Stoicism: A Black Woman's Armor

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked down the street and have been hollered at by a complete stranger that demanded I smile. I also cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told that at first impression I seemed unapproachable or “saddity”. I cannot quite call just how many times my facial expressions (or lack thereof) have led someone to ask “what’s wrong?” or “you okay?” when I am feeling completely even-tempered.

It’s as if my neutral facial expression masks everything I am feeling on the inside. At times, I find myself maneuvering through the world stoically, giving off an impassive vibe that causes others to conclude I’m some kind of enigma. I assure you that my disposition is not some Gordian knot that needs untying and dissecting. Simply put, it is the armor that shields a woman that would otherwise be vulnerable in this oppressive society we live in.

As Black women, one of our greatest quandaries is learning how to get respect. We are taught that being Black and being women count as two strikes against us. We have to work twice as hard, be twice as intelligent and twice as strong as not only other women, but to men as well.

Historically, we were denied the right to act on our emotions. From slavery to civil rights, our priorities have been that of handling our responsibilities as mothers, wives and daughters. The luxuries of slacking off or cracking under pressure were foreign to us.

It should then make sense that we possess a stoic nature that helps us get through our unique obstacles. An “I mean business” demeanor. A “don’t even try it” stature. This aura that we emit is misinterpreted as being aloof, detached or even mean.

A Black woman that means business is not perceived as warm or friendly. She is often feared more than she is respected (even though the typical formula suggests that the former helps to create the latter). Her stoicism leads people to believe she is mean, stuck up or unapproachable.

I won’t ask you to riddle me if you would think the same of a stoic white woman, that’s too easy. Instead, I’d like you to reason this:

If Michelle Obama delivered her speeches in a cheerful manner, would we take her as seriously?

If Oprah conducted all of her interviews only asking questions that the interviewee was comfortable answering, would we even care about her career? Would she have gotten this far?

If all Maya Angelou ever wrote was love sonnets, would we have as much respect for her work?

Probably not, so what’s the difference?

The average Black woman is not FLOTUS, a billionaire or a literary icon but much like Michelle Obama, Oprah and Maya Angelou, we are forces. Our perceived inscrutability is intimidating to many and I’ll speak for myself and say that this is exactly what I aim for.

The stoic reserve of a Black woman is her game face. It’s a defense mechanism that gives her the opportunity to flip the script. Instead of living in fear of a fickle society that time and time again has shown her that they are not checking for her, she has taught society to fear her.

Of course this comes with a lot of flack. We get pegged with “Strong Black Woman”, “Angry Black Woman” and “Sassy Black Girl” (yes, I have actually heard someone use this term to describe a Black woman before) stereotypes.

We have to work hard to balance our inscrutable demeanor in our personal lives so as not to give people the wrong impression or run them away. And as frustrating as it may be to us and those whom we have relationships with, can you really blame us?

How would anyone else cope? How can we unlearn behaviors and mannerisms that have been passed down through generations and why should we want to if it’s not destructive to our well being or self-esteem? It’s deeply embedded in us and it should be embraced and nurtured.

As Black women, we are a complex and often misunderstood group of people. We find ourselves having to constantly explain the what and why’s of who we are. We feel obligated to apologize for the traits within us that make others uncomfortable and personally, I’m not here for that.

I’m a kind person, I show love and generosity to those who matter most to me and even complete strangers when the spirit moves me. There are so many layers beneath my exterior and quite frankly, I feel sorry for those who have made the mistake of labeling me at face value because they’re missing out on one hell of a woman!

Fear if you may. Turn your nose up as you please. Just know that your assertions hold no weight if you have not taken the time to study and evaluate the subject for yourself.

Are you a stoic Black woman? Have you received flack for this?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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LaChelle is an aspiring novelist and songwriter. An avid reader and social commentator, her mission is to engage the minds of others through her artistry. Catch her on Twitter @_theELLE_

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