In a recent study published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychology of Women Quarterly journal, researchers uncovered the intricate ways in which Black women cope with gendered racial microaggressions and traumatic stress, emphasizing the influential role of the “Strong Black Woman” schema and womanist attitudes.
For generations, societal narratives and media have portrayed Black women as extraordinarily resilient, sometimes overlooking the emotional and psychological pressures they face. This portrayal, often referred to as the Strong Black Woman (SBW) schema, implies that Black women are inherently able to bear great burdens without showing signs of struggle. While this schema is a source of pride for many, it may also pose potential psychological challenges. Moreover, womanist attitudes, which are rooted in uplifting all women regardless of race, provide another lens through which Black women view and cope with these challenges.
The study was completed with the goal of expanding our understanding of how Black women navigate the intersecting experiences of gender and race-based discrimination. The aim was to discern how the SBW schema and womanist attitudes influenced their coping mechanisms, and whether these mechanisms exacerbated or mitigated stress resulting from gendered racial microaggressions.
Researchers employed a correlational analysis based on questionnaire data. The participants comprised of 185 self-identified Black women living in the United States who were over the age of 18. While other factors such as sexuality, education levels, and social class were all recorded, they were not considered prior to being selected for the study.
Each participant provided insights into their personal experiences, beliefs, and coping strategies in the face of discrimination through a Qualtrics survey which took around 30 to 45 minutes to complete. Questions ranged from assessing the frequency of gendered racial microaggressions (sample item: “I have received negative comments about my hair when I wear it in a natural hairstyle”), to short answer boxes (sample question: “In the space below, please describe a memorable incident of discrimination you have experienced in your life because you are a Black woman”). By examining their responses, the team sought to identify patterns and relationships between the SBW schema, womanist attitudes, and coping behaviors such as “disengaging” — or, detaching themselves and turning to drugs or alcohol.
The study revealed a nuanced relationship between the SBW schema, womanist attitudes, and the coping strategies employed by Black women. Some women internalized the SBW schema, which may suggest suppression of their emotions and striving for self-sufficiency. Yet, womanist attitudes allowed these women to contextualize gendered racism within a broader system, thereby understanding their experiences in a wider societal context.
The research suggests that Black women frequently rely on coping strategies that stem from their need to be self-sufficient, and their ability to recognize gendered racism as part of a larger societal issue. In other words, Black women often cope with discrimination by striving for self- sufficiency and understanding their experiences in relation to the intersection of racism and sexism.
Overall, Black women — namely those who strongly identify with the SBW schema, may be more likely to cope with facing gendered racism by “disengaging”, which is linked to increased mental stress. On the other hand, Black women with womanist attitudes — which are rooted in gender and racial equality emphasis — were more likely to cope by advocating for education on these issues.
While this research is valuable, it is essential to note that the findings are based on correlational data, meaning that the study does not conclusively prove causation. Additionally, as the study is centered on subjective experiences shared through self-reported questionnaires, there is room for individual interpretation and recall bias.
The study, “Gendered Racism, Coping, and Traumatic Stress Among Black Women: The Moderating Roles of the Strong Black Woman Schema and Womanist Attitudes”, is authored by Anahvia Moody and Gina Owens of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Jioni Lewis of the University of Maryland.