Updated: Feb 20, 2019
As a writer and speaker, whenever I’ve discussed being a survivor of domestic violence, raising two children alone, or overcoming multiple obstacles, the first response I usually receive is: "You are such a strong, Black woman."
Throughout my life, it became clear that anything Black women were able to successfully do without the assistance of a man, spouse, family member or friends automatically earned them the coveted title of "strong black woman” (aka- SBW). This title came with the acknowledgment that we are more equipped to deal with the trials and hardships of life on our own than women of other origins.
In short, the SBW is expected to navigate through adversity and pain (both physical and mental), without seeking or even desiring assistance or protection. In fact, the SBW who DOES reach out for help in a situation may run the risk of losing her crown because she wasn’t able to take care of her problems singlehandedly. Of course this is NOT a fact, but it has given birth to many dangerous untruths about Black women, leaving us reluctant to ask and accept help when we really need it.
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The SBW narrative has kept a lot of us silently suffering and slowly dying with the pain of the multitude of responsibilities and expectations, resting on our "strong" shoulders. It's become the equivalent to the “S“ on Superwoman’s chest signifying superhuman strength and endurance. Have you ever seen Superwoman say she's having a hard day or ask for help? Chances are, you haven’t seen many SBW do this either.
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Being capable, fearless, and self-sufficient is definitely admirable, but setting the impossible expectation of being in that mode 24/7/365 is a recipe for physical and emotional disaster - and I’m speaking from direct experience. No human being has an “ON” button that can stay in that position indefinitely and as Black
women, we are no exception.
I am a Black Woman who has been single for the better part of my adult years. I am also aware my status comes with the assumption that I can handle everything, juggle all balls without dropping one, and even reach over to juggle the balls of anyone else in my life that needs me. It is true that a great part of my life is spent doing just that but believe me, it’s more of NECESSITY than CHOICE. Where we may lack being regarded as valuable by some in this society in other areas, our strength and ability to multitask and “fix” the lives of everyone around us makes us unbreakable forces to be rekoned with.
Throughout history, Black women have had to constantly assert ourselves not just to be HEARD, but to be RESPECTED and regarded as equals in comparison to our female counterparts of other origins. But in our quest to prove our worth, something was lost in translation. Our resilience and unabashed willingness to define our position ended up depicting us as not being in need of as much tenderness as other women. The SBW label lends to the idea that Black women don’t align with terms like “fragile” or “delicate” thus we are often not regarded as women who may require protection or assistance in times of need.
Although for most of us being a SBW comes with a level of pride, it also sometimes comes at the cost of our mental health. Constantly keeping a “brave face” to please everyone and earn the right to our Superwoman cape can leave us exhausted, distraught, and sometimes deeply depressed. We fault ourselves because of our inability to keep going and going like the Energizer Bunny, even knowing that NO person can do this (last time I checked, none of us are battery operated😉).
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The SBW narrative has followed us since slavery so it is not one that will disappear tomorrow. But if you have a SBW in your family, as a partner, or as a friend, here are some things you can do to nurture her and keep her mental health in tact:
1. Ask her if she needs any help (and then lovingly insist on it when she tells you ”no thank you”). She is not likely to readily accept it, but as we know, EVERYONE needs a helping hand from time to time.
2. Instead of telling her how strong you think she is, just give her a HUG. There is a great deal of research on the healing powers of a daily hug. A SBW who constantly does for others all day would benefit from the warmth of a loving hug (that is 100% FREE to give, by the way).
3. Be her “shoulder” or her “ear.” Let her lean on you and have a good cry if that’s what she needs. Or just be there to listen, let her talk it out, and be available if she asks for your input. The SBW gives so much of herself to others that sometimes she needs someone to fill HER cup back up too.
And if YOU are that SBW, find ways to embrace your strength without depleting your spirit. I PURPOSELY addressed the people in your life instead of giving you tips because you already do enough on your own. Now is the time for those people around you to step up and give you the love that you so freely and selflessly give to others.
Understand that you don’t have to do it ALL EVERY DAY. The world won’t stop spinning if you take a break to take some time for YOURSELF. You are too precious and too priceless not to ❤️