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July 29, 2020

The Myth of the “Strong Black Woman”

The strong Black woman trope has been ingrained in society for centuries. It’s a damaging stereotype that affects Black women in a multitude of negative ways. Black women tend to feel pressured to achieve the impossible and do so without showing any emotion as a mechanism to deal with the stress. They wake up and walk out of the door with an emotional armor in order to uphold the “strong image” often at the expense of their humanity.

Whether its work, family or relationships we are constantly faced with situations where we are expected to remain strong and support others while suffering in silence. A stressful situation can trigger a series of stress hormones that can produce physiological changes in the body and mind. The “fight-or-flight” response is often discussed when referring to stress and it describes the survival mechanism we developed as a reaction to life-threatening situations. Hormones trigger a series of physiological responses that help someone to either fight the threat or flee to safety. Although this response was developed for life-threatening situations, it can also activate in response to everyday stressors.

Fight-or-flight is a reality for most people, but when it comes to Black women only one of these responses is acceptable. Black women are expected to fight in every situation without expressing the difficulty or emotion behind. Not only are they expected to fight for themselves, but they are expected to fight for their children, spouse, family and friends. The sheer emotional toll of being a Black woman under pressure to remain strong in stressful situations is debilitating. Ignoring the emotional toll of dealing with life’s stressors can affect the physical and psychological health of a person.

The strong woman trope is so prevalent that addressing stress in a healthy way by expressing your feelings or acknowledging the difficulties you’re facing can be seen as weak. This idea needs to be unlearned as it is harmful to Black women and their physical and psychological health. It’s okay and sometimes even necessary to slow down and admit that you may be dealing with too much to handle. Constantly projecting a warrior persona can severely impact your quality of life.

Being the strong Black woman can yield some benefits like an intense motivation to be successful, however its often juxtaposed by the reality that the odds are stacked against you and there are major barriers hindering your success. This may push you into a mode of hyper productivity where you start to become extremely productive in work, family or relationships. The issue with hyper productivity is it eventually leads to burnout and adrenal fatigue.

Black women are not superwoman; they’re not always strong, they have emotions and needs safe spaces to feel vulnerable rather than judged.