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Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength

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Black women are strong. At least that's what everyone says and how they are constantly depicted. But what, exactly, does this strength entail? And what price do Black women pay for it? In this book, the author, a psychologist and pastoral theologian, examines the burdensome yoke that the ideology of the Strong Black Woman places upon African American women. She demonstrate Black women are strong. At least that's what everyone says and how they are constantly depicted. But what, exactly, does this strength entail? And what price do Black women pay for it? In this book, the author, a psychologist and pastoral theologian, examines the burdensome yoke that the ideology of the Strong Black Woman places upon African American women. She demonstrates how the three core features of the ideology--emotional strength, caregiving, and independence--constrain the lives of African American women and predispose them to physical and emotional health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and anxiety. She traces the historical, social, and theological influences that resulted in the evolution and maintenance of the Strong Black Woman, including the Christian church, R & B and hip-hop artists, and popular television and film. Drawing upon womanist pastoral theology and twelve-step philosophy, she calls upon pastoral caregivers to aid in the healing of African American women's identities and crafts a twelve-step program for Strong Black Women in recovery. "Too Heavy a Yoke is a much-needed, thoughtful, and nuanced examination of the 'Strong Black Woman' stereotype--a significant new contribution to multiple disciplines of pastoral care and counseling, psychology, sociology, African American and womanist-feminist studies, and constructive theology. Walker Barnes draws on both womanist and Trinitarian theologies to examine how the church can play a part in healing and liberating black women from 'the burden of strength.' Meticulously researched and beautifully written, this book belongs on the shelf of every minister and pastoral counselor, and indeed every woman who knows in her soul the burdens of being a 'StrongBlackWoman.'" --Pamela Cooper-White, Ben G. and Nancye Clapp Gautier Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care, and Counseling, Columbia Theological Seminary Well done! This book is a much-needed gift to the field of pastoral theology. It is a well nuanced and explicated research volume and a practical guide for caregivers, pastors, those who love women struggling with the ideology of the 'StrongBlackWoman,' as well as those in recovery." --Marsha Foster Boyd, President Emerita, Ecumenical Theological Seminary "A prayerful, prophetic, poetic, pastoral, powerful womanist analysis of the StrongBlackWoman, from an interdisciplinary, experiential perspective names the context, content, complexities, and pathology of many Black women's embodied archetypal, systemic oppression and posits hopeful options for a paradigmatic shift of recovery. Woven with artistry and passion, Too Heavy a Yoke is a must-read for clergy, therapists, caregivers, and any persons or groups committed to the liberation of black women, ultimately the liberation of all society." --Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Professor of Religion, Shaw University Divinity School Chanequa Walker-Barnes is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia. She is a licensed psychologist and a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. Her articles have been published in a wide range of scholarly journals, including Journal of Pastoral Theology, Child Development, and American Journal of Community Psychology.


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Black women are strong. At least that's what everyone says and how they are constantly depicted. But what, exactly, does this strength entail? And what price do Black women pay for it? In this book, the author, a psychologist and pastoral theologian, examines the burdensome yoke that the ideology of the Strong Black Woman places upon African American women. She demonstrate Black women are strong. At least that's what everyone says and how they are constantly depicted. But what, exactly, does this strength entail? And what price do Black women pay for it? In this book, the author, a psychologist and pastoral theologian, examines the burdensome yoke that the ideology of the Strong Black Woman places upon African American women. She demonstrates how the three core features of the ideology--emotional strength, caregiving, and independence--constrain the lives of African American women and predispose them to physical and emotional health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and anxiety. She traces the historical, social, and theological influences that resulted in the evolution and maintenance of the Strong Black Woman, including the Christian church, R & B and hip-hop artists, and popular television and film. Drawing upon womanist pastoral theology and twelve-step philosophy, she calls upon pastoral caregivers to aid in the healing of African American women's identities and crafts a twelve-step program for Strong Black Women in recovery. "Too Heavy a Yoke is a much-needed, thoughtful, and nuanced examination of the 'Strong Black Woman' stereotype--a significant new contribution to multiple disciplines of pastoral care and counseling, psychology, sociology, African American and womanist-feminist studies, and constructive theology. Walker Barnes draws on both womanist and Trinitarian theologies to examine how the church can play a part in healing and liberating black women from 'the burden of strength.' Meticulously researched and beautifully written, this book belongs on the shelf of every minister and pastoral counselor, and indeed every woman who knows in her soul the burdens of being a 'StrongBlackWoman.'" --Pamela Cooper-White, Ben G. and Nancye Clapp Gautier Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care, and Counseling, Columbia Theological Seminary Well done! This book is a much-needed gift to the field of pastoral theology. It is a well nuanced and explicated research volume and a practical guide for caregivers, pastors, those who love women struggling with the ideology of the 'StrongBlackWoman,' as well as those in recovery." --Marsha Foster Boyd, President Emerita, Ecumenical Theological Seminary "A prayerful, prophetic, poetic, pastoral, powerful womanist analysis of the StrongBlackWoman, from an interdisciplinary, experiential perspective names the context, content, complexities, and pathology of many Black women's embodied archetypal, systemic oppression and posits hopeful options for a paradigmatic shift of recovery. Woven with artistry and passion, Too Heavy a Yoke is a must-read for clergy, therapists, caregivers, and any persons or groups committed to the liberation of black women, ultimately the liberation of all society." --Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Professor of Religion, Shaw University Divinity School Chanequa Walker-Barnes is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia. She is a licensed psychologist and a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. Her articles have been published in a wide range of scholarly journals, including Journal of Pastoral Theology, Child Development, and American Journal of Community Psychology.

30 review for Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ledayne

    I knew about this book for a long while and never considered reading it because I thought the subtitle meant it didn't apply to me. I changed my mind when I heard Walker-Barnes speak on a Baptist Women in Ministry webinar. She helped me to understand that as a clergy person, especially as a clergy woman, I needed to know what she had learned through her own story and her research -- that strength can be a mask and a burden, a stereotype as inaccurate and destructive as any other. I also needed t I knew about this book for a long while and never considered reading it because I thought the subtitle meant it didn't apply to me. I changed my mind when I heard Walker-Barnes speak on a Baptist Women in Ministry webinar. She helped me to understand that as a clergy person, especially as a clergy woman, I needed to know what she had learned through her own story and her research -- that strength can be a mask and a burden, a stereotype as inaccurate and destructive as any other. I also needed to hear what she knows about how the church enables, encourages and exploits that burden. In reading, I gained a great deal of insight for myself and for my ministry. I saw aspects of myself and recognized the burdens that I and many of the women I know are carrying -- and I began to see how we might lay our burdens down or at least begin the journey toward doing so. Walker-Barnes writes well, backs up her contentions with facts and figures as well as stories, uses confessional stories effectively without over-sharing, and demonstrates deep compassion for StrongBlackWomen (she explains well her use of this term) and even those who unknowingly push them (us) further into their unhealthy compulsions. Her grasp of history -- of how and why and when this particular restrictive and stereotypical role emerged -- is especially insightful. I read the book over the holidays. I picked it up thinking I would dutifully read a chapter or two before moving onto something more "interesting" -- I was on vacation, after all. Instead, I found myself reading "just one more chapter" until I had read the entire book in one sitting. From the opening line, "Ten years ago I came to a startling realization: I was a StrongBlackWoman, and being one was not working for me, " I was hooked. The book is scholarly and that may put some readers off, but I found it immensely readable and compelling. This book would be useful -- For anyone who thinks she may be a StrongBlackWoman. For anyone who loves and cares about someone who may be a StrongBlackWoman. For pastors and pastoral care and church leaders of all races -- to understand both themselves and those with whom they minister. Anyone woman who longs to lay down the burden of strength, perhaps especially clergywomen. I want to close by returning to my beginning -- my thought that the book would not apply to me, that a book that proclaims itself to be about black women wouldn't hold my interest. While Walker-Barnes herself says that she's realized that much of what she has to say applies to all clergy and especially to clergy women, she also makes a compelling case that the myth of strength is a particular danger to black women, drawing out the sustained historical and cultural factors that have created and sustained the image of the superhuman black woman and the immense potential for destructiveness the image holds. She opened my eyes to the peculiar burden that has been placed on black women and how I have bought into and been complicit in it. Understanding the challenges, the pains, the burdens (emotional, spiritual and physical) of my sisters -- and how I've been a part of it -- Why wasn't it obvious to me that would "apply" to me?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sam Myers

    I am really, really frustrated by this book. I feel about this book the same way I'd feel about a doctor who finds cancer in one of her patients and proceeds to cover the patient in bandaids. I'll say right not that this is all my opinion, and I'm aware that voicing it might mean that some who read this view me as an oppressor, as part of the problem that Walker-Barnes identifies. But here we go. This book does two main things: (A) explain the history, manifestations, and implications of the Str I am really, really frustrated by this book. I feel about this book the same way I'd feel about a doctor who finds cancer in one of her patients and proceeds to cover the patient in bandaids. I'll say right not that this is all my opinion, and I'm aware that voicing it might mean that some who read this view me as an oppressor, as part of the problem that Walker-Barnes identifies. But here we go. This book does two main things: (A) explain the history, manifestations, and implications of the StrongBlackWoman stereotype; and (B) offer some perspectives on how to fight this. Walker-Barnes does (A) really well. Her writing was clear, to-the-point, and utilized real life examples from both personal accounts and popular culture that helped me really see what she was talking about. She gently caused me to reexamine my view of Black women, and helped me see that the stereotype she writes about is present. But then she seems to ignore the reality of eternal life to come, of a God who eternally redeems suffering - though this does not make suffering good, and we should fight to prevent suffering when at all possible - and of the fact that God alone is the true Healer. Additionally, any interpretation of the Bible that leads to moral conclusions different than progressive Christianity's is seen as oppressive and evil. This is not to say that people have not used the Bible to oppress people, including Black women. But this is not the same as saying the Bible itself should be our servant, a set of paints with which we create whatever we like, rather than a painting for us to examine. The author's commitment to not reading the Bible like inerrantist Christians is seen very clear in a couple of cases where she proposes an interpretation as a new idea, when in reality it is the standard interpretation of the text among those who do view the Bible in this way. It should be clear, then, that I believe the author succeeds at (A) but ultimately does not provide non-liberation theologians much to work with in regards to (B). If you are a liberation theologian, then, you'll probably love this. I am not one, and I did not. 2.5/5, because half of it is great and half is not.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Meredith Crosby

    I read and finished "Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength," during my first trip to Haiti, it gave me a clearer understanding of the history of strong black women and how I contribute to the myth. I could not put it down! I Instagrammed the cover, and I recommend this book to EVERY African American woman who wants to improve your relationships with others starting with yourself. As the author states, "whereas African American women have historically dedicated their community I read and finished "Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength," during my first trip to Haiti, it gave me a clearer understanding of the history of strong black women and how I contribute to the myth. I could not put it down! I Instagrammed the cover, and I recommend this book to EVERY African American woman who wants to improve your relationships with others starting with yourself. As the author states, "whereas African American women have historically dedicated their community building efforts to ensuring the stability and survival of familial and social institutions (including the church), healing African American womanhood requires using the power of community for their own survival." The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand and support African American women. The author gives you the data and high impact quotes that resonated with my experience and helped explain how and why we feel the need to be so strong. My favorite part is her 12 step recovery plan, I use it with my personal development coaching clients to create an honest space to share your burden's without feeling judged or unproductive. The truth is African American women are strong because we don't have a choice, but Ms. Walker-Barnes gives us a roadmap to the middle, to help our families without killing ourselves by acknowledging the cycles of depression, anxiety, and health that can undermine our dreams for a better life. I finished the book feeling hopeful and inspired with tools and a clear list of steps to change.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Renita Weems

    The writer brings all her talents as a psychologist, minister, scholar, critical thinker, and her experience as a black woman in America to bear on a topic that plagues black woman. Great resource for therapists and clergy alike, and all those who care about mental and spiritual health, that of black women and every one trying to live up to other's unreasonable expectations of them.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jarred Smith

    Life changing This book helped me so much to better understand the plight that black women go through Especially as a Christian black man who grew up in church and coming to further understand the black womanist way of thinking this book has allowed me to better understand and be of better assistance to the black women in my life

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joyce del Rosario

    Love this book! I highly recommend it for understanding self-care and the impact of environmental and internal structures that Black women carry. I'm not African American myself, but it has given me wonderful insight that informs my teaching, ministry, and friendships with and about women of color.

  7. 4 out of 5

    DrJPK

    Transformative This book is a must read for every Strong Black Woman, for those with whom she works/leads, and for any care provider of Black women. It’s not only eye-opening but heart-opening to the transforming power of God to restore the authentic selves of women who’ve armored up to survive a racist/sexist world.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shanique Edwards

    Whew...this was amazing! A look at the phenomenon of the StrongBlackWoman in its cultural and historical context, using examples from both the church and the clinic, Dr Walker-Barnes has given us a comprehensive handbook into this mantle that so many black women carry, and offers suggestions (and a 12 step plan!) on how to minister to, and recover from being a StrongBlackWoman.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sheila M. Brown

    This book has made a great point about the "strongblackwoman" in this society this has not changed. This should be taught in church to young women and it should be part of black women studies.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Christina Watson

    Great Read! Very informative and thought provoking. I like that there were some relatable experiences. A recommend read for more self awareness of the pressures and assumed stereotyped identities (jezebel, matriarch, caregiver, etc.) placed on African American women.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Monét Flowers

    Often times when defining my struggle compared to other women, of other races, the response is often, but you are strong. It was offensive to me, although other people lauded it as a compliment...I did not fully understand why. After reading this book, I am finally beginning to come to grips with the long standing and harmful trope of the "strong black woman" how it shapes my interactions and my relationships, how it harms me and how I can create, educational and enlightening discourse with thos Often times when defining my struggle compared to other women, of other races, the response is often, but you are strong. It was offensive to me, although other people lauded it as a compliment...I did not fully understand why. After reading this book, I am finally beginning to come to grips with the long standing and harmful trope of the "strong black woman" how it shapes my interactions and my relationships, how it harms me and how I can create, educational and enlightening discourse with those who, perhaps unknowingly, uphold this stereotype. I am not religious, but the religion posed to me in this book was not overbearing. I strongly suggest reading this if you have never taken a Women's studies course, specifically gearing to black women, it is a great introduction to black feminist education.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kari

    I won this one through Goodreads and I am finally getting around to writing about it. This is a thoughtful discussion of the myth of the StrongBlackWoman and the damage that that idea does to Black women in our culture and in our churches. The book is specifically aimed at pastors to help them examine that stereotype and to give them ways to minister to Black women in the church, providing them with space to be vulnerable. I’m not a pastor myself, but it gave me a lot to think about culturally. I won this one through Goodreads and I am finally getting around to writing about it. This is a thoughtful discussion of the myth of the StrongBlackWoman and the damage that that idea does to Black women in our culture and in our churches. The book is specifically aimed at pastors to help them examine that stereotype and to give them ways to minister to Black women in the church, providing them with space to be vulnerable. I’m not a pastor myself, but it gave me a lot to think about culturally. On a personal level it paired well with Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry, which I read earlier this year. Recommended for: pastoral caregivers.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Leigh Kramer

    I first learned about this book through my friend Christena Cleveland and it was one of our Red Couch Book Club selections for this year. (My copy got lost in the mail, hence why I'm finishing it a month late.) Academic in tone, Walker-Barnes does a great job of breaking down the myth of the StrongBlackWoman. While I wish it had included more narrative examples, it's a great resource for anyone who is a black woman or who cares for black women. That is to say–it’s for all of us.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kiley

    A really informative and important work with concepts and themes that need to be considered in the U.S. today. Just wasn't able to finish right now.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marshaé Sylvester

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ijumaa

  17. 4 out of 5

    Vivian L. Brew

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Cherry

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rev. Deb

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chinyere Okwu

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jazalyn Williams

  23. 5 out of 5

    Misty

  24. 4 out of 5

    Teryn

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marcia Taft

  26. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Jeter

    I think this book is an interesting read for folks who have an orthodox view of Christianity, yet I found that it is also interesting just looking at Black women in the center of a discussion. Black women often have been projected to be the Mammy, Jezebel, and Matriarch as it has been directly opposed to the White woman ideal that derives from the Victorian age- the cult of true womanhood. This comparison in and of it self represents a western worldview of either or thinking when there could be I think this book is an interesting read for folks who have an orthodox view of Christianity, yet I found that it is also interesting just looking at Black women in the center of a discussion. Black women often have been projected to be the Mammy, Jezebel, and Matriarch as it has been directly opposed to the White woman ideal that derives from the Victorian age- the cult of true womanhood. This comparison in and of it self represents a western worldview of either or thinking when there could be many possibilities of what women can be and are. I read Black feminist thought when I was an undergraduate school as well as Alice Walker's books which womanist thought has been derived. There are so many possibilities of what womanhood can be and that is not limited to race or ethnicity. What I found very interesting, however, was the chapter where Walker-Barnes discusses the drawbacks or hazards of this idea of Strong Black Woman. I am reminded of Their Eyes Were Watching God, where Zora Neale Hurston writes of the grandmother character that women are the mules of the world. The White man gives the black man a bag to tote, but he don't tote it; he gives it to the black woman and she tote it. This is a sad truth in many African-American Communities. As for myself, I have done the work to be no one's beast of burden. I make the choices and put myself first. It has been a hard won fight. The steps for healing in this book are spot on! Those twelve steps are surely a beginning towards liberty and freedom.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Latina Williams

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Hill

  29. 4 out of 5

    Camille

  30. 5 out of 5

    Yvonne Eseoni

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