by Lexx Brown-James
I have discussed Black Woman’s Syndrome before. It’s the need that Black women have to take care of everything and everyone with little or no regard for themselves that is perpetuated by fear of failing someone, anyone, anything. I have discovered something else, how the myth of “strength” and “being strong” exacerbates the syndrome.
Clients tell me all the time – “I have to be strong”- which usually means that one has to put on a facade about being “okay” handling situations, not feeling sad, not being angry, or not being tired — not having feelings. Black women are taught to shield their emotions, so on the outside they portray this stoic relentless woman who is able to accomplish all of her goals, her family’s goals, and her communities goals. She can cook a hot meal and crochet a baby gift all while looking good, maintaining a career, supporting her partner and raising children to be productive citizens of society.
So what are Black women doing to themselves? History has taught us about the real strength of The Black Woman. Persevering through genocide, maintaining family and dignity while being used as reproductive factories, whores, and mules. The Black Woman has shown she is strong, but when did becoming emotionless become a part of it? When did tears become signs of weakness and WHY does everything have to be “fine” all the time?
From theory I am reminded of Carol Gilligan who developed a model of morality for females. She has found for females there is a way we develop morally that is different from males. In the pre-conventional stage the goal is individual survival (selfishness). Then a transition occurs where the goal shifts from selfishness to the responsibility of others. Once the transition has taken root the female is in the conventional stage where she operates from the moral code that self-sacrifice is equated to goodness. This is where Black women with Black Women’s Syndrome are stuck. They self sacrifice themselves, their emotions, and their needs to be the good wife, mother, lover, worker, community member etc. It will take growth to move into Gilligan’s next stage. The transition from goodness to the truth that she is a person too.
The last stage, which may never be met, is called post-conventional where the goal is a principle of nonviolence: not hurting others and not hurting yourself. Here lies the cure to Black Women’s Syndrome, going through this innate transition to realize balance is key. I would take it a step further and state that it’s in shedding this facade of “okayness” and acknowledging our feelings of happiness, sadness, fear, and anger that make a Black woman a strong woman.