My 2 Cents on the “Strong Black Woman” Archetype

I was thinking about the stereotype of the “strong black woman.”  It’s closely related to the unwed [single] Black mother.  My impression is that it denies Black women the full range of emotions– if you’re only selfless, generous, stoic and long-suffering, there is no room for anger or the desire to be loved, cherished and protected by a husband.  Frankly, it’s limiting and insulting to place that label on Black women.  [I am quite ware that there are women who willfully embrace the label, but this does not occur in a vacuüm.]  Besides, if you have to say “I’m a STRONG Black woman” you probably aren’t. Some things are self-evident.

Yes, some (if not most, but all) Black women endured hell- bought and sold as chattel, torn from husbands and children on the auction block, raped**… but this is not a contemporary or collective experience.  I do not deny that the vestiges of continual oppression, systemic discrimination and racial violence have left a scar on the memory of “the Black experience.”  [In an very USA-centric sense].  Why should we embrace this notion of a “collective” struggle [never mind the cross-cutting cleavages of class, gender, social status, geographic location, etc] to the detriment of our forward movement?

I honor the struggle of my ancestors- I recognize my grandparents’ work as members of NAACP in SW Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow.  I recognize my mother’s labor in cotton fields, and my paternal grandfather’s work as a janitor and cook in the US Army.  I would not be here without them, and I owe it to them to move forward.  This means not wallowing in excuses and poor choices.  I am capable, I am smart, I am resourceful.  I am not defeated.

I will not embrace solidarity predicated in defeatist notions of perpetual struggle.

I will not conform to essentialist constructions of Black womanhood.  I will advance with the flags of my forebears toward my God-given destiny.

**This is not an experience shared by African-Americans, descendants of African immigrants.  This article was written specifically to challenge a mindset more common among descendants of African slaves in the US.

5 Comments

  1. Hello, and thanks very much for the blog roll link. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts!

  2. Thank you for such a GREAT post! I focus on the Strong Black Woman Myth as well as Black women and identity negotiation in my research and ministry work. I always say that these gender appropriations disallow women from experiencing the full range of their humanity. You are so on point with your observations. For a personal narrative on the subject, check out my blog: http://www.exsuperwoman.wordpress.com. I’d love to hear your comments.

    PEACE! – Dr. Kim

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