As first posted on Black Superwoman Chronicles
My mom is my rock. She is a source of my strength, for better and for worse. She is my role model.
Privilege is an interesting thing. No one wants to acknowledge that one has it unless one wants to feel guilt for not having earned what they have, invalidating their pain, and always comparing themselves to others. As a Black woman, I experience a lot of oppression, but it is rare with our intersecting identities that someone doesn’t experience some kind of privilege.
The form of privilege I have been ruminating on for the last few days (and almost all of my short adult life thus far) is the privilege I have to take care of my mental health. I have a job in which I can get adequate sick time I can use to take mental health days, an Employee Assistance Program for me to use to seek out therapy, have some sessions free, and health insurance to cover whatever else I need. I have an advanced degree in a helping profession, so I have the language to advocate for the mental health I need and understand the importance and effectiveness of seeking help. I have a community of friends and colleagues to lean on and push me to get help when I seem too stubborn. I regularly engage in self-care routines and recognize when I’m not ok. I live in an era where conversations about mental health are normalized and information is easily accessible (and I know where to find it). And I don’t have to work on the weekends.
Managing my mental health should be easy, right? There’s just one little thing standing in my way. GUILT.
I’ve seen so many memes and buttons and shirts with the “cutesy” quote, “’Fuck it, I’ll do it’ –Black women,” or some iteration of that. Black women are the mules of the world, according to Zora Neale Hurston. We take on the problems of so many people and we conveniently forget about our own suffering. Why must we martyr ourselves?
My first lessons of this came from my mother and my grandmother. They sacrificed so much for family and community. My mom worked tirelessly (I think I hate this adverb; people are tired, but they just refuse to let that get in the way) to give my sister and me a better life. Her sacrifices are what got me where I am today.
She taught me to work hard to take care of the people you care about. I hardly ever saw her take a sick day (mental health days used to be something for white people, as my black friends and I used to joke about). A good part of my life, she was working two jobs, going back to school, and taking care of two kids as a single mom. How could I say I was tired from my 8-5 job when she managed to do all of this?
As a Black woman, I feel the need to do everything and save everyone. We have been conditioned this way. This is all we’ve ever known from our matriarchal lineages. Black women have always been the mule and we continue to be the mule to this day. My ancestors have worked determinedly to fight for all of the access I have now. Who am I to not continue the charge for the Black girls that come after me? Who am I to dishonor the legacy of Black women by not being strong?
I rationally know that this guilt is unacceptable. I am disrespecting my mother’s sacrifices by not taking advantage of the privilege I have. All I can do is give her the tools to start taking care of herself and hopefully she can start replenishing her capacity to give.
Who taught Black women that we can take care of ourselves? Because if we don’t take care of ourselves, who will? It’s time for Black women to say, “Fuck it. I’ll do it,” when it comes to taking care of their well-being.