I am a black woman, and I am like you. I have my good days and my bad days. I’m happy at times and sad at times. I am also angry at times, and at others very calm.
I can be strong and I can be weak. I can be passionate and I can be uninterested. I can be driven and I can procrastinate, I can be courageous and I can be vulnerable. The point is, like you, I am a human being.
Yet, when many people see me, a black woman, they consciously or unconsciously assign certain stereotypes to me. Some of these are: she is black so she must be strong-minded, she is black so she must be tough, she is black so she must be emotional, she is black so she must be aggressive, she is black so she must be argumentative. She is black so there will be drama.
What all these stereotypes have in common is that they portray black women in a negative light even before we open our mouths. Every one of our words and actions is then analyzed, dissected, and over thought to corroborate these pernicious stereotypes.
Imagine if you lived in my world? How would you feel?
Imagine how in this era of social media, profile pics and Google searches how vulnerable you would feel if someone, for example, a recruiter made up their mind about you based on these same negative stereotypes, before ever even meeting you, ever giving you a chance? Imagine how that would make you feel? Unfair right?
As a black woman, it is mentally tiring to always have to battle these negative stereotypes. It requires a gargantuan effort to show that I am a human being like you — and that you should only judge me based on my actions, not on a false narrative or erroneous stereotype about a group to which I happen to belong.
As a black woman, I often ask myself, why I can’t be given a chance to be a human being with ups and downs and good and bad days. Why am I either supposed to be strong-minded, angry, argumentative, and dramatic but none of the opposites of these words?
Why am I locked up in a category that sometimes requires weeks, months, and even years to get out of — for people to finally see me for whom and what I am rather than a stereotype?
Why is it that Michelle Obama, Oprah, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Viola Davies, and even the Duchess of Sussex are portrayed as strong-minded, aggressive, and dramatic? As black women, we cannot only be strong. No one is only ever just strong. Like everyone else, we are at times also sensitive, vulnerable, weak, and needing protection. I’ve been trying to make sense of why the stereotype of the strong and aggressive black woman sticks to us like super glue. Why are we denied our vulnerability and in a certain way, our full humanity? Why can’t we take a break from being the ever-so-strong “Super Black Woman”?
Is it because throughout time and history black women have endured numerous despicable hardships? Is it because we had our children stolen away from us to be slaves? Is it because we were systematically raped by colonizers and plantation owners?
Is it because, still today, we continue to see our fathers, husbands, uncles, nephews, and children arbitrarily killed in some parts of the world? Are all the above the genesis of these stereotypes about strength and aggressiveness, and drama? And if yes, how can we unlearn these preconceived notions about black women?
From my perspective stereotypes are what the brain uses because it doesn’t want to make an effort to get to know someone for whom they really are. It’s a lot of hard work getting out of your comfort zone and socializing with someone of different skin color, sex, religion, and/or sexual orientation.
So the lazy brain relies on stereotypes and lumps all people that look the same or act the same into one basket and judges them — either positively or negatively. Unfortunately in the case of black people, these stereotypes seem to be mostly negative.
The unlearning of racism and bias thereby requires self-awareness and acceptance of one’s own privilege and a genuine interest and willingness to de-construct and eliminate the preconceived notions and biases one has about the other.
One must also be willing to make the effort to consistently and systematically not give in to or rely on unconscious bias and stereotypes about another person. Upon meeting someone new, one must not judge that person immediately. Rather get to know the person and then construct one’s judgment of that person afterward.
And this is my only ask to the world as a black woman. Don’t immediately assume that we are strong, tough, and aggressive. Let us be strong when we want to be and let us be vulnerable when we need to be. Don’t forget that like you, we are only human.
Thank you for reading.