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Are Black Women Killing Themselves to be Superheroes?

In an article for Ebony.com, Shaida Muhammad asks whether or not black women are killing themselves to be strong for everyone, all the time.   She starts off by referencing the Alicia Keys song, “Superwoman,” where Keys sings about being a strong black woman in the face of adversity.  Many black women juggle challenges from every aspect of life, including children, marriage, and career.  Some say that the struggle can be detrimental to their health.  This might be a confusing conjecture, since black men have the shortest lifespans among all demographics.

But Muhammad says more on the matter:

For Black women this notion is nothing new. It’s an idea and ideal that can be summed up in three words: the “strong Black woman.” Built Ford tough, this archetype has been tossed around and reverenced as the equivalent and standard of Black womanhood. Yet unlike those pesky stereotypes we often find ourselves trying to negate, our relationship to this subjective title is somewhat peculiar. Many wear the SBW title as a badge of honor; or seek to live up to it. While others denounce it as a myth, citing that it enforces an unrealistic ideal. Despite our various attitudes and opinion on what it means to be a “Strong Black Woman,” it has undoubtedly had a significant impact on us culturally.

Muhammad says that part of the danger of “Superwoman Syndrome” is that you can end up feeling that you are inadequate as a woman if you are not grinding it out, missing sleep and stressed out all the time.   She says that many black women make themselves ill by taking on everyone else’s problems,  counseling loved ones, working multiple jobs, and taking care of both children and sick relatives.   She says that the consequence is that some women end up catering to the needs of everyone but their own.

This may also translate to failed black relationships.  A stressed out mother doesn’t always have time or energy to tend to the needs of her mate, which can lead to the breakdown of relationship communication.

Muhammad also quotes Safiyya Shabazz, M.D. owner/Medical Director of Fountain Medical Associates, PC:

“At a minimum this mindset influences health behaviors that lead to lead to heart disease and other lifestyle related illnesses. Before even considering the effects of stress on the hormonal systems in the body, you can look at the obvious factors: women who are stretched to the limit, trying to do it all often neglect their own health while caring for others. We try to be good parents and wives, excel in our careers, and serve our community, all while looking like we just stepped off of the cover of [a magazine].”

Other prominent psychologists have spoken on the issue in the past, particularly those who happen to be black women themselves.  In a similar article on BlackLifeCoaches.net, Dr. Christina Edmondson, a wife, mother and scholar, discusses the superwoman complex:

 It’s a place where many Black and other shades of superwomen dwell. This “strong and independent” persona isn’t developed out of pride or ego, but rather a sense of timely necessity. Passed from generation to generation, this ethos is an unstated gift and “sho-nuff” burden.

Speaking with Dr. Towanna Freeman, Dr. Edmondson further explores the Superwoman complex and signs that you may be affected. Some of the signs might include engaging in self-harming behavior or medicating your problems away. Dr. Edmondson, an expert in psychology, says that the Superwoman complex should be re-examined among African American women to ensure that they can live happy, healthy lives without enduring the risk of causing long-term health problems by carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

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12 Responses to Are Black Women Killing Themselves to be Superheroes?

  1. David W. Johnson Jr. Reply

    July 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Our Afrian American Women Are Doing Much More Positives Things To Save Our Children, Our Race And Support And Re-Elect Our President Than These “So-Called African American Men” Who Are No More Than “nigger male trash.” Out There Raping And Molesting Their Own Daughters And Granddaughters, Setting Outside Liquor Stores Getting Paid To Buy Liquor For Children That Should Be In School. Then These Pieces Of Trash Pastors And Priest Having Sex With Children In Their Own Churches. I Say It All The Time From The Bottom Of My Heart, “I Would Father God & Lord Jesus Would Get So Angry And Remove These Racist Pieces Of Trash And They Worthless “niggers” From This World. Just Save And Rebuild The Communities For Our REAL AFRICAN AMERICAN MEN AND WOMEN.

    • Rochelle Nikkol Reply

      July 14, 2012 at 3:58 pm

      Harsh but true, I don’t think many people are willing to state the facts as you have. Its real! This our life and our people. What are we doing about it?

  2. Phillip Battle Reply

    July 14, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Blame the victim Mr Johnson I for one fill the pain of seeing my brothers living a heathen life style- yet for me to disregard the cause of such inhumane behavior – would undermine the history of an enslaved people- and it’s impact on their psychological stability- not to make an excuse for such ignorance- the ones who aren’t as strong or fortunate as others that had guidance in their life. Face it- those who have penal stock investments would try to hang you from the nearest tree for trying to get rid of their commodities. Yes you strong Black resilient Queen- that yard stick you maybe using to measure your man should be examined on a level field of opportunity as well as systemic erasing of the most threatening Man on Gods earth. History has proven that we Black Men will rise above all obstacles for the sake of his family. Be stronger than before and help us be true men instead the house negro who’s afraid too help the Black Man in the field. Boycott Christmas 2012.

  3. legallychisis Reply

    July 14, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    I agree with the article 100%. We African American women are aware of this superhero complex. Similar to the ghetto-nigger mentality it not an easy one to break. We were raised to be strong. I agree we carry too much of a load, but if not us then who? I commend all of my single mother sistas. If they don’t financially, emotionally support our children (who’s dead bead azz daddy doesn’t) WHO WILL? This article only solidifies the fact that our men that don’t take care of their responsibilities as MEN need step up PERIOD. We need to come together as a people men and women and look out for one another LIKE OTHER RACES DO!

  4. Charlotte Robinson Reply

    July 14, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    This stuff is really funny it’s like some people have nothing else to do but put everyone into a nice and neat category. If they’re not talking about how we can’t get men or how our men don’t want us, they’re finding some way to say something negative about us somehow or another. And I’m personally tired of hearing it. There is no way on earth for you to dump everyone into a category. But nevertheless, let’s talk about us being supper women {and don’t let the picture of Christ that display for my page mislead you I’m an Africa American Female, 1st I’m female, 2nd I’m American been here for almost 400 years, and 3rd I’m Africa that’s something I’m most proud of BUT most people don’t recognize Christ as a Black man not even Africans; but I digress}

    I read something like this before entitled “How to Treat a Black Man,” it was saying that Black Women put their children before Black Men, what was some trash. If we didn’t do the things that we do there would be No Black doctors, No Black lawyer, No Black politics, No Black nurses, No Black people for all these people with their head up their asses to complain about. Instead of talking about how it cost us relationships they should be pointing that without, women like us the race would have died out long ago. Men going around having babies with 5 or 10 different women without using birth control THE WOMEN ARE JUST AS DUMB have babies by men who ain’t gone never have a regular job to correctly support them nor even be there for them.

    Before I leave this subject how many women give up everything for their family and children because I know of a whole bunch that’s half stepping and ain’t even tiring to be good mothers. If they real wanted to do something good — advices the women who do give their all to take care of family and children — to take better care of their health because this too shall pass and when it does you want to be in good health so you can enjoy your own life, children grow-up, family members get well, die, or go to jail they move on. We need more women to step up to the plate and help to make better citizens because we got to many people thinking that the world own them something because they’re here.

  5. Cindie Reply

    July 15, 2012 at 12:43 am

    We African-American women are the hardest working women on the planet, getting the least amount of respect! And when a sistah falls ill (it’s generally the ones who work the hardest), it INFURIATES me when the “laziest among us” make some negative comment about her being “a fool” for working so hard! And I hear those inane comments by our own stupid men (and some women), all the time.

  6. BigWill Reply

    July 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    David W. Johnson Jr, if it’s true that it takes one to know one then you are the epitome of “nigger male trash” Actually, you sound exactly like a frustrated homosexual whitenigger. Burn in hell FAG.

  7. GemGirl Reply

    July 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    I retired my Strong Black Woman cape slowly over time beginning about a decade ago. I caught flack from people who still wanted to lean on me (particularly family members), but I no longer carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I am 50 but look mid-30s in age due to limiting the amount of stress I absorb from other people who had unrealistic expectations (as well as getting rid of certain expectations of myself that had been indoctrinated into me).

    As a result, I am a happier woman. Never again will I allow others to dictate my sense of worth — nor self-impose a role that burdens me beyond what is reasonable.

    I have embraced being as gentle and loving with myself as I can be with others. I have developed boundaries that really work well for me because I don’t take on other people’s problems or anticipate their needs anymore just so I can feel valuable or show how dependable I can be.

    When I give of myself or share my resources , it truly comes from the heart and less due to feeling obligation now.

  8. Mayor Reply

    July 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Feminism is Witchcart!
    Book author Shahrazad Ali told us about how black Feminists were slowly destroying the black community by always trying to be white; and to compete with black men, instead of compete with her white oppressors!!!

  9. Darnel Reply

    May 20, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Stop the hate.
    Stop the self-hate.
    Get over yourselves Black “superwomen”.

    I’ve been here long enough to know that those who have that title don’t know how to act around their opposites. Hence they continue to shoulder a load that they don’t have to.

    I could tell tales and give examples but it would be a waste as long as you lump black men the way you do.


  10. Tracey Benson Reply

    May 21, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I totally agree with the article!

  11. Larry Reply

    June 5, 2013 at 2:18 am

    When will we stop identifying with the eurocentic prospective and find out how to view our world truly as it is. There may only be 20 percent of black women with that ability and with it comes a man not boy that is I stride with her. Now the rest are just that lost in the world with no idea of what’s going on. People have been subjected to a lot of crap and come out like a lotus flower and others don’t. So, let the super women and super men Co ti nue to carry it, because their helping raise the percentage

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