I’m tired of being a “strong black woman”. Yes. I’m tired of being a “strong black woman”.
I doubt it’s a role my God gave me when I entered this world. It’s a role the world gave me. I fell under the pressure and decided ‘Ok, I will be a strong black woman.’ As a strong black woman, I have to apologize for being black, I have to explain my feminity and be the silent voice of many like me who are at times thrust into dark spaces .I have to carry around the titles people put on me which may a time weigh me down emotionally, spiritually and psychologically. All around me I see sad and frustrated strong black women who smile and laugh gaily if only just to let the frustrations go.
Things are tough. They are raising children without fathers, they work many hours under shitty conditions, and it’s a mission to get a money note to last while they are trying hard not to be fat. But you know what? They are strong black women. These women have to buy their hair because their nappy hair just isn’t right. They must squeeze themselves into deforming threads to keep with the times and lather themselves in make up to conceal the pain of being a strong black woman, which start to map on the face with age. These are the same women who are cheated on by their men, battered by their men…the same men they feed and clean after, insulted by their contemporaries, humiliated or undermined in the workplace, objectified in the social sphere, disregarded in the political and business arena and seen either as pretty, intelligent or just an item to be fucked or to give birth. These women writhe on their backs as they get shagged by men who don’t really love them, if only for a bank note, a job, a pass to a function or some hope that one day he will love her enough to treat her like the most fragile and deserving queen.
Nobody remembers the terrifying hours they spent in labour giving birth to children who will become doctors, teachers, businesspeople or cleaners, plumbers or street sweepers. No one can recall how they compromised on their rest or comfort to bathe, feed and pay attention to those children. The times of potty training so that these children would learn not to shit or piss on themselves and as they grew up, trying to instill within them, values and principles that would ensure they grow up to be independent refined human beings.
At times the strong black woman had to make do with one carrot, a potato and a block of beef stock. She had to be creative and make a “delicious soup” when in fact that was all there was. The strong black woman wakes up early in the morning to take on a piece job, sell wares on the streets hoping to take a little bit more home to buy the children new clothes. This strong black woman has had to contend being judged ruthlessly as being too fat, skinny ,dark, light, knobby kneed ,dumb, smart or whatever and times made to believe it was terrible to be African. She just smiles through it all, though within she’s throbbing, but she knows the sun will rise in the morning and there will be bigger challenges to face.
There are good times too! When she’s happy with her girlfriends…talking her heart out, when she’s dancing her butt off to an amused audience, when the cheque comes in wit many zeros month end, a warm hug or kiss from a lover, an ‘I love you’ from someone, the new dress or hairstyle that looks good on her, a child’s report card with As, children getting married or living large, when she eventually graduates from university, a job that pays well with condition, the feel of a brand new car she worked so hard for . She takes it in her stride and doesn’t over-celebrate because she’s a strong black woman and needs to be prepared for the next challenge life may bring. This woman has raised generations and continues to toil endlessly but there’s no guarantee that she will make it big in one lifetime. This strong black woman could be a beneficiary of a good education, a loved child who grew up well or from a poor and abusive home, an essentially good soul trying to shield herself from the brutalities of the world. She could be a rape survivor, a victim of domestic abuse ,a thief, an alcoholic or drug addict by default, a promiscuous randy or one given to celibacy.
She could have been or could be your mother, sister, lover, the prostitute at the street corner, the lady you see everyday on the bus, the pretty face on television, the lady sitting behind the till at your favourite supermarket, the celebrated social figure who has made it etc. She prides herself on being a strong black woman because she went through the crappiness and came out tougher and smarter.
But you know what? Many strong black women lurk around the dark cloud. In a little world only they have access to…within. It can get tough in there. Many are broken down in mental illness, nervous breakdown, and anger, alcoholism, plagued by self esteem issues, carrying the pains of their loved ones, mourning the aches of their sins etc and many more just smile and go on because they are strong black women. We’ve buried endless women…mothers sisters, society members, friends, neighbours, strangers who died from being strong black women. They lived with a heartache, a shattered soul, a broken heart, the HI virus, cancer of any type, a debt that couldn’t be repaid, a dream that was never realized while holding on to the good that happened, but in the end, they were overtaken by being strong black women because they knew they had to be strong.
I’m tired of being a strong black woman. I want to let go and just be. It’s hard to conceptualize that and break it down to reality. If I could sell freedom to black women in bottles I would be a millionaire for who doesn’t want to be unshackled from the binds of expectation and the endless struggle when you’d rather just be. Yes many are being kept in a box and many more are active participants of this self imprisonment. Lebo Mathosa sang ‘Free’ and we gyrated wildly because deep in our souls we knew the relevance of what she was singing. “Somehow, someday, I’ll find a place/where true love is/I’ll be free from these chains/free from the rains/free from these chains that are binding me.” That place is in a coffin, well and ready to free the soul to another sphere where it might come back as another strong black woman. It’s hard for you to understand I know…it might not be a big deal especially if you’re not a strong black woman.
Yes, I can at times be a silly cunt given to ranting and raving because I have slipped into being a strong black woman. In August or any other commemoration day, I will not stand and dance and celebrate being a woman. This celebration needs no audience, as daily as I rub my soft skin and say a little prayer before branching out into the world. In my little corners in my own little way I will thank the women who have challenged stereotypes and defied odds in order to make a success of their lives by selling, studying and just being at peace with themselves.
The street vendors, nurses, cleaners, teachers, lawyers ,journalists etc and even the housewives and over worked nannies who do good and commit themselves because they comprehend that duty calls and to do well is to reflect the good of the God who lives within us all. I will thank Ms Rose Parker, the ladies who marched to the Union buildings ,Unity Dow, Athalia Molokome,,Alice Mogwe, Ethel and Joyce Thobega, Bessie Head,Tsisi Dangarembga, Winnie Madikizela, ,Alice Walker, Oprah Winfrey, Khanyi Dlomo, Alek Wek ,Kaone Kario,,Lebo Mashile, Thandiswa Mazwai, Simphiwe Dana,Zizo Beda,Connie Ferguson,Tumi Ramsden, Lauryn Hill ,Asa, Miriam Makeba,Caster Semenya,Kgomotso Matsunyane,Lebo Mathosa,Redi Direko,Sindy Magabule,Ferial Haffajje,Zukiswa Wanner, etc and the many young women who have continued to hold their own, for inspiring me in their own way and helping me see that woman -is –man- is –human- is -possibility despite the days of bleeding, the weeks of PMS and all the many things that come with being woman. They made me see I was fine and it’s ok because I could do what I set out my mind to achieve and manage the positive and the negative well but I will not be a strong black woman. I don’t want a day to be honoured. I need a lifetime or better still an assurance that my offspring will always be well. I want to cry, I want to say no and not feel guilty. I want to laugh, I want someone to kiss my pot belly, give me the job I deserve without tapping my ass, walk around in my mini with no floozy wanting a free ride. I want to be engaged on my intellect and not appearance. I want to look good and still be treated with reverence, without having to explain the extra roll of fat every time. You and I know this isn’t possible… Like, ‘Damn girl, which world you living in?’ This very one .I’m tired of being a strong black woman but I know tomorrow I will wake up a strong black woman because I have a child to feed, work to do, dreams to realize and to do all that, I must be a strong black woman of the world.