Strong Black Woman by Shanita Mitchell for The Autoethnographer

Usually, when people talk about the “strength” of black women they are referring to the way in which they perceive black women coping with oppression. They ignore the reality that to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, that endurance is not to be confused with transformation.

bell hooks, 2015, p. 6


Some are born strong, some achieve strength, and some have strength thrust upon them. The more ego-driven side of me would love to declare that strength was and is an innate trait. My more honest and realistic self has to admit that my strength is the result of some rather aggressive thrusting upon my person.

Life Lesson Alert: to occupy THIS body, strength is not an ask, it is a demand

But at what age does a Black woman learn that it is her job to be strong? At what age is it communicated to us all that our superpower is to endure? For me, the answer is seven years old when my own Mr. Freeman made himself known in my life. Now that is a subject for another day, another time, another column (maybe never), but I mention it to emphasize that I, and many others, have been carrying the weight of being the strong Black woman for longer than we have carried the official label of woman.

And what has being a strong Black woman meant to me and my life beyond that tender age of seven? It has meant several things all at once. It means there isn’t a lot of room for me to be vulnerable in public spaces because vulnerable Black women leave themselves open to mockery and/or dismissal. I have learned to not expect empathy to be extended my (our) way (more famous examples- Meg the Stallion getting shot, Rihanna being abused). It means that my physical and emotional pain is often minimized and disregarded. It means that I must be a tireless mouthpiece for injustice for everyone around me with little expectation of genuine reciprocity (*stares pointedly at Black men and White feminists throughout history and current day*). It means I must forever be bold, never shy or reserved. But also…not too bold because then I am aggressive and intimidating. It means when someone needs help, the expectation is that I answer the call in some form or fashion even when it comes at the expense of myself. This last issue is the one most prominently displayed in the visual but the video and this list just scrapes the surface of what it means to be a strong Black woman. Did it overwhelm you? Well…me too.

hooks, b. (2015). Introduction. In Ain’t I A woman: Black women and feminism (p. 6). Routledge.
Solange. (2016). Rise [Song]. On A Seat at the Table [Album]. Saint Records; Columbia Records; Sony Music Entertainment.

About Author

Shanita Mitchell currently serves as the Assistant Director for the Rappahannock Scholars Program at the University of Mary Washington. Since graduating from UMW with her B.A. in 2012, she has continued to pursue her passion for providing underserved and underrepresented student populations with college access opportunities and scholarships by working in and with the Office of Admissions, Financial Aid, and serving as the advisor for various multicultural and performance organizations on campus. That same passion recently led Shanita to acquire her M.A. in English from Southern New Hampshire University with the intent to expand beyond the administrative side of higher ed and into the classroom. Shanita also works as a dance instructor at The Courthouse School of Ballet and Umbiance Dance Studio. In her spare time, Shanita enjoys portrait painting, amateur photography, costuming, video editing, and advancing her study of Black feminist thought, Critical Race Theory, and autoethnography as a meaningful expression of self.

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