Monday, March 31, 2008

Being "strong" can kill you

I just started Terrie Williams new, must-read book "Black Pain" that tackles the taboo topic of blacks and depression, and how our inability to recognize our psychological pain and unwillingness to seek help is killing us.

Black Pain identifies emotional pain — which uniquely and profoundly affects the black experience — as the root of lashing out through desperate acts of crime, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, workaholism, and addiction to shopping, gambling, and sex. Few realize these destructive acts are symptoms of our inner sorrow.

Black people are dying. Everywhere we turn, in the faces we see and the headlines we read, we feel in our gut that something is wrong, but we don't know what it is. It's time to recognize it and work through our trauma. More...
As I read Williams' chapter on black women and our psychological traumas, I seethed a little more over all those people who were shocked, SHOCKED by the anger of the black community as voiced by Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I was also reminded of this poem, which most of you have no doubt seen before, but it never hurts to be reminded that Superwoman is fictional and trying to be "strong" all the time can kill you.

The Strong Black Woman is Dead
by Laini Mataka

The strong black woman is dead

The strong black woman is dead...on August 15, 1999 at 11:15 p.m. while struggling with the reality of being a human instead of a myth, the strong black woman passed away.

Medical sources say she died of natural causes, but those who knew her know she died from being silent when she should have been screaming, smiling when she should have been raging, from being sick and not wanting anyone to know because her pain might inconvenience them.

She died from an overdose of other people clinging to her when she didn't have enough energy for herself. She died from loving men who didn't love themselves, and only offer her a crippled reflection. She died from raising children alone and for not being able to do a complete job. She died from the lies her grandmother told her mother, and her mother told her about life, men and racism.

She died from being sexually abused as a child and having to take that truth everywhere she went, everyday of her life, exchanging the humiliation for guilt and back again.
She died from being battered by someone who claimed to love her. And she allowed the battering to go on, to show she loved him too.

She died from asphyxiation, coughing up blood from secrets she kept trying to burn away instead of allowing herself the kind of nervous breakdown she was entitled to, but only white girls could afford.

She died from being responsible, because she was the last rung on the ladder and there was no one under her she could dump on. The strong black woman is dead.

She died from the multiple births of her children she never really wanted, but was forced to have by the strangling morality of those around her. She died from being a mother at 15, a grandmother at 30 and an ancestor at 45.

She died from being dragged down and sat upon by un-evolved women posing as sisters. She died from pretending the life she was living was a Kodak moment instead of a 20th century, post slavery nightmare!

She died from tolerating Mr. Pitiful just to have a man around the house. She died from lack of orgasms because she never learned what made her body happy and no one took the time to teach her, and sometimes when she found arms that were tender, she died because they belonged to the same gender.

She died from sacrificing herself for everybody and everything when what she really wanted to do was be a singer, a dancer, or some magnificent other.

She died from lies of omission because she didn't want to bring the black man down, she died from race memories of being snatched and raped, snatched and sold and snatched and bred, snatched and whipped and snatched and worked to death.

She died from tributes from her counterparts who should have been matching her efforts instead of showering her with dead words and empty songs, she died from myths that would not allow her to show weakness without being chastised by the lazy and the hazy.

She died from hiding her real feelings until they became hard and bitter enough to invade her womb and breast like angry tumors. She died from always lifting something from heavy boxes to refrigerators.

The strong black woman is dead.

She died from the punishments received from being honest about life, racism and men. She died from being called a bit-h for being verbal, a dyke for being assertive and a ***** for picking her own lovers. She died from never being enough of what men wanted, or being too much for the men she wanted.

She died from being too black and died again for not being black enough. She died from castration every time somebody thought of her as only a woman, or less than a man.
She died from being mis-informed about her mind, her body and the extent of her royal capabilities.

She died from knees pressed to close together because respect was never part of the foreplay that was being shoved at her.

She died from loneliness in birthing rooms and loneliness in abortion centers, she died of shock in courtrooms where she sat, alone, watching her children being legally lynched.

She died in bathrooms with her veins busting open with self-hatred and neglect. She died in her mind, fighting life, racism, and men while her body was carted away and stashed in a human warehouse for the spiritually mutilated, and sometimes when she refused to die, when she just refused to give in, she was killed by the lethal images of blonde hair, blue eyes and flat butts, rejected by the O.J.'s, the Quincy's and the Poitiers.

Sometimes, she was stomped to death by racism and sexism, executed by hi-tech ignorance while she carried the family in her belly, the community on her head, and the race on her back!

The strong silent, talking black woman is dead!!!!!!!!! Or is she still alive and kicking???????????? I know I'm still here.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I have never read this poem before but it is my life right now. I just got an appointment with a counselor to just let some of what I have been always told to "put it behind you and move on", out. We as a people have taken the "no snitching" movement to the ultimate, we don't "snitch" on ourselves. We as a culture don't accept that it all can't be done like your grandmother, strength is not always just dealing and not talking.

I came out to my mom 11 yrs ago and I think that was the last time we "talked" about it. I have no idea how she feels about it because when I ask I get "don't want to talk about it". Of course she gives the "mommy" opinion about my dates, but I guess she's being strong.

I would be doing a huge diservice to myself and the person I proclaim to love by not addressing the things I've been told to deal with. Being "strong" is the opposite of strength.

We as a people, black women especially, stunt our growth emotionally by not addressing "our" issues. The woman I'm with now says, and rightly so, that true strength is showing your weakness and overcoming it not avoiding it. Here's to what I find during the self-escavation.


Symphony said...

The strong Black woman will die every time unless she figures out how to be a smart strong Black woman.

NOLA radfem said...





That is so good. I was crying before I was even halfway through it.

You know, here in post-Katrina New Orleans a lot of black women are for the first time seeing counselors (if they can find one) and taking anti-depressants. It isn't that Katrina is so much more of a hardship than anything they've faced before (well, somewhat, but not totally). This was a city, before, in which on a normal weekend, five or so people would be murdered (mostly young black men), in which crime was rampant, poverty for blacks high (they worked, OBVIOUSLY, but minimum wage does not support a family), in which public housing was unsafe (both in terms of crime and the buildings themselves). Most people said young black men only left certain New Orleans neighborhoods in a hearse, a police car, or, I usually add, maybe a military recruiter's sedan.

Even so, what people here had were incredibly strong family ties. There were extended networks of kin in close proximity. People were always having seafood boils and fish fries and picnics and parties - to get all their relatives together. All of us, but black families in particular, could easily name a mind-numbing list of second and third cousins and step great aunts. Statistics showed that pre-Katrina New Orleanians were more likely to be found living within one mile of where they were born than any other Americans except for some native Alaskans.

So, life was hard, but family made it survivable.

Now, post-Katrina, neighborhoods and destroyed and all that familial closeness is gone. People are scattered across 48 states.

And, for the first time, black New Orleans women are telling doctors that they simply can't cope.

We NEED to get everyone back home. We're facing death like what that poems describes.

Do you know who the author is? Thanks so much for sharing this!

Tami said...


Good for you for getting help for yourself! We all need to know that there is no shame in seeing a counselor, just as there is no shame in seeing a dentist or a general practitioner. It sounds like your partner is very smart and supportive. It's good that you have her as you work through this.


Couldn't have said it better myself.


Everywhere I've ever seem this poem, the author has been listed as anonymous. I don't know who wrote it, but whoever it is is amazing.

You always shed so much light on what is going on post-Katrina in NO--all that stuff that the media isn't reporting anymore. Would you ever consider writing a post for What Tami Said on your observations as someone living in the city.

Regina said...

I totally agree with and love what Symphony said!
At my job we just did a series of Mental health workshops titled"The Strong Black Woman" and this poem was the backbone of the series.
The poem is deep...

mrshadow33 said...

Hello Tami. Its good talking to you again. That was a very powerful poem and I am going to print it out later on. Thanking for highlighting "Black Pain" I had heard the author on Micheal Baisden's show a few months ago. I will definitely pick it up.

Oh did you get the email from my sister's last week? They are the ones who have the Torchwood blog.

Anonymous said...

Tyler Perry is reinforcing that whole strong black woman thing. Just putting up with stuff and not confronting the issue or improving things.

MacDaddy said...

Good post. Great poem.

On the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. it's high times we transcend black women stereotype and address this legacy of oppression.

As a black man, I have difficulty addressing how a black woman, or any woman, feels. But as a black man who grew up in the Jim Crow south (Alabama and, later, Atlanta, Georgia), I can say what I saw and how it made me feel.

I saw black women hug their children and leave home with a smile on their face to go nurse well-to-do white women's children and work in her kitchen and then come home and yell at their own kids. And I overheard the secret that people almost never talked about: that black women, to keep their jobs, to keep putting food on their own children's table, often had to service white men in the bedrooms as well. no one talked about was that, to keep their jobs and feed their own children, they sometimes had to work in the white men's bedroom as well. I know that took a level of strength that I can't even fathom.

But this "Black Pain" is something black men and women have in common. I also watched them leave the community to work for white people and come home with heads bowed, shoulders strunk after experiencing yet another day of humiliation while working too hard for too little pay. And when some died, sometimes I would hear the older say it was because of a broken heart. They weren't talking about dying from a lost love, but from the cumulative affect of living a life of utter disrespect and humiliation.

I think the intense pain of living under white oppression from slavery through a plantation economy through a ghetto economy has been placed into the blood of our children. It needs to be brought to light so our children can gain the insight to get help and ensure that the next generation will not have that legacy.

Yes, both black women and men had to have a high level of strength to survive this humiliation, this every-day beat-down of the soul. But at what price?

truthbetold said...

Hi Tami,
The Author is Laini Mataka, she has a book out under the title Being a Strong Black Woman Can Get U Killed! The poem is in it.

This poem was stolen from a site she posted to and circulated around for a while; first by someone who attributed it to themselves then as unknown, but it's Laini Mataka's poem.

truthbetold said...

The Author is Laini Mataka she has a book out under the title Bein' a Strong Black Woman Can Get U Killed! The poem is in the book.

This poem was stolen from a site she posted to and circulated around for a while first by someone who attributed it to themselves then it was circulated as unknown, but it's Laini Mataka's poem.

Tami said...


Thanks for this info. I have updated the post to include the name of the author.

truthbetold said...

thanks tami. I love your blog keep up the great work!

NOLA radfem said...

Hi, Tami.

I was gone for a few days - ironically enough, I was visiting an old friend I've known since junior high who was a refugee in Texas during Katrina and ended up staying (since within a few days, they couldn't afford hotel rooms anymore so they rented an apartment and got new jobs). She has a new baby and is suffering from postpartum depression, from NOLAfugee depression, and with a husband who thinks his little - ahem - need is still priority number one. It was a good visit for both of us - definitely a much-needed weekend for girlfriends and healing and reconnecting.

Anyway, yes, I would love to write something sometime. I think lots of people have probably already done it better than I can, but what the heck!


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