I have arrived at a tough conclusion—

Most people do not expect a Black woman to prioritize herself and to do what’s best for her.

Not just non-Black people.

Not just men.

Most people.

The world has socialized us to expect the Black woman to be strong, to be stoic, to persevere; quite frankly – to suffer.

The trope of the strong, Black woman is as ubiquitous as the gentle and fragile white woman. Consider the mommas on Good Times, What’s Happening, Everybody Hates Chris, The Jeffersons, Claudine, Family Matters, 227, That’s My Mama.  Think back about the Sistas on Grey’s Anatomy, Gimme a Break, This is Us, 911, Foxy Brown, Waiting to Exhale, Living Single, etc. (I could go on and on and on).

Rio de Janeiro – Ginasta Simone Biles, dos Estados Unidos, termina com medalha de bronze a prova final da trave (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

From “I Will Survive,” to “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” to “WAP” Black women have crooned about our strength.  We are either devastated or trying to devastate.

Now, take a moment to try to compile a list of Black women characters that were openly and well-loved by a good man, weren’t struggling in some major way, and who showed a full range of humanity and emotions. (*sad how small the list is- ain’t it)

We are expected to take the extra assignment, work the extra hours, be the better parent, care for our babies and our grand-babies (and, often, somebody else’s babies), sacrifice more, show up at every appointment, volunteer for every organization, stick by the wrong man and keep the shitty job; save the election, the school system, the neighborhood, our race, and hell—humanity; all while accepting lower pay, inconsistent love, and little support.

We indeed are warriors; and we can’t lie –most of us have embraced the ideal (my ego is admittedly inflated by the rarefied air of Black Womanhood).

But somewhere along the way our Black womaness overshadowed our humanness and people collectively forgot that while we are saving, sacrificing, championing, raising, pushing, advocating, supporting, nurturing, cooking, cleaning, just overall bad-asserying– we are feeling. We sometimes feel tired, scared, sad, confused, incapable, unworthy, insecure, angry, and lonely. While we may still be pushing on and through – we oftentimes are also struggling. We are smiling and struggling; silently struggling, showing-up and struggling. The Black woman trope has become so intertwined with who we are that while she oftentimes gives us life; she also threatens to smother or work the life right out of us.

That’s typically what happens – we feel ourselves dying as we are living; so we quiet the hero in us and focus on the human in us. We start to take care of ourselves. We start to say “yes” to our needs and “no” to the needs, wants and demands of others.

And most – even some family members and closest friends will react with a collective, “How in the fuck dare they?”.

It will sound like: you done got brand new; where have you been, we missed you at the meeting; what did your husband say; what about the kids; you think you cute; girl, you can do it; you are stronger than most; so-and-so is depending on you, but what if so and so happens (infusing fear); so-and-so was talking badly about you; you’ve changed.

These people have not been socialized to having a Black woman prioritize herself. Folks ain’t used to Black women saying no.  And when we do, we are met with judgement, admonishment, indignation, and anger as evidenced in the recent reactions to Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles prioritizing their mental health over participating in a sporting event (one that they have both worked diligently and sacrificed — throughout their entire lives to become the best in the world at).

At the root of every criticism I heard made about Ms. Biles and Ms.Osaka was the sentiment, How the fuck dare they?

How the fuck dare they prioritize themselves? It is expected that the Black woman show up and perform exceptionally regardless of how she has been treated by the people with the expectations. USA Gymnastics knowingly allowed their doctor, Larry Nasser, to molest 150 gymnasts, including Ms. Biles, yet expected Biles to place their desires for a medal over a her mental and physical health.

How the fuck dare they prioritize themselves over their country was the question I heard many conservative, primarily white males pose. Only white supremacist idealeology could give people the audacity to expect the best from those whom they have treated like second class citizens in every way (healthcare, employment, education, justice system, housing, beauty, etc.). But why shouldn’t they? We consistently win championships and earn medals on tracks, fields, and stadiums; earn business awards and money; provide content and flavor for this country while earning far less.From slavery until now, we have taken care of their children, homes, businesses with a smile (one they don’t know is fake and forced).

I am solid in my assertion that if one of the white athletes pulled out of a competition, we would be hearing documentary-like stories of all that she had accomplished and faced despite challenges. Her childhood lisp, her parents’ divorce, her painful periods, or whatever would be showcased along with moving music to show how this hero had triumphed. Her vulnerability and humanity would be seen, acknowledged, and even celebrated.

But what has been most depressing are the number (small number) of Brothas and Sistas who have disparaged Ms. Biles and Ms. Osaka for prioritizing themselves. But the truth is: we too have not been socialized to view Black women as vulnerable and in need of care. We too, have embraced the Strong Black woman trope.

It’s past time that we release it. We must release because it is figuratively and literally killing us. We must release it because it is allowing us to accept less in every aspect of our lives. We must release it because we need to see ourselves as worthy; and our men, our bosses, our friends need to as well.

We are indeed worthy.

In fact, Sis, if most folks ain’t asking, “How the fuck dare she” you aren’t giving your beautiful, brilliant, (yes, strong) self all that you deserve.

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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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