Taking Care of You is Taking Care of Them: Defying the Black Superwoman Syndrome
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What started out as a two-and-a-half hour recorded conversation turned into a helpful resource for Black women everywhere. In just four months, Tanisha King-Taylor wrote and self-published Out of Battle into Freedom: One Black Woman’s Guide to Escaping the Superwoman Syndrome. It’s a personal account and backstory of how the Black Superwoman syndrome has been internalized by Black women for generations, and how detrimental it has become to Black women’s health.
King-Taylor is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois. Her focus is on Black women and the microagressions of racism in predominately white institutions. While researching for her PhD, King-Taylor realized that there was an insufficient amount of attention to research that showed how the stress of enabling this “strong Black woman” archetype can lead to health issues such as heart disease and obesity.
“In the academy, that type of work does not get shared with the everyday person,” King-Taylor says. “And I realized that it wasn’t just an individual issue but it was a collective one.”
King-Taylor describes the plight of this syndrome as a tug-of-war feeling. On one hand, Black women have to continually fight the low-expectations of being classified as “ghetto” or undereducated by more privileged communities, while at the same time live up to the high expectations from the Black community that she must be able to hold down the household, raise children, be an integral part of the church community, and so on. This constant push-pull action can then create frustration and resentment and cause a harmful amount of stress.
“The Superwoman syndrome is a direct defiance of what our society and culture tells us Black women should be like, but it in turn hurts us,” King-Taylor says. “It’s automatically in our psyche. It’s embedded throughout the fabric of our culture [and] it’s not as noticeable or recognizable.” Because of the lack of access to this material to everyday people, King-Taylor felt it was important to create a resource for Black women: “I wanted to be able to share, motivate, uplift, and inspire other women through my own personal story of what my upbringing looked like, into becoming a Superwoman and attempting to live up to that expectation. I wanted to write it in a way that was personal so that women could see themselves and open up their mind to becoming something else.”
However, self-financing and spearheading this project proved to be a challenge. As a mother of three, a wife, a PhD student, and a director of an office, King-Taylor had to make sure she allocated money to pay for an editor, transcriptionist and the cover design, as well as time and energy to edit the book for final publication and organize her own book signings. As for the actual writing of the book, King-Taylor says the process was particularly easy because it was recorded conversation where she answered a set of questions. After that interaction was transcribed, it was just a matter of putting the ideas and content together and organizing them into a structured book.
Ultimately, King-Taylor says she had to take her own advice and pick and choose and prioritize which endeavors to take on. She offers the same advice to Black women: “Say no. Be okay and comfortable with the expectations that are there but not feeling obligated to live up to them.” She says it’s important to accept that you do not have to prove yourself more than you want to those with low expectations of you, and that it’s also okay to say no to those in your community without feeling any guilt or shame for it. Above all else, your individual self-care should be your top priority.
King-Taylor hits home to something that is universal to all women and mothers who may have internal battles and feel like they have to defy some sort of stereotype: “If you don’t take care of you, then how can you take care of them? Reshaping the thought process [and changing the perception] of self-care and what that means is valuable to those around you as well. Taking care of you is taking care of them.”
Aside from pursuing her PhD, King-Taylor also teaches as an adjunct professor in social work at the University of Illinois. After school, she plans to publish a second book, which will be a collection of essays, poems and speeches. When not in school or teaching, King-Taylor also gives speeches and workshops on dealing with microaggressions and helping agencies enhance cultural awareness. She was recently invited to attend the 2017 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and held a book signing for her book. Through her work, she hopes to continue to inspire, motivate and encourage positive change in women.
Michelle received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She teaches English at the University of Bridgeport and is currently working on her first Young Adult novel. You can follow her on Twitter at @mkcalero.