It’s time to stop mythologizing Black women trying to survive in a world that doesn’t value them.
Content warning: police violence, Black death
Black women aren’t your superheroes. We aren’t selfless vigilantes, watching through the night for signs of trouble. We’re not perched on the wings of the city, waiting to swoop in and save white people in distress.
Black women are human — amazing, creative, self-sacrificing humans — but human nonetheless. We “save” others to save ourselves.
But continual demands on Black women to act while others do nothing is killing us.
The last 12 months of nonstop political and cultural turmoil — a pandemic, constant images of police brutality, contested elections, insurrection — have only further proven how invaluable Black women are to society.
These recent affairs have produced countless examples of Black women turned into superhero caricatures by the white gaze; white people are obsessed with us, obsessed with what we can do for them.
Amanda Gorman, the Youth Poet Laureate who spoke at President Biden’s inauguration, has been portrayed as a larger-than-life superhero, a magical being meant to “save” the United States from itself.
Stacey Abrams (with a coalition of other Black women) helped expand voter accessibility in Georgia. She’s being painted as an almost fanciful champion, saving marginalized votes from the evil clutches of voter suppression tactics without so much as breaking a sweat.
Black women, as a collective, helped the Democratic Party crawl to victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Don’t get it twisted; these Black women are wholeheartedly brilliant — full stop — but white people have mythologized them.
Black women have gone from attentive citizens participating in democracy to protect their communities’ interests to America’s safety net. Shine the Bat-Signal and we’ll be there in 5.
Beyond establishment politics, Black women are also at the front lines of revolutionary work, slaying systems that disproportionately execute Black people.
Black women have led the months of protests, calling for reverence toward Black life (long after supposed “white allies” fell to the wayside).
We’re the ones creating and circulating calls to action. We’re the ones making posters for protests. We’re the ones giving our time and energy to various marches and rallies.
Black women do the bulk of organizing, leading, and participating in these revolutionary moments as others stand aside and contribute little beyond pledges to “do better.”
We save democracies. We save our people. All while juggling personal responsibilities and bearing the cross of what it means to be a Black woman in the world.
And yet, despite the deep and abundant ways that Black women serve everyone, no one shows up for us. No one thanks us for the labor we do — at least not in any meaningful way.
No one cares about our constant exhaustion given the trauma and pain we carry and what it does to us physically, emotionally, and mentally.
When it comes to opportunities to show up for us and with us, people rarely find the time. They’re lackluster about showing any solidarity or support for us; the dedication isn’t reciprocated.
Historically, movements like first-wave feminism pushed out Black women in fear that our calls for humanity would “weaken” the overall movement. Even as Black trans women led the queer liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s, their critical involvement is routinely forgotten.
Currently, rallies for #SayHerName have notably fewer attendants. In fact, the hashtag we created to highlight our unique plight has been co-opted and misused, silencing our message.
Vigils honoring Black trans women are quietly circulated and sparsely attended.
Instead of celebrating the work Black women do and the investments we constantly make in others, the world harms us. The world hates us. The world finds new and innovative ways to humiliate, degrade, and commit violence upon us.
People — especially white people who self-consciously tweet about “thanking Black women”— use Black women as a steppingstone to continue living a life of ignorant bliss and placidity.
Despite our cultural and political climate demanding that people finally respect the fullness and beauty of Black life, people still find it in their chest to disrespect and dehumanize Black women.
The fact that the officer who killed Breonna Taylor was punished for “wanton endangerment” (for the bullets that hit a neighboring apartment’s walls) versus the bullets that sliced through Breonna’s body shows how little Black women matter.
Charges were brought for “endangering” human life as if Breonna’s life wasn’t snatched without hesitation. Let this sentencing and others without a flake of justice show how Black women are regarded in this life.
Black women are the victims of all kinds of violence.
The violence looks like being categorically harassed on Twitter by all different races of men.
The violence looks like Talib Kweli dedicating hours upon hours of tweeting to harass Maya Moody, a Black woman whom he had a disagreement with.
The violence looks like Black women being disproportionately affected by and dying from domestic violence.
The violence looks like the epidemic of Black trans women being murdered.
The violence looks like Megan Thee Stallion being shot by Tory Lanez and having her fellow music industry colleagues stay silent about her abuse. It looks like people mocking her trauma, calling her a “snitch,” and making jokes at her expense.
These types of hate and vitriol are specifically reserved for us.
Our physical and mental health is impaired as people stand around and watch us suffer.
Our physical pain is routinely
We’re often told these health disparities stem from lifestyle factors, despite
Our bodies are literally
being worn downby the stress we face, further proving that the lived reality of Black women isn’t just a trendy political discussion point. It’s an all too real public health crisis that erodes at our very being.
The way that the United States continually burdens Black women with its demands for our intelligence, our sympathy, our action, and our myriad other talents, all the while ignoring our well-being and humanity, is a problem.
It’s an issue that’s literally killing us. As Black women, we have a responsibility to ourselves to practice self-care and preservation. Of course, the practical ability to do this is difficult considering every crisis that plagues anyone will befall us 10 times worse.
Whenever possible, though, we need to draw boundaries and put ourselves first.
And the wave of people who shower us with empty thanks on social media while doing nothing material to protect our welfare also have a responsibility. Simply put: You all need to legitimately and unquestionably ride for us.
You need to give your money to Black women who are on the front lines. You need to give your money to Black women who move through the world, simply trying to survive.
You need to use your platform to decry the injustices Black women suffer, who die at the hands of misogynoir.
You need to listen to Black women, when we tell you we are hurting, when we tell you that you are hurting us.
You need to examine and unlearn your assumptions about what Black women do and do not owe you (spoiler alert: we owe you nothing).
You need to stop treating us like your emergency brake, as if we’re only placed on this earth to serve.
Black women deserve to experience the fullness of life without being run ragged by the demands of others.
We should be able to live with some dignity without fearing violence or a premature death because of what the world does to us.
Everyone — absolutely everyone — has a part to play in ensuring that Black women are protected and showing us that we matter.
Gloria Oladipo is a Black woman and freelance writer, musing about all things race, mental health, gender, art, and other topics. You can read more of her funny thoughts and serious opinions on Twitter.