“I feel like I'm suffocating in the middle of the street and no one can see me dying.”
These words written by Gina Prince-Bythewood for the film Beyond The Lights have often come to mind when I see or hear about Black women who’ve nearly lost themselves trying to hold it all together. Black women are taught directly and indirectly to suffer in silence. Our voices are often ignored or snuffed out before we even develop the skills to effectively communicate. This bleeds into our lives and permeates into our relationships with the women closest to us. The result? An overwhelming feeling that we are alone in our struggles, at times. When my mother finally opened up to me about her experiences in life, love and womanhood, for the first time I realized how similar our journeys had been. But I couldn't help but wonder how many things I could have avoided if we'd had those conversations sooner. How many women are walking in the footsteps of generations before them simply because they weren’t warned of the dangers on the road?
The truth is: the silence is hurting us.
Having to be strong and put on a happy face in spite of the pain we are carrying is a passed down burden that will, inevitably, bring us to the ledge. With the rise of podcasts and wellness events, there does seem to be hope that these conversations can become the norm for us; however, there is still the matter of shame. Black women are so conditioned to take on the blame and responsibility for our own hurt, that we can choose to go through our struggles independently and only share once we’re past them. We have no problem saying “this is how I overcame” but tend to swallow the cries for help that could save us from the dark nights we can’t find light in. And, what’s more, is that when we stifle those truths during the process of healing, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to hear from the women around us. This cycle of needing no one and trusting few people to be able to stand in the gap for us when we are hurting is one that only widens the gap between us.
An intergenerational reckoning on the importance of transparency is necessary.
Life is going to happen to all of us. There is no way to fully arm anyone against the reality of heartbreak, disappointment and the weight of being a Black woman. But we have to stop being afraid to speak openly about what we’ve survived. The ugly stuff. The times we didn’t make the best decisions. The times we didn’t stand up for ourselves the way we should have. The things we accepted to feel loved and worthy. The moments that threatened to steal all of our joy. We should make it a point to tell our sisters, mentees and daughters about the times we felt like we couldn’t go on before they head soul first into the fires of womanhood. We should own our stories and boldly embrace our mistakes by offering ourselves relentless grace and undying mercy. When we free ourselves from any guilt connected to our life lessons, we release others to do the same. We say to them “it’s ok, sis, I’ve been there” or “I am there, let’s walk this out together”. There is just as much honor in falling apart as in coming together. And it’s high time we accept, honor and cherish that. If not for us, for the generation of Black women who will need to know they can make it too.