Black Women Don’t Cry
A couple of years ago, I watched The Boy In The Striped Pajamas with a group of my students. We crowded together afterward in the hallway of the theater to talk it over, and one of my high schoolers pointed out that I’d stepped out at the ending to cry.
“It’s sad,” I defended myself, self-consciously wiping remaining moisture from the corner of my eyes.
“It’s super sad,” he told me. “But…I don’t know…you just seem like such a strong, confident black woman. I didn’t know you cry.”
I Didn’t Know You Cry
He meant no offense. He was, after all, himself the son of a strong, black woman raising three boys as a single, immigrant mother. He had never seen his mother cry because she made it her business to be strong for him.
My husband, father, and mother were all raised by single mothers. All of them recall only a few memories of their mothers’ tears. I saw a few more tears from my mama than she had from hers…but not many.
I know the stereotype. It’s supposed to be a compliment. Black women are strong. They can withstand more than your average woman. They have sass (oh, that overused descriptor for brown skin) and attitude. They can take it on the chin.
You don’t have to treat black women with as much care as other women. In fact, they probably need to be put in their place anyway.
The Sassy Black Friend
A new acquaintance once told an old friend of mine, “I just love Jasmine. She’s such a tell-it-like-it-is person!”
Once we were alone, my old friend laughed and shook her head. “You’re not that way at all,” she said. Because she knows all too well that “timid” is probably a better descriptor for me than “sassy.” I’d rather make peace than make war, back down than show attitude, acquiesce than give you lip.
I truly believe part of the reason why this new acquaintance perceived me that way is because she was predisposed to do so. I slide into the “sassy best black friend in a romantic comedy” mold pretty easily in people’s minds—especially these days. I’ve grown less comfortable wearing my “perfect picture of biblical womanhood” mask and more comfortable with the reality of being a flawed human being who is constantly growing and in need of grace.
Not Like Other Women
Still, sometimes, I recall my mother’s words after I had a huge fight with some (white) friends of mine. We had all been going at each other dramatic-teenage-girl-style when, suddenly, at the peak of the argument, their two heads snapped towards me.
“You’re just such a bully,” one of them said.
The other one nodded limply in agreement. “This really is all your fault.”
When I told Mama afterwards, she pulled me close. Never one to coddle for long, she looked me in my eyes and said, “Your anger isn’t like other women’s anger. It is. But it won’t look the same to them. When they get angry, they’re just mad. When you get angry, you’re the angry black woman. It’s not fair, but you don’t get to be mad like they do.”
Critique my mother if you must (though not to me, because then I will be a bully), but I have grown to understand her heart as I look at my own sweet son. His anger, his affection, his passion should be just like any other little boy’s. And for many people—particularly in our wonderful community—it will be.
It’s not that we can’t feel things. We can. We should. But when we do, we embrace the risk that those feelings may be understood. And sometimes, that will be because of the color of our skin.
But for others, it won’t. And that reality, though unfair, lurks in the back of my mind both for myself and for him. Not daily, but often enough.
I want to round off this post with a neat and tidy bow, but instead, I’ll wrap it with the messy, honest truth: talking about this is terrifying.
A few months ago, I tweeted a thread about my hopes and fears for my beautiful (black) son, and a few trolls got a hold of it and ripped it to shreds. “All she talks about is race.”
Now, a perfunctory look at my Twitter will make it clear this just isn’t so. I talk about a lot of topics: classical education, womanhood, and marriage being three among many. But in our polarized environment, when a black woman says even one thing about race, she runs the risk of being painted as a race-baiter.
Because so often, that one thing is the last thing that people want to hear. It stands out like the one curse word in your kid’s favorite PG movie. But as I reflect on the biggest roadblocks to embracing a truly Christian notion of what it means to be feminine—woman—the particular skin of my womanhood does make its way to the forefront of my mind on occasion.
The pressure to be a strong black woman. The expectation that I am a strong black woman and therefore don’t need to be treated or talked to gently. The ideal of Christian womanhood at times being far more white and Victorian than my chestnut-hued self can handle.
The antidote for the burden that strong black womanhood can be is the burden carrier, Jesus Christ (Psalm 55:22). Not simply in terms of a corrective look at identity, but as a compassionate shepherd who leads us through the times when our earthly treatment fails to match the heavenly vision of who we are in him.
It’s so tempting to brush away concerns like mine with a quick, “We’re all one race, the human race.” And while that is so very true (Galatians 3:28), the social construct that is race plays a huge part in how we view ourselves, how others view us, and the way we reconcile that with biblical truth. Sometimes, that requires a longer process than a quick smack over the head with a Bible verse.
Sometimes, it’s a long walk that requires companionship, patience, a listening ear, and love—all of which our burden-carrying Savior models for our would-be burden-carrying brethren (Galatians 6:2).
I do cry. Sometimes over sad movies. Sometimes over being misunderstood. Sometimes over the ways my son might be misunderstood in the future. It doesn’t make up the entirety of who I am or what I want to write about, but some days it’s a heavy piece. And today, I’m not ashamed to share that with you.