By Tyra Seldon
I come from a lineage of supportive, brilliant, compassionate, and creative women. Some might read this description and assert that I am a direct descendent of strong Black women. It is a phrase that we often use in the Black community to signify that a woman is exceptional or that somehow she stands apart from other women. Many people take it as a compliment or a badge of honor.
I, conversely, despise the phrase. In fact, I refuse to use it to describe myself or any other woman for that matter. I wish that we would retire it and here are five reasons why:
Black women do hot have super powers; Black women are human
Please go check your closet. Do you have a cape, an outfit, or even some regalia that gives you powers that you wouldn’t otherwise possess? Are you invincible? If you answer no to any of these, then you do not have super powers. When we talk about strength and Black women, we often conjure up an image of someone doing something that requires extra power or extra strength. Such an image just plays into the idea that Black women can’t be fragile; we can’t be vulnerable; we can’t be human.
Hard work and sacrifice are often mistaken for strength
The biggest irony of the strong black woman motif is that many of the attributes that we attach to her are really about her life decisions. More often than not, her true power is derived from a strong work ethic and the personal sacrifices that she has made in order to acquire personal or professional success. By being transparent about our success, we empower younger generations of girls to be less susceptible to the idea that they have to be flawless.
We need support too
When people perceive that you have it all together and that your needs are unlike their needs then there is a strong possibility that when you cry for help, others will not hear you. Or if they hear you, they’ll assume that because you are strong, you can (and will) figure it out eventually. Wrong! One of the worse things that we can do is assume that a person is so perfect that she doesn’t need spaces where she can be vulnerable or where she can be heard. Think of one woman who you would describe as strong. When was the last time that you checked in on her?
Self-care becomes no care because she’s so busy caring for everyone else
One of the reasons that we describe some women as strong is because they put everyone else before themselves. Their spouses, children, employees, employers, friends, and relatives often are their priorities. Because so many other people benefit from their strength, these women have a tendency to put themselves last. Rarely do these women say “no” or “not now” when someone is in need. The danger with this is that if the strong Black woman is not careful or does not take the time to care for herself, she is the one who will suffer.
It divides and conquers us as women
There is a tendency to place women in diametrically opposed categories: saint/sinner; Jezebel/Virgin Mary; strong/weak; independent/gold-digger; bougie/ghetto. All this does is create further divisions between Black women. I don’t know a single Black woman who is so simple that a single category perfectly describes her.
We are highly configured, idiosyncratic, unique, and individualistic women. The complexity of who we are, and who we are not, should be celebrated. So, think twice before using the phrase, “She’s a strong Black woman” if you can’t also replace the word strong with words like vulnerable, complicated, fragile, unique, loving, or enigmatic. Perfection is not the answer, being human is.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Dr. Tyra Seldon earned her Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Rochester in 2002. Dr. Seldon has served as an English Professor, curriculum developer, writing consultant and freelance writer for several national initiatives, organizations and Fortune 500 companies. Clients have included educational tech companies OpenEd and Learning Express; Fortune 500 publishing companies McGraw Hill Education and American Institute of Research. She is the CEO and Founder of Seldon Writing Group, LLC. Her private clients have included Damon Dash Productions, Hip Hop Motivation, and Boyce Watkins Enterprises. Dr. Seldon is an advocate of public scholarship and community outreach. In an attempt to introduce her research interests to the masses, she often writes about the intersections of race, culture, gender, identity, and education. She can be seen in the forthcoming documentary, “How to Raise a Black Scholar” (Fall 2017). Whether it is as an education advocate, blogger, writing coach, small business owner or mentor, Dr. Seldon is passionate about using her gifts to elevate others.
Dr. Seldon can be reached at: [email protected]