In 1889, Oscar Wilde wrote his note-worthy essay The Decay of Lying with the famous opening sentence, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. This sentiment has been echoed throughout the centuries with the media we consume on a daily basis acting as a reflection of past events.
However, this societal reaction to this mirror effect can cause immense damage. One of the most notorious forms of this mirror effect is the Strong Black Woman Trope. This trope is an archetype of Black women that have three notable characteristics: emotional resilience, caretakers and independence. This archetype displays Black woman as fearless beings who can overcome any hardship. On a surface level, this archetype can be categorized as good.
Nevertheless, this trope has been the catalyst for many nefarious incidents than good ones. One of the most recent examples of this is the kidnapping and murder of Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau, a nineteen-year-old activist from Tallahassee, Florida. This teenager was assaulted three times before her untimely death where she was kidnapped, assaulted and left for dead. Salau shared her past assaults to social media, went to the police to file reports and pleaded for refuge from her local community.
And yet she was meet with radio silence on all ends. Where was the agency to help and save this girl? Where was the outrage? Where were the adults who were supposed to protect her? The answer is simple, black girls are seen as a strong woman who can handle any endeavour. This notion is made more clear by a study conducted in 2017 at the University of Florida Levin College of Law Study examining violence against Black women. According to the study Black girls are perceived as needing “less protection and nurturing” and “more knowledgeable about sex”.
These assumptions lead to black girls experiencing adultification and hyper-sexualisation at higher rates than their peers. This trope has infiltrated the lives of black girls and woman all over the world. Black women are labelled as confrontational, unattractive and unlovable. The last woman any partner would pick to love.
Even though they are many Salau’s whose stories and pain remains invisible to the world. I hope that one day Black girls and woman are seen as more than strong warriors. That one-day black girls will have the autonomy to decide whether or not they want to be delicate, funky or sweet.