If you’re a black woman, odds are you’ve heard some incarnation of this question: “Are Black women too hard?” It may have been part of the lead-in to the punch line of a joke. It might have been words shouted out in anger with an ex. It could have been the “company line” mindlessly uttered by black men who choose not to date black women.
And, deep within, it could very well be the drumbeat to which we unconsciously step, in time, our lives synchronized with its rhythms for reasons we don’t understand or don’t want to think about.
Sometimes we sisters hit a wall. There are times when we are too tired, too strained, too pushed, too shoved, too pressured, too giving, too planned-out, too methodical, too tactical, too overworked, too overburdened, too sleepy, too poorly nourished, too broke, too in debt … that it just all becomes too much. Between the covert criticism and pinpricks of mental and emotional assaults we face on any given day – between the workplace, the media, our families, our society, our sub-culture – it can all snowball and leave a black woman feeling like rolling down the hill without a fight is better than feeling like one is fighting, battling or waging against something, some force, practically all the time.
Typically, most folks are none the wiser when we reach this point. Of course, that’s part of why we hit these walls as well. Our pain rarely occurs to anyone unless we spend days not getting out of the bed, let our hair get ratty and bird nest-like, or swallow a bottle of pills and quietly rest for a permanent nap.
Black women are just like every other group of women on the planet, but we’re different. We want to be loved and feel protected and provided for. We want to be doting to our children and serene and soft to our men. We want to be free and feminine. We want to laugh. We want to smile. We want to know what it’s like to be happy more than fatigued, angry, despondent or critical.
Unfortunately, unlike most other groups of women in this world, black women are not entitled or free to be … just we. Any listen to Ty Gray El’s “A Black Woman’s Smile” paints a sobering, poignant and tragic literary and visual picture of where we’ve been and how we’ve become. When other women were vaunted for their beauty, we were told we were the scum of the earth and violated for our virginity. When other women were permitted to focus on home and hearth, we were scrubbing their homes and hearths. When other women are upheld by their men, we always find no shortage of our very own brothers who are all too willing to be our baiters and traitors.
In my mind, I was once a little judgmental and critical when I saw sisters slouching around like they didn’t give a damn. I raised my eyebrows when I saw them looking angry, not speaking when spoken to, looking dejected and completely unaffected. I wondered why they didn’t respect themselves, why they couldn’t get on with it and keep it moving, why they couldn’t love themselves and see their beauty.
But now I kind of get it.
We are living in a world in which many of us are not merely treated like shit on some level on a pretty consistent basis; we are also living in one that, at many turns, shows us and tells us we aren’t shit at the same time.
Has anyone ever compared a nationally known woman, an international symbol of our nation, to a monkey and gotten away with it without issuing a formal apology or atoning in some manner?
So, today I asked myself if the stereotype about black women being hardened rings true for me. On the surface, it doesn’t. I am feminine. I wear dresses and heels to work. I smile at folks and greet people before being spoken to. I exercise and haven’t let myself go. My hair is now long.
But all that’s just appearances.
Many sisters have internalized the lore passed down to them as a child, that they cannot and should not count on anyone to take care of them and that they should always, always, be prepared to fend for self. Therefore, they’ve always functioned as though they were single, whether in a relationship, single, or married. They’ve always pulled their own weight and looked side-eyed at anyone who deigned to suggest that they surrender their autonomy and the hedge that’s been constructed around them for self-preservation. They’ve never seen a black woman being cared for and not, at some point, fucked over. They have daily worries that are the occasional nightmares of other races of women.
Being a black woman . . . is just . . . different.
So, yes, today I am resigning to the idea that there may be a bit of truth to the accusation that we’re a bit tough, sometimes critical, even a little hard. But we are a group of women who are dealing with dynamics historically and socially that no other group of women on these shores has faced or is facing.
Maybe once we admit that, examine our history and stop pretending we like being bulletproof and ironclad, we can heal as a community of women and as a people.
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