She is a gentle soul, a nurturing being, a loving companion. She is often expected to be the strong but almost indiscernible woman behind the successful man, the well behaved kids, the perfect home.
The place of a woman was once that of a shadow. The place of that African woman, that of a silent shadow.
She exists only through her husband, her family name and how many kids (preferably boys) she was able to give him. And although times are changing, this condition still plagues some people’s minds, actions, even words.
Once a woman, half a blessing
Growing up, she is warned: “because you are a woman, if you try to succeed as a man does, you have to be ready to work harder”.
Being an African woman outside of your home, you have to be ready to put on a diamond shield and work twice as hard.
Yes, times are changing – she may be part of that “visible minority” but her struggle is still real. On the tip of this double edge sword if she is just normal, her bare existence is not to be acknowledged. Nothing is special about her: not only is she just normal but she’s a woman and she’s African at it too.
Stigma is all over her. She needs to constantly prove herself. Even with the simplest of things, the most natural of behaviors seems like an exploit to people: “Oh, you look so put together! You are so well-spoken!” they say
Being put together is not a compliment for a high powered professional, neither is being well-spoken for a top university graduate. That is ignorance. In fact, that is judgement, that is sexism (maybe even racism), that is belittling, that’s inappropriate, that is the norm and there is no natural expression of appreciation for a norm.
Save the pity
Laws say one thing, people speak similar things, but the reality is: as a woman from an African country, in order to be normal she has to be better than the pack.
Almost like she’s trying to be that can of Coke amongst the bottles of Pepsi, when she’s really: a glass of fresh tap water.
Good is just not good enough. So she takes on that battle. Daily, she tries to be normal by being extraordinary. And yes, sometimes she forgets what normal is, and she fights for things not worth fighting for – forgive her for arguing a genuine compliment or for wanting to prove every doubter wrong on every single topic she knows.
In fact, this is where she fails miserably. And then, failure turns into the norm. That derisory norm that wants to pull her down.
Look at her!
She doesn’t want pity, pity is for the weak. Strength is what got her here.
Yes, it is easier to stigmatize the imperfect than it is easy to praise the extraordinary. It is indeed part of human nature to be afraid of the unknown. Besides, there is more excitement and panic outside of the ordinary than there is room for pity.
Yet she is human, she has feelings, she wants to live, to exist and then…she is that African woman. And through all this struggle for even the simplest thing, she sometimes implodes and then explodes. Like the reaction to an unjust action, the third law of Newton just happens to her and lets some humanity seep out; reminding the world that she has feelings, she has ambitions, she has hopes and dreams and vision… and indignation.
She wants to take her space in society without fighting for it, just because she’s a normal human being, just because she worked for it, just because she deserves it.
So yes, that African woman fights.
You just don’t see it daily; as she calmly puts on her Amazon shield to defend her values, as she gracefully tackles every battle towards her dreams, as she takes on the constant assails in the usual path of her life, she wants normality for the African woman to be that of the universal norm.
– Happy Women’s Day –
Take a minute to enjoy this poem by Senegalese author Léopold Sedar Senghor (1906 – 2001)
Black Woman, Naked Woman.
Translated to English from the original poem “Femme Nue, Femme Noire”.