Black women aren’t Tylenol

A viral post calling for Black women to come to Kanye West’s rescue once again raises questions about why we’re always expected to save everyone but ourselves.

This past weekend was another a busy one for Kanye West. In his ongoing war against soon-to-be-ex-wife Kim Kardashian-West and her new beau Pete Davidson, he took to Instagram to post a barrage of insults, all reportedly in an effort to expose the media narrative being built against him and “fight” for his family.

Photo: Getty

Though I’ve intentionally made it a point not to follow his antics, when Kanye does something—anything—he trends and tuning in often becomes almost unavoidable. When I saw him trending this time, I assumed it was Kanye being Kanye. I wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t until one of my Sorors dropped into our group chat with an Instagram post positing Kanye wouldn’t know peace until he’s in a relationship with a Black woman that I felt some kind of way.

While conversations about Kanye’s wellness and self-acknowledged bipolar diagnosis have long lingered in response to incidents of him publicly acting out, so have questions of who’s around to hold him accountable. As someone who has experienced deep loss, works diligently to maintain my own mental health and has some behaviors and traits that only get better when I put that work in, I know how complicated conversations around Kanye are. Everything isn’t reducible to his mental health nor should it be. At the same time, mismanagement of mental health isn’t good for anyone and can jeopardize everything.

That’s why, in response to both the initial post and the resulting social media conversations, I chimed in to say a Black woman isn’t what Kanye needs, it’s therapeutic support to be his best self and a personal commitment to want to be. While many Black women are licensed therapists and counselors, that is not and should not be the default of every Black woman. And, though we make great accountability partners, Black women shouldn’t be expected to hold everyone accountable—especially someone who hasn’t asked for it and makes relationship choices as though he’d rather do without it.

But to be honest, while Kanye is the most current context for this sentiment, the idea that sisters are the cure-all for whatever ails you isn’t a new one. Black women have long been expected to save America from total destruction, love Black men into the best versions of themselves, raise accomplished and respectful children, maintain a home without blemish or flaw, and secure a level of social status and respect their husbands and children can be proud of all while drinking eight glasses of water daily, volunteering at the church, being the backbone of their extended families and maintaining desirable bodies and clear skin. Any time she deviates from any of these simple tasks, she has set Black America back 100 years.

And the moment she calls out the foolishness, she is the problem. In the context of Kanye, whether it was Black women telling me I’m just not the kind of Black woman who can help a Black man reach his full potential or Black men calling me fat, ugly, undesirable and not a woman brothers want anyway, my social media was filled with people telling me I had no idea what I was talking about. Many even took the time to remind me of Kanye’s wealth, one going so far as to say I was trashing a billionaire when I was probably sitting with a checking account in overdrafts.

This type of response isn’t new and doesn’t just happen to me. It’s part of an ugly, violent and persistent trend of denigrating Black women who advocate for themselves and other Black women. These people virtually spit in the faces of women who look like their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins and aunties—women who look like them—and don’t think twice about it. Instead, they painstakingly take the time to single out Black women like me as what’s wrong with our community.

Question: How are Black women like me the problem and the solution? How is it that Black women are expected to come to the rescue of those who “need” us but when Black women push back against that trope, we’re told Black men don’t want us anyway? And why are we often told we’re only tolerated because Black men are—as one commenter claimed—“stuck” with us if they want to have Black children?

I can’t be what you need and the reason you need it. And it will never be wrong to insist that, as Black women work to be whole and well themselves, they deserve partners who can extend the same in reciprocity.

Here are a few things that are true and two things I know for certain: There will be another instance (or countless ones) when the call for Black women to come in and clean up a mess they didn’t create will be made. When that happens, Black women who refuse to pick up that mop and bucket will continue to be targets of vicious attacks across social and digital platforms. It’s well past time we actually care enough to stop both from happening. 

For some Black men, that will require that they take a moment to actually see us. Not just see themselves in us but see us as we are—human beings maneuvering similar weights and challenges in a world of anti-Blackness. It will require deep and honest reflection about harm done and necessitate that men hold each other accountable when they see another Black man engaging in that kind of harm.

It also requires Black women to take residence in the sacred space of saying “no” to notions that deny our humanity and refuse us the right to real self-care. It means honoring that we are more than the world’s clean-up woman. It means remembering and reminding each other: We have always been more. 

Candice Benbow
Photo: Cuemadi White

Candice Marie Benbow is theGrio’s daily lifestyle, education and health writer. She’s also the author of Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @candicebenbow.

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