This is a guest post by RVCBard, a Black woman and HBCU graduate too close to thirtysomething for her own comfort. Playwright, web marketing strategist, and sometime film and theater reviewer, RVCBard identifies as a lot of things: queer, Black, Jewish, woman, and more. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, she now lives in Brooklyn.
One of the most persistent (yet damaging) "modes" of Black womanhood that's inflicted upon us is the Strong Black Woman. You know who I mean. No matter what life throws at her, it doesn't get to her. No matter how much is put on her body and mind, she won't (can't?) break. When life hands her a lemon, she starts a lemonade stand. She goes for what she wants, and she don't take no mess. Yet she's always there to lend a helping hand and a shoulder to lean on. And she never complains. Ever. She never demands anything from the people in her life. After all, that's what Angry Black Women do.
Don't act like you don't know her. And don't act like you don't see her when a Black woman says or does anything that does not flatter White people's opinions of themselves. Where do you think that tone argument comes from anyway? But she has her uses. She can be very amusing when set loose on someone you want to see properly charred or skewered. She's also good for reminding people how reasonable and benevolent they are and for convincing White people that there's no point to unlearning racism because there's no way Black women will ever be satisfied.
But the Strong Black Woman and the Angry Black Woman are conjoined twins when it comes to expectations from and assumptions about Black women. When coming from White people, though, there is something deep and ugly going on.
For instance, when examining why no one chose to speak up against some of the ironically demonstrative comments toward Black women, Witchsistah notes:
This constant non-defending of BW comes directly from the stereotype of BW not being "real" women as in not being seen as delicate, feminine, worthy of care, affection and protection. We are seen as "mules uh duh worl'" and as rhino-hided, she-beasts utterly incapable of delicate, complex feelings or thoughts. Basically no one defends us because we can "take it." It also leads to the idea that BW cannot ever be harmed (from this comes the view that BW are un-rapeable).
Although a few White posters chimed in to express their belief that many of the Black women commenting at SWPD seemed more than able to stand up for ourselves, Lady Dani Mo says:
It's quite obvious that Witchsista can handle herself, but sometime it does not hurt to have someone's back. I mean come on some of you guys didn't hesitate to defend KD or thought she could handle herself after she made her bullshit comments did y'all? She was bold as hell coming on an anti-racist blog saying that shit.
Witchsistah digs deeper:
Even capable people need assistance and care every now and then. And capable people are able to assess when they need them and are able to request them if needed. If others see those capable people as deserving they offer said assistance and care.
Not so with BW. BW are often just left to fend for ourselves while others psychoanalyze, pick apart and pass judgment over how we do that. The whole Strong Black Woman motif is just an excuse to do that, neglect us. It rationalizes that neglect. BW don't really need anyone's help. We're tough. We can take it. We can make a way out of no way. No asking us if that's what we WANT to do, especially since it seems that's what we're always OBLIGATED to do.
And to make it even worse, this pattern Witchsistah describes sets it up so that Black women are not acknowledged as anything but strong, as if strength alone is all that can define us. So hung up on being strong makes it seem like Black women can't be sensitive, intelligent, mystical, creative, vulnerable, or a myriad other things real human beings can be. It creates a dynamic where Black women are, psychologically speaking, beasts of burden who must bear the weight of racism and sexism but receive no recognition of the toll it takes on our psyches. Not to mention, the connotations of strength, as applied to Black women, further perpetuates the bestial, subhuman nature often associated with Black people in general. Mules of the world indeed.
Finally understanding the nature of the dynamics over on another thread, fromthetropics states:
I think I finally get it now. Yes, when I had my knee jerk reaction to the choice of words, I did see KD as a "fragile" being/woman in need of rescue. I thought, "Oh shit, she's gonna cry and cry and be in a wreck if someone doesn't rescue her." Meanwhile, yes, I did start to see the Angry Black Woman or Strong Black Woman stereotype overlap with RVCBard & Witchsistah's reactions. It did not occur to me at all that they might be hurt by the exchange that was occurring because, well, they seemed tough judging from all the comments and posts they've made before. And I can now totally see this actually is part of stereotyping or racism based on the notion that Black Women (or any women who don't burst into tears and seem obviously fragile) do not need to be treated as feminine. (Note: Being treated as feminine with respect as a human being, I believe, is very different from being treated in sexist ways.)
Consider the discussion of the treatment of Black women on this thread then compare and contrast to the thread about Asian women here.
The focus of much of the commentary on the "Asian fetish" thread was to better understand this particular experience of Asian women. The questions and commentary were more fully focused on gaining a deeper and more nuanced understanding of that. Contrast that to the thread about the treatment of Black women. Notice any striking differences? I most certainly do. The starkness of the difference is astounding.
Despite the fact that many Black women shared some harrowing, heartbreaking stories from their personal lives to drive the initial point home, many White people couldn't get beyond their disbelief and pity long enough to try to better understand this particular experience Black women face and/or how they unwittingly contribute to it. There weren't so many questions seeking to clarify the context of this behavior but there was plenty of general derailing as well as predictable outpourings of White sympathy, with the occasional "Thank you" thrown in.
There was a lot of posturing going on, a lot of attempts by White people to seem so benevolent and enlightened and/or so much the anti-racism authorities, that they "forgot" that they were supposed to be trying to understand Black women as we understand ourselves. They were so focused on what they gained from the discussion that they "forgot" the cost of that benefit - and who paid for it.
Rather than repeat the disturbing dynamics of the previous post about Black women, I want to try something different, something less taxing for Black women and more constructive overall. Let's take a cue from the thread about the Asian woman fetich and focus on refining your understanding of an experience shared by many Black women.
While I am loathe to present a one-size-fits-all approach to discussion, and it's certainly not my responsibility to teach White people how to treat Black women like human beings, for the sake of my own sanity, I'm laying it out as simply as I can. It's OK to be confused. It's not OK to hide confusion behind a pseudo-intellectual authoritative stance. It's OK to be shocked and saddened. It's not OK to make your shock and sadness the focus of everything you say. And stop trying to so hard to prove how progressive, insightful, and unique you are. In fact, feel free to reskin some of the questions and comments on other threads if you feel they ask or say what you want better than you could.