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I’m not going to sugarcoat it: there are a lot of stereotypes associated with being black. Some are great. Some are terrible. Every black female stereotype is something I’ve had to overcome my entire life.
THE STRONG BLACK FEMALE STEREOTYPE
One stereotype that can surprisingly be damaging to black women is the “strong black female.” I know, I know — you would think that this would be a positive female stereotype, but it’s had a lasting effect on me that hasn’t been so positive. You’ve seen her in movies and TV: she’s smart, sassy, quick-witted, and always knows what to do. She’s the character that saves the day time and time again. Think Olivia Pope from Scandal, or Annaliese Keating from How to Get Away With Murder. They’re rock stars, we all want to be them, and that type of character is really all I had to look up to while growing up. Also, no shade to Shonda Rhimes — I love both of those characters.
Why is this female stereotype damaging? As a black woman, I always feel the pressure to be that character in every aspect of my life. And it’s not realistic. It’s okay to be reserved and a little timid as a black woman. It’s ok to focus on yourself and take care of your mental health issues as a black woman. It’s okay not to be the person who saves the day. As time goes on, I have to tell myself these things over and over.
Being a black woman in the U.S., I’ve felt that I’ve had an uphill battle my entire life. I grew up in a neighborhood that was predominately white, and I tried so hard to fit in and avoid any negative black stereotypes. I spoke as articulately as possible and avoided using any ebonics at all costs. I dressed to fit in with my peers. I begged my mom for hair extensions because my hair wouldn’t grow (she finally let me get them in high school). When I went to college, the first school I went to only had a 5% black population, and I felt myself assimilating yet again. It wasn’t until I transferred to VCU, a school with a 40% minority population, did I feel that I could stop trying to assimilate and embrace black culture.
Long story short, it isn’t always easy to be a black woman in this country. However, I’m starting to learn that I don’t have to live up to a positive black female stereotype, nor do I have to try to avoid the negative stereotypes. It’s okay to be myself at the end of the day. It’s ok to not be the “strong black female.” It’s okay to embrace my culture.