When I learned about the death of Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, I immediately felt compelled to look at her Instagram. Her last post was a stunning photo of her with the words, “May this day find you rest and peace.” Hours later, Kryst would leap from the 29th floor of a New York City Midtown high-rise to her death. According to media reports, she left a note leaving everything to her mother with no other information. I scrolled through her social media and stared intensely at her photos, wondering if her smile met her eyes. Was she happy, or was she like so many Black women finding moments of joy instead of a life of happiness? On the outset, Kryst is a stunningly beautiful woman with a life that many of us would long to have. Still, we must remember that social media is just a series of carefully curated moments. We never know about the shadows that linger.
I once read that people don’t fake depression. They fake being okay. Several months ago, I wrote a blog titled How Are You? I Mean Really, How Are You. It was at a time that was at a very low point in my life. However, on the outside, everything appeared perfect. I was waking up every day, going through the motions, posting on social media, attending speaking events, posting pictures, smiling, and laughing, all while feeling so empty on the inside. With the proper lighting, pain can be concealed very well.
While I do not know what Kryst was facing, I do understand what it is to be a Black woman in this world.
America has developed and perpetuated a narrative that Black women are always strong and resilient. I believe this narrative is saddled on the backs of Black women so that Black women will not be perceived as needing assistance, compassion, patience, and understanding. Perpetuating the myth of the Strong Black Woman makes it easier and acceptable to overlook Black women. Black women are never given the opportunity or afforded the luxury of being a victim.
And sadly, many Black women have bought into this myth. Black Girl Magic has been so distorted it now means Black women are capable of doing anything. Black Women are the “Magical Negro.” You need our vote? We will do it. You need us to teach you diversity and equity for free? We will do it. You need us to protest injustice? We will do it! You need us to save this nation? We will do it. We can shoulder it all.
Who are we to ask for help? How dare we ask for assistance. Who are we to ask for our worth? We believe we must always be the ones to fix it. Because this world has always demanded that we fix it, and sadly we have often answered that call with little to no reward. We have always been America’s nursemaids.
If we speak up in a meeting, we are unsupported. We are perceived as angry and not being team players. Yet as soon as the meeting is over, we are chased down in the hallway and, in hushed tones, told, “I wish I were as strong as you.” Even with multiple degrees and experience, our qualifications are called into question. Online we are berated. We are judged daily about the tone of our voice, the style of our hair, and the shape of our bodies. Everything about us is imitated, yet Black women are rarely given the accolades and financial benefits. We are watching a rise of Black men who believe it’s a badge of honor to say they do not value or date Black women.
And still, we hold our heads up and fight another day. We are often fighting for people who will never fight for us.
And truthfully, I am tired. The Black women in my life are tired. The Black women I am connected to online are tired. Black women hold so much inwardly and are penalized if we ever show our feelings outwardly. We are fighting battles this world can’t even begin to comprehend. We are trying to hold up others while suppressing our own demons that manifest in ways that are detrimental to our mental and physical health. We smile when all we want to do is cry. We say we are fine when we are not. To show you who we are means that we are weak, and this world doesn’t allow Black women to be vulnerable. This isn’t magic. Black women have just found ways to make this look easy. And this so called strength is not magic if it is killing you.
I am challenging Black women to reclaim you. Reclaim yourself. Find your peace and your center. Reclaim the true meaning of self-care before the world took it and commercialized it. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Your joy is an act of defiance because this world never intended for Black women to have joy. Please know that you are under no obligation to save this world, Black women. You do not need to have any loyalty to your oppressor. The only reward this world has ever given Black women for being undervalued, overworked, and underpaid is an early grave. And engraved on your headstone will be the words, she was a strong Black woman. And the world will keep right on turning. The world will find another Black woman they can use as their nursemaid. Another Black woman to be their mule to carry their sins and burdens. Another Black woman they can call resilient and strong. Another Black woman whose back they can use as a steppingstone.
So, please, Black women, know this is your moment. This moment is about you and your peace, happiness, and love. This moment is not about anyone else. This moment is about you. You are under no obligation to be Superwoman. It is okay to tell this world that you are giving up your cape.