My Struggle To Not Be A Stereotypical Black Woman
I’ve spent most of my life running away from the stereotype of what it means to be a Black woman in America. You know, the loud, combative, welfare receiving, neck rolling, angry Black woman with numerous kids by several different baby daddies? Yeah, that stereotype.
Instead, I’ve been caught up in trying to be the other stereotypical Black woman. The one who is always strong and has it all together. The sassy Black woman that takes no mess from anyone. This is the face I put forth for the world to see. It doesn’t matter that when I look in the mirror a scared, weak, and broken woman often stares back at me. I don’t have the luxury of presenting this face to the world. There is no place for a scared, broken, weak Black woman.
In an effort to not be seen as anything other than a strong Black woman, I’ve lived a very constricted life. I’m always cognizant of how I speak, making sure I enunciate every word and show off my command of the English language.
I’ve smiled and swallowed my voice because I didn’t want to be characterized as a bitch or just another angry Black woman. I’ve held back tears and pretended to be strong because as a Black woman, the expectation is that I can carry any burden on my back.
I can’t just be good enough. I have to be outstanding and acquire as many credentials to prove that I am intelligent enough and indeed qualified. I told myself repeatedly that there was no room for me to be myself as a Black woman, and for a long time I believed this.
Then something remarkable happened. Viola Davis took off her wig on national television. This was the catalyst I needed to break free from the idea that in order to be a successful woman, I had to stifle my Blackness and show the world only the acceptable parts of me.
Seeing Viola Davis’ character, Annalise Keating, sitting at her vanity table with her short, natural hair, dark skin, tears rolling down her cheeks with no make-up on moved me to tears. I’ve never seen a Black woman so vulnerable and raw. I saw me in her and lost my breath.
In that moment Viola gave me permission to be me. I didn’t need to wear the mask of strong Black woman anymore. She showed me that as Black woman, it was OK to be both strong and vulnerable.
Being able to see myself in Viola Davis gave my self-esteem a much needed boost. I no longer feel like I’m wrong or like I need to be more like this or that person to be of value. I’m embracing who I am which is allowing me to connect with people more authentically.
For the first time in my life I feel like I belong. Truly belong. I no longer feel like a second class citizen waiting to be validated. I know my worth and it is so much more than the color of my skin.
I can breathe now. I’m no longer suffocating under the mask of how I think a Black woman should be in this world. For the first time in my life when I look in the mirror I see beauty. I can appreciate my full lips, my big nose, and my naturally kinky hair.
I look at my daughter and I think about her and the generation of Black girls that will come of age with her. Because of women like Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henderson, and Lupita N’yongo, little Black girls can grow into Black women who know their worth and know that they belong.
These are the conversations I want to have about race. I want us to stop worrying about being politically correct and to just approach each other with respectful curiosity and a willingness to learn about others before judging them.
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This is a powerful post with an important message of self-acceptance. You are a beautiful woman inside and out, as you demonstrate every day!
This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing your struggle. I love Viola Davis no matter what character she plays (she really deserved the Oscar win for Doubt in 2009.)
And you should feel good in your skin, all of us should, and that is the battle we all face regardless of color, size, education, gender preference etc.
Good for you on finding it!
We are all human, strong at times weak at others. Able to see clearly, then all muddled again!
Thanks so much for sharing! You are beautiful!
This post brought me to tears! It’s very moving because I know all too well this very same struggle. This gave me hope! I can’t wait to see more of this from you. Thanks!
Girl, come through! We have so much to live up to and so many stereotypes to try to negate as black women, it is so hard! Despite how much people talked about and tried to racially categorize and put me in a stereotype box, I’m blessed to have been raised to be myself, no matter what!
Facts! That’s why it’s so important to build my children up so that they won’t let the world define who they are.
I thought that was a very moving scene, as well, just in context of the show and the character. How fabulous that you (and I’ll bet others) found in it the representation and validation you needed to feel more comfortable and confident in being yourself!
What a beautiful post! Posts like this one is the reason why I love blogging. It’s thought provoking and personal, which is what I look for in a good blog post 🙂
I never realized how much pressure it must be to try to avoid “perpetuating” stereotypes while still being yourself. What a delicate balance. But why should anyone have to be so cognizant about just being themselves!?
Do you by any chance follow Keisha @ The Girl Next Door is Black? She wrote a very thought provoking post about this subject. http://thegirlnextdoorisblack.com/what-emotions-am-i-allowed-to-have-as-a-black-woman/
As a Latina, I can relate in a reverse way. I think it’s common for us (at least Mexican-American women) to be raised to be apologetic. I know that myself and many of my friends were taught not to inconvenience anyone with our opinions, requests or needs. In that way I think we lose our voice as well. Therefore, I’ve spent my adult life combating that sort of conditioning within, and making sure my daughters know they have a voice worthy of being heard.
Thank you for sharing! Now I’m going to go mull over this for a while 🙂 (I love mulling.)