Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths And Discovering Fulfillment In The Age Of Michelle Obama
By Sophia A. Nelson
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Some say we have conquered the world as accomplished black women; I say that we have yet to conquer ourselves.
Sisters, it is time we had a candid and meaningful conversation about just how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in valuing the things that truly matter in life. Black women have survived the unimaginable, and many of us have thrived in the midst of it all. We come from good stock, sisters, and we should never forget that truth. We must honor those who came before us, who sacrificed their hopes for ours, who could not dream as big as we can, and who gave us their extraordinary examples to dare us to be more, do more, and achieve more.
The twenty-first-century successful black woman is brilliant and tenacious and not afraid to flex her intellectual, spiritual, or financial muscles. She has accomplished, earned, and owned more than black women of any other generation in American history. Just forty years after the civil rights and women's movements of the 1960s and 1970s, successful black women have rapidly scaled the ladder of success to the top. Today, against all odds, we stand proud in corner offices throughout corporate America, in partners' meetings at law firms, in hospital operating rooms, in academia's ivory towers, in trading rooms on Wall Street, in the studios of media and entertainment conglomerates, in the research labs of prestigious scientific institutions, in the halls of Congress and the White House.
Think about it: we now have three generations of amazing black females in the White House. There was no way Mrs. Marian Robinson could have ever dreamed in 1964, when her daughter was born, that she would join Michelle and her granddaughters, Sasha and Malia, to call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home.
Wherever you look in the second decade of twenty-first-century America, you will find a sister at the top of her game. You know her when you see her. There's an invisible "S" tattooed on her chest, just beneath her camisole, for "Superwoman." She is strong, independent, and ready for any challenge in the workplace. She's sharp and confident, sports fine shoes and the best handbags, drives a nice car, and loves the Lord. She's politically active as well. That's why, as a group, black women were the largest and most reliable voting block for candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election. She's the pillar of her church and the committee chair of her sorority, and she is the most important community fund-raiser. She is well connected, highly visible, and always on call, ready to help a family member or friend in need. She's the go-to on everyone's speed dial, for volunteers, for mentoring, for money, and for comfort.
Today we celebrate a growing cadre of accomplished black female superstars, such as Xerox Corporation CEO Ursula Burns, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice, NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, model-turned-TV-star Tyra Banks, Tony Award–winning actress Viola Davis, Academy Award–nominated actress Taraji P. Henson, Brown University president Dr. Ruth J. Simmons, Rear Admiral Michelle Howard, the Honorable Ann Claire Williams (U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the Seventh Circuit), and sports icons Venus and Serena Williams, just to name a few. Everywhere you look you can see sisters making an impact — moving and shaking, and reshaping the world around them.
Yet there's something amiss.
When did our achievements start to trump our fulfillment? Somehow, a significant slice of this intriguing community of women has disconnected from what our mothers and foremothers valued. Somehow, far too many of these highly successful sisters who have achieved the American Dream have replaced love, relationships, and family with ambition. Somehow, our strength has been transformed into a galvanized coat of armor, shielding us from our pain and depriving us of an authentic and joyful life. In spite of all we have accomplished, everyone around us — friends, family, coworkers, brothers, and even our younger sisters — have decided that we've become too hard, too aloof, too independent, and too strong. As one twenty-eight-year-old sister told me this past spring, "I admire the accomplished, older black women in my life so much professionally, but I don't want to be like them — alone, and childless at forty."
Life as a strong black woman, who is always independent, always a survivor, always a caretaker, always on, and mostly doing it alone, is hard and lonely. And Lord knows, armor gets really heavy when you're forced to wear it 24/7. Eventually, the strong black woman (or what we call in our studies "ABW" for "accomplished black woman") lifestyle can take its toll on your psyche and your health.
From Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama by Sophia A. Nelson. Copyright 2011 by Sophia A. Nelson. Reprinted by permission of BenBella Books.