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Why Black Women Should Never Ignore Burnout

Why Black Women Should Never Ignore Burnout

I refuse to feel bad about taking care of myself first, always.

Her Voice

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Featured image by Shutterstock.

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When the NYT posted an article this week about the recent marriage of a Black woman VP of a multi-billion-dollar company and a Black man who took her on a first date at the parking lot of a Popeyes, the reaction on social media was swift and polarizing. The two met on Hinge and had their parking lot rendezvous after he’d canceled their first two dates. When the groom posted a photo from their wedding on social media, he bragged about how he never had “pressure” to take her on “any fancy dates or expensive restaurants.”

It’s worth reading on your own to get the full breadth of all the foolery that transpired. But the Twitter discourse it inspired on what could lead a successful Black woman to accept lower than bare minimum in pursuit of a relationship and marriage, made me think of the years of messaging that Black women receive about how our standards are too high and what we have to “bring to the table” in order to be "worthy" of what society has deemed is the ultimate showing of our worth: a marriage to a man.

That's right, the first pandemic I lived through was not Covid, but the pandemic of the Black male relationship expert. I was young – thirteen to be exact – when Steve Harvey published his best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though he was still just a stand-up comedian, oversized suit hoarder, and man on his third marriage at the time, his relationship advice was taken as the gospel truth.

The 2000s were a particularly bleak time to be a single Black woman. Much of the messaging –created by men – that surrounded Black women at the time blamed their desire for a successful career and for a partner that matched their drive and ambition for the lack of romance in their life. Statistics about Black women’s marriageability were always wielded against Black women as evidence of our lack of desirability.

It’s no wonder then that a man that donned a box cut well into the 2000s was able to convince women across the nation to not have sex for the first three months of a relationship. Or that a slew of other Black men had their go at telling Black women that they’re not good enough and why their book, seminar, or show will be the thing that makes them worthy of a Good Man™.

This is how we end up marrying men who cancel twice before taking us on a “date” in the Popeyes parking lot, or husbands writing social media posts about how their Black wife is not “the most beautiful” or “the most intelligent” or the latest season of trauma dumping known as Black Love on OWN.

Now that I’ve reached my late twenties, many things about how Black women approach dating and relationships have changed and many things have remained the same. For many Black women, the idea of chronic singleness is not the threat that it used to be. Wanting romance doesn’t exist in a way that threatens to undermine the other relationships we have with our friends, family, and ourselves as it once did, or at least once was presented to us. There is a version of life many of us are embracing where a man not wanting us, is not the end of what could still be fruitful and vibrant life.

There are still Black women out there however who have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals that have been projected onto us about our worthiness in relation to our intimate lives. I see it all the time online. The absolute humiliation and disrespect some Black women are willing to stomach in the name of being partnered. The hoops that some Black women are willing to jump through just to receive whatever lies beneath the bare minimum.

It's worth remembering that there are different forces at play that gather to make Black women feast off the scraps we are given. A world saturated by colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and classism will always punish Black women who demand more for themselves. Dismantling these systems also means divesting from any and everything that makes us question our worth.

Because truth be told, Black women are more than worthy of having a love that is built on mutual respect and admiration. A love that is honey sweet and radiates a light that rivals the sun. A love that is a steadying calming force that doesn’t bring confusion or anxiety. Black women deserve a love that is worthy of the prize that we are.

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