Black women have been at the front leading in many political movements. The history of Black women leaders is long and generational. Whether it’s Harriet Tubman as conductor of the underground railroad, Marsha P. Johnson fighting for LGBTQ rights in the Stonewall Riots, Angela Davis of the Black Panther Party, or Mari Copeny “Little Miss Flint” fighting for clean water; at any age and in any time period we have always been present and involved in activism. More recently social media has been calling Black women “superheroes” expecting us to come in and save the day. While I do have Black girl magic, I am not a superhero.
A few weeks ago, Therese Okoumou attempted to climb the statue of liberty in protest of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and the separation of children and their families that comes along with it. In response, social media exploded with comments saying “Black Women are superheroes”. While Therese Okoumou and so many other Black women display incredible strength, we need to understand how this superhero complex placed upon Black women is dehumanizing. Black women are viewed as a resource for help instead of being involved for change. This stereotype has impossible expectations implying that we will always be the ones to come and save the day. From that standard we are seen as indestructible and here to save everyone. While I know that Black women are strong women it is not fair to put that burden on us.
“We need to understand how this superhero complex placed upon Black women is dehumanizing.”
Historically, Black women have been known to be the nurturers and caretakers of families. Since slavery, Black women have taken care of white children in every aspect. From breast feeding them to teaching them (with no education themselves) to loving them as their own and then having to go home and take care of their own children. The burden of the role of caregiver and caretaker of the home, has socially followed Black women for decades resulting in this weird superhero complex that has been put onto us now. Black women are constantly being used as the token person with wisdom in media. We are seen as knowing it all and have always been there to help others, but are hardly shown as caring for ourselves.
In the 2016 presidential election, 96 percent of Black Women voted for Hillary Clinton. In the Senate special election in Alabama 98 percent of Black women voted for Doug Jones swinging the election results to beat Republican frontrunner Roy Moore who had been accused of child molestation and sexual misconduct. These past few years when times have been desperate, it seems that Black women have been the ones showing up. In reality, Black women are not showing up to fix the country’s problems, we’re showing up to protect ourselves.
Black women have been involved in every progressive movement for change not because we have the desire to be a savior, but because we have always been affected deeply by the systemic oppressions that exists in America. Activism and voter turnout is a form of survival. We know that if certain people are elected or if certain policy is enforced, we will be heavily affected and our responses are of preventative measures.
While we want to change the world, we cannot do it alone. We need and deserve allies to help us too. Do not tokenize us in your activism. Do not use us to get you initiatives accomplished and never support Black activism. We should not be expected to fix the problems of the world. Saying things like “Black Women are superheroes” is not fair to us. We cannot be the ones to save the world, we are human. We are women and girls and we are vulnerable. Who is protecting us?