The last few years, I have foolishly played into silver-plattered ideas of where, what, how, when, and who a strong independent black woman should be. Between the rock of being robotic super women who lift the world on our shoulders and the hard place of being unflinching unemotional beings, I especially held on to the idea that we are not allowed, under any circumstance, to succumb to the feeling of wanting one (or more) romantic partners with whom to share our emotional selves. I have always perceived love and romance and all that mushy stuff as a sign o!f weakness that would take away the strength and independence I have gained.
Think about it. When you watch films featuring a black woman as an SIBW, she is often some witty “mammy” figure. She is the older undesirable woman who has endured so much pain, but is now happy and at peace with carrying the world upon her shoulders. When you watch films that feature black women who are supposed to be attractive and desirable love objects, they are portrayed as needy beings who have built a wall of false independence and strength around them to protect some wound that has not yet healed. This type of woman is actually unhappy and needs to shed some of her undesirable strength and independence in order to find love, often from a man, because this is where she will find her true happiness. And simply put, I don’t really gel with either of these depictions.
I identify myself as an attractive black woman who has worked too hard and has gone through too much to diminish my strength and independence to some wall that needs to be broken down. Further, the love of others can be so fickle, and I’ll be damned if I have to find my self- worth in it. Therefore, for a while, I believed that in order to be a true SIBW, I had to find all the happiness and peace I could muster within myself. To me, this meant that I should never desire the love of another person, for fear I would have to shed some of my strength and independence. And such a shedding, my friends, is out of the question. I love who I am. I love my strength and independence. I love that I am intelligent, strong-minded, free-spirited and fiercely independent. And some days, I feel cocky as shit.
But, the truth is that there are some days that are bad days. And on some of these bad days, I found myself wishing I had a strong man’s shoulder to cry on, a direct self-betrayal that conflicted with the SIBW I believed I was supposed to be. I believed that these “moments of weakness” meant that I had not completely found peace and happiness within myself, or that I still had wounds I needed to deal with. Therefore, the instant such thoughts would creep their way into my brain, I would scold myself in a hateful and harsh way. I would scream at myself that I am a STRONG, INDEPENDENT BLACK WOMAN who should be happy all by herself all the time no matter what. The worse of it is, that people would confirm this belief by treating my bad days as some undesirable thing that I should not dredge up in front of others, because, they made it clear, I am an SIBW who is supposed to be sunny and smiling and happy all the time.
So many things wrong there! This viewpoint forced me to constantly think of myself in relation to other people, specifically in relation to men (since I identify as straight). It also meant that I was constantly lying to myself. First thing first. My strength and independence were cultivated by my awesome parents (they did a wonderful job, as you can see!) and from my life experiences. This was a huge revelation for me. The truth is that I was using men as some kind of starting point to define the origins of my strength. The fact is, I am a strong woman because I am able to face life without fear, even when it becomes difficult, scary or frustrating. I am independent because I can care for myself, physically and emotionally without relying on other people to save me.
Whether or not I was romantically involved was never actually in the equation, except in my mind.
Secondly, I had to face the lies I was gorging myself on. Part of that meant facing and dealing with the fact that some days are good days where I am happy, and others are bad days where I am not happy. That I desire to share my days, good or bad, with one or more romantic partners simply means that I am a human who desires to be in romantic relationships. I realized that, yes, I could do bad all by myself, but the simple truth is that I do not want to. Once I accepted this truth, I woke up the next day, showered, ate breakfast, went to work, had intelligent conversations and (gasp!) did not suddenly lose any of what made me a strong independent black woman. Admitting this truth to myself did not diminish who I am or desire to be.
For all the women who identify as being an SIBW, this is for you. Regardless of how we are perceived or portrayed, at the end of the day, we are still people, complex and fluid people who have gone through and overcome hurdles that have given us strength and independence and a beautiful sense of self. People feel and yearn and have bad days. They have desires, and fail, and get back up. We have to give ourselves permission to feel and desire, to say yes or no when we want to, to have bad days and get back up. People are allowed to be happy, and as people, we are allowed to be happy, alone or with a romantic partner by our side. At the end of the day, the choices we make should be ours, and not the choice of some portrait of what we or others believe we should be.