Black women are never happy. Black women never cry. Black women never show their weaknesses.
We work tirelessly to provide for not only ourselves, but also others. We are the epitome of strength, and the backbone of our communities. Still, we are underestimated and oftentimes, ridiculed.
There is an unspoken belief that if we as black women show our true emotions, we are somehow weak and damaged for doing so.
After spending a week in a psychiatric hospital and partaking in months of therapy, I learned that all of these outdated assumptions were completely untrue.
Growing up in an extremely religious household, my mother always instructed me to be seen and not heard. I was an inquisitive child, who had somewhat of a “smart mouth.” If ever I struggled with anything, my mother told me to pray on it and ask God for help. I could never understand why my prayers were not answered, and why I still felt alone and empty inside. As one of the only African Americans in a predominately white elementary, middle, and high school, I felt like an outcast. Everyone around me had large, loving, and supportive families, with seemingly everything in the world. My friends lived in two-parent households, and knew exactly in which direction their lives were going. I, on the other hand, was remarkably shy. I was afraid to speak up for myself out of fear of being judged or shamed by those around me. When trying to explain how I felt to others, I received the same response. Pray on it. Talk to God. But nobody spoke with me. Nobody listened to me. Nobody listened to what I had to say. I thought that maybe I was a bad Christian, and that was why God did not hear me. My parents told me time and time again that I was a smart girl, and that I would figure it all out. I was taught that I am a strong black woman, and that I need to be strong for others. In the long run, however, this advice proved to be more detrimental to my mental health than anything else.
I was always the determined, resilient one. I was the friend that everybody turned to when they needed help. I actively listened to others, gave the best advice, and quite literally handed out tissues and hugs when those around me were struggling. In my time of need, however, the same was never done for me.
I acted as a chameleon, altering my personality in order to fit in. I silenced my quirks and hid my true likes and dislikes because I did not want to be labeled as “too white,” ” too black,” or “too ghetto.” While I was always able to maintain a sense of happiness, I still felt like I was at an arm’s distance from everyone around me.
It was not until years later that I learned to communicate more effectively with others, and live my truth. I was giving too much of myself, and wondering why nobody gave back to me. Time and time again, I was told that everyone does not have the same heart as me. I grew up with no wants or needs. I did whatever I was told, in spite of my own needs. I put others before me, and molded myself into what I thought others wanted because I was afraid to be my full self. What I learned is that there is a tremendous sense of vulnerability that comes with being one’s full self and living one’s full truth.
Society makes us as black women feel that we must wear our hair a certain way, dress a certain a way, and speak a certain way in order to fit in. The moment we use a swear word, wear our hair in a natural style, or show a bit of skin, we are automatically seen as ghetto, and unworthy of the professional world, and all that it has to offer. Society wants us to fit in and assimilate, instead of standing out.
Being vulnerable has saved my life. The moment I began to open up to those around me, I found people who listened. I learned things about myself that I never knew. I discovered my likes and dislikes. I found individuals who went through the same struggles that I went through. I learned that it was okay to cry in front of others. I found that I do not always have to be the strong one. Real strength comes from the ability to let your guard down and invite others into your personal space. It is not selfish to put yourself first and do positive things for you. You will find that the internal beauty you have been hiding will immediately shine. I never knew that this beauty was inside of me, but I want to share this beauty with others.