Recently, the NAACP held a symbolic funeral for the demise of the N* word. Another chapter added the N* word’s wife, the B* word. They also included the daughter, the H* word.
I don’t have a problem with the symbolic funeral for some of the most degrading words that have infected the black community over the last 30 years. Sure, some of those words have been around forever. But if you rent the so-called “black exploitation films” of the 1970s, you won’t find those words being bandied about in a 90-minute film as much as you will on one three minute rap record!
But if there is to be a funeral for words that have been oppressive to us, then I want to add another. The phrase is popular. It includes words that you can stand in the pulpit and say over and over and not once offend anyone in God’s house. You can stand on a street corner and yell for its demise and no one will cover the ears of children nor give you a single “tsk-tsk.”
Yet this phrase has been as devastating to the black community as the three words mentioned previously. In fact, the phrase is a three-word-phrase itself. Have you guessed the phrase by now? If not, here it is: “strong black woman.”
Now before some of you sistas get to rolling your heads and putting your hands on your hips with fingers pointing, hear me out. If we continue to subscribe to the term “strong black woman,” then we must also subscribe to its partner, the “weak black man.” I find neither phrase appealing as we enter the 21st century, nearing the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery and approaching the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
When we as a community continue to perpetuate the image of the “strong black woman,” we give rise to black men abdicating their responsibilities to their children and to us women. It becomes easier for a man to abandon his family when he can claim, “She’s a strong black woman; she can do it herself.” We then end up with men who don’t open doors, who rush to find a seat on a bus for themselves and allow women to stand, who have no second thoughts on fathering children and then abandoning them. We have men whose false perception of manhood is more based on sexual prowess than on remaining with the woman to build a family unit and raise children.
Now I know there are a lot of women raising children by themselves. I am one. But the task is Herculean, and I will never sit and sing the “I prefer to do it all by myself” tune. I am sick and tired of hearing young girls or grown women who, once pregnant, are quick to state, “My momma is gonna’ help me.” Well, what about the fathers? They had a role in making the children, so why are we letting them out of the role of rearing the children?
The “strong black woman” phrase is the excuse men give whenever they shirk their responsibilities. How many of you have heard men state, “She can do it herself?” How many men, because that excuse is around and handy to use, are not held accountable by others when their behavior should evoke the question, “What kind of man are you?”
And what of the women who take on the role of “strong black woman,” never allowing the man to be a man? She runs everything. She knows everything. She does everything. She is such a superwoman that the man leaves and finds a docile female whom he then takes care of while the “strong black woman” is left to fend for herself.
We can bury words. We can bury phrases. But in the end, if the black nuclear family is to survive and thrive, we need to change our behavior. Kind words and kind phrases can begin to heal us. Can we find words to use in place of those departed ones? Here’s my challenge: “Fool” can replace the N*, H* and B* words 99 percent of the time.
And for those of you who claim you say some of those words with love, then try “honey,” “baby,” “sweetie,” “boo,” “brotha” or “sista”!