Black women cry quietly – literally, metaphorically
Those are the words of Zania Ahava, New York poet and actress. She wrote this piece to let out her feelings after a rough start to her morning. As a woman of color, Ahava discussed that she knows how Black women’s depression is viewed differently. Ahava is not a mental health expert.
“I suffer from seasonal depression, which seems to be one of the more basic ones we ignore,” Ahava said. “(As people) our hormones really do change from season to season — especially people in New York.”
She said she typically posts on social media when she has a bad day because she could care less about social media and the reactions, she receives.
“I thought about how my depression as a Black woman is viewed differently,” she said. “That day I was going through it. It was really bad for me.”
That morning, she was talking on the phone with her boyfriend. She said it was already hard to communicate that morning because he was in India at the time, and service was not great. They had to communicate with Voice Notes.
“I’m boo-hoo crying, right in front of people at Prospect Park,” she said. “That hard cry when you feel like that you’re about to throw up. People were passing me by and not asking what was wrong.”
To paint a picture, she said it was a nice day at the park, people were out and about and Ahava described how it is a large park in Brooklyn, probably the biggest. It is also called Brooklyn’s Backyard. She assumed at least one person would stop and ask, “Are you OK?”
“I know that’s a lot to ask, but I was thinking if I were a white girl, it would have gone differently,” Ahava said. “I think if that was the case, I would have received looks of sympathy, rather than disregard.”
She said in that moment she felt alone, and it wasn’t in her head. She admitted that if she saw a woman crying in that type of capacity in public, she would stop and ask the woman if she was OK.
Ahava said she realizes that Black women go through so much on a regular basis. They go through depression too, but other races do not see it.
“For some reason, we’re looked at as superheroes who can’t get hurt,” Ahava said. “No matter how hurt we are, we’re just so resilient. The idea is that we’ll be fine regardless, and that’s not the case. There’s a lack of empathy for Black women in society.”
Ahava cannot recollect when she first realized Black women had to cry quietly.
“You always feel it, but you address it at a certain age,” she said. “There’s an unwritten language between Black women, and we know what we’re going through. It’s just different for us, and we look out for each other.”
Ahava grew up in the South, but she said New York made her able to express herself. She said anytime someone has the chance to meet a lot of new people or be in a new space, they are finding their way. They learn who they like or do not like. They are learning what affects them.
“Growing up in the South, definitely impacts how I act up here,” she explained. “Transplants from the South are very knowing of race. We see so much racial turbulence in the South. Everything is just Black, white and maybe a little Hispanic. Living that really does mold who you are and how you see the world.”
She explained that seeing the world differently between the two regions is how she stays real.
“I realized when I moved to New York, I felt (free) with my words,” she said. “I don’t question myself as much anymore. In the South, ‘the white way,’ is the right way. Ebonics, slang and other things that are blatantly Black culture is seen as less than.”
While she said she has observed this over the years, she said one thing in Black culture is that not everyone is taught to love themselves.
“We are not taught to love ourselves growing up,” she said. “It’s love God and respect elders. There is no conversation to trust yourself.”
She added that in the Black community, individuals are taught to be strong and resilient, and it has been that way for several centuries.
“It always has been, ‘If you have to cry, do it in the bathroom. Don’t cry sis, put on that face,’” Ahava said. “It’s a survival tactic because life is harder for Black people. If we could live in depression the way white people live in depression, it would be a different story.”
She pointed out that the Black culture has not always been receptive to using the word depression.
“That’s why depression is a new word to us,” she explained. “Black people have always been taught how to survive. We’re the survival type because we always had to.”
This thinking has led to the superhero analogy she wrote in her post: Black women are considered superheroes.
“When I say superheroes? I think people think Black women are indestructible,” she said. “We are human and have dual emotions. If we act in an emotional way, we’re called crazy, angry and loud. How did I get so many stereotypes just for having human emotions?”
She added that it is because Black women are often put in boxes because of these emotions. She detailed these boxes. Ahava said if a Black woman is sexual or angry — that woman is now in a sexual box or angry box. She explained it is almost as if a Black woman cannot be multilayered.
“We’re not allowed to be a lot of things because throughout history we have been strong out of circumstance,” she said. “Yes, the resilience of our people is beautiful, but the young girls need to help their ancestors get (the) help they couldn’t get before.”
She inquired if the ancestors had a choice, what would they do?
“If the ancestors had a choice, do you think they would choose to struggle?” she asked. “Do you think they would choose to have mental struggle or choose the trauma?”
She added that while Black women deal with depression, anxiety, and trauma they are still therapists for male and females of other races.
“Sometimes I do feel with other races, they look at us as therapists,” she said. “I’m the strongest one out of my friends, and I feel it is because I do not talk about my feelings with them. I do notice that I’m a heavy listener. I don’t want to erase that side of me, and sometimes it’s not reciprocated. A lot of my feelings are gone – unheard — and I’m not sure why. I have known for a very long time that I’m the therapist for women of different races because I’m seen as strong, there to go to for advice.”
She has noticed that the moment she is hurting, other races tell her, “That’s impossible. You’ll be fine.”
Ahava noted that sometimes when an individual vent, he or she wants to open up and not hear how strong they are, they just want to talk.
“Maybe we listen well and provide advice because we know how it feels to be ignored,” she said.
Katrina Wilson is a freelance writer that is a Carolina girl who now lives in northern Virginia.
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