Strong Black Woman Syndrome (SBWS) calls on Black women to be the problem-solvers, chief caretakers and “end all, be all” for everyone in their lives sans support and respite. Essentially, the Strong Black Women Syndrome demands that Black women never buckle, never feel vulnerable, and most importantly, never, ever put their own needs above anyone else’s—not their children’s, not their community’s, not the people for whom they work—no matter how detrimental it is to their well-being.
As a community, we’re slowly coming to terms with the emotional and spiritual dis-ease this syndrome has on the Black women it envelops. Sadly though, we continue to fall short in analyzing its ravishing financial implications, though they are numerous and quite glaring.
When we fully unpack the acute financial downside of this unrealistic cultural expectation and tired trope, we can clearly see that SBWS leaves Black women and the families they support not only broke, but also broken. Here are four ways.
1. The Strong Black Woman Syndrome produces financial underachievers. In many a family, Black women are subsidizing the financial lives of adult children, grandchildren and spouses all on one income. This phenomenon creates wealth hubs instead of wealth webs. With wealth hubs, Black women’s incomes are at the epicenter of wealth and capital in their immediate networks. This phenomenon jeopardizes and threatens the stability of families led by Black women, because there’s little financial reinforcement created to buffer financial strain placed on one income or set of resources. It’s also nearly impossible to spread financial risk equitably if there is only one source of income.
Wealth webs, on the other hand, occur when family members are connected to other family members with growing assets, thus creating a strong network of capital and resources. When there are several sources of income, opportunities for wealth creation become easier to create.
2. The Strong Black Woman Syndrome stifles business expansion. For Black women with this complex, there’s the distorted belief that they shouldn’t ask for help. An aspiring entrepreneur with SBWS is often uncomfortable with asking for support—seed money, a referral, or child care support—because she considers it a sign of weakness or believes she can’t depend on anyone but herself.
Failure to speak up for what’s needed to expand a business cripples its growth. Period. In the event that an entrepreneur with this syndrome reaches out for help, it’s usually too late, and she loses out on key industry connections, slowing down the trajectory of expansion by years or creating less-than-ideal business agreements.
3. The Strong Black Woman Syndrome encourages impulse-buying and emotional spending. It’s a law of nature: whatever is repressed never goes away. Ever. In fact, when whatever is pushed down finally surfaces, it tends to explode with the same pressure with which it was forced to quell.
When a Black woman living under SBWS seeks an outlet for all of the emotional and financial caregiving she gives to others, it’s usually online, at a dealership, or at a mall. And usually, what she buys to comfort her soul and spirit isn’t cheap. The cost of the purchase can be in direct relation to the feelings of neglect, overwhelm and resentment.
In other words, the more pain she feels, the bigger and more expensive the reward.
4. The Strong Black Woman Syndrome models financial dysfunction and passes down a maladaptive money relationship to the next generation. When children observe financial martyrdom in the money behaviors of women in their lives, they emulate these practices as adults. Girls grow to be these women; boys grow up to marry them.
As a personal finance coach, I work with adult Black women who, despite their age, continue to harbor rancor against their mothers for their current financial predicament. In a recent coaching session, a self-proclaimed “recovering Strong Black Woman” shared that she learned to take on a disproportionate amount of her household expenses—using all of her salary for bills and living in an unhappy financial silence in a rocky marriage— because she saw her mother do the same with her father when she was a girl.
The Strong Black Woman Syndrome is a racist and sexist archetype created to emotionally and financially marginalize Black women. It keeps Black women far from emotional happiness and financial wellness, thus limiting access to their full humanity. Beware.
Connect with Kara Stevens on Twitter @frugalfeminista. Learn more about The Frugal Feminista at www.thefrugalfeminista.com and download her free ebook, The 5-Day Financial Reset Plan: Eliminate Debt, Know Your Worth, and Heal Your Relationship with Money in Just 5 Days.