So much for the myth of the strong black woman.
Black women in America have historically taken on the role of the martyr — one who suffers for a cause or belief. During and after slavery in the United States, black women sacrificed their own needs and well-being for the benefit of others.
Over time, many black women have developed not only the role of the martyr, but the mindset of the martyr. They have come to see themselves as the eternal victim, specially chosen to endure pain and sacrifice their happiness for others. In contradiction to their outward appearance of resilience and ability, some black women indulge in unending victimhood, and consider pain and hardship a basic aspect of their existence.
This martyr complex is easy to observe, if one looks in the right places. Magazines catered to black women, online forums and blogs where black women participate, and conversations among black women offer many examples. In such venues it is not uncommon to hear rants and complaints from black women on everything from beauty standards to career.
For every martyr, victimhood fulfills certain needs. What do black women gain from the martyr syndrome?
1. An explanation
Believing that one’s fate in life is to endure pain provides an explanation for suffering, if a simple and unchangeable one. If black women are destined to suffer, an individual black woman’s problems in life are simply the fulfillment of this fate. There is no need to reflect or determine if one’s problems are due to any personal failings. There is no need to improve.
2. A sense of belonging
People enjoy bonding and feeling like they are part of a community. They appreciate this sense of belonging even if their only tie to others in their community is shared trials and frustration. By joining together in martyrdom, black women feel less alone in any struggles they may be having.
3. The biggest loser
Martyrs gain a sense of self and identity from their suffering. No one suffers as much as they do, no one is as honorable in their ability to bear difficulties. The martyr is strengthened from being broken down. This sense of misery provides relief for black women. Even if they can’t win at anything else, black women can win at one thing — losing.
But no matter the benefits the martyr complex appears to offer in the short-run, it is more damaging than anything else. Martyrs hold themselves back from their maximum potential in life. They strain themselves mentally and emotionally by making experience of pain a life priority. Martyrs make life for those around them more difficult with their negativity and constant victimhood.
Black women would be better served by concentrating less energy on the victim complex and more energy on finding or creating solutions to any issues they may come up against in life. True peace and happiness are more uplifting than martyrdom.