Time and time again we hear the phrase ‘Strong Black Woman’ being used constantly within social media. In most cases, you will find that it is a phrase used within the community of black women to uplift and support one another. It is a phrase, as I understand it, that is supposed to be nothing but positive and that is what I believe the intention is when it is used. However, I cannot ignore the limitation then set upon black women due to the popularisation of such a phrase. In some cases, it has disallowed black women to be weak, to cry and to give up. Social Media says the black woman is strong therefore you must be.
I should start by saying I understand the intention behind the phrase and its intended meaning. For it is true, black women across the globe face countless setbacks, simply because they are female and simple because they are black. Therefore, in a black woman’s ability to move past this and dictate their own narrative and set their own boundaries, it shows strength. The very mere fact of being able to hold your head above all the oppression takes strength. Therefore, I truly understand the need to emphasise and appreciate the strength that it takes for a black woman to do anything in life. It is something to be celebrated but I fear its ability to be misunderstood and misused. Therefore, forcing black women to show strength when they have every right to be weak in order for society to understand them according to their label the ‘Strong Black Woman’.
Amongst all the positive effects of the phrase lies the limitations placed on black women. We are not allowed to be weak, under any circumstances. The weakness of the black woman is not something society understands, let alone knows how to respond to. When I speak about weakness, I am referring to the ability to cry, to give up in any situation, overall to be vulnerable. The word ‘weak’ is commonly understood to be something negative when, in fact, it is a basic human response to anything physically, mentally or emotionally tiring. Therefore, it confuses me as to why black women are not allowed the same emotion that everyone else is. We are constantly told to be strong or to ‘be the bigger person’, our vulnerability is overlooked and disregarded.
The particular phrase “be the bigger person” is most commonly used, in my experience, in workplaces. Last year I attended a talk with Kelechi Okafor, and in that talk, she briefly touched on the fact that black people are more to be told to apologise for an altercation or be told to be the bigger person than white people. There was a particular moment in the talk that touched on how we as a society respond to a white woman crying compared to our response to a black woman crying. Typically, people tend to have a gentler response to white women crying, they understand their vulnerability and therefore seek to comfort them. Whereas, when a black woman cries it’s just awkward. Very few understand the black woman’s vulnerability, this is both outside and within the black community. This then results, most likely, in black women refusing to show weakness, refusing to be vulnerable because they don’t want to look like an idiot. In the end, I, like many others, would rather play the role of the ‘Strong Black Woman’ than look like a fool crying when there is no-one to comfort nor understand me.
Again, I stress that fact that I understand the positive impacts of the popular use of the phrase. But ultimately, it pre-dictates the narrative of the black woman. Before we have even faced the issue, we are told to be strong and to make sure the outcome is a tale of strength. If fear that in its misuse and its ability to be misunderstood, it sets an unachievable standard for black women that disallows us basic human weakness. And in the case that we do show our weakness, it is disregarded, misunderstood and in some cases mocked. Its relevance, its importance, is completely undermined. It is not my intention to discontinue the use of the word ‘strength’ in reference to black women because we are in fact strong. It is my intention to highlight how we as a society view the black woman’s weakness and how we pervert the intentionally positive narrative of the ‘Strong Black Woman’.
By Gift Onomor