We all know about the myth of the super-powered Black superwoman. It’s been ingrained in our consciousness for generations. But is it healthy? Inger Burnett-Zeigler, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, says the strong Black woman mask we wear is an illusion that prevents us from being “our authentic and abundant selves.”
Burnett-Zeigler’s new book, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: The Emotional Lives of Black Women, takes a hard look at the mask and how to identify it and offers suggestions on why and how to take it off. It’s a personal work equally peppered with family stories and psychological research.
ZORA spoke with Burnett-Zeigler to learn more.
ZORA: Talk about being still.
Inger Burnett-Zeigler: You know, when I think about stillness, it might be a couple of minutes at the top [or] the end of your day. It doesn’t have to be in a period of extreme distress. I think about it as a time when you are not stuck in just doing busy-ness, but you have the opportunity to slow down. I acknowledge that that’s uncomfortable for a lot of people; [it’s] uncomfortable for my mom. Stillness for some people is really just intolerable.
You’re adamant about what therapy can do, but we also have cultural barriers of generational secret-keeping and religious traditions that say, you know, “just give it to God.”
For those who have never been in a therapeutic setting, there’s a lot of fear around what you’ll be forced to talk about, being misunderstood, and the consequences of sharing. I try to help people to understand what you can expect in a therapeutic environment.
I was struck by the 2016 study you mention in the book where a majority of White medical students and psychiatric residents actually believed Black people’s nerve endings were less sensitive than White people’s — that Black people felt less pain.
Yeah. We know that Black men are perceived as older than their age and stronger and bigger…