The Heart of a Woman
The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.
—Georgia Douglas Johnson, from The Heart of a Woman and Other Poems (1918)
Black women have been subjected to many harmful stereotypes throughout history: the hypersexual “Jezebel,” the welfare queen, the emasculating angry black woman, the strong black woman who carries the world on her shoulders. Ironically, the last image is probably the most damaging of them all. We can quickly counteract the other negative stereotypes with positive models—the emasculating angry black woman with a woman who uplifts her man and others around her; the welfare queen with a hard-working, financially independent woman who strives for excellence every day; the hypersexual with a classy, educated, modest woman who prefers to be covered up.
The strong black woman is arguably a positive stereotype; however, it is still a stereotype, and there is constant pressure to live up to that imagined standard. Single mothers struggling to make ends meet with little to no help, smart women hiding their successes and downplaying their accomplishments so as not to belittle their fruitless husbands, caring women becoming “therapists” to friends, family members, complete strangers who lay all of their problems on her shoulders hoping to get good advice—these women (along with many others) are all considered “strong (black) women.” Unfortunately, they are usually the most lonely, their sacrifices often go unappreciated, and if they ever deviate from the trope, they are severally criticized.
The single mother with the dead end minimum wage job, struggling to feed her children and herself is labeled hypersexual and a welfare queen when she has no other option but to ask for assistance. “Where are their daddies?” “Stop having babies!” “Just get another job!” “American tax payers shouldn’t have to take care of your kids!” the people who once praised her for her strength suddenly sneer.
The quiet wife comes home with news of a raise or a new job, and instead of congratulating her, her husband beats her because, with her higher paycheck, she has joined the white man in bringing him down, taking away his masculinity.
The “therapist,” sick of hearing the problems of people who never heed her advice nor listen to her own struggles finally says enough and is characterized as angry.
So much for the mythological Strong Black Woman.
For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for black women who lose themselves in the negative and positive stereotypes. Show them their real selves and love them for it.