Written by Falyn Davis
I was meeting with my project group for work and we had to do an activity called the gift seat. Each person asked the rest of the group 3 questions about there challenges and enjoyments about working with them. Until this activity I have never had anyone tell me that I was intimidating. Yet for some reason this response did not shock me. For a short while I reflected back on my behavior and interactions with my group. I identified the roles that I often take during team meetings and how this might be intimidating. However it became difficult for me to name my actions as intimidating rather than me just helping my team move along a process.
I share reflections to shed light on troubling myths and misconceptions about strong black woman. I myself take pride in my accomplishments and perseverance of knocking down doors that society has often showed me were not for me to walk through. After constantly battling all of the walls put up by society telling you what you can’t do, why wouldn’t you consider yourself a strong person. I hold my identity as an honor of all of the strong black men and women that came before me and allowed me to be where I am today. But labeling myself a strong black woman does not make me invincible. I am not superwomen nor am I incapable of being hurt or needing support. In fact I am quite the opposite.
Unfortunately the need of support just like any other human being is too often forgotten when it comes to black women. Because remember, our keen survival skills make us strong enough to bear it all and still succeed right? Well if you can’t do it, then you must be lazy, right? Since when does the color of my skin give me super human capabilities to tear down oppressive systems that were not meant for me in the first place. And having the ability to identify your needs and asking for support to address those needs does not equal inadequacy. Yes my ancestors have provided me with the strength and courage to make the most out of the little that I have but the fact that I had so little to work with from the beginning is problematic alone.
After speaking with other black women, many of us are constantly straddling this line of being intimidating, loud, and controlling or being lazy, ignorant, and submissive. This lens does not just stem from the outside looking in but lies deep within ourselves as well. I’m well introduced to the embedded assumptions about my work ethic and social skills. I can admit that these stereotypes effect my actions just as much as they effect the perceptions that others hold about me. So yes, I might go that extra mile to make sure my voice is heard in a large dialogue. I will also not be fearful to take control of a situation when I see fit. And I will definitely continue to work hard and exert myself in professional spaces. In my efforts to dismantle the stereotypes of my identity I ask that you remember that I am still a human being. While my identity in this society requires me to go an extra mile, don’t misconstrue this strong black woman to be above the tender loving care that everyone needs and deserves. And please don’t fault my truth and determination for your feelings of intimidation.