Let Us Feel

By the age of 23, I had been raped three times and sexually assaulted once. I have been verbally abused, discriminated against, and neglected. After a recent event with my family, I found myself trying to convince myself, yet again, emotion could not be shared during this incredibly traumatic moment. Even as I cried and my legs couldn’t hold my weight, I scolded myself inwardly for not being “strong.” Even reaching out for prayers seemed like a weakness. 

We are blessed, as a family, that everything is working itself out and I am blessed as an individual that the severity of my experiences did not lead to lasting physical injury. Still, this most recent experience got me thinking about the practice of grief and emotion in today’s society, particularly among women of color. I began to wonder about our need to narrate the pain we feel, from a break-up to the loss of a loved one, we love to try and control the uncontrollable. Considering all of my experiences, I’ve never had more people ask how I’m doing, knowing what they’re looking for is for me to finally say I’m doing well. I’ve never heard the words “what can I do” more, as if situations outside of human control can be fixed by the human hand. I know, for some, it comes from a place of nosiness and curiosity and that for most it comes from a place of care and sympathy, but it all just feels like micromanaging. 

I think for Black women there is this extra pressure placed on us, as a matriarch in training. We must stay “strong” and centered. We must be the pillar that holds up the home. Some people don’t even realize they’re leaning on us until we start to fall. The most crushing part is being labeled as erratic or irrational when we finally let emotion show; emotions that are a normative response to an unnatural circumstance. Sometimes we don’t even speak on our feelings, we express physically how our bodies are responding (e.g., not eating, not sleeping, etc.) in hopes they can fill in the emotional blank. 

This piece goes out to all my women of color struggling emotionally and standing so tall. We don’t have to be “strong” all the time. We don’t have to be reserved, restricted, or restrained. The world looks at us as superhuman. Research states that women of color are seen by the world as this unbreakable force, not just by other people of color (POC), but by the world at large. We are supposed to be everything to everyone and wear that badge with a smile. But women, sisters, please don’t fall for this ploy. This mask of strength they’ve forced us to wear, it’s killing us slowly (see link below). I write this in total vulnerability, in hopes that at least one woman reads it and decides to feel what needs to be felt. Say what needs to be said. Do what needs to be done, and stops apologizing for any of it! 

Although I put a lot of myself out there, knowing my story is like so many others, it’s still hard for me to feel supported when I don’t feel like I should be feeling down or stressed in the first place. It’s hard for me to let people help me when at times I still think I should be able to handle everything on my own. We go through a lot as women of color: being disrespected, discriminated against, sexualized, and that’s just the start. What I want to make perfectly clear to all readers is that we don’t need pity. What we do need is respect and the space to be human, with a full human range of emotions. We are an impermeable force, AND we are worthy of healing and feeling. Once we allow that in ourselves, we can help change the beliefs of society; support each other, accept each other, and love one another without believing only one of us deserves or can be at the top. 

We must stop teaching this pattern to our young women, encouraging them to suffer in silence. We must want more for them than to live unhealthy, restricted, lives. We must show them that true love of self and others comes from acknowledging and loving ourselves, disregarding anyone that tries to get in the way of that. Lastly, we must stop using the word “strong” as if holding in our emotions makes us impenetrable. True strength is feeling emotions and not being controlled by them. It is accepting emotion and using it as a pillar for growth, not a sign of weakness. We must redefine strength for this next generation…and it starts with us.

Brief Article giving a general outline of how the Strong Black Woman Schema negatively affects physical and mental health: Being an African American ‘superwoman’ might come with a price.”

Statistics on sexual assault and rape among Black women: Black Women and Sexual Violence

Parent’s Day

Today is Father’s Day, and I know all over social media, people will be posting about their perfect fathers and perfect families. Still, today I’m not talking to them. Today, I’m talking to those of us without that masculine figure. I’m talking to the kids with the fathers that didn’t come home and help with homework…or at all.

See, we don’t all get those amazing fathers. Although today, on all social media platforms, it appears like the world got the “American Dream,” in 2019, about 15.76 million children lived with a single mother, a consistent statistic since 2010. As of 2010, 22% of female-female couples had at least one child, with most recent census information showing much higher projected percentages. This means the landscape of the United States is changing. The necessity of the father figure, while important in the role they fulfill, is not as vital as the love within the home and the guidance of other figures throughout life.

I say all of this to say families don’t have to look the same to be impactful and important! When we look at social media today, for some, it will be hard; this reminder of what we lost or never had. This notion is not lost on me. There is a mourning period where we realize our family structure is different. Our two parents, white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and the dog didn’t appear like we believe they did for all the other families. However, for those of us that are fortunate enough to have a mother that loves us with everything she can muster; a grandmother that would lay down her life; an aunt, uncle, and/or cousin that has always been there whenever the phone call came, we are loved today and every day! It’s not formed in the same packaging, but the gift, if we’re ready to receive it, is just as sweet!

So, today I challenge all of us with unconventional families to celebrate those. Let’s take our moms to dinner. Send our uncles a thoughtful text. Post our cousin and let the world know how meaningful they are to us. Visit our church leader or camp counselor and let them know their impact has changed our lives, and therefore changed the world just a little. 

As kids, we’re born into this world naïve and defenseless, and we don’t always get what we deserve. Just remember, it takes a village to raise a child. Although all our puzzle pieces may look different than someone else’s, our picture is just as beautiful and our journey is just as valid. We are here with our village, and no matter what that looks like, it’s worth celebrating on this Parent’s Day…so I hope we all do!