Black Girls Aren't Allowed The Privilege of Fragility
“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Fragility is not something that is ever offered to the young black girl and it impacts us all the way into adulthood. That’s why that phrase is something so many black girls, now in their twenties and thirties, can relate to. They relate to time periods where they felt some semblance of being anything other than okay and telling them that they need to suck it up or pretend that everything is fine.
When I was in high school, I was made to go to school regardless of how sick I was. I only truly skipped school once in my high school life, and that’s when I had an operation and was on meds for an entire week. Meanwhile, I would look around at the other kids in my predominantly white school. Becky had a headache, so her mother forced her to stay home. Susan was upset something didn’t go her way, and she wouldn’t stop crying over it. Her parents let her stay home and gave her chocolate covered strawberries. Her friends made her a card. Her teachers gave her a hug. I watched.
This isn’t to say that the issues and pain my non-marginalized peers had was not real. It was real to them, so their pain was valid, but I did notice a stark difference when I felt under the weather.
When I felt physically ill, I was made to go to school.
When I felt mentally ill, which was often since I was a depressed and suicidal teen with a mood disorder I didn’t know about, I was berated for being over emotional and told to suck it up because this is nothing compared to what life would throw at me.
I didn’t get cards.
I didn’t get strawberries.
I didn’t get hugs.
I got eye-rolls, parent-teacher conferences surrounding my “emotional stability”, and one friend and one friend only who bent over backward to help me and other mentally unstable friends feel some semblance of normal. For her, I will always be thankful.
As time continued, and my mental health worsened, I didn’t learn to stop my emotions from running wild. I just learned how to stop showing it on my face. It became a new survival tactic. No one liked a black girl, to begin with, but they really didn’t like an emotional black girl. That was my first lesson of adulthood. I wasn’t any less emotionally compromised, but you would never guess as I donned the image of the strong, goofy, cheerful black girl they wanted to see.
Then, as I got older, I could no longer cry solely in private. The tears would spill out no matter how hard I laughed. The staples that kept my semi-permanent smile in place started popping out one by one, and I didn’t have the energy to find replacements.
I became more aware of the systemic issues surrounding my existence and how, yes, the world truly was against me because I was a black woman. I felt a new amount of pressure bearing down on my shoulders.
I took to the internet, and I found a new form pseudo support I had never encountered. I had white women telling me that “I was seen and I was heard”. It helped the first three times I heard that, but then I realized that even though my pain was seen, and my screams were heard, action wasn’t taken. They were just watching me hurt, affirming the fact that I was hurt, and that's all. These words began to feel empty, and the pain I felt due to that increased. The "support" made me feel like I was on a platform, showing all my wounds to an audience who never had any true intention of helping.
They just wanted to watch what they felt was an erotic, tantalizing, and addicting showcase of black trauma. Maybe that made them feel better about themselves and their contributions in an oppressed world, but it only made me feel worse.
Pain isn’t forever and it's natural, but the way pain is described to black women it feels like if we allow one ounce of pain to seep through it’s how people will know us for the rest of our lives. The sad black girl. The broken black girl. The unreliable black girl. The black girl we need to be careful around because even though we love her and we've said she's so strong, she clearly can't take the truth or facts. The black girl who we care for until we're fed up with how her mental illness persists in our individual relationship and then we no longer want to be around her.
I've been seen as that black girl too many times, and it hurts.
There's no happy medium. It's either there's no way a black girl can be anything else other than strong where there's no need to check on her, or she's weak and there's no room for strength or resilience. The humanistic approach to an emotional spectrum that allows black girls to feel light, dark, and all the grays is vacant for us.
The same fragility white women are allotted, where vulnerability is seen as a strength, alludes the black woman as much as a stylist who can install a seamless lace front alludes me. Tragic, really.
All jokes aside, you don’t have to battle mental health diagnoses and issues as a black woman to need the privilege of fragility. You don’t have to know depression and anxiety to know you are allowed to cry, be and feel hurt, and lick your wounds and know that is not all you are. You don't need to know mental illness to know that your pain does not define you.
I want to change the sentence all of us relate to. I want to change the way we see ourselves, our pain, and our collective trauma. I want to rewrite the image of the black woman. I want to see the narrative of the strong black woman go up in flames and replace it with that of a black woman who hurts, cries laughs, dreams, dances when she feels the sun on her skin and sleeps when her bones feel too heavy to carry.
Fragility shouldn’t be a privilege. We owe it to ourselves to honor all of our emotional spectrum, including the emotions that aren’t seen as strong. We aren’t superhuman. We’re just human. We owe it to ourselves honor that.