Just watched this video and I absolutely agree that the Superwoman trope, when applied to women in general, but especially African American women is troublesome.
I had a breakdown in 2015 that I spent the better part of 2016 trying to heal from, and that is why I am one of the biggest proponents of self-care. I think that many of us take on the “superwoman” mantle, not because we have to, but because we were taught to. We must be strong, independent, confrontational and over-achieving martyrs, much to the detriment of our own health and spirit. My mother was a superwoman to me. Single with five kids, never married, and a high school diploma. She died of stomach cancer in 2004. I believe the stress and loneliness broke her body down. It is not healthy to be a superwoman, because it’s not possible, but I tried. In doing so, I gained 98 pounds, picked up a very real drinking habit, and suffer as a high-functioning depressive. Even my depression can’t be depressed because my mother and all my ancestors would roll over in their graves if I was allowed a moment to lay around and cry. I had to be the caretaker and emotionless wall of stone for my younger siblings and now my daughter and husband, even in the workplace. The problem is that even with my accomplishments and skills, I never learned how to take care of myself. I only learned how to be better, smarter and more clever to be accepted in the majority’s eyes, and how to put everyone and everything before myself, even into failing health and mental capacity. This is the story of most black women in America.
We are very real. We are soft and vulnerable and long to be protected and loved and cared for. We aren’t always okay. It’s not handled, Olivia.
This brings me to a new mantle that I myself am guilty of carrying around in this era of hashtag movements. “Black girl magic”. Although it seems a compliment to us from afar, up close, it is wearing a cape, and creating another box for us to seal ourselves in, special delivery to the land of depression. It started off harmless enough. It was a way of describing the way that we can do things that other non-black women can’t. The way our hair grows up and out, or how our melanin seems to glow from within, or how we have managed to survive in a world that sees us as not being deserving of respect and permission to be soft, vulnerable and protected. It’s impossible to do, and yet we do it every, damn, day. But what is magic to those outside of our sister circle, is reality to us within it. We are not a figment of ones imagination. We hurt when we are abused, mistreated, overlooked, and gossiped about. We cannot take it, but if we don’t, we are too real, and that breaks the mysterious bubble. The one that surrounds the majority that chooses not to see us as an equal. The ones that presume that magical beings don’t exist. We become the unicorns, the giants and the trolls. We are the stuff of Grimm’s tales. Therefore, we become the magicians. The elusive and illusory. Now you see me when my hair is laid, nails done, meals cooked, children in bed, 64 ounces of water drunk, husband satisfied, 100 squats, last emailed answered. But then you don’t when I sit in the dark with a bottle of Crown Royal half gone in an attempt to sleep away the worry that I might not be able to keep this up tomorrow. We work hard at this magic trick because it enables us a seat at the table. We are allowed in the room when we have something to present. A token of our existence. The token.
But #BlackGirlMagic isn’t something we do, it’s embedded in who we are, something that isn’t magical at all. We are simply another variation of woman. Not better, not worse. Super and Magical are titles given to things beyond belief or imagination; they are impossible things. They are simply evolutionary labels borne out of a black woman’s need to be acknowledged as human since we were seen as sub-human. Our men could not protect us. We could not protect our sons and daughters and the only way we could try to survive with a shred of dignity is to go above and beyond to prove to “them” that we are human. Every image created for us is simply a receipt to show that we are not real. Mammy cared for their children and kept their homes in tact when hers was torn apart and smiled all the while because that doesn’t effect a sub-human. Jezebel endured rape and was treated as an object and her silence was seen as a willing compliance because we were simply animals in heat anyway. Sapphire is the masculinization of us, that developed when our men were taken and sold out of our arms, we could not depend on them to protect and provide for us, so we wear independence and lack of vulnerability and confrontational attitudes as a badge of honor. It is not. Vulnerability requires safety, and you won’t find the latter where the former doesn’t exist. It takes more strength to be open and vulnerable than it does not to be. Superwomen are our mothers. The ones that suffered from the echoes of the three tropes, who wanted us to rise higher and achieve more in order to fix what was broken in their past.
Finally, here we are, covered in pixie dust pulling the proverbial rabbit from the hat. We still need to prove that we are better than human. We hold ourselves to such an impossible standard, that we can’t be real. It’s magic. All that we are, are symptoms of our generations past when we claim that magic. We should, instead, be capable, soft, vulnerable, accepting of help, loving fearlessly, caring as much for ourselves as we do for others, unapologetic, humble, giving and treating well, and proof of the best kind of woman instead of having to prove that we just are.
Many may not agree with my stance, and that’s okay, as I know when a thing is popular, it can be difficult to see the practical side of an argument. However, I’m not saying that #BlackGirlMagic is a bad thing. I understand where it comes from. But I also understand WHERE IT COMES FROM, and what we, as black women, don’t need, is a title that tries to prove to others how extraordinary and resilient we are when we have proven that many times over and it is literally killing us. We are real, not an illusion. We bleed, we cry, we hurt and get lonely like any human. Some go through it for the world to see (celebrities), and most are able to do it privately, but we all do.
The proof comes through our art and our relationships, or lack thereof. We are mortal, we exist, and we deserve a break from the magic show. Our shoulders are tired from all that up, up and away.