Examining The Scope of Black Womanhood and Mental Health
“ I think to myself the change and the shift that needs to happen is the internal” — Viola Davis
The term “Strong Black Woman” is a phrase that inspires empowers, and represents the strength of African-American women from all over. This term has been a representation of black women upholding the family as the matriarch, being the support system that perseveres in immense amounts of pressure without needing the support of others. The phrase indicates that black women have this phenomenal power to move mountains without even breaking a sweat. Throughout the years this term has created spaces in which women of color feel that being a “Strong Black Woman” strips them of their virtue, femininity, and identity.
During the late 19th woman activist Mary Church Terrell, a black woman born in Memphis Tennessee experienced sexism and racial discrimination as a woman of color. She observed that society’s ill will toward black women defamed their virtue and status in a systemic world that labeled women as concubines and caretakers. After realizing change needed to be implemented for the advancement of black women she decided to fight. Terrell created the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and worked closely with the women’s suffrage movement leaders to advocate for the rights of all women. Her dedication in the advancement of the 19th Amendment for women’s right to vote demonstrated how a strong black woman can create waves of change. Her legacy of “Lifting As We Climb” symbolizes all the hard work that black women have done to have a seat at the table of equal rights. The symbolic term “Lifting As We Climb” transcended over the years to exemplify what a strong black woman represents.
Strong Black Woman has been coined to represent on-screen strong black lead characters facing tremendous obstacles to persevere through life challenges. Characters like Ms. Sophia from The Color Purple, Gloria from Waiting to Exhale, and many more. Contrary to the characters on and off the pages they represent the poise, strength, and sheer determination of what a strong woman of color represents. The mass confusion is that society has taken on this persona that the “Strong Black Woman” stands independently alone not desiring companionship or support which is inaccurate.
I had the opportunity to do a group survey with several women ranging from 25–59 years old providing their terminology of how the “Strong Black Woman” phrase makes them feel. When asked about their definition of the term “Strong Black Woman” words and phrases they used were the following:
- A beautiful black woman who has overcome many adversities
2. She is a healer
3. A nurturer
4. Keeps going despite setbacks and maintains a sense of fearless pride
5. She is capable of dealing with whatever comes her way
6. A woman who has been hurt yet still gets things done
7.A woman who overcomes all odds. Who can accomplish more tasks in a day than the average?
When asked what are the misperceptions/stereotypes of the term the group provided in-depth detail such as :
1.The black woman never bends
2.They can handle everything on their shoulders
3.They are labeled aggressive or too outspoken
4.That she does not have feelings
A term used to uplift a black woman has been carved into a box of misperceptions that, stripes away the femineity of women. The misperception of these negative stereotypes alienates women of color from being safe in a way of celebrating their individuality, femineity and their mental capacity. Various women have used “Strong Black Woman” as positive reinforcement but we must acknowledge that a black woman still can be strong, feminine, soft, and still wear her crown with pride. On May 29, 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention former slave Sojourner Truth gave her “Ain’t I A Woman” speech. This speech demonstrated the story of the hardships one strong black woman faced as a slave and states that her worth and feelings as a woman should be just as validated as white women which states “Ain’t I A Woman” .
Black women are strong but according to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious psychological distress than white Americans. Black women are about half as likely to seek mental health care. The narrative of the “Strong Black Woman” does not show how emotionally impacted black women are by high levels of stress, pressure and various health factors. Black women should be allowed to feel that the world is not on their shoulders and that their value in this world is not characterized by stereotypes that make them seem intangible or unable to feel.
Black women are allowed to be strong but also emotionally free to be self-aware that their feelings and mental capacity should be the top priority above anything else. Black women are soft, sweet, and delicate just like every other woman. The truth is that “Strong Black Women” love companionship, they embrace support from their community. For one of the survey questions should the “Strong Black Woman” term be abolished 80% of the group stated no. One respondent said, “No it should not, it is an identity that inspires hope. It carries generations of other women whose shoulders we stand on”. In conclusion, Black Women are the most delicate human beings on the planet it’s time for society to stop stereotyping these misconceptions that they are incapable of feeling because the truth is they are the most nurturing individuals in this world, and without their strength where would we be.
Tennessee State Museum “Lifting as We Climb” Mary Church Terrell and the 19th Amendment (tnmuseum.org)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration https://www.samhsa.gov/