Black womanhood & the requirement to be strong

We as Black women are often described as strong. This is typically meant as a compliment when compared to other, blatantly negative stereotypes about us. This idea that strength is a birthright of Black womanhood is used to abuse us mentally. We must reject it!

Viola Davis

I was raised by a spectacular black woman. So spectacular is she that she basically cloned her face when she birthed me and my sisters. The proof is below…👇🏾

Being raised in an African household as a first generation immigrant meant that many of the societal norms that existed when my parents were growing up were carried into our upbringing. Strength was measured by how much discomfort I could endure emotionally and mentally. The more I could endure, the stronger I was viewed…until I was seen as indestructible. I did not begin to refute the “strong black woman” label until I was in my late twenties. To me being viewed as indestructible felt like a mark of success. It also meant that I had become an expert at burying my emotions, I had become an expert at suffering and masking all that pain with a smile. When I went through a setback with my U.K. visa (with the then home office losing my passport and being stranded in the U.K. for three years unable to work and living with my older sister Diana Rook 🥺) I found strength in my sisterhood and in God but even then there was suffering that wasn’t soothed no matter how many songs of praise & worship I sang, I felt guilty that I couldn’t be ‘fixed’ by God. I couldn’t find the words to utter even to the people that I loved so much. I made it out of the U.K. and came back home ready to hit the ground running but that didn’t happen for another few years. Eventually I found employment and felt as though I was getting better ❤️‍🩹 until my sister passed away and at that point it felt as though life had a score to settle with me.

I had always struggled with depression but this was different. This is a cliched statement but it truly felt as though the wind had been knocked out of my lungs 🫁. For months after her death it felt as though I couldn’t breathe. We were all doing our best to function but living, honey what was that? I got back into a routine and pushed away ‘negative’ emotions that I felt. I could have kept going like that for years if it wasn’t for the existential crisis that occurred just as my thesis on diagnostic tests for HIV in infants & young children was beginning to make sense. The dark days where I had to force myself to do the work that was required not just by my supervisor but also what I expected from myself were plentiful. SPOILER ALERT: I made it, with a distinction too!

But before making it, whatever that looks like. I had to accept that I needed help. It’s been 9 months that I’ve been on anti-depressants and even though I feel as though there is a gradual return to joy occurring, I have had to wrap my head around being someone that is on anti-depressants. In the past few months I’ve re-framed the way I view anti-depressants and even therapy. They are tools that allow me to live as the best version of myself, of who I want to be.

This past week as we collectively mourned the passing of Cheslie Kryst, I was reminded of just how detrimental some of the labels that we attach to black womanhood can be. It’s a thought that hasn’t left my spirit. Her death a painful reminder of what black women have unfortunately become experts at: giving your all to everything and everyone when you don’t feel like you have much to give.

I am reminded about how important it is for us all to find friendships and dwell in the places that allow us to honestly bare the darkest parts of our souls. If it’s been a bad night for you, just know that morning is coming and that everything eventually mends. I no longer want to be viewed as strong (okay maybe just in the gym), I want to be viewed and seen as a human trying her best to figure out life, the good and messy parts of it.

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