Personal Essay

You Are A Strong Black Woman⏤A Compliment or Not

How do people react when women of other races experience, overcome and testify about their tumultuous life circumstances? Do their listeners respond, “Oh, you’re such a strong white woman!” Or maybe its, “You’re such a strong Arabian woman.” The only race or ethnicity ever described to be strong and also a woman in a singular sentence is black women. Is “strong Black woman” meant to be a compliment?

Truthfully, ‘strength,’ in this context, is burdensome. ‘Strength’ is the nagging voice that says “everyone expects you to get this done.” So, instead of tending to her own needs, she plows through event after event ever so flawlessly only to have satisfied everyone except herself. The falsification of ‘strength’ leaves the Black woman silent when she actually wants to reach out for a helping hand—because her ‘strength’ can carry her through.  Or perhaps she fears the perceived shame much-needed therapy may bring to her family. Therefore she holds that pain like it is the best friend she will ever have. This deceiving ‘strength’ is what keeps doctors from paying attention to the Black woman’s needs at the clinic or on the birthing bed. ‘Strength’ is what leads society to shamelessly strip young black girls of their childhood. ‘Strength’ is why society fears the Black woman, and simultaneously uses her own strength to keep her stagnant.

What is the relevance of a person’s skin tone in conjunction with their ability to overcome distressing events and withstand pressure? Are Black women expected to be weak in comparison to women of other races? The “strong Black woman” mindset may have served the Black community well at one point; however, it is time to redefine strength in terms of life.

Life is like a river. Sometimes the waters rush, meander and crash against rocks and over cliffs. At other times, the river is calm, straight, and moves at a slow, steady pace. Sometimes the waters swell and at other times the river bed is visible—or dry. The river remains a river, regardless of its condition. 

So is the same for a Black woman. Whether her life is constantly rushing or crashing into wall after wall, two things remain: she is Black, and she is woman. When she has navigated the complexities of a daunting situation and life has returned to a peaceful, steady-state: she is Black, and she is woman. When she is overwhelmed or feels as if she has no more fight: she is Black, and she is woman.  

The fact of the matter is: all people, despite identity, face and overcome some challenge at least once in life. However, Black women specifically have been granted the false compliment “strong Black woman” in a petty attempt to casually dismiss and overlook the plight of Black women. The Black woman’s courage and fight do not make her dismissible. Her strength is not a reason to dismiss or overlook her in a time of need. Resilience does not make someone dismissible. If that were true, then this country would not reverence the many white historical figures that we do. Yet, the Black woman is consistently dismissed because she is ‘strong enough’ to handle it.

Thank you for recognizing all that Black women have overcome. Now please, find a different way to compliment us because our strength is being weaponized.

A military veteran and spouse who loves Christ. She desires to assist underprivileged children through creative education techniques outside of the classroom.

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