As Black women in America, we are often told that “we have to do what we have to do.” But what if you have just experienced the loss of a loved one, divorce, rape, abuse, or harassment on the job? After recently dealing with the loss of my great-uncle, who was also my God Father and the man who gave me away at my wedding, I observed how people reacted to my hurt and inability to function as I normally do on a daily basis. Comments such as, “he was ‘just’ your uncle and you are depressed like this,” or “oh, well did you finish….!” It was as if my suffering did not matter. The only thing that mattered was what I needed to do for others. I then realized that I was supposed to “just get over it!”
We live in a country where the black woman is “the mule of the world” and everyone simply rides her back for their convenience and benefit without even asking if she needs water. Everyone expects her to plow and “keep on pushing,” even though she is in pain and suffering from the daily dilemmas of life.
Being a black woman in education, as many black women are, I think it is important for others to consider the daily experiences and responsibilities we endure and how they impact our overall health. Instead of patronizing us when we do not “perform” at our normal par, people should “offer a glass of water.” This water will give us a chance to cleanse the incredible pain and sorrow that many of us hold deeply inside. Remember that we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others daily, as well as their children, while we develop some form of illness, such as diabetes, depression and hypertension, which are all prevalent among black women and impact us psychologically.
Upon reflecting on my experiences by witnessing many other black women going through the same struggle, I recognized the commonality in their outward expression of strength and could not help but wonder what lies within us to “keep pushin.”
Growing up, my great-grandmother was always well groomed and beautiful, and the beauty she had on the outside was unmatched by the beauty and strength that she carried on the inside. She cared deeply for the well-being of everyone around her, especially her family. She managed to care for everyone and everything while rarely voicing her own needs. As her health declined, however, the consequences of her silence and self-sacrifice became more evident until her passing.
Now as an adult with a family of my own, I find myself challenged by managing a stressful work environment and a multitude of personal responsibilities, along with navigating institutional spaces that require me to code-switch in ways that both “protect” and silence me. I have found solace in my historical roots, which is the strength of many ancestors, and resilience serves as a primary coping strategy, but no more will this be—not for me, and no longer for you all!
We must realize that we must overcome and overlook what people think of us, and take care of ourselves. We will not succumb to our own “self-sacrifice” for the sake of others. We must ask: is it necessary that we sacrifice ourselves in order to be successful in our work and home life? The answer is no. So the next time you find yourself “down, out, and thirsty for a ‘glass of water’,” remember that you are beautiful, that you matter, and that YOU must take care of yourself FIRST AND FOREMOST and allow people to “just get over THAT!”