For years, one of my favorite lazy Saturday rituals was to go to my local thrift store and shop. On one particular Saturday I went in the afternoon and the radio was playing.
“Fellas, call in and tell me two things that you love about black women after the commercial break,” the dj said.
When I heard that question, my stomach immediately tightened. Even though I hadn’t heard any of the listeners’ perception of black women, I already knew (in my gut) what they were going to say.
We’re back. Caller, you on the line? What do you love about black women? What two qualities do you love about black women?”
“I love me a strong, independent black woman,” the first black male responder.
By the time the third black responder said that same phrase, “strong black woman” I was in the coat section and in a bad mood.
“Why?” I asked myself, “are those the only damn words that come to mind when describing black women?”
I intellectually knew the answer— the intersection of race, class, and gender for black women in this country has meant having to reconcile a legacy of slavery and the creation of dehumanizing tropes and stereotypes like the Strong Black Woman, created by the white patriarchal engine to systemically control our reproduction, destroy our families, and distort to ourselves and our men. And the truth is that black women had be many things, one of which was strong, to endure the ravages of slavery and Jim Crow; I also understand that why this is why we, as a culture, value this attribute at the expense of so many others.
But there is far more to being a black woman than being strong and independent. So, shortly after leaving the thrift store, I created my own survey and asked approximately 75 black women to describe themselves.
While I was disappointed to see that black women, too, had internalized much of the same stereotypes that have been paraded as truth, it was refreshing to see that many black women understood the complexity of their human experience and were able to articulate that complexity by choosing words that more fully and accurately encompasses what it means to be a black woman.
Here are 7 of the ways that black women surveyed see themselves that thankfully have nothing to do with being strong:
Frugal Feministas: Leave a comment below. What adjectives would you use to describe black women beside “strong”?