The hidden stories of Black women advancing the world in the realms of science, media, music, art and technology may come as a surprise to mainstream White America, but it ain’t nothing new to the generations of Black women who are well aware of our vital importance to the survival of the world.
It was Black women who showed up to the polls last November to definitively say no to an orange, raging bigot. It was Black women like Diamond Reynolds who, in her grief over her partner Philando Castille’s death, immediately shifted from victim to activist to fight for his justice. It was a Black woman, Michelle Obama, who told people during the most polarizing political season of our time, “When they go low, we go high.” It was a Black woman, Henrietta Lacks whose immortal cells are living on to prevent this world from disease.
As a people, Black women are literally the cradle of humanity. From Lucy, the OG mother of Africa, to Auntie Maxine Waters, our contributions to society are many, and often ignored and taken for granted.
Along with invisibility, Black women are constantly the subject of scrutiny and abuse. Whether it’s the latest irrelevant rapper or athlete going on a social media rant about ‘why Black women need to do better,‘ to conservative talking heads trying to use our appearance to diminish our power, to the repeated instances of fragile masculinity literally killing our women, the attack on Black woman knows no end. As Malcolm X said in the 60s which still resonates today, ‘The most unprotected woman in America, is the Black woman.The most neglected person in America, is the Black woman.’ Even in the wake of recent events where a nation-wide manhunt launched to catch shooter Stevie Stephens, a murderer whose breakup with a woman, Joy Lane, triggered rage that led him to kill a man in cold blood on Facebook Live, when asked, his ex said of him, ‘He is a nice guy.’
Our sacrificial protection of the Black man knows no limits.
A recent episode of ‘Iyanla, Fix My Life’ exemplified this cradling, as Iyanla took Neffe’s husband into her bosom and rocked him like a child. This heartbreaking moment represented a common pattern in the Black community—the strong Black woman cradling and supporting the broken Black man.
It’s not that the imagery is problematic, in fact, it was a beautiful, emotional moment. But it got me thinking, how often do we see the image of a completely vulnerable Black woman being cradled in her moment of weakness?
The ‘strong Black woman narrative’ is instilled so deeply in the psyche of this country and in our own minds that it often works to our detriment. Carrying the burden alone and hidden leads Black women to have the highest rates of depression in the country. Studies show that African American women are more likely to report depression than their white counterparts and less likely to be treated. Our resolve to do it all while making it look good is magical, but as Jesse Williams said in his BET honors speech, ‘just because we are magic, doesn’t mean we aren’t real.’
But in this invisibility there is one place we are fully seen, and that is in the eyes of other Black women. Black women are constantly holding and marching for each other in heels and Timbs. Our celebratory mantras like #BlackGirlMagic and our resounding ‘yaaaassss’ to support every ounce of excellence that drips off of us with each step we take, are a reminder that we are held, if only, in the arms of our sisters.
Conversation spaces crafted on social media have created safe communities for women of color to feel less isolated in their thoughts and feelings. When Black women create hashtags, they become internet dorm rooms, with our inner private conversations becoming public and amplified. From #SayHerName to #Selfcare to #BringBackOurGirls, Black women use social media to give voice to that which is unspoken. We are also the creators and drivers of platforms, culture, and movements. I can list numerous spaces for WOC that provide us with support and mental relief—from Tracy G’s audio vision boards to Beverly Bond’s girl powered ‘Black Girls Rock’ to Lauren Ash’s ‘Black Girl In Om’ platform, Black women are using the Internet to find, love on, and praise each other.
Within our Internet circles, there are also brothers rising to give us support. President Barack Obama’s fairytale relationship with his daughters and wife became the Camelot image of Black Love in the last eight years, and content creators like Lawrence Lindell are using their artistry to celebrate Black women.
So when it comes to the question of who is holding Black women, the answer still is WE ARE, but as the rest of the world starts to finally recognize us as the alpha creators, innovators and trendsetters that we are, niche communities will start to rise up to meet us, and hold us, where we are.