Abstract: Understanding the Significance of Racism and Sexism in the Lives of Black Women (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11746 Understanding the Significance of Racism and Sexism in the Lives of Black Women

Sunday, January 17, 2010: 8:45 AM
Pacific Concourse L (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
J. Camille Hall, PhD, LCSW , University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Assistant Professor, Knoxville, TN
Joyce E. Everett, PhD , Smith College, Professor, Northampton, MA
Johnnie Hamilton-Mason, PhD , Simmons College, Professor, Boston, MA
Black women are unique because their experiences cannot be explained through the isolated prisms of race or gender (Belle, 1984; Brown & Keith, 2003; Jean & Feagin, 1998). Gendered racism (Jean & Feagin, 1998) separates their experiences from those of white women and Black men. Belle (1984) found that chronic stressors in the lives of Black women “…include an increased number of personal negative life events, a ‘contagion effect' from exposure to the stressful life events of significant others and chronic stresses including exposure to painful incidents of discrimination in their daily lives” (p. 138). Managing the interlocking effects of racism and sexism is a core theme in the daily life experiences of Blacks women. The triangulation of race, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES) affect the psychological well-being of African American women and these factors impact a myriad of other cultural and demographic factors in their lives (e.g. social, cultural, psychological). The purpose of this qualitative study was to develop an experience-near theory of stress and coping among Black women. Specifically, to describe the stressors Black women identified in focus groups and their effects; to identify the ways they cope, including the use of support networks, and the consequences of the stressors and ways of coping on their health and psychological well being.

Six focus groups were conducted to understand perceptions of the impact of social stressors on Black women, the coping strategies used to deal with stressors and the consequences for their well being. A combination of a non-random convenience and theoretical sampling were used. Accordingly, methods consistent with grounded theory were utilized. Forty-one women (N=41), 18-55 years old, participated in the study in three different geographic locations in the Northeast and the South.

Extended family, work, time demands, significant others, and finances were the major stressors in the lives of Black women. These stressors were precipitated and/or exacerbated by the amount of social support received from family and especially other Black women, and their experiences of intragroup racism. In response to acute/chronic stressors participants developed strategies which enabled them to cope, such as reliance on prayer and church attendance, self-care, including therapy. Participants reported each coping response came with certain consequences, including poor health outcomes and psychological distress.

Factors such as racism, sexism, and classism negatively impact the psychological well-being and coping mechanisms of African American women. The implications for practice indicate the need to cultivate with Black females an environment where she feels understood, appropriately diagnosed and appropriately treated.. Effective intervention strategies and techniques in working with women of color include an assessment of employment and financial stressors, experiences of racism and sexism, coping mechanisms, and religious/spiritual beliefs. The availability of social resources, including social networks, found in African American families and communities, is a critical factor for maintaining emotional well-being and in coping with life. The African American woman's strength is her ability to organize, promote self-help and maintain positive self-esteem and self- efficacy.