Written by Anita Mowete
Edited by Veronica Vivi
Illustrated by Florence Aina
Black women are often expected to put their heart and soul in relationships, even if it is to their own detriment. However, just because you can, does not mean you should.
This feeling of frustration is the central theme of the song ‘Not My Job’ by the girl group Flo. Releasing music since 2022, Flo continues to see a steady rise in popularity. The group has a late 90s/early 2000s RnB and Hip-Hop style, reminiscent of groups like Destiny’s Child, SWV, and TLC.
It is clear the woman in ‘Not My Job’ is at a breaking point in her relationship. She reminisces back to when she “had the patience” to put up with her partner’s problems but now she has found her voice and is making her boundaries clear (Flo, 2022). It is a situation most people can relate to, by either being in it themselves or witnessing it happen to someone else – our mothers, aunts or friends overworked and underappreciated in relationships that do not fulfil them.
However, finding the strength to cut the rope and leave these relationships behind can be the ultimate act of self-care and liberation. Going from that low point of realising you have become a shadow of yourself to taking back ownership of your life is one of the few glimmers of light that can shine through a bad relationship. This act of rebellion is contrary to the role black women are expected to play in relationships. In the black African and American community, the idea of the steadfast wife or girlfriend who takes a man at his lowest and transforms him into the most successful version of himself is very common. Women are even expected to put up with abuse or infidelity as too many people give excuses for this behaviour. Black women are taught to forgive first and foremost when dealing with these types of behaviour, therefore rejecting the docile and submissive role placed on their shoulders is a powerful act of resistance.
Throughout my course studying journalism, I have not had the chance to analyse songs specifically; however, music is a vehicle of pop culture that can help understand the thoughts and feelings of different communities at any given time. Gaining the skills to look at media critically granted me the ability to see that a catchy song on social media is also a window to look at important issues. It is thought-provoking to see how a simple song can also serve as a doorway into the thoughts and emotions of black women. In this sense, ‘Not My Job’ would fit well in any course that involves finding the background and deeper meaning behind pieces of media.
‘Not My Job’ can also be a useful piece in a historical context. The theme of the song presents parallels with the 1953 song ‘Hound Dog’ by Big Mama Thornton. Although decades apart, the two songs have similar themes as they both come from the viewpoint of a black woman leaving a man who is not good for her. When Thornton sings, “cause you ain’t looking for a woman, all you’re looking for is a home” (Big Mama Thornton, 1953), this draws parallels with the line “never been my job, never been my occupation” in Flo’s song (Flo, 2022). In both situations, the men in the relationships are not looking for the woman herself, but what they can get out of her. Whether it is somewhere to stay or someone to invest in them fully, they do not see nor care about the pressure they are putting on their partners. It is also a reminder that rebelling against the role black women are burdened with in relationships is nothing new for them.
On a wider scale, the song can serve as a more zoomed in focus on the emotional labour expected of black women in general. From Rosa Parks to Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, in using their voices to stand against racial bigotry and fight for justice and equality for black people, black women often get caught in the line of fire as a result. While we regularly see the great acts of resistance taken by black women, how often do people consider the toll it takes on them? We are expected to educate over and over even if it means reliving unpleasant experiences on top of the added stress of being a full-time employee at a job thinly veiled as a relationship.
The emotional labour expected of black women in relationships is a symptom of a bigger issue. While on the surface the idea of the strong black women may seem empowering, this strength comes at a great cost. When you are constantly on the chopping block you end up being seen more as a mascot than a real person, even within your own community. Although building up someone regardless of its effects on your wellbeing is a brave and selfless act, it is not something that should be assumed or demanded. Truly, as the song says, it is no black woman’s job to make a man something that they are not.
Anita Mowete is someone who loves to find deeper meaning in seemingly simple things. Currently a BA Journalism student at Robert Gordon University, she’s particularly interested in the experiences of Black people in the UK. She also has a love for history and travel, which both allow her to explore different cultures.
Big Mama Thornton, ‘Hound Dog’, Peacock Records, 1953.
Flo, ‘Not My Job’, Island Records, 2022.