Shaking Off The "Strong Black Woman" Stereotype

Photography by @gege_tribalunicorn

One of my favourite bloggers Indigo Lorae wrote a post on being the strong friend, an eye opening piece for me. Shout out to Indigo Lorae for writing How To Be A Better Friend For Your Strong Friend. I never identified myself as the strong friend, mainly because what I believed it meant to be a strong friend just wasn't me. I don't have my ish together and a lot of the time I do not feel very strong. Reading this post made it clear to me that not only I am the strong friend, this post also highlighted the fact that I don't even want to be the strong friend, but how does one shake off the "strong black woman" complex? 

"Dear strong friend, even though it comes natural to you to take care of everyone, make sure it's not at the cost of your own peace of mind" - Indigo Lorae

If someone was to ask me when I started to internalise the exhausting need to be the strong one from, I wouldn't even know where to start. I mean do we even have the time to take a look back through the twenty three years of my life to figure out how, when, and why it started?

Like many other black women, who feel the need to be the strong friend, the strong wife, strong girlfriend, strong mother, there are several contributors. Black women do not just wake up and decide that they are going to take on the black mans problems, their friends financial issues or their parents relationship issues, just for fun.

It is a situation we end up in because of the way society treats the black woman. As much as the abuse and expectations from society and the black community are contributing factors, I will not say that we as black women do not contribute to the strong black woman stereotype.
Many black women take pride in being the one that everyone relies on, many feel it is their duty. There are women out there who question anothers blackness and dedication to the cause based on the sacrifices made.

Years of telling women that they are biologically more nurturing and caring has encouraged the strong black woman narrative, and even if you disagreed, many would still have to keep up appearances.

Being The Strong Friend

I started to explore the idea of me, a whole emotionally confused me being the strong friend. It would actually explain a lot, however I am curious to really figure out when it started. When did I start to put my needs and wellbeing last? I think the main reason for it is due to me not speaking up more. It almost feels like I am scared to open up, to share my deepest thoughts, but then I look through my blog and read comments on me being brave. So I can be emotionally expressive when I'm ready? But in real life, in person, when my voice is needed, I go silent...Why?

It all really comes down to being comfortable. It feels normal for others to come to me to share their concerns and problems, without expecting the same from others. It almost feels like it is just what I am supposed to do, it feels so natural you stop questioning why nobody is really asking you how you are, you begin to expect nothing. It doesn't even make me feel angry or bitter towards anyone, because like I said it feels normal, practically instinctive.

And after a while you just keep everything to yourself until breaking point, a moment that came last year for me. This year I have been trying to work out how to give myself the space and security to open up more. When I have to be open and honest about my emotions, feelings and thoughts it can be very, very uncomfortable. You are so used to the attention good or bad being on others that when it comes your way and people want to hear from you it is too much to handle. You get so used to going about your life unbothered and full of anxiety, self doubt, stress and questions. 

"People rarely check up on us, and if they do check on us it's usually because they are going through the same thing we're going through, but it kinda still gets twisted back around to them" - Are You The Strong Friend Who's "Always Happy"? By Love Atiya 

Shaking Off The Strong Black Woman Stereotype

Freeing yourself from the expectation to be strong all of the time is not easy, you may lose friends in the process. Which is nothing compared to the experience you're going to have rediscovering yourself, understanding your boundaries and limitations. Finding your voice and having the confidence to no longer entertain societies idea of what it means to be a strong woman. 

I watched Joulzey's video on the topic and a few of the moments had me laughing at how relatible it was. How frequently I hear the comments:

"You'll always figure it out"

"I never have to worry about you"

"I know you'll always be okay"

Some of you may be wondering what's wrong with those comments? Doesn't it just suggest that you're the kind of person who knows what they're doing and needs little assistance, you are independent that's a good thing?

I am very independent and will happily do a lot of solo tasks/activities. These comments mean well and always come from a place of love and people genuinely get the feel that myself and others do not need to be worried about. I always get comments on being positive and happy, the truth is I have to be positive, if I was to let the negativity take over I would be a right mess. But this takes a certain amount of strength to be able to counteract the negatives with positives. 

Joulezy makes a good point by asking those who have strong friends - "Do we realise what these strong friends absorb?". We are not always strong enough to say it with our chest and speak up. Especially when we notice how often others tell us how strong and sorted we are, it doesn't give us the room to be vulnerable, it makes it harder to be vulnerable when there is very little room for it. 

It is important to know even the "strongest" of friends need to be checked up on, it is unrealistic to be happy all of the time, it is damaging to feel as if you have to be strong all of the time. It is also my responsibility, our repsonabilitiy as the strong friends to be emotionally vulnerable, to be honest, to be open, to share our lows.

I know that a lot of the reason why I take on so much; physically, mentally and emotionally is because the conversations where I have to say this is what is affecting me, this is bothering me, I am finding this difficult is uncomfortable. It feels really exhausting having to explain to others that it is all just too much for me to handle right now, as uncomfortable as it is for me, I know it only gets worse the longer you leave it. In a way I am glad I am working on this now because I really can't imagine feeling this emotionally clogged up in my thirties or forties so let my twenties be full of self care and self love.

It would be interesting to see if you have had to have those difficult conversations with others - Have you open up more? Did it help? Did others understand? Were they supportive? Let's talk about it.

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