As first posted on feministbookclub.com
The Strong Black Woman™ narrative makes me really tired. Black women deserve to rest and be cared for.
They deserve to be soft and make mistakes.
They deserve to be human and humanized.
Superhuman Black Women
I recently read the book In Our Shoes: On Being a Young Woman in Not-So “Post-Racial” America by Brianna Holt. She talks at length about the detriment of casting Black women as strong. Assigning these superhuman qualities to Black women leads to medical racism and contributes to the high maternal mortality rates. It leads to police officers brutally handling Black women. It leads to men, of all races, overly sexualizing and objectifying Black women and girls and blaming them for their own assaults and abuse.
I have been struggling with the idea of a strong Black woman. Growing up, my mom and my grandmother were my idols, and they were the epitome of strong Black women. They instilled those values in me, and I measured my own worth as a Black woman by how much I sacrificed myself to show up for others. It has taken a toll on my mental health and how I enforce boundaries, and I have felt weak for needing or seeking help. This should never be the case.
When Black Women Get Messy
I finally got around to reading Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, because everyone said she is the messiest of messy Black women. A Black woman experiencing so much grief and loss at one time was the messy behavior in question, and this disappointed me. Queenie was using sex as a way of dissociating and disconnecting from her pain. The whole book was about a Black woman crying out to be seen and loved when she wasn’t getting that from her family and support system. All of the people around her thought she was “strong” and did not need support, and she pushed people away because that’s how she thought she had to be.
I will go on and on until I am blue in the face that Black women, in all their iterations, deserve to be loved and humanized. In so many books about “messy Black women,” we see Black women who are making mistakes and trying to grow and learn from them. Oftentimes those Black women are making these choices because that is how they respond to trauma. They are not hurting other people, but they are hurting themselves because that is what they think they deserve.
White Women Get to Be Human
There is a double standard when it comes to these women. When Three Women by Lisa Taddeo came out, no one describe these women as messy (or whatever the equivalent of messy is that doesn’t come from AAVE). The three women were doing the same things because of trauma and abuse, but this book was an exploration into the complicated lives of women (white women is obviously the universal experience).
We never see Black women’s stories that feature complicated heroines this way. Black and non-Black readers alike are unable to see them as complicated. Readers sometimes review the whole story negatively because of the stigma against Black women. Black women characters deserve plot lines that explore all the different possibilities and aspects of human nature, good and bad.
Next time you feel like a Black woman character is messy or “crazy” or unlikeable, ask yourself would you opinion change if this woman was white? Is the author just trying to be dramatic for the sake of dramatics, or is the author trying to convey an aspect of our humanity that people don’t like to talk about? Black women are just like all of us, no super strength here.