Week 2: The Trap
Last week I shared my thoughts on affirmations. Affirmations helped shift my negative self-talk. For some reason, I thought speaking poorly of my self, devaluing my self-worth with my voice, made me honorable. All I did was frustrate myself and everyone else.
BEAM’s curated section of affirmation prompts is a great place to get inspired. BEAM is the Black Emotional And Mental Health Collective. Their mission is to
“remove the barriers that Black people experience getting access to or staying connected with emotional health care and healing through education, training, advocacy, and the creative arts.”From their website, https://beam.community/about/
I love that the prompts push me to think outside of my ‘usual’ worldview. They encourage me to consistently demonstrate the universal love and kindness I so deeply value.
Over time I came to realize that daily affirmations helped me release my dependency on an unhealthy crutch.
Shouldering American Sins
The Strong Black Woman Mindset is a psychological trap designed for Black women to physically and emotionally carry the burden of America’s racial sins.
It is an asset that has become a liability. Black American women are uniquely capable problem-solvers and community activators able to plan and execute with few resources or support. That is a good thing. The unique cultivation of these skills is born of oppressive systems and abusive environments.
The very nature of the asset places the expectation of care and healing on the person experiencing the trauma.
That is a bad thing.
It is one of the raging undercurrents on which American capitalism sails. Exploit Black women by asserting they are strong enough to take it. Then assert that Black women are excellent caregivers and nurturers, making them the ideal candidates for their care. With that logic, very few resources need to be devoted to understanding disparities in healthcare, or anything else for that matter. Don’t worry, Sis got it. And she can do it all by herself.
What is more insulting is the Okie Doke American society plays on professional Black women. She is micromanaged and second-guessed at every turn. She is criticized for any displays of negative emotions. America’s great gaslight on Black Women is strong. But it is a condition she must solve. No one else must do any work to improve the environment. She must be ever adapting to be what is asked of her without complaint.
The lack of concern for the Black American female experience is so pervasive we don’t even see it as a problem. It’s such an issue that it’s a nonissue.
The Strong Black Woman Mindset
The internalization of this schema prompts Black mothers to perpetuate the cycle of emotional abuse by conditioning their daughters to strive for the Strong Black Woman ideal. SBW is the ideal though she is a response to an oppressive world.
Black matriarchs developed resilient innovation as a survival coping mechanism. Daughters watch their mothers maneuver American society. They are then told, by those same role models, that it is their responsibility to empower and uplift the same community that exploits her.
The hard truth is that we, as a Black community, use the SBW schema to not address our socio-historical trauma.
Expectations for Black girls remain greatly disproportionate to Black boys.
Research studies define SBW as:
Always displaying strength, even when not feeling like it
An obligation to organize and empower the community
Need to demonstrate self-sufficiency
Pride in culture and community
Strong religious/spiritual foundation
Sums up my identity pretty completely. Or so I thought.
I was an owl bred in captivity perched on branches thinking it was the wild. It wasn’t until I was alone in the wild that I learned to hunt. Though my diet was carefully managed it did not provide me with the opportunity to explore my nature. I am a hunter.
Alone with my thoughts in a studio apartment in the Bronx, I did not think of myself as a hunter. I would have told you I was strong though. I would have told you that I am magical because I am a Black woman and that I must uplift my community. I would have even told you about my faith if I was feeling particularly bold.
I also would not have described myself as an artist. I would tell you about the after-school drama club I started. Or even that I performed in college. But being an artist wasn’t a reality for me. I was a teacher.
Strong Black Woman was exactly how I identified. That was it. To me, that meant never backing down. It meant never letting anyone see me cry. It meant never needing anyone, for anything, ever. And if I did crack, in any way, that was a demonstration of my lack of preparation.
Strong manifested as bossy, controlling, arrogant, and downright mean. I was pretty sure that my way was always right. I was my worst self under the guise of strength.
The only thing to break me out of that mindset was learning to accept how people experienced me versus how I wanted to be perceived.
I think I got tired of defending my every action and decision to family, friends, and strangers. I got to a point in my early adulthood I adopted an “I’m right so fuck off” attitude. Now it’s more like “This is what feels right for me right now”. I have found few people can argue with that. The conversation usually shifts to “If it were me…” which I’d rather entertain. I have never taken well to “you should…” lectures.
While my former mindset helped me survive, it is not useful in helping me flourish. I needed a new mindset to accomplish new things, better things. But how the heck do you choose a new mindset?
I started by trying to define my current mindset. That is when I first came across the Strong Black Woman schema. Research studies and articles have helped me begin to name things I have felt for so long. They have also given me the confidence to advocate for myself in all areas. Once I became aware of how I was being manipulated it became much more difficult to do so.
Springing the Trap
Doing the work to heal from past and present trauma and actively advocating for my needs has been my way of coping lately. Therapy helps. An unbiased opinion helps me process my actions and reactions objectively.
But finding the right healthcare provider is tricky. I used to randomly select names. Then I chose only women. Now I do weeks of research. I learned that I needed someone who believed whatever I told them I was experiencing. I took for granted the extent of bias.
Health in Her Hue is a great place to start. This site offers searches for healthcare providers that are attuned to the many dimensions of Black women. It also has great articles and stories. I find myself learning every time I’m on the site.
The Black Community has a tumultuous history with American medicine. Hospitals, and medical professionals, are just another institution exploiting Black bodies. It is a legitimate response to what has been done to Black Americans in the name of scientific advancement.
There are unique pathologies within the Black Community that keep us from advancing ourselves.
Perpetuating the Strong Black Woman mindset as the ideal is one of them. She is a liability. She does not afford the exploration of individually dope attributes. She requires the suppression of true nature. All to make everyone else in the room feel more comfortable.
I wholeheartedly reject that.
We are all about to be uncomfortable together. I am a huge fan of feedback and critique. How can we get better if we are never evaluated? I am not a fan of being scapegoated because of the faith we place in biased institutions with toxic work cultures. I will continue to grow and adapt. I strongly encourage every environment I am in to do the same.
What’s more, is that I do not want my daughter to make herself uncomfortable for others. It is not a practice I want her to develop. I want her to lean into the best parts of who she is. To me, that means she must be given every opportunity to explore who she might be. Chances are there will be many things I do not understand. But I don’t want my fear of how the world might treat her to stop her from that journey. She must know herself divorced from everyone else expectations of her.
I am about that life.
And the best way I can think of to teach my daughter that is to explicitly tell her, and model one way to get it done.