Black Women Are The Mules Of The Earth is a quote from Zora Neale Hurston who spoke through the heroine Janie Crawford in her 1937 book, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’. I began to grapple with the imagery that statement elicited, whether I should interpret it as praise for our strength or a derogating description that is symbolic of victimization and bondage. African Americans are faced with the psychological challenge of reconciling with an African Heritage and an European upbringing and education, thus bringing about a multi-facetted conception of self. W.E.B DuBois called this double consciousness, which is a sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of another. Based in popular culture, the black female iconography has been the saviors, cooks, cleaners, caretakers of their children and other people’s children, the ones responsible for making things better that we didn’t mess up in the first place, the sex objects, superheroes, the magical negro, the ones that are everything to everyone while operating under a public gaze that has constructed this superhuman stereotype. Without being conscious of it, our culture’s imagination is eager to distort black women and dehumanize us.
This collage is a construction of those self conceptions that are reinforced by the historical archetype of African American women, a fortitude that was inherited from slavery and that we continue in inflict onto our self with unawareness. It’s likely that the strength that we identify with is inquired in search of security, safely and self preservation, however it gives us a limited sense of being and it gives others unrealistic expectations. I believe that Zora Neale Hurston is saying that we are conditioned to serve the needs of other and to invest in strength to our own detriment. I hope that awareness of this is liberating and that we begin to reclaim our time here on earth and to set boundaries about the work that we agree to do for others. The real struggle right now is to retain our humanity and to be okay with being vulnerable.