Thanks for being vulnerable with me in sharing your story. I agree with you when you say that “there are worse things to be called than ‘strong’ or ‘articulate.’ In fact, I have been called many worse things in the comments section of this article!
I didn’t write this to put people’s intentions on trial. Your intentions are between you and God, not really any of my business. I wrote this article so that willing and openminded white people like yourself could learn more about the unintentionally harmful impact of their (often well-meaning) words.
Take ‘strong’ for example. You probably don’t mean any harm when you point out a Black woman’s strength and resilience, but that doesn’t change the fact that Black resilience was developed in response to ongoing racial persecution and dehumanization.
J. Marion Sims, the ‘father of modern gynecology,’ performed brutal experiments on enslaved women because he believed that Black women, unlike their white counterparts, were incapable of feeling pain. There is an ongoing and deeply harmful history attached to the idea that Black women are stronger/ less sensitive to pain than white women. For example, Black women are less likely than their white female counterparts to have their doctors believe them about the severity of their pain to this day, and for that reason, Black women are regularly denied adequate care or pain medicine by medical professionals.
There was an excellent article in Teen Vogue recently about nurses who didn’t want to be called ‘heroes’ during the pandemic. They didn’t want to be framed as heroes when in actuality they are being martyred against their will through systemic government mismanagement. I’m sure that these nurses don’t speak for all healthcare workers, but it’s not hard to imagine other nurses might feel similarly.
In the same way, I cannot and would not try to speak for all Black women — but speaking for myself as a Black woman, I can say that the persistent narrative of Black women as ‘strong’ ‘superwomen’ makes it harder for me to get adequate medical treatment for physical pain and less likely that I will experience the same level of compassion and empathy that a white woman would be extended when experiencing emotional or psychological pain.
Black women didn’t choose to be ‘strong,’ Susan. We were forced to develop resilience because no one cared about our suffering. If you care about Black suffering (which I believe that you do), why not try to imagine ways that you can create safe and empathetic spaces for Black women to be ‘just women’ instead of reinforcing the harmful stereotype that we should be superwomen?