Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ain't I a Womanist: Part II--Just What Is a Strong Black Woman?

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.

13 comments:

Citizen Ojo said...

I concure 110%. The Term strong black woman has been overused and over abused. Talking out the side of your neck, wearing tight clothes (yes people equate sexual liberation with being a woman) doesn't represent womanhood. I hope women take you up on your challenge.

Lyn Marie said...

I believe a strong Black woman is a woman that keeps it together with intelligence, grace and fortitude. It is also historic in nature. Keeping the family together or having strength after an outside force (via racism, slavery, substance abuse)tries to break you down. This is not to say that all women have not been strong Black women at one point or another, but notice the example was set in the Black community.

I've had friends (white) that said they think Black women handle difficulties with poise. That is the impression, is it always true, no, but it is an impression many people have.

Max Reddick said...

Well, I'll be the first to admit that Black women have had a hard time of it, especially in having to fend off not only racism but sexism as well. And they should be celebrated for that. But in the same instance, your strength should not be a bludgeon to beat someone over the head with.

I'm just saying. You don't have to present yourself as this strong indomitable woman all the time. If you indeed possess strength, it will invariably show in whatever you do.

KST said...

Throughout history we have had to hold it down at times when we were being held back. The phrase "strong black woman" has been bastardized to = Sapphire. The eye rolling, neck twistin' and finger waving - bitch.

Much like the black power and Negritude movements, this idea of the sbw was (is) a reaction to feeling disrespected and worn down. Somewhere we took a wrong turn.

There is nothing wrong with being strong, however black women are suffering from depression, obesity and heart disease at alarming rates? Why? We are too busy trying to be what we perceive as strong - burying our emotions in food, wearing our armor, and fighting battles that sometimes don't exist to take care of ourselves.

Much like men who are afraid of being labeled soft - we have become afraid og being labeled weak.

joe said...

Hey that's quite a 'do the chick in the top left is sporting... she must be using lacquer...
or crazy glue......

Orchid said...

man this was such a pleasure to read. I don't know if I have enough experience to even comment on this as a Ghanaian girl, but i will say this. Strength does not have to be on display 24/7. it does snot need to be loud and it does not mean you should push people away from you. strength doesn't mean there is no room for change in one's personality. We have to toss aside labels and find our own meaning of strength, one that can be molded according to the circumstances, one that allows you to cry, to weep when it feels natural without having to think of what others think. How can a person be their own person if they are forcing themselves into stereotypical molds?

Max Reddick said...

Part of my point is this endless need to present ourselves as strong or weak has all kinds of physical and mental effects. We need to be more comfortable with ourselves and that way we do not have to always put on a false front and can then just enjoy each other.

@ Joe

I have no idea what's holding her head up, but whatever it is, it's strong and stiff.

Anonymous said...

It's nothing wrong with being a strong person, but I don't think black women adopted the term purposely. When I think of strong black woman. I think of all that black women have been through and how we manage to hold it all together. Raising families alone while working at times two jobs to do it. Then you have sisters who manage to get a college degree, work, and raise kids. THat is what I think when I think strong black woman. What people forget about us is that we want to be vunerable as well. We want to let go of all the shit of the world and let someone else handle it sometimes. I guess it has to do with our long history of a broken homes and having to be the head of the household. Black women were doing what they needed to do to survive and sometimes that meant putting your own needs on the back burner, and forget about trying to deal with any emotional issues. Who could afford to get that caught up in themselves when you have a family to raise. So much is attributed to our being looked at as strong women. The term has sort of become a detriment to us and alot of black women agree with me. We don't always want to be the strong one. I also feel like black women are invisible in the eyes of the world, our hearts and minds don't seem to matter. But I will say this I wouldn't want to be anyone else because I love who I am and I know I am a woman with many facets and so are all my sistahs.

Max Reddick said...

@ Anon

Thank you. And let me reiterate my love for my sisters.

There is not a more beautiful, more multi-faceted group of women in the world. But I would like for my sisters, and brothers for that matter, to begin living and defining themselves for themselves without everyone else having such a big say in who and what we are and how we should behave.

Max

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more Max. I would love it if black people would stop giving a damn about what everyone thinks about us and do what we have to do to support each other and make our communities better and be strong for each other.

Max Reddick said...

@ Anon

Well said, Anon. Well said!

Toya said...

I really appreciated this blog. The term "Strong Black Woman" is the most overused description only second to "Swag". Both terms came about not because of a clear cut definition but because somebody observed another and drew the the conclusion. "I'm a strong black woman" is sometimes used as an excuse for ignorance meaning "if you think I'm acting up its because you can't handle a strong black woman". All our ancestors were strong black women. They went through way more adversities then we will ever see and you never heard them proclaiming themselves as such. They just were. I wish people in this internet society could quit telling people what they are (i.e. Miss Independent, Go-getter etc) and just be it. Then other people would recognize them as such.

Max Reddick said...

Perhaps we can sum up what you are saying with the old Bibical passage, Faith without works is dead. It isn't enough to say what you are; you then have to demonstrate that in your actions.

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