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ASIDE: It’s been about six months since my last blog post. Sad. Every time I write, I tell myself I will keep it up, but judging from my lack of posts these past few months that hasn’t been the case. So here’s my super late new year’s resolution: I’ll write at least one post every month. Hopefully this declaration keeps me accountable. Having said that, here’s to a new blog post.

african-women-lami-tollaGrowing up in Nigeria I wanted to be like my mom. She was amazing in every sense of the word. I knew it, my siblings knew it, our neighbors knew it. There’s a saying that goes, “you’re the man.” Well, she was “the woman.”

You could tell she was the woman in the way she bargained for the best prices in the market place. The way she could get the most experienced taxi drivers to reduce their fare. It was in the way she stood her ground for anything and everything she believed in–even when the world disagreed. It was in her presence, her aura, her demeanor. All you had to do was take one look at her and you could see it: She wasn’t just any woman, she was a strong woman.

Dike (dee-kay). This word in my language means strong or powerful. It’s a word that’s usually associated with men. Young muscular men. It was used to describe village warriors in the olden days or skilled hunters. Brave men. It’s also a word synonymous with my mom and yes that’s what villagers called her. It was a sign of respect. As a child, I wanted that. I wanted to be the woman. I wanted to be a strong woman.

Fast forward years later. The Nigerian me, now living in the U.S hears “strong woman”, but too often it’s used differently. It usually goes something like this “…strong black woman…” It’s a title. I’ve noticed that in America the black part suddenly made being a strong woman not so admirable–and understandably so.

tumblr_mbrjdh9Ve51qdj0o4o1_500You see according to the stereotype, according to movies and T.V shows, a strong black woman is not good. No. It’s not something anyone should aspire to be. For the most part–not all cases–but for the most part, a strong black woman is usually rude, obnoxious, ghetto, rolls her head every time she speaks. She’s probably a single mother. She’s single because her strength leaves no room for a man–mostly because they feel emasculated around her. That’s often a strong black woman–in America. Either that or a strong black woman is expected to be tough in every situation. She can’t break down. She’s expected to hold it down in her career, her marriage, as a single mother e.t.c. She’s expected to move mountains. Oh yeah, after all she’s a strong black woman. She should have everything under lockdown.

Seriously though, why can’t a black woman just be a strong woman? Why the “black”? They are many strong women out there. They are mothers, married, single, young, old, black, white, hispanic, Asian. I’ve never heard anyone say, “wow now that’s a strong white woman.” So why put the black in the sentence when describing the strength in a woman of African descent? The problem here is once the “black” is placed after the strong, its true meaning is sometimes distorted.  It’s something that never happened in Nigeria.

In Nigeria there is no such thing as a strong “black” woman. There’s no such thing as race. I didn’t identify as black in Nigeria. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t a little black girl, I was a little girl. If I go back to Nigeria today, no one will call me a black woman. I’m simply a woman. A strong woman–quiet, introverted, but strong all the same. No, it’s not because I roll my head after every sentence, it’s not because I want to prove I’m stronger than a man, it’s not because I have an attitude, it’s not because I have everything under control. I don’t. It’s because I am my mother’s daughter and her strength flows in my veins.

flowers-of-africaSo here it is. I am a strong woman…forget the identifier, forget the black. I’m a woman among many women who are strong, smart and capable. Like all humans, we have moments when we ache, moments when we’re fragile, moments when we mourn. In the end though, our strength lives on–just like that of my late mom.