I overcame a lot of obstacles and if life were a video game being a Black Woman is not ‘Easy Mode’, more like ‘Unecessccisarly Hard Mode’. The menu screen would then display ‘Are you sure?’, then ‘Why?’.
But I am privileged in areas of my life. I acknowledge that. Also, I’ve had some awesome moments and experiences in my life that I am grateful for. My life would be a mediocre at best made-for-t.v. movie but Tyler Perry would find a way to spice it up.
I don’t want to be a Strong Black Woman because I am a woman who is strong, smart, charming, organized, funny…..