What mental toll does the burden on Black women take?
During Thursday’s “On Her Turf at the Olympics” roundtable, there were moments where each of the four panelists exhaled. They breathed. Breathing is expected and encouraged, but sometimes we exhale emotions with our breath. MJ Acosta-Ruiz opened the show reading a recent Simone Biles tweet, followed by a brief monologue.
“See, this one cuts deep,” she began.
“The perception of the ‘strong Black woman’ is exhausting. It’s draining. To have to constantly compartmentalize all that you are carrying because the expectation – and well, the societal condition from eons ago – is that Black women can handle it. Can you and should you are two very different conversations.”
Acosta-Ruiz and fellow co-host of “On Her Turf at the Olympics” Lindsay Czarniak were joined by NBC Olympics basketball analyst Monica McNutt and NBC Olympics track & field analyst, and 2016 Olympic shot put gold medalist Michelle Carter. (Video of the 24-minute conversation is embedded above.)
The women talked about Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the Olympic team event and individual all-around competitions, and the unnecessary and inappropriate criticism she has received since. Carter commended Biles’ bravery, knowing full well how difficult it can be to say no.
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She cited times she “knew I should have took a break and I should have paused to collect myself, but I pushed on anyways because I was holding everyone’s expectations but my own.”
There are several names, tropes really, to describe the weight of expectations Carter is referring to. The strong or angry Black woman, the Black Superwoman, and on. Perhaps for Biles, it is her status as the G.O.A.T. On the one hand, we must believe we are shrouded in super strength to survive a patriarchal society founded on white supremacy. On the other hand, operating at such an elevated mental and emotional state as a means of survival is exhausting.
McNutt brought up the duality of the ‘black tax,’ a term used to describe paying more to support Black enterprises or the social burden of being Black in most spaces.
“While she is celebrated in (gymnastics), she is keenly aware, every day and every time she walks into a gym, that she’s one of few.”
Czarniak reflected – out loud – on the times leading up to Biles competing in Tokyo that she experienced the pressure. “As we’re having this conversation, I’m just wondering why didn’t anyone – why isn’t that recognized? And is that something that is because of race?”
Czarniak, the only white panelist, also wondered at what age Black girls identify the world’s weight.
A collective exhale.
“From day one,” Carter said. “We are taught – as children – that you have to be taught two times better than everyone else in order to even get half of the recognition.”
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Everyone’s experience is different, but Black girls often grow up sooner than their peers. The panelists accurately classified the conversation as a start, that there are actions needed to ease the ongoing burden that Black women feel more acutely than other communities.
“We kicked open the door of a house that is at hoarder-level status of us needing to address some things,” McNutt said. “But it’s a great start.”
Follow Erica L. Ayala on Twitter @Elindsay08
During the Olympics, you can also catch up on all of the major storylines in women’s sports by watching “On Her Turf @ The Olympics,” a 30-minute show that streams for free on Peacock. Hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, MJ Acosta-Ruiz, and Lolo Jones, the show streams Monday-Saturday at 7pm ET and Sundays at 6pm ET.