Itâ€™s an off-week, but I had to write this. To be sure, the title of this Message alone will elicit hate mail from a gaggle of sisters who proudly label themselves â€œstrong black women.â€ Many will not even read the piece, theyâ€™ll just erupt. Others will read, but still refuse self-criticism. Most will simply respond with neck-rolls and accusations that I am, at best, a sexist or, at worst â€” I just hate black women.
According to them, this â€œhatredâ€ is no doubt the result of a troubled childhood, bad relationship with my mother or some other psychological dysfunction. It could also be the result of deep-seated personal insecurity â€” just plain old weakness. Hence, because I am weak (like most black men, in their eyes), I canâ€™t deal with the fact that they are strong. I fear them, envy them â€¦ just canâ€™t handle them. I may just be a crazy male chauvinist pig who is frustrated by the fact that black women are making such great strides in the world. Hence, Iâ€™ve joined the cadre of plain old â€œblack-woman haters.â€
Last week Coretta Scott King, a real strong black woman, died. Yes, yes â€” Coretta was strong. She earned the title. While the subject used to be taboo, it is no great secret now that she endured years of marital infidelity. This does not diminish Martin as a historical icon. It does, however, force us to realize that the Kingsâ€™ marriage was less than perfect. No matter. There are things greater than Coretta simply â€œstaying.â€
Oh, yes â€” she was much more than a much put-upon wife. She was really a strong black woman. Close your eyes, picture her.
Statuesque, beautiful, intelligent, poised. Full of grace, class and overflowing with strength. It was this strength and dedication to a cause, not just a man, that led her to lead a march of more than 50,000 people through the streets of Memphis just four days after her husband was shot dead in the same city. Strong! Later in 1968, Coretta took Martinâ€™s place in the Poor Peopleâ€™s March to Washington. She didnâ€™t miss a beat. Her struggle continued. Strong!
The following year, she traveled to Britain and preached at St. Paulâ€™s Cathedral â€” becoming one of the first, if not the first, woman to do so. Strong!
Today, more often than not, many black women use the â€œstrong black womanâ€ label as little more than an excuse to be nasty for no reason. Coretta did something. She was gentle, graceful and kind. And you never heard her screaming about being strong, even though she was. Learn from her.
Carrying a Prada bag doesnâ€™t make you strong. Sitting outside of or searching your boyfriendâ€™s house for proof that heâ€™s cheating, or mastering the art of speaking with the most acerbic tongue possible, doesnâ€™t make you strong. Emasculating your mate or leaving him because he resists emasculation doesnâ€™t make you strong. Getting married and having babies doesnâ€™t make you strong. Watching â€œGirlfriendsâ€ and Oprah or zoning out on every piece of fictionalized foolishness written by E. Lynn Harris, Omar Tyree, Terry McMillan, Zane and a host of others doesnâ€™t make you strong.
Talking down to waitresses doesnâ€™t make you strong. Joining the â€œBlack Womenâ€™s Group Narcissistic Personality Disorder Clubâ€ doesnâ€™t make you strong. Ethic of this club? â€” â€œBlack women are doing everything right, and if these dumb, lazy-ass black men would just get themselves together, everything would be all right.â€ Oh, yes â€” demonizing every black man who happens to date a white woman doesnâ€™t make you strong either. Sorry.
Now, thatâ€™s not saying black men are doing everything right. God knows weâ€™re not. Iâ€™m just saying that there is an ever so slight, minuscule, infinitesimal possibility that todayâ€™s black women have some growing to do, too.
Coretta Scott King was strong. Harriet Tubman, with her long-nosed pistols and nerves of steel, was strong. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, with her sharp political mind, bottomless well of courage and blistering pen, was strong. Bespectacled, beautiful, unbossed and unbought Shirley Chisholm, with her strategy and commitment, was strong. Harriet Jacobs was strong. Sojourner Truth was strong. Sheila Jackson Lee is strong. Cynthia McKinney is strong. Maxine Waters is strong. Ruby Dee is strong. Feel me?
So, to all you so-called strong black women â€” Iâ€™ve got no problem with you claiming the title â€¦ as long as you earn it. Hell, somebody had to say it. Much love, Coretta.
Remember, until next time â€” have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools.
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is associate professor and chair of the department of Pan-African Studies at U of L. Contact him at [email protected]