The 'Strong Black Mother' Trope Is One I Have Zero Desire To Keep Perpetuating


black mother

My mother was raised in Bantama, Ghana, in West Africa, where the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” rings true. As a child, I marveled at my mother, it felt as if everything she did was magical. She could make anything appear and make everything happen at the snap of her fingers. As I grew up, I realized that much of the “do it all” façade my mother upheld was really inherited from generations of women before her, who believed their intrinsic value as a woman was solely based on how well they performed as wives and mothers. My mother took on more than any singular woman should, especially as a black woman who was faced with the double jeopardy of the westernized world.

  • She perpetuated the myth of the “strong black woman,” which is one that supersedes our agency and autonomy, many times to our detriment.

    The expectancy of millennial black women to base even an inkling of our value in our ability to endure suffering, even more so in the name of esteemed motherhood, is outdated as that monoculture is finally making room for women’s mental health. The fact that black women are more likely to experience complications during their pregnancy and birth all the while, suffering in silence during motherhood is not a hill I’m willing to die on -- literally.

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  • The force that propelled my mother to raise four children, without her mother or any maternal figures, was not out of choice but necessity.

    She was forced survive in an environment that held promise as the land of opportunity. Although, once she moved to Canada, she was not a single mother; she still held the strength and duty of an entire “village” on her back, tackling the emotional and physical labor of raising her babies and managing her household.

  • My father was present but performed his fatherhood as he was taught, through the gaze of misogyny.

    He was the “head of the household,” prioritizing security and monetary gain over being a truly equal partner and caregiver. Those archaic frameworks don’t quite measure up on this side of the world, as my mother did not have the option of being a stay-at-home mom. She was expected to perform all duties of a mother while balancing a full-time job like a “strong black woman” and mother “should.” To my parents, these were the only ideals of family dynamics they knew, but as a womanist, these are the same dangerous tropes Bell Hooks advised liberated women against.

  • The “do it all” narrative runs black women, especially women who choose to become mothers into the ground.

    I watched my mother put her self-care needs to the side throughout my entire childhood, so much so that I question how many visits to the nail salon I make per year -- and I’m not even a mother yet! As kids, all my siblings looked to my mother when we were hungry, or in need of hugs and emotional responses which children should be able to look for from both parents, but that my father would rarely know how to respond as such tasks were always my mom's forte.

  • I’m not rejecting the notion that black women are strong, we are incredibly resilient, especially because we have to be.

    I’m simply advocating for a choice as a black woman, to allow ourselves moments of vulnerability and tenderness, a side of my mother that didn’t become clear to me until I became an adult. The choice to not relive or accept the hardships our mothers faced as our own is a revolutionary act. 

  • Black women: We need to start collectively dismissing customs that are used to run us into the ground.

    From here on out, we are only accepting livelihood and motherhood that allows for self-care and realistic measures of productivity. And if it takes a village, we will build our own, with one another, be it friend groups and/or support groups, rather than doing it all on our own. So, maybe one day, far, far from now the idea of motherhood won’t be so daunting after all, besides I’m hoping I’ll have the luxury my mother didn’t have, in bringing my mother and all the help I deserve along, too.