What are your intentions?
I’m low-key suspicious of anyone who calls me or any black woman strong and independent.
“But why be suspicious of a compliment?”
In my experience, I’ve noticed that this “compliment” is never just randomly given. It’s usually used when black women voice our issues with our society and our community. This is flung at us when we want to complain but no one wants to hear it. Our so-called strength and lack of dependence on others is turned against us because of this false perception that just because someone is upset with something they are weak or dependent. My thing is: we never said we weren’t strong or independent. We just said things are messed up.
The strong, independent black woman trope (when used by non-black women) just seems to be yet another way to invalidate our shouts against injustice and the unfairness of this society towards black women. We can say “the effects of systemic racism suck and I’m tired of it” and people will follow that with “BUT YOU A STRONG, INDEPENDENT BLACK WOMAN!”
I’ve seen it in face to face situations, but I’ve also mostly seen it online, where it becomes especially frustrating because people can easily invalidate your complaints and hide behind their phones. People bring up how strong we supposedly are as a response to us complaining. How about shutting all the way up and listening to us instead of trying to invoke a tired-ass trope that feeds into dehumanizing us. This is a perfect example of how misogynoir (sexism towards black women that is infused with racism) exist and manifests itself. As women, we are told that our emotions are invalid, and as black people, we are seen as super-humanoid beings that don’t feel things, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. So, as black women, we are seen as both beings whose emotions are invalid simply because we shouldn’t feel emotions.
The gag is: black women aren’t always strong and independent. That’s impossible. We’re human beings, not some weird super-human. And that’s okay. We are vulnerable sometimes, but nobody ever wants to see a vulnerable black woman. Nobody ever wants to see an emotional black woman. Vulnerability and emotions can sometimes lead to anger, and nobody ever wants to see an angry black woman, even though this is the first stereotype people invoke when we begin to speak our minds.
Creating this image of a hardened, strong and independent black woman who is ALWAYS okay when times are rough is damaging. This trope creates unrealistic expectations, which can be especially harmful for little black girls. Little black girls should be taught from the jump that they are allowed to feel and experience EVERY emotion. And that includes anger as well. We’re often taught that our anger, while valid, must be kept in check. Why is this?
Simply put: non-black people can’t handle our rage.
They can’t handle the fact that sometimes we get angry and upset. They can’t handle the fact that we are indeed human. Our emotions are a reminder that we are people and that we feel things, that the wrongs done against her bodies and psyche DO actually affect us. For white people, acknowledging that we do feel things means acknowledging that white supremacy and whiteness had a hand in some things.
So, for the sake of white people and for our supposed safety against the white imagination, we have been conditioned to bottle up our feelings and not address them…ever. And if we do, it’s way too late. We’ve already conditioned ourselves to push our emotions aside to be dealt with in another instance and in another way. We cope with wrongs done against, but we never actually heal from them. At some point, we’re still angry, but less so at the situation and more so at the fact that we didn’t acknowledge our own pain. I’ve been here and I’ve done this…I’m still doing this.
Calling black women strong and independent when we’re upset and voicing our disappointment is a form of gas-lighting.
Black women say: “I’m hurt and feel that what was done to me is wrong.” Everyone else says: “But you’re so strong and independent. You’ll get through it.”
Black women say: “We should talk about sexual assault in the black community.” Everyone else says: “Black women are strong and will persevere!”
Black women say: “Feminism isn’t inclusive and ignores how racism plays into the sexism we experience.” Everyone else says: “Black women are so independent, and I admire that.”
Black women say: “We should talk about relationships in the black community and partner violence.” Everyone else says: “You are independent and don’t need no man!”
People love to skip over black women’s actual complaints and what we’re talking about just to call us strong and independent. Just to shut us up.
It’s infuriating to be expressing yourself and have someone use a pseudo-compliment to essentially tell you that you have nothing to worry about because of these arbitrary characteristics they’ve assigned to you simply because of your race and gender combination.
If you’re going to call us strong and independent, check your context. What prompted you to say this? Why is that the first thing you want to say? I’m not saying non-black women shouldn’t call us strong and independent, but it’s crucial to remember that black women can be strong and still have stuff affect them. We can be strong and still want someone to listen to us.
We can be strong and vulnerable at the same time.
Don’t negate that. That’s a reminder for non-black women, but it’s also a reminder for black women who are so used to negating our own emotions because society has taught us that our emotions are not deemed appropriate and that we’re expected to just keep moving without checking in with ourselves.
When you’re hurt and feeling less than 100%, don’t remind yourself that you’re a strong, black woman. Remind yourself that you’re a person who is entitled to feel a wide range of emotions.
When you’re angry at the injustice of the world, don’t remind yourself that you’re a strong, black woman. Remind yourself that you are allowed to be upset and rage against this world that doesn’t want you to take the time to care for yourself.
Black women aren’t strong and independent because we’re these robotic, super-human, impenetrable walls. We’re people. We have emotions and feelings, and this little thing called mental health that we need to take care of.
We’re strong and independent because we realize that sometimes we aren’t, and that’s okay, too.
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