THE BLOG

We Need To Stop Romanticising Black Women's Hardship

Endurance is nurtured into us. It's a romanticised thorny crown poking at the heads of black women despite the discomfort.

01/09/2017 03:57 SAST | Updated 01/09/2017 08:47 SAST
Getty Images

According to Webster, endurance is "the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially, the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity" without giving way. The key words being tolerance, resilience hardship, bearing, sufferance, resignation, forbearance and stoicism. The same noun has become synonymous with the character of a black woman, it's often used to describe and portray her.

It's a trait that's often associated with this particular group because historically we've demonstrated the capacity to 'withstand' and tolerate the kind of things white women and men, in general, would not stick around for. This ability to 'endure' has become our trade mark, and we've also come to see and own it as a 'characteristic' that supposedly makes us unique instead of seeing it as a conditioning flaw.

Black women are put through hell and back because 'we can handle it. We have a tough skin'. It's a survival mechanism that enables us to settle for 'just getting by' instead of demanding and expecting more. There is always the possibility that we've been put through worse at some point in our lifetime, so we are able to weigh how much more we can take based on our history before or if we remove ourselves from an unacceptable situation.

We embody pain masked as tenacity, in some ways, this has become our thrown of womanhood because our femininity has long been defined by this 'ability' to take "it". Endurance is nurtured into us. It's a romanticized thorny crown poking at the heads of black women despite the discomfort, we are conditioned to wear it with confidence and see it as heroic. We are the martyrs, we are everyone's sacrifice. We pride ourselves in having a long leash for bearing suffering, we believe it to be part of our being.

We are 'the ride or die, the regtes', the one he comes back home to. In reality, bearing through hardship was never in our design, it's just a product of social conditioning. Thus this so called strength is also to our demise, a double edged sword if you would. Because of this history, black women are expected to stick around under conditions that aren't conducive. It has led to that dangerous place where 'enduring' is at the cost of their sanity and sometimes their lives.

We are raised already ingrained with a struggle mindset. So we are emotionally exhausted long before adulthood.

Their complex being and layered characteristics have been left untold because of the manufactured and linear narrative that continues to be distributed. Unfortunately, many of us have internalized and socialized to believe this narrative as a true reflection of ourselves. We have become the custodians of this flawed narrative, we sustain it by owning and living it as fact. Do we have no story if we aren't struggling?

When white girls are raised to be a princess and are treated with a level of fragility, young black girls are raised to be tough and expect hardship. We are raised already ingrained with a struggle mindset. So we are emotionally exhausted long before adulthood. In some cases, circumstances teach young black girls this lesson because they have to raise their siblings. They had no choice but to grow up before their time, there was never room for them to experience a time of childhood innocence.

We are also taught to be self-sufficient at an impressionable age, groomed for wife-ship. When white girls are out having 'tea parties', we are being taught to cook, clean and do laundry [by hand because very few can afford such luxuries] properly. White girls can afford to grow-up in an environment that secures their innocence because our black mothers are there to do the chores for them. Subsequently, black mothers can't afford to be there to raise their young daughters because they are raising someone else's', so in their absence, we are forced to raise ourselves.

In their absence we have to raise our siblings, we become the mothers we never had. White women can afford to retire, travel and leisure into old age, whilst black grandmothers continue to serve as helpers in their households. Black women continue to work long after retirement because they can't afford to retire, in many cases, they are the sole breadwinners in a household of unemployed adults and grandkids. This is not a symbol of strength, it's unjust. The reality is that they endure because they have no choice but to do so in order to feed themselves and their families. Retirement is a romantic notion, a luxury for the few.

This idea of endurance also manifest's through black South African culture and traditional practices. Take for example what happens at black family gatherings. The women would gather in their masses in the kitchen or around a fire at the back of the house to prepare food, do the dishes and clean the house. All the women present are either expected to be busy or at appear to be, to avoid being judged as the lazy one or being looked down on by other women.

Even with the most liberal of black men, you being and behaving like a 'proper' Makoti in-front of their family is a pre-requisite.

Thus to find acceptance you'd have to sweat it out to earn your keep. Often when there is nothing left to do, you'd need to pretend to be busy just because the alternative is shunned on. When black African women are not slaving [used loosely] away at paid labour we do so at family gatherings.

Hence the precondition for a good Makoti is working oneself to the bone without rest at your in-laws, it's a sign that 'you wouldn't sit on your hands'. It's a reassurance that their son wouldn't starve with you as a wife, that he'd have his clothes washed and ironed even though he has hands.

Your acceptance into the family hinges on your ability to wake up at the crack of dawn as a Makoti visiting your husband's family, to do whatever is necessary to impress the in-laws even when you hate being domestic. Even with the most liberal of black men, you being and behaving like a 'proper' Makoti in-front of their family is a pre-requisite.

It's a performance even the most liberal black women participate in because of cultural expectations, even when she and the husband have a helper back home in the city. It's like suddenly having to be in character because the in-laws are judging your womanhood, and yes, there is the possibility of failure. So don't be fooled because there is the wrong way and the right way to Makoti.