Ladies, while growing up and expected to be “the weaker sex” , at what point did you feel strong and what made you feel that way? I’m paraphrasing but, that was the question that author, college professor and fellow blogger Rebecca Hains asked her readers recently on her Facebook page. After giving it some thought I discovered that this is a harder question to answer than I thought it should be, but I couldn’t figure out why. Why couldn’t I think of when I felt that it was okay to be strong or that moment that made me feel strong? I read through some of the comments and discovered that a lot of the readers apparently enjoyed climbing trees, among other things. I’ve climbed a few trees in my lifetime, but I can’t say that it had that much of an effect on me. Their answers were real and interesting…and totally un-relate-able to me. Not because I didn’t do any of those things. I did, but they didn’t make me feel the same way that they made those women feel. I logged off and went about my day, but the question lingered and later I went back to Rebecca’s page and looked again. This time, I looked closely at the pictures of those people who were commenting and it finally dawned on me why I couldn’t relate to this question: I’m an African – American woman and they were not.
Yes, race makes a difference because as an African-American woman, I have never felt that society, as well as my family, has ever allowed or expected me to be weak. If I may be so blunt, the idea of a perceived feminine weakness is reserved for White women. Consider this, African women were brought into this country as slaves. Chattel. Workers. They were bought and sold based on their physical ability to perform hard labor while still having children to produce more workers. The stronger the slave, the higher the price that the owners could get at auction. Therefore, physical weakness was not a desirable trait. Often when slaves were sickly or had grown too old to be useful or unable to be sold, they were left to die or killed. Obviously, it was also necessary to be psychologically strong, as well. Beatings, lynchings and rapes were a part of life for the women. Families were torn apart, with children being sold as soon as they were old enough to work the fields and marriages were not allowed by slave owners. African-American women, like men, were not treated as if they were human. Surely that would be enough to drive anyone mad. However, their very lives depended on their strength.
Fast forward to after slavery, to segregation and Jim Crow. African-American women were in the trenches with our spouses. Most of the time, we were not afforded the luxury of being stay-at-home moms. We worked…hard. Cooking and cleaning in the homes of White families and often neglecting the care of our own children while taking care of theirs. In the South, many of us still got jobs working in the cotton fields. There were still lynchings, beating and Night Riders. We were still treated as if we were not human and our strength was still necessary for survival.
Enter the Civil Rights Movement when we stood as one, as a voice against racism and inequality. We marched, protested and picketed. We were members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as, the Black Panthers. We were active in every level of the movement and when they released police dogs and turned fire hoses on us, we were treated just like our African – American men. Again, as if we were not human. We were jailed and sometimes beaten, but we did not bow down. Our strength remained our greatest asset.
Over the years, African-American women have continued to hold it down. More and more of us are the head of household, whether by necessity or by choice. More of us are obtaining advanced degrees and, as quiet as it’s kept, a lot of us are doing all of this while raising good kids. Let me take this opportunity to say that I am sick and tired of the picture that is often painted of the child raised by a Black single mother as being a menace to society. I realize that it doesn’t make good copy so you won’t read about it in the news, but there are a whole lot of us (as a former single mom) who have good jobs, are active in PTA, Boy Scouts, athletic booster clubs and any thing else we believe will enhance the lives of our children. We are strong women.
My mother once told me ( no, I’m sure that she told me this more than once), “You had better not expect someone to come along and take care of you. Whatever it is that you need to get done, you better learn how to do it your damn self!” That’s how Black women are raised. More often than not, we are told to believe that life is unkind because, historically, it has been unkind. We just have to learn how to roll with it. Therefore, there has never been a time in my life when I felt like I didn’t have to be strong. I never knew that I had a choice. So, to answer the question “At what point did I feel strong and what made me feel that way?” I was born to it.