I had a conversation with my mother this week, and I told her the responsibility of being the matriarch of the family would die with me. The Black women in my family have empowered us, raised us, fed us, and taught us to dream bigger dreams than they ever could––but at their detriment.
My paternal grandmother died three years ago of pancreatic cancer, and she died alone with many regrets and unfulfilled dreams––I don't want that to be me.
I'd like to believe that she lived a life filled with happiness, but all I ever saw her do was work, complain of what she didn't have, and the energy she often lacked due to tending to everyone else's needs but her own. She did small things, like go to the mall and eat at her favorite Chinese restaurant in the food court. When I was little, we'd take bus visits where she'd spend time with family members who still resided in the South. Still, the older her grandchildren got, the more those trips were few and far between, and I remember her often speaking of what she lacked, and how one day she wanted to go back to the country in the South, and sell her home.
That never happened; she died in the same house that she didn't desire to live in anymore.
Black Americans in this country as a whole have a collective struggle of racial trauma, systemic trauma, historical trauma, family trauma, and intergenerational trauma.
We have been taught to exist in a country that 50 years ago didn't think we were good enough to choose where we sat on a bus, and their grandchildren proclaim that we are much better off now, and systemic racism is not still at the helm of this country. As a community, as a collective, we are already facing enough, but Black women take care of everyone in our community, and the question is still asked––who is taking care of us?
That truth led me to the reality that many Black women face - the burnout that we ignore from the various hats that we wear. Statistics that Black women who struggle with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and are taught from an early age to bury those emotions and channel strength instead and that Black women are more likely to suffer in silence.
And while we are fighting many wars right now, the first war is the one in our minds that says we have to be everything for everyone, and if we don't, we're labeled selfish. In actuality, there are so many existences between those two extremes.
Black women are expected to perform, show up, work hard, swallow microaggressions, smile, and have 'socially acceptable' hair in every space that we rise in all while doing so, and I'm tired of it. However, in order to unlearn, we have to be honest with ourselves that the adultification of Black girls has played a part in this, and our denial of a childhood.
According to Georgetown Law's Center on Poverty and Inequality studies, it has been shown that adults view Black girls as more adult-like and less innocent than white girls, and believe Black girls ages 5-19 need less nurturing, protection, support and comfort than white girls of the same age, and that Black girls are more independent, know more about adult topics, and know more about sex than white girls.
In tandem with that, Black women's cries of sexual trauma, depression, and anxiety are often ignored, and we are encouraged to find the strength to persevere despite navigating racial bias, the stress of often taking on multiple roles in the household, as well as receiving lower wages. We are strong, but we are also weary. And while endurance is an attribute we've always been taught and raised to embody, we have a choice in the women we are continually becoming.
It's OK to say that you're tired. It's OK to say that you need a break, and moreover, it's OK to set boundaries of when you need those moments of filling you. Burnout is real, but so is our ability to put ourselves first.
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