i don’t want to be your ‘strong’ black friend

oftentimes black women are cast as the ‘strong’ friend in our relationships with white women. it doesn’t matter the nature of the relationship. whether we worked with a white woman or went to kindergarten together and remained friends through all levels of development…we’ve all heard the adage from our white friend(s),

“You’re the strongest person I know.”

it is a burden. strength a burden black women have worn since they were stolen, trafficked, and sold as enslaved laborers. the myth of the strong black woman is a vestige of slavery. our strength was determined because it made it easier to rape us and then sale our children like footstools because…

We could take it.

it was easier to label us as strong while requiring us to work from dust to dawn in literal backbreaking labor camps as hostages to white wealth than to admit that we were being used from first breath to last with a life expectancy shorter than a mule. to this day black people, who are descendants from enslaved trafficked africans, tell stories of their foremothers giving birth in the fields of their traffickers and returning to work with the newborn baby wrapped about their bodies only moments later.

and now because those stories remain an active part of the american white supremacist lexicon, black women are systematically denied life saving medical care during childbirth because the idea that we could have pain is…unfathomable.

so…i don’t want to be your strong black friend.

i don’t want to be your strong black friend because i am ti’ed.

i am tired of the idea that I don’t have the right to be tired. that I can work for 30 years as an American laborer, raise a family, maintain a home, be a pillar in my community, cook and consume nutritious healthy meals that combat diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancers prone to ravage black bodies at alarming rates while still being on call by you whenever you need me.

i don’t want to be your strong black friend because i am broken.

my father’s sudden death from the aforementioned heart disease broke me. the divorce i soldiered through broke me. attending more than my fair share of funerals for black children mauled by systemic racism and bullet wounds…broke me.

these things broke me in places irreparable. words do not adequately describe what it feels like to watch a child gunned down live on social media who’s face so resembles the face of every little black girl and boy you have ever cared for…and the impotence you feel knowing ultimately you could not save them. it breaks you. it breaks your heart. it breaks your spirit.

I don’t want to be your strong black friend because i have work to do.

even though i am tired and broken i cannot rest. see i could not save Ahmaud or Breonna or Rayshard or Elijah or George or Priscilla or Theo but i must do what i can with what i have to save Marcus and Corey and Kellie and Langston and Patrice and David and DeShawn…i have to raise money and create programs and build bridges and cook meals and share resources and read and hold them and pray and fight. there is so much that i must still do because we have so much farther that we must go.

i don’t want to be your strong black friend because i am a whole person.

when black women were originally cast in the role of strong superhuman women by the human traffickers who happened to write the constitution, we were not considered whole. when you are only three-fifths of a person it is easy to parcel out the pieces.

but i am a whole complete, complicated..imperfectly human.

i’m not just the one who writes. or the social worker. or Langston’s mom. i am more than a homeowner and homemaker. i am not just a divorcee. or the woman who sometimes sings when she reads her poems. or so and so’s clever friend who writes those facebook posts.

I am a whole person.

it is because I am a whole person that relegating me to merely ‘strong’ undermines my very humanity. there are times when I have to be strong because i have no other choice.

you can’t go into a divorce hearing wearing your vulnerability on your chest. you can’t review your employee contract whimpering about how are you suppose to afford your living expenses when your wages have been cut 25%. and when your child has an asthma flare up and can’t breath, you can’t stop breathing. strength is not a characteristic it is a byproduct of survival.

Strength is a byproduct of survival.

it is because I am a whole person that i tear up at every sunset every time. i cannot help but marvel at the sheer magnificence of creation. so i stand or sit with my mouth gapping open every single time the sunsets and i am allowed to bare witness to its splendor. it doesn’t matter if the setting sun is over a mountain top or ocean or an eight lane highway on a trip down south to bury my grandfather…even in my grief i am amazed.

it is because I am a whole person that calling me your strong black friend undermines the very gift of friendship i offer you and you in turn offer me.

i acknowledge the complexity that is you. you are an imperfect human who sometimes bakes extraordinary goodness or thinks of me in the midst of the chaos of your every day life and sends me a simple handwritten note letting me know that I am loved. i see you juggling work and home and kids and relationships. i hear you cry and laugh and scream.

i would not have friended you if i did not believe there was a place in my heart for you. if i had only seen you as white or someone else i had the responsibility of saving.

i’m no more stronger than you are.

i have no more access to the secret to overcoming life’s pressures than you. my perspective on life is very different because of the oppression of white supremacy in the country of my birth and the legacy of state sanctioned legalized human trafficking and torture in the death camps now lovingly whitewashed as the ‘good ole days’ on southern plantations.

it is because you are my friend that i know you see me.

i don’t have to fight with you about the authenticity of my experiences. because you are my friend you have become my ally. together we will dismantle white supremacy.

and that’s why I don’t want to be your strong black friend.

One Comment Add yours

  1. heyannis says:

    Wanda, this is a fabulous piece on so many levels. The writing, the historical context, the reasoning, the humanity. Thank you, my friend. xoA

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