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Geaux Love Ya'Self: The Burden of "The Strong Black Woman" Narrative

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

The pain of being "the strong black woman" has always been something of an enigma to the outside world. There comes a huge lack of misunderstanding to how the label of being strong would cause any conflict. In fact, for many African-American women, we face a strange dual world of being ostracized and praised all at the same time. This unbearable heavy load and the strain it places on self-identity leads to what is commonly known as the burden of being the "strong black woman".

"The Strong Black Woman Schema, as defined by scholars, is an archetype of how the ideal Black woman should act. This has been characterized by three components: emotional restraint, independence, and caretaking. Strong Black women must hold back their emotions to avoid appearing weak, portray themselves as strong and independent while being responsible for the problems of others, and take care of those problems as if they were their own. Stemming from stereotypes of enslaved Black women the schema grew from the intersectional oppression Black women face from society's expectations. The notion that as women they must uphold feminine standards, but as Black women they must balance that with the responsibility of being emotionally and physically strong, this is also known as intersectionality.

Some examples of idealized Strong Black Woman in today's society include Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Beyonce. These women's attributes are placed on a pedestal as the standard for how Strong Black Women can achieve great success in our society. While these women have overcome the odds of those set by Black women centuries ago from slavery to the suffrage movement, they are the exception and not the rule in most cases. Black women are not all offered the same opportunities but are still held to the same standard of being almost indestructible. That is why the Strong Black Woman is considered a schema, because schemas are malleable and therefore are ever changing as society's expectations of womanhood and strength evolve." --per Wikipedia.

It is common for African-American women to face two sides of a distorted coin. In a recent panel of other women of color from various backgrounds, we discussed the common pitfalls that we as minority women face daily within our families, the workplace, amongst friends, etc. to uphold self-love and boundaries in the midst of being strong. The entire definition of "being strong" while not showing any signs of what some can define as signs of weakness, is a dangerous slope that can lead to self-destructive behavior.

As Black women, we tend to lack the common receipt of empathy for our daily struggles. While facing this struggle of being strong, we fall into a huge hole of self-pleasing that can appear as:

Difficulty in saying "NO"
Not expressing emotions
Being the constant "go-to" person
Not setting healthy barriers and boundaries
Sacrificing our mental health to uphold a false image
Fear of appearing weak
Unfortunately, this is only a small portion of the negative ills of "The Strong Black Woman" narrative. While being strong is not a nasty label, it is the mislabeling of our special attributes that erases the fact that we are allowed to be sad, to make mistakes, to remove the superhero cape, to not be put upon and most importantly be tired without being labeled as weak.

There is an unspoken truth that has shown time and time again how our counterparts are allowed to be "emotional", yet again we hold the unfair title of being strong to a fault. While being forced to uphold the role of the constant fixers of society, many minority women suffer in silence due to facing extreme difficulty in managing the unbalanced responsibilities of being the monolith of unrewarded heroes and the long-suffering mothers of society.

We live in a bizarre universe where assertion leads to yet another label of being "angry" and or "aggressive." For example, while African-American women remain disproportionately paid within the workforce, or just simply at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to fair and balanced representation in the world as a whole, we still are looked at as the much needed and unnecessary heroes that must put on their capes or aprons at the end of the day when all else fails. Yet in contrast, we still do not receive the respect, love and empathy we are so deserving of when it comes to our vulnerability.

In conclusion, as Black women we possess so many unique and beautiful attributes. We are the Queen descendants that proudly represent our ancestors with pride, regality and intelligence. However, that same representation exists in our pain, our fatigue and our rest. We owe it to ourselves to be vulnerable, to relax and to simply just exist. Understand that just existing in our truth is more than enough and we do not have to be so "strong" within the false image of strength, that we eventually break.
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