Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Strong Black Woman - The Myth

Where I currently live, the radio stations SUUCKK, so during my 20 minute commute to work and 30 minute drive home, I live-stream stations from two cities where I lived previously. 
Yesterday, on my drive in, I listened as one of the morning show hosts talked about the woman married to the man that should have been my husband; Jada Pinkett Smith. 
He played audio from the most recent episode of her popular podcast, Red Table Talk. 
In the clip, Pinkett Smith shared her struggle with vulnerability, her false belief that she needed to be strong at all times, how unhealthy it was for her and most especially, how it damaged her relationship with her daughter, Willow. 

Pinkett Smith said she came to this revelation when Willow was going through an emotional moment,"Willow had a moment not too long ago, when you had that upset and you were crying on the couch and I just came to you and held you and I said to myself, 'I wish I had done this more for her.' When you can just hold your little girl, have her tears and her pain." 

My mother wasn't a hugger and I don't think there was ever one time where I sobbed in her arms. We just didn't do that.
Do I wish that we had shared those moments? I don't know, but I remember a time when I was in college and the boy I was dating betrayed me.
Broken hearted, I called my mother.
I knew that she would be my source of strength to help me get through what I thought at the time was the end of the world.
I remember being curled up in the fetal position on the floor of my apartment, sobbing, wailing, bawling my eyes out!
From 350 miles away, my mother calmly and gently settled me down and gave me THE best advice I had received in my 20 years on this Earth, but most importantly, I think it was the first time I ever opened up to her or shown outward emotion.  

I wasn't a crier as a little girl and to this day, don't cry very often. I don't know (and don't recall) if an adult in my life forced me to turn off the water works or if it was always in me, but I do remember as a teen seeing tears as a sign of weakness. I've always said that God knew what he was doing by giving me sons because I can't deal with little girls and their emotions. 

Funny thing is, my oldest son is my emotional and sensitive child! Both of my sisters are extremely emotional beings. I can't say that one is more than the other, but they can be a lot to deal with at times. 

Pinkett Smith said that showing vulnerability or lack-thereof, came from her upbringing. 
She said the way she was raised and her mother was raised, she felt like she had to be strong and the first thing she wanted to do was teach her daughter to be strong. 

I saw my mother and grandmother as strong women and heard stories of how my grandmother overcame life's obstacles without batting an eye. I never saw my grandmother cry and I think I saw my mother cry once during a heated argument with my father - something that burned in my memory. 

Somewhere in history, it was instilled in us that we must be strong.
We must be that Strong. Black. Woman.
It's a badge of honor.
A source of pride.
It's that coat of armor.
That super hero cape. 

When I became a mother, I wanted to provide a source of strength and security for my children. My belief was then (and still to some extent today) that in order for children to grow into confident, capable, emotionally stable adults, they needed to have that example set for them at home. My thought was (and kinda still is) that if a parent is constantly flipping out over minor things, making mountains out of molehills, the children will think that's the norm and won't know how to logically and rationally deal with life's challenges. 

I was wrong. 

Sometimes it's okay for your kids to see you have an emotional moment. It shows you're human. I've been called resilient, stoic, determined, indomitable and even my sons have called me a super hero, but all of that comes at a cost.  
Holding that in does no one any good.
I paid the price physically and my health has suffered. 

As I navigated the winding roads to work yesterday, listening to Jada's words, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my younger son earlier this year when I was going through one of the darkest times of my life. 
I was broken. 
I had months, probably years of pain and emotion crammed into a little box inside of me and it finally spilled over. I was tired and I was weak and I shared my pain with my sons.

My youngest called me and we talked for a very long time. He told me that even though he knew I was hurting, it was a relief to see me vulnerable for once. He shared that for the first time, he saw me as human. That for so long, he felt as if he could never live up to the example I had set for him. 
He wanted to know and see how I dealt with adversity, misfortune and heartbreak, but I didn't expose my children to those vulnerable moments. I explained to him that I am still of the opinion that young people don't need to be involved in grown-folks' business, but maybe it's helpful sometimes that they see how their parents navigate their way through life's ups and downs. 

We laughed about a time I was driving with the boys in the car and spun-out on a patch of ice. I regained control of the car and continued on to our destination. My oldest was in the front seat and exclaimed, "Oh my God, you were so calm!"
Little did my boys know, I was screaming on the inside, calling for Jesus to take the wheel and probably needed a change of underwear, but my goal was to get out of the situation in one piece, car intact and most importantly, I needed to stay calm for my children. I could have shared with them that I was was indeed scared and we could have had a good laugh about it and thinking back, I wish I had. 

My grandmother was my rock, my inspiration and my model of strength. The day she died, I shut myself in my room and cried. My children did not see me cry.
I don't believe that it was intentional. I retreated to my bedroom because that was my place of solitude, but during one of the most difficult times of my life, my sons never saw a tear flow from my eyes. 

Maybe it's best that I didn't birth any girls because I probably would have done the same thing Jada did and told my child to take those tears somewhere else.
I probably would have tried to instill in her the Strong Black Woman values that I so strongly believed in.
Maybe I would have told her to put her big girl panties on and move on, but women today are no longer falling for the hype and finally beginning to accept that self-care is vital to our health and well-being.
It's okay for us to express our emotions and expose our vulnerabilities. 

It's okay to show fear in front of your children. 
It's okay to express pain or heartache in front of your children.

Maybe, if we expose our children (in moderation) to our emotions - show them who we are and that we are actually human, we will become even more super human to them.
Maybe us showing our perceived weaknesses will actually empower our children to be STRONGER than we have ever been. 


  1. Love this perspective. What comes to mind is there are a myriad of reasons why we women sometimes don this
    "I am Superwoman fa├žade."
    Whatever the reason, it certainly is not healthy. What's important is that you had an awakening about it and made a change. As long as there is life in our bodies, there is room for enlightenment and evolution. Thanks for this reminder and for sharing your journey through it!

  2. This is beautifully written and so readable and relateable. I think all mothers deal with this issue. My mother had a plaque next to our telephone as I was growing up which read, “ O child, place your hand in mine that I may walk by the light of your faith in me.”
    I often recalled that when I was a young mother and scared to death about something!
    But, now that my children are adults, I do allow myself to show my vulnerabilities and sometimes my tears. I once read that years occur when there is deep feelings. It’s not just fear or sadness, frustration or anger, but any deep feeling. can all make me cry the de feelings my physical body cannot accommodate. If I recall correctly, you are Scorpio? They feel emotions VERY deeply. Love the blog! Keep writing and don’t worry when the feeling overflow down your beautiful high cheekbones!


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