Sometimes when I run, I listen to spoken word and audio books on YouTube. Last week, I hit a classic: Their Eyes Were Watching God. If you remember this story, there is an effort to praise the strength of the African-American woman when Janie, the heroine of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, refers to the black woman as “the mule of the world”.
Again, this wasn’t meant to belittle. It was a folkloric metaphor that has put forward for consideration a grim reality: black women have been handed the burdens that others inside and outside of their race refuse to carry or don’t know how to carry. In other words, you can’t just be a black woman. You have to be a strong one. And you have to endure your struggles plus everyone else’s.
The mule metaphor rocked my world when I first encountered it in college. I knew the expression came from a beautiful literary artist who sought to empower my spirit and speak to my soul. I identified deeply with mulography… too deeply…. Why was I shouldering burdens at nineteen? It was (and still is) a social, proclaimed position we black women tend to hold to great esteem.
Since 2017, I’ve felt my mind shifting with each blog I write. The keyboard has become quite the accountability partner. And so, on this Serenity Sunday, I want to release the mule from duty: I can and will consider being a strong black woman only under the guise of being well. This means, I will no longer respond to the expectation of being a strong black woman without first knowing–without a doubt– that I am a well black woman from the inside out.
Physical fitness and facades aside, I want to be forever imbued with my own love and the love of God. …Finding God in ourselves is an ultimate strength move…. Other strength moves include: seeking counsel, identifying sources of emotional stress or pain/pressure points, forgiving, communicating with others, taking time off, showing people how to do for themselves, utilizing resources when it comes to critical projects at home and at work, and lastly, being vulnerable. Concrete is hard, but it’s not indestructible. I give myself permission to break down, break free, and be restored… and not on account of burden-bearing… rather, as an outcome of becoming.
If I am well, I can be a solid force for good in my family, in my community, and in the world.
Clinnesha is a writer, wife, mom, meta-artist, humanities scholar, and social entrepreneur. Her work is at the intersection of black/feminist thought, arts, culture, and community.