The idea for this post originated one morning a couple of weeks ago as I nosed around over at Black Women Blow the Trumpet(BWBT). That morning the blog host featured the article “Cutting the Ball and Chain of the Strong Black Woman.” The article is very thought-provoking and well worth your time.
As I read the article, something occurred to me. I have heard the term “strong black woman” bandied about so freely and used by so many women as to become almost trite or at worst, a running joke. Who can forget the Kathy Griffin stand-up comedy special Strong Black Woman.
Most, if not all, black women I know refer to themselves as “strong black women.” However, I am not quite sure exactly what constitutes a “strong black woman.”
Often the behavior I witness that is posited as evidence of one’s strength, frequently could be interpreted by another to be a weakness, or even further, a cover for personal shortcomings and/or insecurities. Allow me, please, to provide two examples.
When I was a child, a lady and her seven children attended my father’s church. She was a very intelligent lady. In fact, if I remember correctly, she was a school teacher. However, her husband did not work and spent his time and what little money he could scrape up drinking, gambling, and chasing women. He was abusive to both her and their children.
Most of the time I knew this woman, she worked two and sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet. But she stayed with her husband up until the time he finally died of liver failure. During his funeral everyone commended her on her strength, but I distinctly remember thinking, even at that young age, how irrational it all seemed. If anything, she should have thrown his trifling behind out in the street a long time previous, if not for her own sake, for the sake of the children.
And let’s discuss for a moment one of my colleagues. She proclaims herself a “strong black woman” very loudly and to any and all who will listen and actually believes that people dislike her for just this reason. But the reason people dislike her is because she is overly boisterous, very rude, and extremely pugnacious.
Treating those around you with contempt and disrespect is not a sign of strength. Talking crazy to people and being overall confrontational is not a sign of strength. In her supposed strength, she has managed to alienate her husband, her children, her co-workers and anyone else she comes into contact with on a regular basis.
I could provide other examples, but the space allowed by this post prohibits it. However, I will leave it to you provide your own examples. I’m sure you have many yourselves.
But if I might paraphrase the blog host at BWBT, strength is evinced when you are comfortable enough with yourself to play the various roles circumstance offers, and not because that is what you believe is expected of you, but because that is your prerogative as a woman, as a human being.
As we individually work toward an acceptable personal definition of a “strong black woman,” allow me to issue this challenge to my sisters.
No one can be strong all the time. No one can be strong given any circumstance, any situation. That being said, each of us, black men and black women, can serve as the complement of the other; where one is weak the other can provide strength, and where one is strong she or he can act as support for the other. And neither party will have to posture nor feign strength, often to the detriment of self.
We can all be much better than we are. We can all treat each other far better than we do. But before we begin to do so, we must sit down as equals, as equal stakeholders. Our greatest strength lies in our unity, in our grounding with one another.