Black women deal with a lot of “expectations” about our behavior and what we should or should not do. And as a teenager I can remember my peers utter disdain for how it seemed certain white girls could start crying at any given moment over any particular thing and about how weak and pathetic and needy that was. And as my peers would go on and on about the apparent weakness of fragile-hearted white women, I would say nothing because I had a not-so-secret secret.
I wasn’t like my black girlfriends who only started crying if they were about to fight someone because they were so full of rage, or maybe shed a tear over a crappy boyfriend or two. I was like those white girls.
I cried over every dang thing.
Always had and still do, to the befuddlement of my parents and friends and pretty much every black person in my life. But I truly can’t help it. I feel feelings. I feel all the feelings and sometimes that means bawling your eyes out because of “hormones” or “memories” or dreaded “hurt feelings.”
Yes. My name is Danielle Belton. I’m a black woman. And I cry. A lot.
On average, I get slightly choked up at least once a day, either over something I’m reading, watching on TV or from memories. Sometimes memories can lead to full-on bawling. And I pretty much hate myself for it the whole time as it was not how I was raised.
I’m not supposed to cry. I distinctly remember my father, when I was a small child, yelling at me to stop crying and me, through tears, exclaiming that “I can’t help it.” And even though to this day be believes that you too can help it, I cannot help it.
I hate crying. For me it represents my Charmin tissue softness. My sentimental, sensitive heart. My weaknesses. The reason why I was a bully magnet for most of my childhood. (Tears fuel bullying super powers apparently.) If I could fix my crying problem I would as I have tried everything. I have choked down feelings. I have ignored feelings. I have rejected feelings. And yet, I still feel and, eventually, even if I’m able to keep it together for several hours, I’m going to cry.
Maybe I won’t let you see me cry, but I’m crying. In the bathroom. In my bedroom. In the car. Alone.
My parents have admitted to not understanding why I cry so much or knowing what side of the family I inherited this curse from. Both my parents are people who don’t cry, save for a funeral. They don’t get choked up when watching people in pain on the news. They can get through sad stories on 60 Minutes without constant eye wiping. They can recall touching stories about loved ones without turning into a hot mess.
But I couldn’t. Even though they expected me to suck it up. I was taught that turning into a snot-nosed, runny-eyed mess was sign you’d lost control of your emotions and now were not worth taking seriously. My father would literally stop talking to me if I started crying as he couldn’t deal with it and at least 50 percent of my “serious” conversations with my father usually involved me crying. So that was a lot of walking away.
Of course, he was walking away because he thought he’d caused it when you don’t really have to do much to make me cry. But when he walked away I felt rejected. Why couldn’t he hang in there and keep talking to me until I came back around, as I always did once I got those tears out? That’s what my mother did (even though she also disliked crying, but at least would attempt to console you, even if it were tears of rage as opposed to tears of sadness.)
Probably the most maddening thing about my hatred of my own tears is that I don’t care if other people cry. I don’t hold it against them. I don’t think they are weak. Crying is just a reaction, like laughter or yelling in anger. Sometimes it’s inappropriate, but other times it can’t be helped. I even think crying (for other people) is healthy and a stress reliever as a lot of people feel better after they cry.
But that’s for other people. For me, it’s “Oh my word, you’re crying again? God, you’re such a wuss.”
I’d like to be less mean to myself about it. I’d like to view myself as I view others.
I doubt I’ll ever be able to convince my father that my feeling of all the emotions is also what makes me a loving and attentive friend, daughter and sister. That the same thing that makes me cry makes me want to cook elaborate dinners for my family and tell them how much I care for them all the time. That makes me loving and loyal. That sometimes getting angry and crying is just getting angry and crying, not some shameful act that must be shunned.
Still, I probably need to convince myself that first.
Reprinted with permission from Clutch.