By Coshandra Dillard
Strong black woman. It’s a phrase often accepted as a badge of honor. It’s uttered to mothers, daughters, sisters and aunties.
You’ve probably congratulated a black woman for being strong. You told her she could handle anything; that since she’s so fierce, she’s unshakable.
Problem is, this type of thinking is harmful.
Don’t get me wrong. I know black women are resilient. We’ve fallen and gotten up; been humiliated and overcame; been dismissed and disrespected but rose above; we’ve suffered and then triumphed.
But we still are just as complex, flawed, and beautifully human as anyone else. We still are in need of being seen, being loved, and being cared for.
If we hold onto the stereotype–one that is rooted in racism–that we’re unbreakable, it stifles our humanity. It’s one reason why the struggles of black women are ignored, such as disregarding when we’re tired, depressed, sick, or hurt.
But they’re so strong. They’ve got this, right? Nope.
We assume that women like Serena Williams and Leslie Jones can endure hate-filled campaigns against them because they’re strong, no-nonsense women. I know so many black women who have experienced abuse, sexual assault, and mental health issues who also internalize such trauma, or push it aside to take care of others. Statistics reflect that.
For example, the intimate partner violence rate against black women is 35 percent higher than their white counterparts and 2.5 times the rate of men and other races, according to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in the African American Community data.
Black women are nearly three times more likely to die as a result of domestic or intimate partner violence. Although black women comprise only 8 percent of the population, they make up 22 percent of domestic or intimate partner homicide. In addition, black women are less likely to seek legal aid, mental health services, medical care and social services related to domestic violence.
The strong black woman trope implies that if you cry, if you don’t have it all together, or that you are vulnerable, you are weak and you aren’t a “real black woman.”
But there is no one way to be a woman, just like there is no one way to be black.
Women, in general, are amazing creatures who often wear a virtual superwoman cape, but the reality is it’s not sustainable. Unfortunately, black women have to navigate through a society rife with sexism, misogyny, and racism all at once. It’s exhausting.
We should be allowed to be hurt and to express that hurt; to assert ourselves without being labeled angry. We should be allowed to say we can’t do it all. Because we can’t. There is always a place for support, sisterhood, empathy and compassion–no matter how strong we are.