Kwesi Amoah: The Strong Black Woman Myth - Part 1
Flashbacks to childhood engulfed my memories and images of a burnished black complexion woman in her mid-twenties wearing a colorful headscarf, once popular in the 70s (in peach bell-bottom trousers) taking her children to school through the hustle and bustle of busy Kingston traffic.
Imagine a single mother with three children eking her way out in life without the consistent support of a partner. Picture this woman cleaning offices after her day job during the evenings at the Ministry of Health in Jamaica to provide food, clothing shelter for her troublesome brood, who could do little to ease her plight. We only knew of our father through tales told by our mother and our Aunt Lora, who had come to live with us.
Ironically, my father was like dream, a figment of my imagination that eluded me in my childhood like the mist that rose from the earth in the abandoned lot next to our home. Enthusiastically, I rehearsed scenarios in my head of reuniting with him-- he had finally come home and I sat upon his knee and played with his make-believe beard as if it were a mysterious nest upon his face seeking to uncover its mysteries.
She was the sum of the universe and we were the planets that revolved around her.
Eventually, she left Jamaica to secure a brighter and better future for her children in a foreign land-- a land of immigrants-- the land of milk and honey for most Jamaicans, the United States.
Of course, my mother's story is not uncommon in the black community. In fact, she is the epitome of what a Black woman is supposed to look like in the twenty-first century-- she was like Atlas, the Greek mythological character holding up the world, fixed eternally beneath the deteriorating, collapsing Black family: single, hardworking, devoted to her offspring, whilst juggling a career and other responsibilities without a man standing by her side lending support. Until the Obamas came to power in 2008, Barak and Michelle like a glowing neon sign hanging over the Whitehouse lawn, this stereotype had reached its zenith and had spilled all over the globe like the bubonic plague informing the consciousness of people in most developed nations. Yes, the Black family was nothing more than a caricature, a byword, a forgotten relic.
But she was more than that to us--She was a giant; a goddess; a saint-- a wounded Amazon who had literally fought to defend herself against abusive men. And many might connote from this that she was strong as an ox pulling an unbearable yoke—this could not be further from the truth.
Eventually, she got married and my stepfather a brilliant hard-working Black man, who fed and clothed us for many years. Though silent and benign and frequently working, he was the father I never had. His male presence filled our home with the intuitive balance we've always needed. We felt protected and grateful for his presence. He taught me resilience and boost my confidence as an awkward, shy pre-teen who was often bullied at school.
The myth of the strong Black woman was created by Western society, to ignore and hide the vicious attacks orchestrated upon the Black family by White supremacy historically, through the media and political appendages strewn throughout the colonial empire. Consider it a bone thrown to the Black woman to appease her for the almost total annihilation of her family. It is a denial of the existence of a legitimate African family as a valid entity that has the same rights and position as the European family. The torn Black family is acceptable because it further demonizes and supports the narrative propagated about Blackness since the advent of the Slave Trade. The Black woman must be strong because the Black man is worthless and irresponsible.
The myth of the lone Black woman has been perpetuated for many decades. It is so pervasive that Black women are now synonymous with single motherhood.
The myth of the lone Black woman has been perpetuated for many decades. It is so pervasive that Black women are now synonymous with single motherhood. The truth is many black women are in relationships and have partners who support them. There are more black women married than single. A recent US census revealed that 48% of Black women never married, which means that 52% of Black women have been married and therefore raised their children with a husband in the home. Moreover, Black men are strongly supportive and nurturing of their children, which defies the view of the media. In fact, a recent article in the New York Times stated that "There is an astounding amount of mythology loaded into this stereotype [the one that black fathers are absent from rearing their children], that echoes a history of efforts to rob black masculinity of honor and fidelity." Josh Levs in his book How Black Dads are Doing Best of All, points out: “There are about 2.5 million black fathers living with their children and about 1.7 million living apart from them.”
Astonishingly, Black men have a higher percentage rate of marriage than Black women (36% compared to 26% US census). There's little data available in the UK, but I must assume there's even a wider disparity due to the high amount of interracial marriages between Black men and White women. According to a recent census, 50% of black men in are in relationships with white women and mixed-race babies outnumber those born to black couples in Britain. This invariably affects the number of Black women who are able to marry. This ongoing myth/stereotype could also foster the estrangement between Black men and women in the UK and may explain why Black men are choosing to be with white women rather than women who are from the same gene pool and culture as themselves.
There are apparently no “strong white women” for some reason. The media doesn’t use this term to describe White women, even when they are successful and strong-willed and single. It would appear that the struggles white women face to raise their families as single mothers are so alien to the struggles Black women face that they are only known as "single parents." The term is also not applied to Asian women for some reason.