Abstract: The Strong Black Woman: Asset or Liability (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

The Strong Black Woman: Asset or Liability

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 10, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
J. Camille Hall, PhD, LCSW, Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN
Background and Purpose

Research indicates that Black women highly endorse the Strong Black Woman (SBW) stereotype—a perception that Black women are naturally strong, resilient, self-contained, and self-sacrificing. This endorsement appears to be a good thing, providing Black women protection against the numerous stressors they must contend with daily. However, findings from numerous research studies suggests that SBW endorsement limits Black women’s ability to cope healthily which exacerbates the negative mental health outcomes of stress. Intersectional theory posits that multiple social identities work together to influence how we see ourselves and how others see and treat us (Coles, 2009; Collins, 2000; Crenshaw, 1994; Settles, 2006). Research evidence supports intersectional theory, suggesting that a variety of physical and mental health outcomes are related to the combination of race and gender. For example, compared with White women, women of African descent who reside in the United States (henceforth termed Black women) have higher rates of infant mortality (Mathews & MacDorman, 2013) and obesity (National Center for Health Statistics, 2012); compared with Black men, Black women have higher rates of hypertension (Sampson et al., 2014; Will & Yoon, 2013) and anxiety (Breslau, Kendler, Su, Gaxiola-Aguilar, & Kessler, 2005). Some scholars theorize the stereotypical image of the Strong Black Woman (SBW) can influence the relationship between negative life events (e.g., stress or trauma) and physical and mental health outcomes (Everett, Hall & Mason, 2010; Hall, 2018; Woods-Giscombé, 2010). This study examines the relationships among SBW endorsement, stress, and mental health problems with a sample of sixty-two Black women.


Data were collected from a convenience sample of Black women (n = 62) living in southeast United States. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 74. Participants signed informed consent forms and completed a 9-item demographic survey and the Strong Black Woman (SBW) subscale on theStereotypic Role of Black Woman scale (SRBWS). The participants in  took part in a 60-75-minute focus group discussions (6-8 per group).The majority of the participants took part in online (i.e., Skype, FaceTime, and/or Zoom) discussions; all sessions were audiotaped. A semi-structured interview guide containing 5 open-ended questions (e.g.,  discuss how stress affects your getting professional psychological help, identify barriers related to the SBW cultural ideology that impacts your psychological well-being, etc.). A grounded theory approach in the tradition of Corbin and Strauss (2015) was used to develop codes, categories, and pattern across participants accounts.


Results revealed four major themes which indicate both moderate and high levels of SBW endorsement increase the relationship between stressand depressive symptoms, while low levels of SBW endorsement do not. These data extend previous findings and suggest that embracing the SBW stereotypic image increases Black women’s vulnerability to mental health problems associated with stress.

Conclusion and Implications

This study advances our understanding of the role of SBW in the stress–mental health relationship. The results indicate Black women who endorse the SBW ideology are at greater risk for increased mental health problems. The results provide culturally responsive methods for intervening.