How many women in our family line can we recognise as Strong Black Women (SBW)?
What are some of the similarities in their personalities that we believe qualify them as an SBW?
For me, I look at my mother, grandmother and aunties, I see how they are the dominating forces within their households, they are the captains of their ships and know all the goings on within each deck.
The kitchens (command centres) are thriving.
The staff (husbands/partners and children) fall in line with their commands.
There is order and things have their place.
They appear well dressed and hygienically maintained.
They are a little impatient and intolerant.
They are somewhat stressed at the intensity of their role, there is some overwhelm by their to do lists.
They are tired.
They moan about not being heard.
They complain that the “people dem” don’t know how to do the “thing” properly so they must do it themselves.
They serve their community, always available if someone needs them.
They conceal their pain.
They deny they have any other needs.
The Strong Black Woman Travels the family line
I was talking to my mum about the SBW archetype and it was such a revealing, healing and wholesome conversation.
In sharing how her role as a SBW informed my own SBW template, she reflected on how her mother was also affected by the SBW traits and how she witnessed her maintain this role at the cost of her mental health.
You see, my grandmother was the matriarch of the family, her door was always open, like literally always open, she never locked her front door.
She always had food cooking on the stove in case someone stopped by and was hungry.
I remember many days coming home from school and there would be a stranger at her dining table tucking in to something she had cooked. Often times it was someone in need, usually homeless but definitely starving.
How she was in servitude to others, but did not meet her own needs well.
As provider for her husband, children, her church and community, she prided herself on how she carried herself.
There was the idea that, to be strong meant to have no needs. To have it all together.
One of the ways in which being a SBW has incapacitated me is in the way in which I serve myself.
Or the lack thereof.
You see, being a SBW means that any needs I have, I must fulfil myself.
Whilst this has some truth, the very foundation of that is steeped in that of shame and guilt.
And the notion that I must manage my portion without complaint.
That I have watched the women who came before me do it and I must learn to do the same.
However, it wasn’t until my grandmother transitioned to spirit, did I realise that whilst she cleverly concealed her needs, wants and desires within serving others, she left this world without really identifying or asking for what she needed.
Whether that be support, help within the home, shopping, raising her children, getting to church etc
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a slight possibility that she conversed with friends about her true needs but I doubt it as her pride was in her appearance.
Leading with a mask of having it all together, she was missing the very real connection which could have been available to her.
There was isolation.
Her goings on at home were never on display nor up for discussion.
And these conversations were not had within the family unit.
Can you imagine if they were?
The sharing of teachings and wisdom that could have been?
Anyway, there is something about being a strong black woman and denying we have any needs.
And I can’t help but wonder what that’s about.
So, as I search within my well of experience on being the SBW and question what arises for me when I deny my own needs, I find shame and guilt.
Shame and guilt.
Shame and guilt are the pandemic.
There is shame for not being able to fulfil my role.
Shame in admitting that I have failed, tremendously.
That I don’t have it all together and need help.
Guilt for bringing shame on the family.
Guilt that I am not living up to the expectation of those who set the bar.
I have to ask whose guilt and shame is this?
I wonder how my nan was able to satiate her own starvation whilst she was busy filling the bellies of others.
What were the hunger pangs calling for?
Because I noticed she did not eat with everyone else. And when she did eat, it was often a small “likkle” side plate or she would pick at the fruit.
They call the command centre of the ship a bridge.
This is fascinating to me as I continue to use the ship metaphor here.
The bridge is the kitchen in my maternal lineage.
It is where the captain lives, pretty much.
Food is served there.
Advice or rather, orders, are given.
Gossip, betrayal and deceit also congregate there from time to time.
Conflict and prayer also meet there.
My grandmother was the bridge also.
She brought our individual worlds together and although they collided often, we knew this was the place for that to happen.
But who supports the bridge?
Who is responsible for the structural maintenance to ensure its durability, reliability, safety?
Surely there is an impact from wear and tear and high traffic use.
There is something about the lack of conversation around the realities of being a captain and maintaining a ship?
The realities of being an SBW.
The truth about the impact on what the striving to be an SBW can have on one’s livelihood.
The lie says, “to have strength is to have no needs”, when the truth lies in the complete opposite.
You see, in having needs, we are human.
In having needs and expressing our needs, we become strong.
We become the embodiment of strength itself.
In having no needs, there is isolation.
Looking after other people before yourself means that you are always giving to yourself from a place of deficit. In fact, you are already in deficit serving others because you have not served yourself first.
How do you give and serve but remember to give to yourself first?
I believe we have to admit that we have needs and realise that our needs are important and we are worthy of having those needs met.
Join in the conversation and share your story.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on how the SBW archetype has translated in your family line!
Sending love to you,