Being Soft is a Luxury

“Girl, whatchoo betta do is get something in that head,” my mother would scold me whenever I expressed concern about anything she deemed silly (boys, girl drama, the latest fashion trend, etc.).  Sandra Bryant was a woman who was steadfastly focused on ensuring that her only child was prepared to survive in the world.

Starting when I was three years old, she would bring me a bowl of sliced apples, prop herself up on the side of my twin bed, and work through flash cards with me to help me learn how to read.  She taught me French, enrolled me in tap, ballet, and modern dance classes, and pushed to make sure that I was a proficient swimmer by age five and an accomplished piano player by age seven.

Later, during my pre-teen and teenage years, she hired tutors for me and became frustrated that even with their help I still performed poorly in math (“I just don’t understand it. Yo’ Daddy went to Morehouse at 16 on a math scholarship. What’s wrong witchoo chile!”).  During these years, she sent me to Europe, got me my first checking account and started teaching me how to manage money, hired me to be her assistant in her Real Estate business (a job I never asked for nor ever applied) and taught me business lessons from how to properly answer a phone, take a message, deal with an irate customer, organize files, research clients, market a business and so on.

I don’t remember an age when I wasn’t already helping with the cooking, cleaning and doing all of my own laundry.  While my mother and I were close, our conversations were more like lectures: over meals she would share her life lessons and teach me my own.  Talking about high school drama or boy crushes was an absolute waste of time in her estimation.  As she bluntly put it, “you probably won’t know any of these people five years from now anyway.”

The most I remember my mother telling me about love, romance and relationships was simply not to get pregnant.  In retrospect, my mother didn’t teach me how to be someone’s girlfriend, much less someone’s wife.  And since my father died when I was eight, I didn’t learn about relationships from observing one.

By mother loved me dearly; but she was by no means soft.  But I question if she had the luxury to be.  She was raising me alone.  She was raising me with the lived experience of what life throws at Black girls and women.

Now that I have been a mother for 22 years, I intimately understand the perspective of a mother who knows all of the hurdles a Black child must face in America to simply survive.  Black mothers parent from a place of love but also a place of fear.  As I continue to raise my sons, Zach (22) and Evan (19), I worry that these fears have limited my lessons.  My lessons to them have been guided by my fears about them driving while Black; of knowing that they will not be given the same opportunities, benefits-of-the-doubt, and grace as their white counterparts; knowing that they need to be twice as good get as much as their white peers; and supplementing the school curriculum with information that would help them to build a healthy self-esteem.  I worry this focus didn’t give me the space to teach them how to make a woman feel exceptionally special on her birthday, or how hormones affect us, or how to properly apologize.

Lately I’ve listened to podcast after podcast claim that Black women aren’t soft or feminine.  Naturally, my first feeling was indignation and anger.  Then I took a moment to consider what the men were saying.  While the delivery and reasoning was flawed (*actually ignorant AF), I could find some kernels of truth in their claims.  I am not as soft as some of my counterparts.  It’s not that I don’t feel the full range of emotions associated with women, or that I don’t know how to serve my man; but I don’t feel as if I have had the luxury to be as soft as white women.  I think most of my Sistas would agree.

First, one must consider that Black women and Black mothers are by far more likely to be primary breadwinners than white women.  Black mothers are by far the most likely to be the primary economic support for their families, both because we have a higher percentage of single mother households and because even when they are a part of married couple, they are more likely to earn as much as or more than their husbands.

We face racism daily: from microaggressions at work to earning less for the same jobs as our counterparts, to health care racism, and outward violence.  And we are acutely aware of all of the racism surrounding us. Our stress levels from simply being Black in America are understandably higher.  Many of our Sistas didn’t come from stable, loving, two-parent households where we saw a positive relationship or had a mother to talk to us about relationships.  Only a person who has decided to remain ignorant about the history of Black families being torn apart – when we were taken from Africa, when we were offered incentives for Section 8 to remain single, or through our higher rates of incarceration (even for the same crimes) – could deny that the strength of Black women came from the absolute necessity for us to be strong.

We are soft and in need of someone to see and nurture that.  Hell, we are finally allowing ourselves to nurture our own softness.  We, Black women, don’t want to have to be so strong.  But we must.  We must so we do.

And where would all of us be without us Black women doing what needs to be done?

And it seems that Black men, these same Black men who are saying that we aren’t soft, should appreciate the necessity of that strength all the more.  For they too were raised by Black mothers who were born soft but hardened by the realities, the necessities of life in America for Black women.  They too, are oftentimes tougher, rougher around the edges, and less knowledgeable about being a good romantic partner than their white counterparts because they were raised in the same households as us and faced the same hardships of being Black in America.

Instead of Black men ridiculing us for our hard outer shells; they should seek to understand it, relate to it, feel at home around it, and embrace it.  And perhaps, just perhaps, even want to help build a life with us that allows us to shed it.

3 Responses

  1. This article is beautifully written and absolutely true. Keep educating, uplifting and speaking many of our truths.

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About Randi B.

Randi is a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker, trainer and writer, focusing on making connections and cultivating empathy in this diverse world one trip, speech, article, book and conversation at a time.

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