By Marcea Hibbert-Roye
I am of the opinion that the strength of a Black woman is both a fact and a myth, in equal measures. Women of any color are inherently strong but it is the information gained from this perception about Black Women that can escalate the myth aspect of this subject. For Black women, the myth denigrates culpability for men to treat Black women respectfully. The ‘Strong Black Woman’ is abused as a result of this myth on the grounds that she is able to withstand any challenges coming her way independently and with little impact to her emotionally and physically. She is collectively left to raise children single-handedly, hold down employment and still be a tool to abuse sexually.
The Black Woman is deemed a misnomer and is portrayed as inconsequential to her existence. Whilst there is arguably a love for Black Women for some men, I am discussing the collective views from all men and all women of any color.
Black Women intrigue other women of differing race and are held in both mysticism and fear. This fear leads others to respond to the Black Woman negatively developing further challenges for them. Some of these challenges are highlighted above. The ‘alone’ factor is rife for the Black Woman who has to navigate through life sometimes as both matriarch and patriarch even if she is in a relationship. She is seen without needs of her own and demonstrably maligned in favor of soothing others even if this is in detriment to her well-being.
The Black woman paradoxically and altruistically responds by instigating her own war against herself. ‘I’m an independent woman and I am in no need for a man’ is a common mantra all the while secretly hankering for the love and comfort of a mate. Her soul is revealed to her Black female comrades who in some way share commonalities in their plight for individualism and respect. She can appear secretive, as she fears revealing her soul as her experiences inform her that she is vulnerable to further abuse.
Some Black men are foolishly scared of the strength of a Black woman and wages a surreptitious war against her promoting subservience and oppression towards her. This is not always done intentionally to harm her but their experience is matriarchal and top-heavy in its presence and not necessarily due to an absent father but more about how the family performed in everyday life. Older Black men were psychologically seen as Heads of families but in realities, it was the females that held families together. My experience of life has taught me that this sentiment is shared with many other races therefore not exclusive to Black families.
The Black Woman learns to grow into a role put forward by others and as mentioned previously, her own needs are ignored. This behavior is seen as abusive and the only way to remove this level of abuse towards her for the Black woman is to step away, independently, promoting the ‘strong’ aspect of the title question or stay in a relationship, whilst compromising her sanity.
There are many Black women who gravitate toward uplifting themselves and behave stereotypically enforcing this ‘strong’ aspect of the statement. They do this by not appearing of need and if they do show this need, it is sometimes misconstrued as ‘being needy’ because of the ‘strong’ aspect of the statement that runs deeper and more profound obscuring what the woman is actually presenting with behaviourally. Black women need to learn of the impact of mis-applying this statement to them. This misapplication happens when one assumes the role of ‘strong’ without first identifying its true meaning. Some may argue that this is how they choose to live their lives and this is absolutely fine but they also need to understand the ramifications of this ideology of being ‘strong.’ What does the response of others look and feels like whilst Black Women are portraying strength beyond and above all? I am not, for one minute, making an argument for subservience but laying out one of the causal factors of disruption that a Black on Black relationship may encounter. Even men of other color notes the curiously perceived ‘animalism’ of a Black woman and wants to play with her in order to tame her. The mystical and ‘wild’ nature of a Black Woman!
Black men are social ‘lepers’ and experience a tougher than acceptable life especially in the West. Their frustrations can be transferred to their female counterparts as they see her ‘getting through’ in life as strength, another aspect of how war is waged against her.
What has led the Black Woman to be seen as ‘strong’?
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes argues that many generations later, individuals continue to live according to the emotional scars inflicted upon their fore-families although now free from the abhorrent and direct abuse of mind/body.
In times when Black Men were removed from their families after being beaten and persecuted for submission and control, the Black Women had to fight for existence. She had to fiercely protect her children without her husband. She had to learn to do this fight at a time when her spirit was being broken and exposed for further abuse. Attacking the thing or things that one holds dear completes destruction. For doing so, attacks the spiritedness of the individual from the inside, rendering them without anchor.
Dr. Pinkola Estes argues that the removal of sacred images that anchors a person was to ‘Un-Mother’ that person. Black people were reliant upon their sacred images to guide them through life, like other races. Parts of the psyche (soul/spirit) becomes damaged and retreats underground (subconscious) whilst the obvious afflictions are felt and seen on a conscious level. According to Pinkola, to destabilize a person’s spirit is to ‘Un-Mother’ them.
People that are grounded in a Mother can present as dangerous due to exhibiting autonomous traits, not so easily manageable, loyal to their beliefs. The removal of these beliefs and replacement of another version helps to destabilize the spirit of people therefore easier to be manipulated.
Individuals that were spiritually removed from their beliefs therefore grounding learned to fear the attackers whilst paradoxically feeling grateful for their existence. Internalizing the damage that ‘un-mothering’ a person has on an individual. For example, within the workplace, your employer could be extremely abusive or just plain unfair but the inherent message meted out by your company and society is one of being grateful for your employment. You fear of speaking out as to do so is met with backlash; the result is the submission of one’s soul. Therefore this method of control continues today and it is the deep-rooted residue of fear caused by the removal of the ‘Mother’ that continue this emotional self-destruction. In this instance for the Black Woman but you can see evidence of this throughout society not initially done for the same reason but the continued use is handy.
So how does the above relate to the Strong Black Woman?
The removal of the sub-conscious Mother and the replacement of something incomprehensible have helped to create the Black Woman today. Her grounding, her beliefs, her identity have been removed and she continues to fight for existence now as a result of her previous struggle. This worsening effect is apparent even if misunderstood by many including the Black Woman herself. The misinformed information derived about the Black Woman coupled with history has led to her being seen as ‘strong’ (fact) and without need, the ‘myth’ aspect. However, ‘One can heal by literally making a list of all freedoms denied and then working backwards’… (Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes).
It is difficult to speak about women of any color without identifying to some degree, the impact of feminisms. The word is pluralized deliberately as not only were there first, second and now third wave feminisms, the relationship and resonance felt by Black Women somewhat removes feminisms’ full implication from them. Therefore the common terminology of feminism does not fully include the Black Woman. Both my grandmothers were hard, consistent workers, in predominantly ‘female’ roles. These roles did not even attract a moderate salary; just enough to help their husbands pay towards the household bills. What was interesting was how their changing thoughts changed their beliefs (environmental) when they came to live in the UK. In their own hometown, women married, had children and mainly stayed working in the home, not unlike westernized general rule. Very few women had substantive posts in the community. Due to the many difficulties experienced by individuals in England, America or Canada where a lot of migration took people to, their beliefs needed to radically change to survive. This change meant for some families, older children were raising younger children whilst both parents worked. In most cases, it was the female offspring that assumed a matriarchal role in the absence of the mother. The creation of a sub-culture for these families borne mainly from financial difficulties, allowed Black Women to be more prominent but not equal to their men. My generation of women has pushed this concept further and expects a more equal participant as partners. Something that is akin to White western women yet not easily recognized nor taken on by men.
More recognition is needed in society for the promotion for all women and not just Black Women but the problems that Black Women face are different to their counterparts. I do feel that the huge radicalization needed for women’s lives cannot be measured today from where it was once borne but we should be able to continue building upon the well-being for women and by doing so, all of society benefits. Harm the woman; harm the child!
So yes, Black women are strong but it is also a myth that she is able to withstand anything thrown at her. Just take a look around you and many Black women are former shadows of thy self. Even the perceptually well-adapted ones experiences emotional discord due to the ‘myth’ aspect therefore how she is then treated. Black Women contributes to half of society in gender terms but their experiences of negativity is out of balance. The ‘myth’ aspect is out of control and depletes the Black Women of her natural resources to live in harmony with her and others.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Untie The Strong Woman; p.86- 90)
My name is Marcea Hibbert-Roye, qualified Social Worker and Life Coach. My specialism is developing emotional awareness in females. I have devised a 6 Step Program that promotes good emotional health by accessing information held in the subconscious mind to the conscious mind. The result is having more control over thoughts, feelings and behavior.
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