When Serena Williams announced her evolution from tennis, it was bittersweet. On the one hand, I’m going to miss watching one of my favorite tennis players on the court. On the other, she expressed a kind of vulnerability that I longed to see. From one Black woman to another, I can relate.
It has come to my attention recently that there is something expected of me (of us) that I might fall short in giving: strength. I’ve watched my mother display it, and her mother, too. Where I’m from, all the hero women have vigor and courage, standing like cement pillars against any destruction. And of course, there is this trait within me, too. It pulls me up and carries me through to overcome.
When I sat with these thoughts before our TV screen, yet again I saw her: another strong Black woman. She was all of us – or at least, all of what is expected of us. And that is a problem.
The "Strong Black Woman"
You see, as I started recounting my experiences watching Black women on TV and movies, I noticed a pattern in modern media. There was Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, the Wakanda warriors, and Samira Wiley (my admiration for their outstanding acting isn’t reflected in this piece). While bringing strong Black women to the conversation was mollifying a lack of diversity by uplifting these stories, I think that it might also leave out some important realities.
What happens to us Black women when we are expected to be strong? All the time? For everyone?
We are overworked. Our pain and suffering are underestimated. We are strong, so we must not need much love and tenderness. We get tasked with activist duties because our voices are also allegedly strong and loud. And when our pitch does not please, we become the Angry Black Woman.
Former pro tennis player John McEnroe can rage freely on multiple occasions, but Serena enrages the public with her racket toss.
The Normal Black Woman
Can we evolve into accepting the normal Black woman? The one who can cry, be upset, and mull over defeat before standing up. The one who can rely on the help of another. The one who does not have to be the best, take charge, or be the loudest in the room to have her value recognized. The one who can lean on Jesus and her family for support.
When Naomi Osaka told her story of mental health struggles, she faced backlash. Was she not supposed to be vulnerable – ever? Is this not what is asked of us? Does it make us less worthy?
It’s 2022 and the normal Black woman is here. I am her. Naomi is her. Serena revealed herself to be her, too. We can be both strong and vulnerable. Jesus can both celebrate and support us.
So I am going to allow myself the space to breathe, to be comforted, loved, and cared for. To quit or disconnect when it’s part of my healing. Because strength comes in many shades. Strength is letting go or holding on. Strength is raising a family, winning on the court, or leading a board meeting – or doing all three, or doing none of these things at all.
Our worth should not be tied to one type of strength.
Breathe in. Exhale. You are free to be weak. You are free to be strong. You can break into a million pieces and still be strong, at your own pace.
Go ahead and remove that cape, if only just for a while.