When I think about the high rates of heart disease, stress, obesity, and other physical as well as mental ailments among African American women, my heart grieves. I’ve seen my own mother almost work herself to death trying to take care of everyone - especially grown people who just need to grow up.
I wonder what would happen if more women would take more “me time”. What if someone else washed the clothes? What if someone else cooked dinner? What if she’s celebrated outside of birthdays and Mother’s Day?
African American women have always been expected to work and have had the highest labor force participation among all women for years. This work expectation is deeply rooted in longstanding racial and gender biases that have been present since the our nation’s founding. This extends back to the dehumanizing history of slavery and continuing into the post-slavery era, 20th-century workforce expansions, and the present day. Yes, the PRESENT DAY.
Historically, the African American woman’s work was always compare it to the status of white women. Traditionally and historically, white women were elevated within a societal hierarchy and they were expected to represent a paternalistic feminine idea that focused exclusively on the home. Some American dream, right?
From the 19th century, and well into the 20th century, African American women have worked - but they were systemically regulated to the lowest paying jobs. Additionally, there were a plethora of legal restrictions that were used to exclude all women, despite their race or ethnicity, from many high paying jobs that were also systemically made for men.
Truth is, women are still fighting for equality and equal pay. Do you want to know a harsher truth? African American women still face the remnants of this historical nightmare narrative that has devalued their status in society as workers.
I was raised and taught by black women who worked hard. My grandmother worked overtime in Piccadilly cafeteria to make ends meet. My other grandmother cleaned houses for a wealthy couple. Both women somewhat loved their jobs, but I’m not sure if either one of my grandmothers knew that they could have more. my mom is the product of Hardwork, education, and God’s grace. My mom made sure that I understood the biases of the world concerning the African American women. She always told me that it wouldn’t be fair, but that I could make a life worth living.
African American women make up a huge portion of the labor force, but their participation in the labor force does not translate into higher wages. This has also created a negative narrative about the attitude of an African American woman and her work ethic. In a plethora of subcultures within the United States, it is assumed that African American women do not work hard, that they resist hard work, that they must be pushed to perform well, and that they should be satisfied with the job that they have because they are not deserving of a job that provides a higher societal status.
I almost fell into the pit of the “strong black woman”. Even though I’m not married nor do I have children, much was always expected from me. Since I don’t have a husband or children, I can’t possibly be too busy to help, right?
I found myself in a cycle of never ending busyness, problem solving, and trying to make ends meet. This behavior looked normal to me because it is something that has been perpetuated throughout the generations.
This accepted idea that Black women have an extraordinary strength beyond that of other women.....that we feel no pain, we don’t cry, we don’t need help... this has done us more harm than good.
And I’m done with it.
More than 80 percent of African American mothers are the primary or major financial providers for their families, compared to 50 percent of White mothers.
Additionally, more than 4 million family households which is about 30 percent of African American families in the United States are headed by African American women. Almost 1 in 3 of those households lives below poverty level.
About 22% of African American women now earn a bachelor’s or higher, a 24 percent improvement from a decade ago! The median earnings for a white woman with a bachelor’s or higher is $56,000. For Asian women, it’s $57,000. For African American women, it’s just $50,000. These statistics can be found by contacting the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
I believe that all women need to take more time for themselves. I’m not a crisis actor. I’m not trying to incite a race war, I’m simply stating the facts. I’ve only experienced life as an African American woman, but I am certain that the emotional labor of women exceeds Jeff Bezos salary. I also believe that African American women need to shed all of the weight that has been put on us through gendered racism.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard and having integrity. However, it is important that we acknowledge when we are overworked. We have to learn to acknowledge that we are tired. I believe that this is a skill that you have to acquire because this is not always embedded in the African American culture.
I struggle to ask for help. I struggle with delegation. It’s not just a character flaw, it was something I was taught. Through therapy and prayer, I realize that I don’t have to be strong in every situation. I’ve learned how to say no, and I feel better when I do it.
In conclusion, you can have the stereotypical “strong black woman” role if you want. God gave me the pen to write my own story. Most importantly, God gave me help. Thank you JESUS.
So, to my hard working women, all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and sexual orientation:
I pray that you realize you don’t have to be strong.
I pray that you find the beauty in your weaknesses.
I pray that you realize that your strength comes from the Lord, not what you do.
“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”
Proverbs 31:25 ESV