After watching pop super star Janet Jackson tell us about her fight to take back control of her life and let go of people and situations that didn’t serve her, we learn that Cheslie Kryst, 2019 Miss. USA, died by jumping from the top floor of her apartment building after leaving a suicide note for her family and a message of peace on Instagram for her fans. And it all feels very weighty. A black woman’s mental health, a black woman’s survival, a black woman being on display, a black woman overcoming the odds only to be at odds with herself in the end.
A moment of silence for Cheslie.
Black women have been called strong as a compliment since as long as I can remember. During slavery, throughout Jim Crow, and in modern America, black women still disproportionately suffer through unfair pay wages, violent health and wellness interactions, and a number of other injustices that plague our quality of life. “Being strong” has become the mantle-like troupe that black women are gifted with without precedence or appreciation. And it sucks!
I have wanted to be weak but expected to try again or needed to rest but expected to press through. And because of these expectations, we’ve unfairly held each other to the same standards. Trauma and tragedy may be as plenty as a stretch marks on a pregnant belly in a black woman’s life yet there is a badge of honor buckled into her skin for not complaining too much and for being strong. Except when we are not, we called weak when the weight of it all comes crashing down as if the amount she was holding wasn’t already three times what she should have.
In my lifetime, I’ve personally seen black women crack and snap in the most horrifying ways while trying to survive. Because of it, I’m always on guard. Just this week, I sat in a room full of white people where the only other black person’s were the performers and the security. I couldn’t take my attention off ensuring my safety long enough to enjoy myself or my husband’s comedy fully. To the unexperienced, this seems excessive, to be on guard in a public space, but to those who had lived it, we know these spaces come with either microaggression or all out war. The night included me being asked if my pu$$y gets wet and hearing a white woman shout she was out looking for black d!ck – just in case you thought I was BS-ing.
The pressure of being a woman is massive enough. Add being black, fat, and neurodivergent and I am just a walking cocktail of mental instability. For years, I got called strong. I got called strong by the nurses when I held my oldest son’s body and again by the minister at my son’s funeral. I get called strong for writing about the abuse I endured growing up and sexual assaults’. I got called strong for calling out injustices and unfair treatment at my old job. I was told I was strong when I spoke about the hurt I experienced from a mentor in the church. I get called strong and brave and powerful all the time. And yes, it’s a compliment and a pride I don’t mind swelling in every now and then but most times I think… I did absolute nothing but survive.
We now are intentional about our mental health. We, black women, still clean our houses while listening to Sade to as a way to cope with the drama. We still pray in the midst of trouble. But we also see therapist, we have self care days and sister circle, and we set boundaries. It’s necessary to stay vigilant but we want to do so much more than be strong and survive. We want to live in peace and thrive.
Right black women, we thrive?
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