Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson is using her platform to explain why certain phrases that may seem empowering can actually be insulting to her. The Empire actor spoke during a segment with Essence Wellness House and revealed her feelings on popular terminology regarding the intersection of race and gender. Here's why Taraji P. Henson's issue with the phrase "strong Black woman" is enlightening.
The Essence Wellness House segment on Thursday, July 2, featured Henson for a panel titled "Black Women in the Workplace." The discussion focused on the challenges Black women face every day and how she deals with microaggressions in her industry. Some things Henson brought up were how phrases like "strong Black woman" and "Black girl magic" started as well-meaning terms, but now feel dehumanizing. "It started off as an empowerment saying... because [Black women are] always neglected, we're always at the bottom of the totem pole. We're the least respected on the planet," she said.
Henson continued, "It came as a [saying] to empower us. But then, as years [went] on, we've been ignored because of that very statement. It dehumanizes us. It dehumanizes our pain. It belittles our tears!" She explained, "We're supposed to be able to watch our brothers and sons, and fathers get murdered in the street, but we can take it because we're strong. We can deal with it, we can handle it. And that's just not true."
"I have issues with titles like that, and 'Black girl magic' because we're not fairies. We don't magically rebound from pain. We hurt and suffer just like others," she said. "I just always felt some kind of way about those titles, once I became aware of what they were doing to us," she said. "The damage that it was creating for us and the stigma around Black women to implement that we are strong enough to get over anything."
Henson explained there's a common misconception about what strength means, saying the focus has always been on rebounding, instead of admitting vulnerability and living in your truth. "Strength is in being vulnerable," she said. "And that's what I want my people to understand. The strength is in being vulnerable and being honest with yourself, and saying, 'You know what, I'm scared right now.' Or, 'I honestly don't know what to do right now.'"
During the interview, she also explained that she's careful about who she works with as a team. “I make sure that my team understands how I have to maneuver through the industry,” she noted. "If you don't understand how you have to nurture a Black woman's talent and maneuver through this industry, then you can't be on my team." Henson continued, “You can’t be void of the issues I have to deal with, because if I feel any kind of microaggression on set, I’m going to come to you, my manager, or agent to talk about it." Henson concluded, "I make sure that when I have people on my team, they are culturally competent, so I don't have to deal with any of these issues alone."
Henson's enlightening stance on the terms brings up an important point about how seemingly empowering words can sometimes be insidiously harmful, and it's definitely something to remember going forward.