“Niggas from the hood is the best actors. We the ones that gotta wear our face backwards. Put your frown on before they think you soft. Never smile long or take your defense off. Acting tough so much we start to feel hard. Live from the city where they pull cards.”
I am convinced that the persona of black people being exceptionally strong, tough, and resilient is in many ways very damaging to our health and our community. Black women are most notably described as being ‘strong black women’. Our black men are perceived and expected to be hard and tough at all times. Black parents raise their children to be tough. Our peers expect us to be tough. Other races see us as being strong and tough. The media portrays us as being strong and tough.
This is a shield that we’ve developed over the years to protect ourselves from the outside world. We use those adjectives to proudly describe ourselves all the time, and yes while we are all of those things- strong, tough, resilient, we are also so much more. And while I understand the origin of this and why it was necessary for our survival, I think at this point we really have to begin evolving past this and realize how unnatural and unhealthy this can be. The tools that we once needed to survive are not necessarily the same tools that we need now. Yes we are strong. Yes we are tough. Yes we are resilient. But we are so much more than just these things. We have to acknowledge and accept that we are human too. And sometimes we are weak and vulnerable and we feel pain too.
I know in today’s climate, where police officers and neighborhood watchmen often times view black bodies as super human while using extreme and deadly force, the bottom line is we are mortal humans just like every other race. We bleed just like everyone else. Our bones break just like everyone elses. We feel a wide range of emotions just like every other race. We feel hurt, pain, and sorrow just like every other race. It’s time for us to be able to express our emotions just like every one else without the fear of being judged or viewed as weak or angry when we do so.
When you are forced to suppress your emotions and you are unable to express yourself in a healthy uninhibited way, your body will manifest those feelings in other ways. Sometimes this is through serious physical ailments and pain. Other times, it manifests itself though mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Addictions and self-medicating are other ways that people deal with their suppressed emotions. And sometimes your true emotions are masked by another emotion that you may feel safer expressing, such as anger.
Did you know that anger is actually a secondary emotion? So when people make comments about the “angry black woman” or the “angry black man”, it’s important to realize that behind that anger is the primary emotion that needs to be addressed. Often times the emotion hidden behind the anger is fear, hurt, rejection, or a feeling of loss of control. We almost always feel some other emotion before we feel anger. So when people label black people as angry, what they are really seeing is a race of people who are hurting, afraid, and vulnerable and it’s being expressed through anger and frustration. This is why it is so important for us to start looking deeper and really start exploring and understanding what we are truly feeling. This is why it is so important that we remove the stigma associated with mental health treatment and normalize therapy in the black community!
We have to teach our young girls that while it is important to be strong, it’s also okay and perfectly normal to not be strong all the time. It’s okay to be vulnerable and weak at times as well, because that is also a normal part of being human and it’s through acknowledging and exploring these emotions that we learn so much about ourselves. We have to teach our young boys that while it is important to be tough and strong, it’s also okay and totally normal to sometimes be afraid and weak. We have to teach our young boys that it’s okay to be able to laugh, smile, and relax. However, the most important thing here is to not just teach our children these things, it’s also just as important to provide them with a safe space and a healthy environment for them to be able to express these emotions and to authentically be themselves without fear of being judged or bullied. It’s important that our children are allowed to express themselves and all of their emotions without being told they are “soft” or “acting white”. Because there is no one way to be black. We are just as complex and unique as all other races and we need to start embracing those parts of ourselves as well.