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In Their Own Words: The Meaning of the Strong Black Woman Schema among Black U.S. College Women

Abstract

Black girls are socialized to be “strong” under the premise that strength will serve as a means of psychological resistance to oppression prevalent within American society. Although research demonstrates that Black women who internalize ideals of strength (independence, emotional restraint, and self-sacrifice) reap some psychosocial benefits, strength is linked to several psychological consequences. The growing understanding of these consequences have put Black women at a crossroads—forced to reconcile the wisdom of matriarchs with the detriments of being strong. This tension has pushed Black women, especially young women, to reconsider their relationship with strength and redefine its meaning for themselves. The current study sought to qualitatively examine Black U.S. college women’s (n = 220; Mage = 21.88, SD = 3.96, range = 18–48) varying perceptions of strength, specifically focusing on the meaning women attributed to being a strong Black woman and their attributions to others’ perceptions of strength. Our results revealed that although Black college women recognize that strong Black women may be perceived negatively (e.g., angry) by others, they continue to perceive strength as a relevant aspect of Black womanhood and have redefined strength in novel ways. We conclude by discussing how researchers may advance our understanding of strength and the ways clinicians may support women in defining strength for wellness.

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Correspondence to Martinque K. Jones.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The study involved research with human participants (adult women aged 18+). All women participated in informed consent and agreed to participate in the study.

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Jones, M.K., Harris, K.J. & Reynolds, A.A. In Their Own Words: The Meaning of the Strong Black Woman Schema among Black U.S. College Women. Sex Roles 84, 347–359 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01170-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01170-w

Keywords

  • Black women
  • College students
  • Strong Black woman
  • Schema
  • And stereotype