Ours is a strength that is hereditary, a strength that knows no bounds nor limitations. From the moment we were born we have carried the weight of what it meant to be born in a lineage of strong Black womxn. This strength - although sometimes a burden - is often the deep well from which we fill our cups of humanity. Being Black is tough enough, and being a womxn in a world filled with so many triggers makes it exponentially worse. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that silence will save us and that if we just keep quiet and wait it out, all will be well; only to find that this isn't true at all.
It is a beautiful and affirming thing to read stories of Black womxn who have chosen to speak up and show up for one another in a world that would rather watch on as we are verbally assaulted and physically attacked. For the longest time, the defining character of Black womxnhood has been our strength and we should not HAVE to be this strong, all of the time. This entire week has been a harrowing one for many of us as our timelines were flooded with #Sesethu, #TaxiRape and #LebohangMabuya.
As womxn, we have been taught that letting things go would save us, and yet time and again this has proven to be false. In her book Talking Back, bell hooks encapsulates the half-told truth of the Black womxn when she says; "It is not that Black women have not been and are not strong; it is simply that this is only a part of our story, a dimension, just as the suffering is another dimension - one that has been most unnoticed and unattended to." No truer words have been spoken or written. Black womxn suffer violations of their minds and their bodies all the damn time, and we are expected to simply move on from this trauma without letting these feelings out to anyone, without allowing ourselves a chance to heal.
The price we pay in order to stay atop of things, is our health. We are great at being one-woman acts, juggling pots, babies, briefcases and the entire world. But if we are to continue keeping up with these expectations, our health – both mental and physical – will be the ultimate price, and we are seeing this among our friendship circles and within our family structures. I was raised on the term "strong black woman", I not only believed in this half truth, but I fed off of it and I have lived it all my life.
When my father passed on, I did not shed a tear, throughout the entire process of funeral arrangements and the two memorial services, I was strong, writing the epitaph on his tombstone, reading the tributes from his wife, my siblings and I; I kept busy, even though inside - everything hurt and it felt like a major part of my life had been ripped out, and all that was left was this gaping hole of an abyss. My younger siblings (seven and three at the time) looked to me for assurance that all will be well and so to prove that I was fine, I went back to Wits two days after burying uTata wami to write my semester exams. All those around me praised me for how strong I was, never mind the bouts of depression that gripped me for weeks on end, or the nights of reckless debauchery with friends that aided in numbing the pain I was conditioned to suppress.
Not grieving my loss or talking about it has cost me in ways I had not imagined it would. I seldom express my emotions, I bottle things up so much, a year ago I was undoubtedly a walking ticking time bomb. It is only since last year that I began learning that it is okay for me to not be so strong all of the time, that it is okay for me to feel what I feel and allow myself the space and time to heal. As womxn we need to attend to our silent suffering and not allow others to sweep it under the carpet compromising our mental and physical health.
All the events of this week have reminded me of how resilient Black womxn are, when standing up for themselves - voices high-pitched and quivering with fear, or when coming forward to say they have been assaulted - one thing remains the same - the resolve to stand, even when no-one else stands with us or for us - to say we will not allow this silencing of our lived experiences.