Opinion

Column: I HATE STRONG BLACK WOMEN

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I hate strong black women, but I love black girl magic. This may seem contradictory, at first, an enigma, at most, but I can explain.

Strong black women and black girl magic may seem synonymous because they target one social group, however, just because they are both directed at black women,  does not mean that they are both good for them, and here’s why:

The strong black woman is a narrative that I have always been taught ever since I was young enough to understand the role of black women in our society. I was raised around these strong black women, and I wanted to become one of them.

They were my mothers, my role models, my past and my present and my future, basically my #goals. For the longest time, they were the template my life was supposed to fit itself into – they were me.

Not anymore.

Nope.

Never.

Niks.

Ke shap.

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I’m 22 now, and I no longer want to be a strong black woman. I do not aspire to incorporate that expectation and burden into my life – the idea that I am meant to always be strong in order to survive being part of a marginalised community in an oppressive society.

It is exhausting, it is dangerous, and I want no part in it.

Firstly, being a strong black woman has to be one of the liberal society’s oldest insults. Romanticising the marginalisation of black women by giving them this ‘compliment’ while doing absolutely nothing to destroy the systematic oppression they face is just you being rude. You commend us for being “strong” and yet continue to subject us to your micro-aggressions and oppressions.

No, sisi, you just can’t, not in this economy. No. Nope.

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Secondly, calling black women “strong” has become the perfect way to silence black women within their own community. Black women now, instead of uplifting and supporting each other, have indoctrinated a silencer so effective in its ostracisation that even those who are not black women have adopted it to oppress us.

Now because we are “strong black women” we are expected to just sit back and take all the crap the world has in for us, just to uphold a narrative that is essentially hurting us, and for what? For who? Most importantly, why?

“But black women are so strong”

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This is the same mentality that invalidated black women’s pain by claiming that we were stronger and therefore could not possibly hurt as much. It is the mentality that had black women getting less anaesthesia during their C-sections because “black women are more resistant to pain and are accustomed to giving birth”. It is also the mentality that allows people to think we are always strong enough to support everyone else when we also just need support as well – when we do not want to be strong anymore.

I do not hate the strong black woman because of the perpetuation of otherness of our sex and race or because it low-key hints that strength is reserved for certain groups. I hate it because it has created this exclusivity that has rejected every single black woman who is and was not able to navigate her identity as a black woman, telling her that if she has not been successful in being a “strong black woman”, she is not worthy of being a black woman.

Being black and being a woman is not only about what is between our legs and on our chests and the colour of our skin. It is also about the historical, sociocultural and political baggage that comes with being a black woman. It is an intersectionality of class, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality and so much more and creates a constitutive identity that, thanks to Kimberlé Crenshaw, has allowed us to identify the many identities that can affect how we view ourselves as black women.

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The strong black woman narrative ignores intersectionality by creating an essentialist identity for black women that obliterates any inkling of emotional suffering, because, essentially, black women were meant to endure it – suck it up and black-woman up. It neglects the other identities we assume out of being black women and behaves as if we should only be focusing on navigating our identity as black women, ignoring our health, particularly our mental health.

It is this emotional straitjacket that has led to black women becoming the face of depression. It has allowed us and the rest of the world to believe that vulnerability should not stem from a black woman. It has allowed us to bottle in pain and hurt that any human can experience for fear that we will be judged and chastised not even by society, but by other black women because you were not strong enough to have it all together.

“I HONESTLY BELIEVE WE’RE SO ACCUSTOMED TO DELIVERING THE STRONG BLACK WOMAN SPEECH TO OURSELVES AND EVERYONE ELSE THAT WE LOSE OUR ABILITY TO CONNECT TO OUR HUMANNESS, AND THUS OUR FRAILTY. WE BECOME AFRAID TO ADMIT THAT WE ARE HURTING AND STRUGGLING, BECAUSE WE FEAR THAT WE WILL BE SEEN AS WEAK. AND WE CAN’T BE WEAK. WE’VE SPENT OUR LIVES WITNESSING OUR MOTHERS AND THEIR MOTHERS BE STRONG AND STURDY, LIKE ROCKS. WE WANT TO BE ROCKS.”

JOSIE PICKENS

That Nayla Kidd, a Columbia University science student, decided to “escape” her life says something about the dangers of being a black woman. No doubt she was heavily influenced by the pressures of following in the footsteps of her mother, who was a John Hopkins University and MIT graduate, but it echoed the need to break away from it all – especially “the strong black woman”.

With it only being two of them, I would not be surprised if Nayla felt a need to emulate her mom’s successes or ensure she was not a disappoint to her “academic all-star” expectations that had been set by her, but in so many ways to her (I should know – in a few ways, I am Nayla too).

But Nayla did something that trumped the toxicity of the strong black woman narrative. She went out and sprinkled black girl magic on her life, and no matter how intellectually and culturally bankrupt Linda Chaver’s article “Here’s My Problem With #BlackGirlMagic” is by claiming #BlackGirlMagic is “constricting” and “smothering”, Nayla (and all that is #BlackGirlMagic) destroyed the exclusivity formulated by “Strong Black Woman” with the inclusivity of #BlackGirlMagic.

You see, rather than create a narrative based on what black women are not or could not achieve like “strong black woman”, #BlackGirlMagic focuses on what black women are and what they can do. It is based on inclusivity, focusing on celebrating black women and not bringing them down because they were not able to fit a specific mould.

It can be personal or public. Whether it’s you posting a picture of your club outfit, or a picture of you at graduation, whether it is chilling at the pool half-naked (or naked, your pick) or running a marathon, #BlackGirlMagic is all about affirming each other – not rejecting each other – with a strong “Yaaaaaaas, Queen!” and tumultuous applause in the background.

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It is saying that black women no longer have to do the most to show their awesomeness, that they can just sit there looking pretty in their melanin and shine, giving them the platform to love themselves for who they are and in turn, love other black women just the same.

See, unlike “strong black woman”, which has always been used as a tool to silence us, #BlackGirlMagic allows us to bare, on blast, the parts of ourselves that people have told us not to love, the parts of ourselves we have been told to keep hidden, sticking it to the faces of those who wanted to keep us at “strong black woman” and not giving a black girl f*ck while looking them in the face and rhetorically asking:

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(Featured Image: File Image)

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About the author

Ofentse Maphari