Content Warning: Adult language
Disclaimer: I’ve been a Black woman all of my life, but that doesn’t mean I know what every Black woman needs. I mean, there are days I hardly recognize my own self. Nights I stare in the bathroom mirror while a little person bangs on the door and I wonder if it’s a glass of wine or my granny’s buttermilk pancakes calling me… It’s complicated. Being a woman is complicated, and no, I don’t know everything there is to know. I don’t have a counseling background or an academic dissertation on this subject. What I do know is what I live and breathe. Therefore, I feel qualified by the most living God to broach this question.
What is it that Black women who are under scrutiny need most?
Let’s take it back a bit. At the basis of my personal Black woman experiences are strength-asserting proclamations such as:
💪🏾 Don’t look like what you’ve been through.
💪🏾 Fall apart when you’re home, behind closed doors.
And while it’s not really a proclamation, we’re told that being a lady in the streets and a “freak in the bedroom” is what a husband wants in a wife. I could totally insert a Biblical reference here that cements the male perspective on this.
These universal assertions somehow designed for women of color (or perhaps, southern women of color) may not seem exceedingly bad, but they sure as hell aren’t honest either. They suggest that Black women should not be openly sensitive human beings; that Black women cannot be audacious or exude sexual confidence; that we, Black women, can’t be flawed yet still worthy of love.
Consider once more the Strong Black Woman Concept and how it derived. Our mothers were strong, private women. Some of us can say that we learned strength codes from our mothers who went out and worked themselves to death doing their jobs along with the work of their superiors, never being paid what they were worth; then trudged home to whip up Hamburger Helper before they went into their bedrooms and shut their doors with every reason to weep. Some may say they came from mothers who were physical fighters– who checked all the people who came for their babies.
It’s almost as if Black women have this innate desire to be strong so others can reap. Namely their spouses, children, and community. Speaking of spouses, Black women are rarely made wives because they are needy and weak individuals, rather they are made wives because they are independent, strong, and sacrificial.
This year, I’ve been writing a lot about balancing strength and vulnerability. This summer, I’ve been watching black women face scrutiny and judgment on their journeys to self-love and liberation. It’s been both interesting and difficult to witness.
If you’re not up-to-speed on the recent criticisms of Jada Pinkett-Smith, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, or Kamala Harris, Googling will certainly get you caught up. I’ve been reading articles and catching posts here and there for weeks. I’ve watched Jada awkwardly bring herself to her own red table. I had an out-of-body experience watching the affirming presentation of Black Is King. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to “WAP”, and I’ve cried tears of joy since Kamala Harris officially became Joe Biden’s VP pick.
Week after week, I find it more and more interesting how influential women have to bear an undue burden of going through shit the average woman goes through. I think about the artistic power of shock value and how Black women better not. I think about the penalties placed on Black women for free-expression. I think about sexual liberation and body positivity and how Christian Black women had probably better not. I think about the movie Titanic, which I watched recently, and noticed how that nude rendering of Rose was cherished… I think about body politics. I think about the messiness and adverse effects of a political agenda coupled with the urgent need to transform our nation. I think about these things and I breathe a long and heavy sigh. Because damn, it’s complicated.
And so. I ask myself, what is it? What is it that Black women under scrutiny need. At first, I thought it was to simply be loved. And then I thought, it’s more important that we love ourselves, right? I then considered all the proud married black women who desperately need their husbands to see them and I mean truly see them… I finally came to the conclusion that what Black women probably need most…
…is space to fuck up.
And while society grants us this space, give us human sanction to fall short of words and actions. Let us seize our moments and be more than nuanced when doing so. Let us embrace our physical beauty and dance dirty with our friends. Let us giggle. We actually like to giggle and be goofy. Allow Black women to make history, take care of our families, and build a legacy. Give us time to consider where we went wrong in relationships. Let us dig and find our tools so we can fix the things we mishandled. Give us permission to evolve and grow our stance. Give us space to heal. Hold us accountable, yes, but understand that we are already owning our errors plus carrying the emotional weight of everyone impacted. I assure you, you don’t have to make us feel bad about our “transgressions”. Our loving husbands have a foolproof plan to (in the words of Will Smith) “get us back”. So yeah. Give us the space please. When we’re done tearing ourselves apart with self-criticism and hate, I promise we will make it up to a world that seemingly expects more from us.
Whew. Alright. I got through that. Now let’s get back to equally important matters: Justice for Breonna Taylor.
Clinnesha is a wife, mom, daughter/sister/auntie, literary artist, humanities scholar, and social entrepreneur.Her advocacy work is at the intersection of black/feminist thought, arts, culture, and community.