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No offense to Alicia, but I’m NOT Superwoman

Fantasia Barrino is the latest casualty in the myth of the Black Superwoman.

The news on the wire today is that Fantasia, on the heels of public innuendo about an affair with a married man, attempted suicide. According to Huffington Post, the American Idol winner took too many aspirin and sleep aids, and is resting comfortably at a North Carolina hospital. The HuffPo article cites Fantasia’s manager, who confirms that “injuries” sustained from the combination of pills is “not life threatening”, and that “Fantasia sends her praise to God and her eternal gratitude to her fans, friends, and family.”

I’ m glad she’s resting comfortably, but when are we gonna get to the real?

First of all, I don’t think I’m alone with I posit that Fantasia’s overdose was a cry for help that went much deeper than her alleged distress over some cheating scandal. As my Twitter friend @BasseyWorldLive astutely pointed out, your average well-adjusted person doesn’t take a bunch of sleeping pills behind some man; emotionally healthy people can roll with the punches and handle setbacks without resorting to desperate measures. Only desperate, sick people in need of help get found in a closet with a belly full of Bayer and Ambien. If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you swallowed a bottle of pills…for most of you, the last time would be “never”. For the rest of you, the last time was a period of extreme sadness and hopelessness. That’s how we can tell that Fantasia didn’t just have a big headache and a few sleepless nights: she was trying to harm herself.

On the Twitterverse today, people made fun of Fantasia’s man problems and pointed out her money-spending brother, the fact that she’s financially responsible for a bunch of family members. You already know where that “everyone on the payroll” thing got MC Hammer. But more important than losing your money is losing your sanity, and any woman who has the weight of children, momma, daddy, brother, cousin with hands in your pocketbook is generally a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. All jokes aside, pressure and stress are a part of everyday life for all women, but Black women often bear the brunt of sucking it up and holding it down no matter what. Damn, Alicia Keys even wrote a song about it:

“Even when I’m a mess, I still put on a vest with an S on my chest, oh yes! I’m a Superwoman.”

Yes, the superwoman meme is old and tired, and is true for mothers moreso than other women, but I’m not talking about all women today: I’m talking about Black women and our inability to ask for help. The success of Alicia’s song, the way we sing it so passionately speaks to our belief that the sistas can always make a miracle, no matter what, without any help from anyone. Oh, and we do it without complaining. How many other songs written or performed by Black women draw upon the same themes of tirelessness and selflessness as though both are ideal states? I’m all for female empowerment, but everyone needs help with something at some point in life. And not just help from Jesus, because he can’t baby sit when you have to take an extra shift to pay the rent. And not just practical help, Black women need emotional help. Not just the kind that comes from singing catchy pop tunes, but the kind that helps us figure out why we need to be everything to everyone and nothing to ourselves.

As a Black woman who has been in therapy for over 10 years, I see the benefit of some time on the couch for everyone. Yet in our community, we’re more likely to seek religious counseling than emotional counseling. When I’m not sure I believe in God, its time to talk to a minister; when I’m not sure I believe in myself or my will to live, I’m heading for the headshrinker. Someone I know pretended to go to work for years though she had no job, caused the financial decline of her husband,then tried to hurt herself physically. After refusing to sign the 5150 (72-hour psych hold for people who are deemed a danger to themselves), her husband brought her to church counseling. I’m a Christian, and I love Jesus, but even he knows that my friend needed to confront some deep emotional truths. Like, what made her lie to her husband and children for years? Why did she need to keep the facade of working everyday even after she lost her job? Just why did she lose her job? And what the Hell did she do with the family’s money? Some of her secrecy was for deeply personal reasons, I’m sure, and I’d guess that some of it was purely delusional. But I’ll bet that a lot of what she hid for years was because she was ashamed and afraid: ashamed of needing some help, of having made mistakes, of not being able to live up to an arbitrary image of who she was supposed to be. And only in the Black community do we look at a situation like that and run right to the church, where they tell us to pray and have faith. Then when we’re prayerful and faithful and we still don’t feel any better, we’re now spiritual failures. How has that helped anyone?

Somewhere, somebody is writing a magazine article about the failures of Black womanhood and why “our” stars get into trouble. To that, let me say that Lindsey Lohan is in a heap of trouble, but at least she’ll probably get some psych treatment with her hard-core alcohol rehab, so she’s better off than Fantasia who’s manager is still spinning a suicide attempt into a praise dance and some album publicity. Instead of using Barrino’s behavior as a teachable moment for what happens when life overwhelms you and you need help, we’ll criminalize her behavior instead of looking at what caused it. We’ll make comments about her having sleeping pills. We’ll speculate on her alleged affair and whether the lawsuit against her his founded. And we’ll look at her baby daddy drama and pass judgment on the kind of person she is. But we won’t wonder what underlying issue makes a woman chase after married men, or analyze the impact of fame and success on family relations. We’ve done it before: another Twitter friend – @DrRenee - wrote something about how Maia Campbell and Lauryn Hill got painted with the “crazy Black woman” brush, dissed for exhibiting symptoms of serious mental illness, and summarily dismissed. No wonder Black folks living with mental illness can’t “come out” – our community does such a bad job at admitting and addressing emotional shortcomings if we’re not gossiping or making fun of them. And if a talent like Lauryn, or a beauty like Maia don’t get accepted or understood, what chance does a “regular” Black girl like me stand? If the rich and famous get put on blast, I’m not about to discuss my illness openly for fear that I’m discounted as crazy and put out to pasture. So I leave the office to call my shrink. I blog under a pseudonym to protect my medical history from potential employers and paramours. I live for years with lies and subterfuge and, even after I’ve committed myself to an institution, I still don’t talk about what happened there because my family kind of pretends it never happened.

Yep, I’m a Superwoman…yes I am.

19 comments to No offense to Alicia, but I’m NOT Superwoman

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Deltra Coyne, Deltra Coyne. Deltra Coyne said: New blog post from My Polar Opposite: No offense… http://www.mypolaropposite.com/2010/08/10/no-offense-to-alicia-but-im-not-superwoman/ [...]

  • Wow, what a great post! This superwoman syndrome is killing our communities, little by litte. We need to support our sisters, mothers, aunites, and girls and let them know it is ok to say I need help. But I concur it is hard as hell to admit it.

  • Latonya

    I love it…finally someone steps forward to speak the words that I have wanted to form for years, but you left out one important point…this myth was sold to us by some many others and we have bought hook, line and sinker….other minorities and ethnicities are cut a break and allowed to be women, but as soon as a black woman lets her guard down and allows that to happen, someone or something comes along to wreak havoc in her life…that is why we hold on to Jesus, prayer and faith for dear life…that is why we hold on to the facade of "Superwoman" with such ferocity, because we don't know who we are and what we are supposed to be…we have been holding it down and in for so long, that letting go has become life or death…yes, I can finally breath and say no I'm not a SUPERWOMAN, but I am a woman…

  • BlackLizLemon

    Thank you

  • T Franchesca

    I find this article to be true and on point. Thank-you for writing it.

  • Miss C. Jayne

    I'm happy that other people are seriously talking about this in a way that will hopefully lead to healing.

    Thanks for this.

    ~Miss C. Jayne

  • angel

    I'm sad that the media took to bashing Fantasia and leaving out the maried man who ppl should be concetrating on. Man cheat and they are given a green light, women cheat and they are bashed and ridiculed a lot. Its not fair at all. Lets deal with the men that cheat too.

  • Alisa

    You are preaching to the choir! I have been in counseling on and off for a little more than ten years, but I have been BLESSED with a family as well as a church family that truly looks out for my welfare! That is it “the company you keep”! You have to truly ask yourself about the relationships in your life. Are the for me or against me are they helping me or hurting me? Sometimes in most cases you have no choice but to have help or an advocate on your behalf. But pray to GOD that you have the right one! There wasn’t really one for Lindsey Lohan she had to be the breed winner for her family, Lauren God bless her but she was lead astray by people she trusted, Maia we have to keep her prayed up (her mother did write 72 Hour Hold Bebe Moore Campbell), and pray for Fantasia’s manager and family for Spirit of discernment so their eyes can be opened a little more so she can truly get the help the counseling she really needs! a lot of these so called superwomen are just misdiagnoised mental breakdowns ready to happen! We need to step up and be advocates for those who really,truly wants help! GOD BLESS!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for bringing to light the incredible benefits of therapy!

  • Jenelle

    I understand what everyone is saying in response to this but sometimes, or least in my experiences, no one wants to help. People in my family are either mad because their life isn't what they thought it would be so they do not reach out. And then when you do try to ask for help, they complain about it or tell you what they think you should do with your life. Part of being supportive, is being open enough to care about what a person wants and most importantly not constantly bringing up past mistakes. I cannot tell you how many times people in my family did not want to help just because I deserved to struggle in their opinions.

  • Jenelle

    Great post btw. I liked the part about church and how we as a community expect God to solve everything, it was well said.

  • JAM

    Thank God. This article is so necessary & true. We need help, direction, Jesus, support, love, hope and the list goes on. This article is producing a dialogue and a truth that gives us all something to consider the next time we forget our sister when they are in need or bash them when they make mistakes. We all have sinned and come short. We need tangible solutions and sometimes that is a listening ear, prayer, money to help in an emergency, I ride to the grocery store to take the immediate presure off so a sister can get her bearings. Thanks for your insight and testimony

  • [...] intention of this post), I’ll just point out a very thoughtful commentary that I agree with. You can find it here. [...]

  • Very true, very well-written, and a very necessary read. Thank you for writing this. As a Black Latina, I get it from both communities, so I relate to this all too well.

  • I’ve always struggled with incertitude and suspect I will until I perish. But faith and doubt seem to have their seasons. . . And yet in my faith drops, I all the same pray and read my Bible. . . I simply do so with more queries. Recently, I’ve been reading a great deal on doubt, because I plan on leading a limited group on the matter in September. Personally, I’ve learned that like misery loves company, doubt loves other doubters. It’s therapeutic. I’ve read both Rachel Held Evan’s “Evolving in Monkey Town” where she had a faith crisis — mostly born out of her fundamentalist mindset.

  • Alicia Keys is a person with soul, intelligence, kind; and she is just so gorgeous and sexy. She should have a rating of 10 stars plus

  • [...] – “Superman” After writing a number of choice words both here and on Twitter about my take on Fantasia Barrino, I’ve gotten a few choice words back from the internet ether (and the real people behind it) [...]

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