When I was younger, I used to believe that Black womanhood was solely synonymous with strength. After all, I was raised by a single mother who always stressed the importance of being strong in the midst of adversity, since that’s what she had become accustomed to while trying to raise three children alone. She believed that she had to be strong because single mothers encountered challenges on a daily basis and they couldn’t let their children see them sweat. This insurmountable strength was necessary not for herself, but for her children who looked to her to fulfill the duties of superwoman since the other parent was not present.
My mother made it her goal to pass on these same values to my sister and I while we were growing up. The essence of Black womanhood, in her opinion, was unshakable strength and self-reliance. We were taught that we shouldn’t rely on anything or anyone but God and that if we wanted our dreams to come true, WE had to make them happen. Life had taught her that she must fight for the things that she needed and wanted as a Black woman because people weren’t always dependable. She didn’t want us to have to endure the same struggles that she had to go through, so her vehement message to us was that independence and strength were necessary tools for a Black woman to lead a successful life.
For so long, I believed that these were the only tools that Black women needed and used them in my own life. Though I was born in an impoverished area and attended schools that had inadequate resources,
I was determined to be resilient and assert my independence. I excelled by coming into contact with organizations, such as the Memphis PREP Program, that exposed me to a variety of educational and networking opportunities. When it came time for college applications, I filled them out and mailed them off myself because like mama said, if I wanted something to happen I had to make it happen myself. Ultimately, I attended Vanderbilt University and became the first person from my immediate family to graduate from college.
Once I graduated, I was sure that what got me through an institution like Vanderbilt was my strength. Talk about overcoming a wide set of challenges! It was here that everything I had been taught and believed my entire life was tested: resiliency, faith, my intelligence and independence. Though I am a better person because of the experience, I no longer attribute unwavering strength as the thing that got me through my struggles. It would be untrue to say that I kept on strong with things despite my circumstances. I wanted to quit and contemplated doing so at different points throughout the four years. It would be untrue to say that my self-reliance got me through my obstacles. I wouldn’t have graduated without several people who offered guidance and support, including family members, friends, line sisters, professors, and mentors.
After graduation and even today, I still face a variety of challenges as a Black woman living in contemporary society. These challenges have led me to re-think the notion that Black women need to be strong and exactly what encompasses Black womanhood. Strength is definitely an aspect, but it is not the only thing that guides Black women’s efforts. Black womanhood is multifaceted and that’s the beauty of it all. I believe it’s ok for Black women to encounter failures and want to throw in the towel at some point. I believe it’s ok for Black women to not always have the solution to every problem. I believe that it’s ok for Black women to experience an array of emotions including love, anger, hurt, excitement, and fear. I believe it’s ok if we don’t always have it together. I’m thankful for the lessons and values that my mother has passed on to me, but also grateful that I can formulate concepts based on my own experiences as well. Black womanhood, in my opinion, is beauty, strength, resiliency, struggles, failure, wanting to give up at times, sisterhood, dependency, support, weak at moments, sacrifice, fear, and love. Overall, Black womanhood is a beautiful, fluid spectrum of humanity.