The other day I was in the check out line of the grocery store minding my own business. I started to place my items on the conveyor when the gentleman in front of me went out of his way to move his items further up towards the cashier in order to make room for my items. I had a bunch of crap in my hands and I was trying to balance that along with my over-sized bag while looking for a divider.
“Thank you.” I told him as I quickly placed my items on the belt, relieved that he created the space just in time before I dropped something.
“No problem, my queen”, he said with a huge smile. I wasn’t really moved. Then he kept talking.
“I know you’re a strong, black woman, but it’s okay to let someone help you sometimes. You are definitely strong, black and beautiful!”
Besides the fact that he was probably trying to hit on me, I was more annoyed by the “strong black woman” label he threw at me just because I was trying to get situated with my groceries.
I get it. Black women have been holding it down for centuries. I come from a family full of women who’ve learned to make miracles happen for their families – with or without husbands. But that doesn’t mean there’s no pain or weakness that comes with keeping everything and everyone together.
The fact is, the label of being a strong black woman has become dangerous. We’ve been relied on for so long – and we take care of everyone else but ourselves to the point that it’s literally killing us.
We’re NOT Invincible
I’ll never forget reading the story about Shalon Irving, a 36-year-old single mom who worked as an epidemiologist at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Shalon wasn’t just a regular worker bee. She had poured her heart and soul into researching childhood trauma and the effects it had one’s health later in life. She also tackled the critical issue of maternal health among black women; how the death rate has increased among black women who give birth. Tragically, Salon fell ill shortly after giving birth to her own child and died soon thereafter.
Salon was not only a new mom – which can be overwhelming at times, she was extremely accomplished. She held a Ph.D in Sociology and accomplished so much in her field of study. She was also surrounded by friends and family who loved her. Strong black woman, right?
• A black woman is 22% more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman.
• When it comes to cervical cancer, black women have a 71% chance of succumbing to this disease than women of other races.
• The maternal mortality rate is significantly higher among black women – we’re talking 243% higher!
If you ask me (well, you are reading my blog), there are many contributing factors that draw out these statistics, but the main one is wear and tear. Black women are being pulled in 20 different directions every day, for years. We hardly take care of ourselves while we put everyone else first.
I don’t know all of Salon’s story, but I know enough to say that she was too young to go the way she did. She was young, educated and obviously had access to decent health care. Why did she “drop dead”? None of the advantages she had saved her. Why is that?
Go From Surviving to Thriving
Writing this makes me think about Asuma, the main character in my book, The Next Time I Leave… she had a lot on her shoulders, starting from childhood going all the way to her relationships with men and women. Because she was a woman, she often had to work 3 times as hard in everything she did, while neglecting herself in the process. She became stuck in survival mode and lost the concept of knowing how to live.
Whether or not she learns how to break out of survival mode is something you’ll have to find out by reading the book! In the meantime, please take a moment to think about where you or someone you know stands: are you stuck in survival mode?
The gentleman at the grocery story may or may not have meant well, but I have to say, this label of being strong and independent is unfair. I’m not allowed to break down and cry? I’m not allowed to check out sometimes and have a day just for me? I’m not allowed to take time for myself? A lot of what I’ve accomplished at this point in my life was because I had to…it wasn’t a matter of choice.