The Curse of the Strong Black Woman

“I’m a strong Black women.”

How many of us have said this, heard this, celebrated this affirmation of perseverance and independence?  I would venture to say we would be hard pressed to find a popular Black film, TV show, novel–drama or comedy— girls’ night conversation, that does not espouse this strength of Black women as a core component of our identity.  To this I say, you’re damn straight.  I’m strong.  Black women as a collective represent a commanding level of strength in the historical, political, social, economic, and spiritual growth of this country.  However, this strength has come, and continues to come, at a great cost.  It is estimated that the depression rate of Black women is almost 50% higher than that of White women.  While data in these reports can be limited and questionable, it begs the question:  Does our resilience, our culture of keep on keepin’ on, contribute to our own demise?  The tendency to minimize our needs, ignore or suppress symptoms, our continuous, sometimes chronic focus on others, has resulted in a breakdown in self-awareness; one that has taken its toll on our mental and physical health.

I’m the first one to admit that I am guilty of this self-denial.  I have always prided myself on pouring into others.  However, the downward spiral and subsequent dissolution of my marriage triggered some critical tipping points in my overall health and wellness.  In my heart, I knew I had suffered from depression since adolescence.  However, I had no mechanism or incentive to bring these concerns forward to my mother.  This is not to say my mother didn’t love or care for me. She absolutely did.  However, unseen issues of health, those of the heart and mind, were not talked about.  And even if they were, they were glossed over, dismissed as a mood swing, something I needed to get over.  I took this paradigm into my adulthood, and unfortunately, it remains a norm in our communities of women (of every color).

When my divorce began to impede my daily life (work, parenting, relationships) I was fortunate enough to have fellow sisters in my life that mandated the acknowledgement of my needs.  I fought it.  Boy, did I fight it.  However, my weariness outweighed my stubbornness.  And my desire to disrupt this cycle of denial in my household necessitated a change.  So I did.  I sought therapy.  I took medication.  But more importantly, I spoke.  I said it out loud.  I gave voice to my needs, my pain, and my confusion.  I looked that stereotype of independence and strength in the face and I said, “No.”

Yes, I’m better now both physically and mentally.  However I am still hesitant to share my experience in unfamiliar company for fear of judgment, specifically from other women.  But I resist it, as I am committed to helping model the kind of self-care strategies I believe we have a right to claim.  Yes, prayer is powerful.  Yes, we need to take responsibility for bad decisions.  And yes, sometimes we bring pain and disappointment on to ourselves.  But that, my sisters, is not an environment that cultivates healing.  Our ancestors shared space, story, joy, and pain, to sustain their livelihood.  Let us look back, learn from them, and re-institute safe spaces for our sisters to ask for help.  Never judging, always loving.

QUESTION:  What keeps you from reaching out for help?


5 thoughts on “The Curse of the Strong Black Woman

  1. Wow, my sister you have opened a box that has long been closeted. I watched my mother deny herself literally her entire life. It is one of her virtues that I have not coveted. However my tendency is to default to it anyway. I too have found a safe community to be nurtured in and I’m at a place where I can speak in vulnerability in mixed company. I do so because I now refuse to let others set the tone for me and define me. I proactively declare myself broken and beautiful. They no longer live in tension, they live in harmony.

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