For years one of my favorite lazy-Saturday rituals was to go to my local thrift store and shop. On one particular Saturday I went to the store in the afternoon, and the radio was playing.
"Fellas, call in and tell me two things you love about Black women after the commercial break," the DJ said.
When I heard that question, my stomach immediately tightened. Even though I hadn't yet heard any of the listeners' perceptions of Black women, I already knew in my gut what they were going to say.
"We're back," said the DJ. "Caller, you on the line? What do you love about Black women? What two qualities do you love about Black women?"
"I love me a strong, independent Black woman," the first Black male responder said.
By the time the third Black responder uttered that same term, "strong Black woman," I was in the coat section and in a bad mood.
"Why are those the only damn words that come to mind when describing Black women?" I asked myself.
Intellectually I knew the answer: The intersection of race, class, and gender for Black women in this country has meant having to reconcile a legacy of slavery and the creation of dehumanizing tropes and stereotypes like the "strong Black woman," created by the white patriarchal engine to systemically control our reproduction, destroy our families, and distort to ourselves and our men. And the truth is that Black women had to be many things, one of which was strong, to endure the ravages of slavery and Jim Crow. I also understand that this is why we as a culture value this attribute at the expense of so many others.
But there is far more to being a Black woman than being strong and independent. So, shortly after leaving the thrift store, I created my own survey and asked approximately 75 Black women to describe themselves. While I was disappointed to see that Black women too had internalized many of the same stereotypes that have been paraded as truth, I found it refreshing to see that many Black women understood the complexity of their human experience and were able to articulate that complexity by choosing words that more fully and accurately encompasses what it means to be a Black woman.
Here are seven of the ways the Black women I surveyed see themselves that, thankfully, have nothing to do with being strong:
1. Fashionable: Some of us love to look good and smell good and love to be on the cutting edge of fashion trends. Others are always watching how we put colors together and how we tend to our hair.
2. Spiritual: Many Black women describe themselves as women of faith whether they identify as Christian, Muslim, Rastafari, Santero, or "not religious but spiritual." Many Black women strongly believe that they are connected to a higher being and that there is someone out there larger than themselves.
3. Family-oriented: Black women are often the ones to remember the birthdays, send the Christmas cards, and plan the family reunions. Family fuels a lot of Black women's happiness and sense of belonging.
4. Funny: Most Black women love to laugh and make their friends and families laugh. We push back against that "ABW" ("angry Black woman") stereotype.
5. Happy: Just as many of us are funny, often we're also happy people with healthy emotional dispositions and worldviews. This happiness also comes from our ability to be grateful.
6. Sexy and sensual: Many Black women embrace their sexuality and femininity. They feel desirable; they see the beauty of their skin tone, their features, their bodies, their natural smells, and their hair.
7. Intelligent: Black women see themselves as cognitively well-endowed. They believe that Black women are able to juggle the matrix of life because of our ability to think quickly and creatively.
What adjectives would you use to describe Black women beside "strong"?