‘All the women in me are tired.’ The micro-poem by Nayyirah Waheed speaks to me on a spiritual level.
In the climate of #BlackGirlMagic, there’s a culture of black women doing the most. Disclaimer: black women have always done the most. We gave the world rhythm and rhymes. We’ve been at the forefront of revolution. We are storytellers, nurturers, pioneers and disrupters. What we haven’t always had is social networks connecting black women in ways like we see now.
#BlackGirlMagic is a movement that has spanned continents, celebrated black womanhood in all its unique forms, and created visibility for black women in a society that’s prioritised non-POC narratives. But something we don’t discuss so openly is #BlackGirlFatigue.
Black women are shouldered neatly into tropes. There’s been the mammy, the magical negro, and the angry black woman. Although#blackgirlmagic aims to reclaim our own narratives, it’s also become a silent pressure. There’s a silent criteria, too. If you’re not seen slaying, flourishing, succeeding or juggling multiple jobs, what contribution are you making, really? If you’re not creating opportunities or fighting for start-ups – while still being able to create and go out, have fun, and flex in the right circles – all with dewy skin and bomb highlighter, then are you really magic?
The hashtag has come to align itself with a certain type of black woman who can ‘do it all’. Black women are continuously told, overtly and subtly, that the future of (wo)mankind is shouldered on our ability to do the emotional and creative labour to make room for ourselves. Thing is, we get tired.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health will be the leading cause of disability in the world by the year 2030.
#BlackGirlFatigue looks like burnout. Your spirit shuffles its feet and your life force is running on fumes. Black women have historically been excluded from research, resources and mainstream rhetoric around mental health. So it’s tough to find accurate, up-to-date stats on the prevalence of specifically black women struggling with their emotional and psychological wellbeing. Add the culture of stigma surrounding mental health in SA, and #BlackGirlFatigue is something we’re still not talking about as much as we should.
Clinical psychologist Zama Mbele says black women, in particular, face two challenges when it comes to mental healthcare. ‘The issue of mental health has two pillars of marginality: you’re black and you’re a woman, which means you’re even further marginalised.’ There’s a lack of information, access to healthcare services and support for women who feel like their magic is dwindling.
British writer Anni Ferguson started a WhatsApp group called ‘HELP!’ in 2016 and added all the black women she knew. The texts revealed the pressure faced by black women to perform their magic. ‘Why do I have to change who I am so that people don’t find me intimidating or aggressive?’ replied one participant, Michelle, a 27 year-old teacher. ‘It’s tiring to have to always conform to get ahead.’
‘I can’t embrace who I am, fully,’ wrote Grace, a 24-year-old PA. ‘I need to make sure people are always comfortable with me.’
Dr Victoria Showunmi, a lecturer at the UCL Institute of Education unpacks these anxieties and the core of #BlackGirlFatigue for The Guardian: ‘I talk to black women in particular and, after speaking to them in a discussion group, say, they will then acknowledge the fact they have been suffering from issues related to bad mental health.’ She speculates that these might be ‘the need to be strong, resilient [and] fear of being called an angry black woman.’
It’s okay to not feel magical, or other-worldly, or represent a supernatural being perpetually filled with the gusto to fight for the things we deserve. It’s okay to be exhausted, drained, a thirsty oasis in need of some TLC. It’s okay to not have numerous side-hustles or lift entire communities on your shoulders. It’s okay to not identify with working endlessly. You’re still worthy, you still matter, and there is still space for you. It’s not diminishing your shine, it’s replenishing it. You’re still magic as you watch Real Housewives and do absolutely nothing but eat ice cream. We don’t owe the world a damn thing, lest of all our sanity. So do you, boo. Magic, or not.
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Adcock Ingram Depression And Anxiety Helpline
0800 708 090
0800 554 433
Akeso Psychiatric Response Unit (24-Hour)
0861 435 787
Department Of Social Development Substance Abuse Helpline (24-Hour)
0800 121 314
SADAG Mental Health Line
011 234 4837
SADAG Suicide Crisis Line
0800 567 567