This idea that Black women are the perpetual mules of everyone else has been ingrained in our society. We see it in the media when all we see are Black women marching for Black lives. We see it portrayed in the media with Black women playing the help, the nanny, the supporting motherly character, or the best friend used simply to illuminate the main actress’s character. The image of the Black woman has been, historically speaking, the strong backbone, always working behind the scenes, sacrificing for the cause, or overextending herself for the sake of the family, without reciprocity. In Sacred Pampering Principles: An African-American Woman’s Guide To Self-Care and Inner Renewal, Debrena Gandy (1997) states that Black women’s obsession with being busy, overdoing it, and extending ourselves while simultaneously overnurturing others is the Strong Black Woman Syndrome (SBWS). It is “a haunting remnant of the powerful Mammie and Aunt Jemima images that are still deeply in our minds from slavery” she continues. The SBWS negatively influences our lives as it shapes our beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, and actions. Images such as the Mammy and Aunt Jemima become reinforced by society, the media, and societal conditioning (Gandy, 1997). We see it now in that strong fixation on activism and who is typically pulling most of the work.
A large amount of attention has been focused on social activism — there is almost a hyperfocus on exerting yourself to fix what cannot be fixed overnight (systemic inequalities). With this, we can easily see a continuation of the Mammy caricature — there are social cues that still link a Black woman’s worth to the amount that she serves others. Disproportionately, the ones that are on the field marching for liberation, Black Lives, and police brutality victims are black women. And there is no reciprocation. Typically, neither whites nor non-Black minorities on the front lines marching for Black lives that the same rate that Black women march for campaigns and movements that center whiteness — like the Women’s March. Not only that, Black women are even being socialized to start the fight (and strain their minds and bodies) young. There was recently even news of a six year old participating in the fight for gun violence. This is a seven year old child that doesn’t even have a full grasp on life, yet she was socialized to view activism as a must. However, stressful environmental factors like fighting for social justice cause mental and emotional exhaustion and causes rapid aging and stress showing up in their DNA. Couple a prolonged exposure to a stressful environment with hyperfocus on systematic racism, something that simply cannot be changed overnight, and the lack of help from most other people in the country (because it is assumed that the work will be done) and this is an unbearable burden.
The result, as Kimmay Love states, is perpetual muling. In her recent hashtag, #NotYourMule, she proclaims that it is unfair to Black activists, especially Black Women, to be in a perpetual struggle. It is not Black people that need to be convinced that Black lives matter, white people do. White people, additionally, do not listen to Black people; they listen to white people. Without the support of those that have the power to change systematic inequalities, said systematic inequalities will not change without an inhumane burden placed on the oppressed. It is not Black people’s jobs to change racism, it is white people’s. Black people are coming to this conclusion and refusing to clean up the mess created by white people. We are not here to save you or anyone else.
What would happen if, instead of people praising Black activists, particularly Black Women, from a distance, those in the dominant society took steps to supported them and alleviate burdens?