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Strong Black Woman Backlash: Are Black Women Unintentionally Contributing to the Breakdown of the Black Family?

Recently, I had an epiphany.

It was actually more like a frightening realization, to be honest.

And it came to me on the television set of a BET taping, of all places. During the taping, I was sitting next to a young black male who was just singing his mama’s praises. He spoke lovingly of how she raised him as a single parent, giving tough love and setting high expectations.  Then, he began to talk about how when his father left, his mother “didn’t miss a beat” and just got on with their lives. This struck me. I interrupted him gently, to remind him that that is just what he saw or what she allowed him to see, and that he didn’t know what happened to his mother when he went to sleep or when his mother was alone—she may have cried for hours.

The problem with what this young man saw, is that he was left with the impression that his father left his family and there were no consequences. No repercussions.  This is dangerous thinking for our young men. And in my opinion, dangerous behavior on our part as Black women.  My fear is that our Strong Black Woman Syndrome is unintentionally breaking down our families and creating a dangerous legacy.

I know saying this is tantamount to heresy, given our proud history of carrying the Black family (hope I don’t get banned from the Essence festival!). But what if our history and our future are at odds?

You see, I too, was caught in the Strong Black Woman syndrome when my husband left my family two years ago. I too, thought I was doing what was best for my children by putting on a strong front. By telling them I was fine, when I was really crying my eyes out every time they turned their heads. Telling them, we’d be just fine, even when I had no clue how I would maintain having recently left my six figure job to launch my dream business.

But on this day, sitting next to that young man it became clear to me that I was doing my children a great disservice. And perhaps millions of black women like me were doing the same. On that day, I realized that I didn’t want my son to think that a man walks away from his family and all is “fine.”

I didn’t want him to ever even consider that there is no impact when a husband or father abandons his responsibilities.  And even when a father is still present and involved, we, as women grieve the loss. We feel the loss. On that day, I began to share with my son, in an age appropriate way, that we are hurting and forever changed by his Dad’s departure.  I was hurting. Yes, we will survive. But we will have a few scars.

And then it occurred to me, that perhaps, just perhaps, black women across the country are doing themselves and our future generations more harm than good with our strong front-itis.  What happens when everyone thinks we can handle anything, shake off anything and we don’t care? I am also, now unequivocally convinced that my “wasband” can walk away or be negligent about child support because he knows “I got this.” He knows that I will do what I have to do and make it happen. After all, isn’t that what I have been doing all these years?

When our men see us as strong women who handle everything thrown our way, or we always give a  “ I don’t need that ____” (enter favorite expletive here)—we send a message that we don’t need our Black men. And that our children don’t need them. And this is the farthest thing from the truth.

Are we shooting ourselves in the foot and damaging our families with our strength? What happens when a generation of young black boys and girls are raised by women who show no consequence to fatherless families? Who tell their children, thinking it is in their best interest, that we don’t need that so and so?   

And what about how we are damaging ourselves? When we perpetuate the dangerous myth of Black women as indefatigable, unshakable, and tireless, we are not allowed to be whole human beings with a full suite of emotions. Some of those emotions, which we, as humans are entitled to experience include being vulnerable, needy, and for lack of a better word, scared ___less.  We have a right to be that. We are not machines. (BTW, think about where that concept originated).  Sojourner Truth’s, Ain’t I A Woman? speech sure does come to mind.  

I don’t know if I have the answer. But I do know that Black women need to reclaim our womanness, our femininity, our right to be damsels in distress and the “weaker vessel” if we want to. Sometimes we do need help and sometimes we are not okay.

I also know that Black families are in serious crisis. We’ve spent a lot of time and analysis pointing the finger to the other side of the gender line. Much of that is deserved. But maybe, just maybe, we can spend a little time thinking about the person behind the other four fingers.  Our families are worth the thought.

 What do you think?


In motherhood,


9 Responses to “Strong Black Woman Backlash: Are Black Women Unintentionally Contributing to the Breakdown of the Black Family?”
  1. Lisa says:

    I agree that it’s time that we stop being superwomen because in the end it just hurt us and the same children we are trying to protect. It not only sends the message to our children that men are not important,it teaches our sons that fathers are irrelevant so they in return becomes that type of dad and our daughters won’t learnt how to look for those qualities in a man that shows fatherhood is important. The end result is that it’s a never ending cycle. Something must be done that’s why I think “The Fatherhood Initiative” is so great and maybe we should start a “Motherhood Intiative” because women are also a part of the reason why men are not around. We need to change our mindsets.

  2. How well said and brutally honest. We as Black women are already susceptible to problems like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. To try to be “superwoman” who can do it all is damaging us not just emotionally and physically. As you said, we are not machines. And to give the impression that Black mothers don’t need a man (hello how did we become mothers??) is harmful to our young men and women. If our young girls think that they can have babies with men who may walk away without consequences to themselves and their futures, they may be less selective in whom they chose as fathers of their children. And our young Black men may not feel the strong pull that any father should when it comes to being part of a family.

  3. Fort Worth, Tx says:

    I agree. I am a single mom of three. I totally agree.

  4. Charlyn Green Fareed, Phd says:

    Greetings Kimberly and THANK YOU for such insightful comments about some of the “flip side” outcomes of living our lives as SBW! I have devoted my life and research to this very topic and examining the health and wellness impacts of being a SBW; many of the study outcomes overlap with your observations! We are in the 4th year of our study and continue to make more and more connections everyday!

    We have two very important upcoming events, one is a SBW Single Moms Health & Wellness Study Circle which begins in Nov. with a small group of women who will come together to share their experiences and the health and wellness impacts of being both a single Mom AND a SBW, and the changes and actions they can take individually and collectively that may improve their health and perhaps their lives. The other event is our SBW Health & Wellness Symposium which will be held in Atlanta in April of 2010.

    All of the details will be available on our site (will be up soon) as well as our research findings to date. Please feel free to contact me at: sbwstudy@gmail.com is you have questions or wish further info.

    In the meantime, let’s keep the conversation going!


  5. Mike says:

    Wow! What a great post. I had to share on my blog. I hope you don’t mind but everyone need to read this.

  6. Eddie Nicole says:

    Great read. Being the child of a single mother since age 7, I never thought of her tears, trials, and tribulations because she never showed it. I would even ask her how was she doing and how is she doing it, and she would always respond with everything is just fine, “As long as we have shelter and food” you have nothing to worry about.
    I still resent my father though. I have to deal with that on my own terms.

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