The Unspoken Dangers of the Strong Black Woman Trope


In 2017 when Serena Williams revealed that she faced severe health complications after the birth of her daughter, everyone was shocked at the level of mistreatment and invalidation Williams faced from her medical staff. Except for Black women. 

Earlier this month another notable Black woman, Beyonce, revealed that after having her twins she also dealt with terrible pregnancy complications that left her bedridden for a period of time. Once again Black women everywhere were concerned and saddened, but not surprised. 

Health outcomes for pregnant black women are worse than for women of other ethnicities, even when controlling for education and income. The health disparities don’t stop at pregnancy either. Black women are overall more likely to be misdiagnosed and mistreated due to issues of systemic racism within the medical field. There have been studies showing that medical professionals over attribute a high pain tolerance to their Black patients. There’s no doubt that can partially be traced to many of the racist myths of Black superhuman strength that still linger in America’s subconscious today.

Of the variety of racist myths that were passed down throughout centuries, various elements of the Jezebel, Sapphire and Mammy tropes were filtered into the modern day Independent Black Woman. She’s sassy, strong, and doesn’t take mess from no man. Over time the independent Black woman trope has been popularized by mainstream media into a caricature that sees Black women as not needing assistance of any kind. Some argue that this is a compliment intended to highlight the strength of Black women. The thing is that compliments that lead to people assuming that one is “too strong” to be helped are actually dangerous.

The fact that both of these individuals, each a legend in their field, suffered so much to bring life into this world is an unfortunate byproduct of what society believes is acceptable for The Ideal Strong Black Woman to endure. Beyond their respective net worths and career accomplishments, each woman faced the same potential mortality for their children as Black women who aren’t internationally famous. 

The tragedy isn’t that Beyonce and Serena are simply too rich and never should have had to deal with their health complications, it’s that their experiences highlight a social inequity that can’t be controlled for by anything other than being Black women.

Being a strong woman is a part of both Serena and Beyonce’s brand. Being proud to be Black is also a part of both their brands. However, being The Ideal Strong Black Woman is not something that either Carter or Williams signed up for but instead had thrusted upon each of them through the demands of their chosen careers within a racist society. 

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