On the evening of February 8, 2022, the Peter Bullough Foundation hosted its first virtual event of the year, a virtual reading and discussion of the new book The Strong Black Woman: How a Myth Endangers the Physical and Mental Health of Black Women, with author Marita Golden and her longtime friend former PBF resident Sandra Jackson-Opoku.
Golden's new book explores how the myth of the Strong Black Woman has come to negatively impact the emotional and physical health of Black women as they have shouldered the burdens and prioritized the needs of others. “There’s a very vigorous, ongoing, expansive conversation among African-American women and African-descended women about the Strong Black Woman complex, that is, that belief that black women are invincible, that because of historical and present day experience, we have to, in all situations, be strong, resilient, and basically be the primary caretakers and our communities,” says Golden. “We realize now that Black women are in a health and mental health emergency… and some of that emergency is a direct result of the belief that Black women have to be strong all the time.”
From left to right: photo of Marita Golden, Sandra Jackson-Opoku, and the cover of The Strong Black Woman
Agreeing with the need for this book and the role that Black women have played in our society, says Jackson-Opoku, “this identity, this myth, this stereotype of the Strong Black Woman is what people often call you when they’re getting ready to put a burden on you that is almost impossible to bear.”
What can we as a society do to change the perception of what it means to be strong and lighten the burden that Black women so frequently carry for the community? Says Golden, “my definition of strength includes: I can ask for help, I can say no, I can take time for myself… When we are always so eager to take on any burden, the people around us don’t develop their own strength.”
In the discussion, Jackson-Opoku quotes Audrey Lord in saying, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it’s an act of self-preservation.” Asks Jackson-Opoku, “How do we begin to talk about this issue with the people in our lives?”
In answer, Golden shares, “Black women don’t really - in their heart of hearts - believe that they have the right to be happy or joyful. Black women who believe that joy and celebration are something for white women because as women who are part of a community that is under assault, 24 hours a day, macro and micro, we don’t have time to be joyful. We don’t have time to celebrate ourselves. And these are some of the beliefs that these therapists told me about that they’re counteracting and teaching Black women to overcome.”
You can catch the full, powerful conversation here:
About the Authors
Marita Golden is the author of 19 works of fiction and nonfiction. Her books include the novels The Wide Circumference of Love, After and The Edge of Heaven and the memoirs Migrations of the Heart, Saving Our Sons and Don’t Play in the Sun One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex and the anthology which she edited, Us Against Alzheimer’s Stories of Family Love and Faith. Her most recent work of nonfiction is The Strong Black Woman How a Myth Endangers the Physical and Mental Health of Black Women. She is the recipient of many awards including the Writers for Writers Award presented by Barnes & Noble and Poets and Writers, an award from the Authors Guild, and the Fiction Award for her novel After awarded by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. She has lectured and read from her work internationally. You can buy her books here in Winchester or here.
Co-founder and President Emerita of the Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Foundation,
Marita Golden is a veteran teacher of writing. She taught at the University of Lagos, in Nigeria and has served as a member of the faculties of the MFA Graduate Creative Writing Programs at George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University. She has served as Distinguished Writer in Residence the MA Creative Writing Program at John Hopkins University, and Prince Georges Community College and the University of the District of Columbia. As a literary consultant, she offers writing workshops, coaching, and manuscript evaluation services.
Sandra Jackson-Opoku is author of the award-winning novel, The River Where Blood is Born and Hot Johnny (and the Women Whom Loved Him), an Essence Magazine Bestseller. She coedited the anthology Revise the Psalm: Work Celebrating the Writing of Gwendolyn Brooks. Her fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic works are widely published. Her honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines/General Electric Award for Younger Writers, an American Library Association Black Caucus Award, Newcity Lit50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2020, a City of Chicago Esteemed Literary Artist Award, and a Pushcart Prize nomination.
Jackson-Opoku has been a resident fellow at many national and international arts communities. She teaches literature and writing at workshops, conferences, colleges, and universities across the country and around the world.