The simple phrase, “I’m tired”, was more familiar to me than my own two feet. I had watched these words seep through the lips of my grandmother, my mother and now it was mine to own. I was taught that in order to be a strong black woman I had to sacrifice self. Meaning, it was my responsibility as a black woman to take care of others even if it meant compromising my own sanity in the process. For years, I witness black women carry children, husbands, sisters, brothers as well as three generations of family on their bare backs as a token of pride. Yet, I’ve also seen this type of strength drain the spirits of those same women, which usually left them bound to either health issues or internalized pain. My grandmother, a black woman of 7 children, 24 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren told stories about how she would sacrifice her own nourishment to feed all 7 of her children. “I always made sure my kids ate before I did, I’d eat a piece of bread or something to hold me over till my night shift,” she’ll say. I remember hearing stories about her husband, my grandfather, spilling slurred words from his drunken mouth, while my grandmother took up for his slack. My mother would joke about her and her siblings wrapping their daddy’s arms around their neck as crutch while he walked tangle-legged down the street. “He had a good heart but he drank like a fish,” my mother would say.
In a black household, it was normal to see either big mamas, aunties, sisters or mothers wear multiple hats at once. Even with men in the home, there was an obligation for black women to work, cook, clean, teach, nurse and be all what we needed them to be. I used to sit and watch the women in my family pour all of themselves into the mouths of others until their hands fell numb and her feet swelled like balloons. And yet, most of them took exhaustion like a cool glass of water as if it was a black woman’s responsibility to be overworked. As a child, back then I never understood the reason why black women in my family would overwork themselves to the point that their bodies would cry. It didn’t dawn on me until I was greeted with womanhood that we as black women don’t have a community to make us aware of our own stress levels.
My mother, a single woman raising a child on mediocre income, sacrificed everything within her to ensure that I had some level of comfort. I can recall times where she could’ve went out to celebrate life in the clubs, but she would stay home to listen to me read, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, out loud in our small two-bedroom apartment. Although she wouldn’t trade those moments for the world, I knew there were times she wished she had someone to wipe the tears and tell her it’s going to be alright. I use to pray for happiness to show up at our door step. I would wish for Prince Charming to knock at our door holding glass slipper or awaiting with a horse and carriage to make everything worthwhile like in fairytales. Yet, no one appeared. There wasn’t a soul who voiced concern about my mother’s well-being. As a matter of fact, most of black women within her reach seemed overwhelmed by either career’s, relationships, family or livelihood which made stress seem normal.
The black women I’ve grown to know all of my life lacked the ability of knowing when to let go. With that in mind, many of us like myself for instance developed this tight grip on pain believing if I carried it along with me it’ll prove my worthiness. I had grown to admire my mother’s ability take ahold of adversity with her bare hands. I wanted to be the woman that held it all together when all hell broke loose or the woman who didn’t need a man because I can do it on my own. I thought I needed struggle to define my womanhood but I later found out it was just a thorn in my back. I was crying the blues because it was all I knew. The familiarity with grief in our community has been our source of power. Yet, we overlook the damage it is causing our women for the sake of our own fulfillment. Our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunties will always be there to care for us when everything else fails. However, will there ever be a time when black women will know peace? Or will they be just another black woman sing’n the blues?